Friday, April 04, 2008

My Great Aunt Myrt

I have a great Aunt who has been dead for 14 years now. She was born March 21, 1904 as Myrtle Campbell and lived all her life in Rose Hill, VA. She never married. In the later years of her life she lived with my grandmother. I have many fond memories of this quirky lady. I cannot comb Eden's hair without thinking of myself as a little girl--asking Aunt Myrt if I could comb her thin, silvery hair. That poor woman--I remember her telling me to "start at the bottom and go up." I told her she was nuts, that made no sense to me. Yet she still allowed me to pull and tug at the tangles in her hair!

Our Aunt Myrt had memorized many poems and sayings as a little girl. Cute things like:
"Love me little, love me big, love me like a little pig. Love me little, love me long, love me when I'm dead and gone." (And I do!)
"Tobaccy is an evil weed, from the devil it did dispeed [sic], it ruins your breath, and spoils your clothes, and makes a chimney out of your nose." There are two funny parts to this little ryhme. 1) She and her family raised tobacco for many, many years. She worked in the fields long into her 80's even when my dad and my grandmother would try to make her stay at home.
2) Many of the words became unrecognizable over the years, due in part to the thick Appalachian (read: "app u la chin" where the "la" is a short vowel sound, not long vowel like most people pronounce, and the "ch" is ch in church) accent.

She and her siblings had to walk to school every day, and it was no short distance. It was literally up (and down) hill both ways, and yes, they did have to walk through the snow in the beautiful winding foothills of the Appalachian mountains. They would walk past neighbors' homes. One neighbor "took the paper" and would loan it to my Aunt to read. On one occasion there was an insert in the paper with a poem that my Aunt memorized. We believe the name of the paper to be "Old Home Comfort", and we guess she was around the age of 10 when she found it (1914). Years later people would come to our home and request to hear her cute poem. As her memory began to fade and her poem became sketchy, I took up a pen and wrote it down. I have searched in vain for many years, everywhere from the internet to the library to historical societies, to find this poem and cannot. So now, I will put it out there in honor of my Aunt, and maybe it will continue to bless others. As a young girl I dreamed of having her poem in a picture book, complete with illustrations. This is kind of "the next best thing." Remember there are most likely words that are misused, due to the amount of time that had passed and my inability to understand her speech clearly. For the record, I can say this poem from memory, and every time I do it leaves my kids speechless. They love it! :)

Myrtle Turtle
author unknown

School was started yesterday
Down at Turtle's Corner.
Play now must cease and work begin
For the bugs and all their kin.

Myrtle Turtle is a teacher.
She is such a clever creature.
She can read and write and spell,
And can figure very well.

"Now I want you all to do
Just the very best you can.
Let us have good orders, too."
Myrtle said when school began.

"Cultivate thoughtful habits.
Stop your laughing, Johnny Rabbit.
Those who don't obey the rules
Must be kept in after school."

"Please Miss Teacher," Cricket said,
"Do you spell cat with a 'k'?"
Johnny Rabbit wagged his head,
Causing Trouble right away.

Mr. Hopper laughed right out.
Mole and Chipmunk raised a shout.
Squashbug rolled upon the floor,
The whole school was in a roar!

Myrtle rapped with all her might
But the bugs danced with delight.
Clutch and Johnny ceased to smile
As they two-stepped down the aisle.

Bethel in a corner hid.
Daddy longlegs went instead
On the waltz with Katydid
But he got his long legs twisted.

After order was restored,
Teacher said, "I can't afford
To permit such sort of things.
It is most discouraging.

Johnny Rabbit you come here sir.
You are badly spoiled I fear sir.
What you've done you shall regret.
An example must be set."

And she raised her willow stick
To abuse him with a whack.
Then he gave a sudden kick
And she tumbled on her back.

There she lay, poor little Myrtle.
All felt sorry for Miss Turtle.
Every bug rose from his seat
To assist her to her feet.

"Lift," said Clutch,"while I count three."
As you ever did before
All the bugs were glad to see
Myrtle right side up once more.

When she turned to Johnny Rabbit
He gave up his tricky habits
All day long all day he stood,
Trying bravely to be good.

With a dunce cap on his head,
All that he had done and said
He regretted right away--
Being foolish doesn't pay.


  1. What a very cute poem. It's so nice that you repeat it to your kids so they can cherish it too!

    1. Samuel Ellinsworth Kiser is the author. My grandmother raised her two daughters with this poem, and it has passed from generation to generation. She (my grandmother) was most likely to have gotten it from her mom, as he was a poet that died in the 1940's. I have googled him to link this poem, and have not found it...but we have an original clipping with the poem and his name. love your blog.

    2. This is fantastic news!!! Thank you! :)

  2. Ohhh Steph...

    I was just catching up on your family life and found this posting. I was just remembering Aunt Murt and talking with some ladies at work just the other day and I wondered if anyone had ever written that poem down! Thanks for writing it down!!!
    ~Your cuz Chrissy

  3. I'm glad you get so many positve responses from this, as when I tell it to other people they roll their eyes and think I'm on some kind of drug. I rarely ever tell it anymore, as I have given up ever passing it on. I'm glad that you are able to without the 'look' from other people. Ha! Love you all!! Carrie

  4. I just wanted to add that one she would say also that I remembered.
    "As I stepped on the stage one day, my heart went 'pitty-pat', I heard someone say, "Who's little girl is that??" My name is Myrtle Campbell, Rose Hill is my station, God is my Salvation, and Heaven is my home." I can still remember sitting in the quilting room listening to her read to Gran from the Powell Valley paper as well. What I wouldn't give to be 7 years old again!! :)

  5. Oh my goodness Steph!! When all of us girls were at the beach a couple wks ago we were trying to remember this poem, and could only remember one stanza of it. I'm SO glad to see it here...thanks for posting this!!! :)

  6. Steph, Maria called me today to tell me you had Myrtle turtle on your blog! What great memories reading this brought back. thanks for keeping this alive.


  7. Hi Steph,

    My name is Tammy. My father's name was Doc Sherrill. I really like this blog you have, and the poem. I have heard it before a long time ago. I just loved Aunt Myrt. I have been reached my family tree for years. You can contact me at My dad past away last Nov. and I miss him very much. He still had that good sense of humor til the end.