A kidnapping in the Shenandoah Valley

Clarence and wife Gwendolyn Via with Violet, left, and Yvonne.

Clarence and wife Gwendolyn Via with Violet, left, and Yvonne.

Before leaving the Virginia Vias to rest in peace in their beautiful valley, there was at least one more family legend I wanted to explore. It had filtered down to me through the grapevine, and I just couldn’t leave it alone.
And so I called Gene Via, Clarence’s son, and asked about the day his sister Yvonne was kidnapped. He told quite a story. It was a story he’d heard numerous times over the years. He’s heard it from his mother, father and half-sister Violet, and it has remained remarkably consistent over the course of time.
Then he passed me on to Violet, who witnessed the whole episode when she was 9.
Yes, she said, Yvonne was kidnapped. Not only that, she was kidnapped by her grandmother, Via family matriarch Cora Belle Via.
Violet confirmed the story in stupendous detail. Sixty-six years later, her voice still radiates anger and resentment. The wounds are remarkably fresh.
“I still remember it vividly,” she said. “That god-awful place in Virginia. People were crazy.  Mother, Chester and Curtis kidnapped Yvonne from Aunt Daisy’s house.”
Before getting too deep into the story, there was something else I had to do. I didn’t feel good about it, but I called my friend Shelley Via Smulsky in Virginia to ask her about the kidnapping. I’d heard the Virginia Vias were not fond of remembering the story, and the last thing I wanted to do was alienate her.
I got Shelley on the phone. When I mentioned it, she shifted into defensive mode.
“Clarence was a strange bird,” Shelley said. “He lived out there in Washington. He always referred to us as ‘youse people,’ like we were hillbillies.”
But … did this kidnapping really happen?
“That was so long ago,” Shelley said.
There was a pregnant silence. Then I heard her exhale.
“She absolutely did,” she said. “I do remember it. Poor Gwen, I can’t imagine somebody taking my kid away from me.”
What was it all about? What had driven Cora Belle to kidnap her own granddaughter and then turn her daughter-in-law away at gun point?
“She was not fond of the English wives,” Shelley said. “Jim had a wife from England, too. She was not too favorable of anyone out of the valley or who wasn’t American. She did not understand that.”
The year was 1947. Violet was 9, and Yvonne was 3. Clarence Via was stationed in Italy, where he was recovering from his wounds. He had sent his war bride, the former Gwendolyn Wilkinson, and her two girls to America to live on Paine Run Road.
Born in 1938 in Plymouth, England, Violet is Gwendolyn’s daughter from her first marriage. Her father, John Charles Wilkinson, was killed at El Alamein in 1942. Gwen subsequently met and married Clarence Via. Yvonne was their first child together.
When peace came to Europe, Violet and her family prepared to leave war-ravaged Plymouth for an exciting new life across the Atlantic.
“We were so happy,” Violet said. “We were going to this wonderful country. When the Americans came into the war, the Red Cross came with them. The Red Cross and the soldiers got together and gave us Christmas stockings. They were filled with fruit. Most of us hadn’t seen any fruit for the entire war. Everything had to be sent to the soldiers who were fighting. They needed that food worse than us. That was magnificent. We had that skewed vision. We were so lucky and now we’re going to be adopted by this wonderful, generous people. We won’t have to live in one room without a bathroom.”
By the time Violet and her mother arrived on Paine Run Road, they’d endured their share of hardship. For much of the war, German airplanes had terrorized the people of Plymouth. The Plymouth Blitz killed more than 1,100 civilians and leveled 3,700 homes.
“We had been bombed out of our house twice,” Violet said. “My mother and I were not idiots. We were not fraidy cats. We had gone through one hell of a lot. Plymouth, after London, was the second-worst bombarded city in all of England. There wasn’t much left of Plymouth. All that was left of our house was what had been the living room. That was the only room we were able to use in the house.”
And now things were about to get worse.

Violet and Yvonne with their mother, circa 1946.

Violet and Yvonne with their mother, circa 1946.

“We came to this country in 1947,” she said. “It was night and day. I couldn’t believe it. In England, we were civilized people that helped each other and took care of each other. People loved each other. They kissed each other. If they didn’t like each other, they just avoided each other. They didn’t try to destroy each other.”
For a time, it seemed like everything would work out. The war was over. They’d survived the blitz. And now they were on a ship headed for the land of the free.
“The best thing about coming to this country was the ride over in the boat, which lasted 10 or 15 days,” she said. “The ship was supplied by the American government to bring the war brides and their children back. That was superb. They actually put weight on all of us except my mother. She was seasick the whole time. My sister and I went wild over the ship. It was wonderful.
“And then our balloon was punctured when we landed in Grottoes and saw all these disgusting people who thought we were the enemy. The first month we were there, my mother and I, we were not allowed to sleep in the house. We had to sleep in the smokehouse. It was horrendous. I prayed every night I would wake up the next morning in England and bombs would still be falling, and I’d be a lot happier.”
After a tumultuous period of butting heads with Cora in Virginia, Gwendolyn took Violet and Yvonne to live with Cora’s sister, Daisy Raynes.
“Two different people you can’t imagine,” Violet said. “She was loving and generous to a fault. She constantly apologized to us about the treatment we got all the time.”
Coming from a major English port, a city that had more 200,000 residents when World War II began, and moving to the Virginia countryside to a relatively primitive existence triggered serious culture shock. No running water. No electricity. No cars.
The years have done little to soften Violet’s feelings about her time in the Shenandoah Valley. It is burned into her psyche.
“When we got to this country, it was like we had gone back five generations,” Violet said.
“They were nasty people. I would love to have killed any number of them. That’s an awful thing to say, but that was the worst part of my life.”
As for the kidnapping, Violet remembers it as if it happened yesterday.
“We were all in the house getting ready to have dinner,” she said. “I remember it was a Sunday night. I heard a car. It was a Model T. When I first saw it, I thought it was fantastic. They had covered all the seats and ceiling and everything with red velvet. The Via father worked in the DuPont factory, and he would bring home fabric from there.
“I was sitting out on the front porch, swinging there while I waited for Aunt Daisy to say ‘Come in.’ I saw the car coming up the road. I ran in the house when I saw it was the Vias.
“One of the boys, I think it was Chester, or it might’ve been Curtis, came to the door. Mother (Cora Belle) was in the car. She wasn’t going to come in the house, but she wanted to give Yvonne a present. I know it was a holiday, I can’t remember which one. Yvonne went out to the car. She got in the car and was sitting on Cora Belle’s lap and was talking to her. The next thing we knew the car was backing out the driveway going hell-for-leather down the street away from Grottoes.”
All hell broke loose. Gwen set out immediately to retrieve her daughter.

Corabelle, the Via family matriarch.

Corabelle, the Via family matriarch.

“We drove up there,” Violet said. “Aunt Daisy drove. Mother did not drive. Daisy drove us up there in her Model T. We got as far as the end of the driveway. It sloped up to the house, which stood up on a big embankment. As soon as they heard the car, Cora Belle came out of the house with Chester and Curtis on either side of her. All three of them had a rifle or a gun. Mother was crying. I was crying. Get the hell out of here you whore. I’m surprised she didn’t shoot, but her sister was driving the car.

“Every time they went up there, the brothers were armed with rifles and guns. The sheriff wouldn’t go up to that house. They were afraid of those people. The state police finally connected with the Army to get a hold of Clarence. He was brought home. He was not a happy camper. He took Aunt Daisy’s car and went up to go and pick up Yvonne. When his brothers saw him coming, they took off like bats out of hell. They knew their older brother did not take to that kind of crap.
“As far as Clarence was concerned, Cora was dead to him. It was many years before he finally went to see her again. I never, ever, talked to her again.”
Cora Belle’s been dead since 1982. Violet hasn’t made peace with her memory. She has no interest in peace. Her anger seemed like a tiger that had been pent up in a cage. The more she talked, the more rein she gave it.
“I could never forgive that woman for the things she did,” she said. “Cora Belle was a bitch. She went to church every Sunday, but oh my, she had a different idea about what was right and what was wrong. From day 1 she kept referring to my mother as ‘that Limey whore.’ Mother was supposed to be a whore. That’s what she called her constantly. I didn’t even know what that was. I just I cannot answer for that woman. She could make wonderful bread from scratch, but that’s the only thing I can think that is positive about that woman.”
A few years back, when Yvonne passed away, Shelley and her little sister, Hessie, flew west for the funeral. Violet acknowledged the gesture.
“I’ve met Hessie and Shelley again a few years ago when my sister died,” she said. “I didn’t recognize them at first. I didn’t know if I wanted to talk to them. They seemed to be nice people. From the little I saw of them, they weren’t bitchy and horrible like their mother was. It was nice of them to come all the way across the country for her. She was always accepted by the whole family. Because she was a Via.”
Which is the one thing Violet never was. It was the thing that made her time on Paine Run Road a living hell.
“It was just a very bad, strange trip,” Violet said. “I guess we survived. I’m not sure my psyche did.  I had nightmares for many years. I’m sure there were many people in this world that had it much worse than we did. But this was so deliberate. We expected to look forward to being welcomed to the family. And we found none of that.”

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30 Responses to A kidnapping in the Shenandoah Valley

  1. Kenny Via says:

    Amazing story. Thanks for sharing, Aunt Violet. We love you!

  2. smatlock1 says:

    The Vias deserve a whole other book or three. You’ll have to deploy them sparingly in the road memoir or they’ll hijack it.

    • Annette Via says:

      I am Chester’s wife Annette and it was Chester and Shelley and I that came to the funeral. Chester was very close to Yvonne. If Chester and Curtis did this, it was because of the mother.. Chester got along with all the family. We lived in Tacoma and spent a lot of time with Clarence and his family.

  3. Joyce says:

    Amazing , but not surprising…hey, not all Vias are like Cora Belle! I assure you. This is Joyce, Lorenders daughter…can’t say too much about my dad…BUT, he did raise loving and caring children (Winnie, Patty, Joe, and Pam) and so sorry to hear what Cora put your family through. My mother, Roxanne is Philippino – how do you think she was treated…

  4. Teresa Via Fuata says:

    Interesting story, especially since it mentions my father, Chester Via. I would like to note that in 1947, my father was a 10 year old boy.

    Not positive, and someone can correct me if I’m wrong – but I believe Uncle Clarence ended up in Washington State as he was stationed at Ft. Lewis and later retired and remained living there for the rest of his life.

    In 1972, my father received orders and moved us to Washington as well. We often went to see Uncle Clarence and Aunty Gwen, gathering around their dinner table to share Sunday dinners. I never heard any harsh words between them and my father or any mention of this family ‘legend’. So, at that point in their lives, I asume that there were no hard feelings between the three of them regarding this or any other incident. With the exception of cousin Violet, all of the other key figures of this story have since passed away, sadly we will never hear their sides to this.

    I am sorry to hear of this painful past. From what I remember Grandma and Aunt Daisy were very different. I wonder what happened in their lives that shaped them. There is no doubt the the core Via family would have made a great reality show.

  5. Mary Via Paul says:

    I too found this to be a interesting story which also mentioned my father Curtis Via, at the time this happened my Dad would have been young teen about 13 or 14 years old. All though I have heard many stories of his youth in Virginia this was not one of them. I would have loved to heard his side of what happened. I believe in the 80’s when my mom and dad were living in Southern California my Dad traveled I believe with some of his family up to Washington to visit with Uncle Clarence. So sounds to me like the brothers had resolved any issues that had arisen from Grandma Cora’s actions.

    • Elaine Via =^..^= says:

      Mary, This story was told by Violet on how SHE felt about the Kidnapping and the Via’s. Not how my father felt. Remember she was a nine year old at this time, her father was killed in the war. Her Mother married an American soldier and they came to the USA to get a NEW start in life. And Violet said, “That was the worst part of her life.” being in Virginia with the Via’s!

    • Annette Via says:

      Yes Mary, your dad did travel to Clarence’s with Herbert. Chester and I were living there in Tacoma at the time. Chester was station at Ft. Lewis.. We all had a nice time together.

  6. Elaine Via =^..^= says:

    Every time I hear this story it makes me cry. That is all I am going to said.

    • Teresa Via Fuata says:

      Hugs to you.

    • Mary Via Paul says:

      Elaine thank you for the story. I’m sure would like to see your work on the family tree. can u send me an invite. I was talking to my Mom yesterday and asked her if she ever heard that one she told no but had heard other crazy ones. She told she also didn’t get the warm and fuzzy reception from Grandma Cora. The stories I remember from dad the most are about the ghost in the house and how he did not like to sleep upstairs.

      • Elaine Via =^..^= says:

        I did send you an invite the other day, I will try again. I hope Ancestry.com does not give us trouble. =^..^=

      • Teresa Via Fuata says:

        Just think, Grandma Via would have been 50 years old at the time. I’m guessing she had mellowed out with age…I surely don’t mean to make light of the situation, but 20 years earlier, she may have pulled the trigger – aiming over Aunt Daisy’s Model T, of course.

        What is there, 45 or so of us grandchildren? I’d like to read a good story or two about Grandma Via. How many of us still have quilts she made with her old peddle powered sewing machine? When I was little, she also made a doll quilt for me. I still have it, I used it with both of my daughters when they were babies.

        Just prior to my dad going to Vietnam, I spent a week or so with her and Uncle Arnold at the house. I slept in the same bed with Grandma. There was no indoor bathroom and since it wasn’t safe to wander outside at night due to bear and snakes – Grandma offered me the little pee pot she kept under her bed. (In case you’re wondering, I always chose to wait until morning.)

        Whoever saw Grandma with her hair down? She had washed her hair prior to our visit one time and she sat on the front porch to comb out her long hair. It was well past her waist. That was the one and only time I saw her hair down.

        I remember a woman of few words and few smiles. But I do believe the biggest smile I ever saw on her face was when Dad picked her up and sat her down on Ricky and Randy’s motorcycle – her allowing that was a shocker – that imagine makes me smile.

        I know that some don’t approve of the family stores being posted here and considering some of the subject matter, that’s understandable. But, I will say that in losing my dad (Chester) in March 2012 and then with Uncle Arnold’s passing 10 months later – this blog has stirred memories and a family connection. Because I am after all, as Aunty Shelley would say, “VIA TILL I DIE!”

  7. Ian says:

    I am Jim’s son. This is something that I can easily believe. My mother as some know was also from England and Gwen and her were friends. I know that Cora did not like her either. She did seem to favor me and my 2 sisters ok. I don’t know why for sure we moved to Kansas City, Mo around the time when I was born in May 1949.

    I can remember one time that Uncle Clearance and the kids, Gene etc. drove to KC to pick me and my sisters and we all drove to Virginia. The only I can really remember of that trip was Clearance taken Gene and me up behind the house into the woods and we found a cub bear.

    Although Cora treated me good she was not in favor of my two sisters. She was not hateful but was cold to some degree however. Another incident about the mean streak of her was the time when Suzanne’s son Jason went for the summer to visit his grandfather, my father who was living at the time in Shake’s house. She was very mean to him as well.

    I have found the stories that I have discovered thanks to Elaine great to read and things that I have learned.

  8. Hessie Via Dailey says:

    I think since the Vias are so bad all of you “Vias” should just change your name!
    Have any of you considered that there are two sides to every story?
    Many of the grandchildren of Cora Via were dumped on her. I don’t remember her
    ever turning any of them away. She had 4 children of her own still at home, little or no income, worked hard and worked harder with the extra people to care for. My memories of the highlight of the summers were the brothers coming home for vacations with their families (yes, including
    Clarence.) I don’t remember any of them being mistreated. All I remember is how hard my mother had to work, the huge meals she cooked, and the mountains of dishes we washed with little or no offered help from the vacationers.
    I think a man that travels to Virginia “befriending” people and asking them questions just to
    print a story that happened so many years ago that who could remember the REAL story
    is not really a man but just likes to stir up trouble.

    Hessie (Via) Dailey,Cora’s daughter and proud of it.

    • Teresa Via Fuata says:

      Aunty Hessie, I love you!

      Teresa Via Fuata, Cora’s granddaughter and VERY proud of it.

      • Sandi Denn says:

        Teresa I think what you wrote was very nice and It would be nice if people would share a nice memory! I also have a quilt that she made. 🙂

    • Sandi Denn says:

      I love you too Aunt Hessie and I LOVED my great grandmother very much and have very many wonderful memories of her!!

    • Mary Via Paul says:

      Aunt Hessie,

      I only have good memories of going to Virginia during the summer to visit. Grandma Cora was always good to me, she let me help in the kitchen when she was making biscuits and they were the best biscuits and gravy that I’ve ever had. I remember learning to drive a car in the field across the road from the house with cousins Randy and Ricky, walking up road to the creek and wading up to the bathtub carved out in to the rock, and learning how to shoot the .22 rifle at old bottles in the dump. One summer we even took our new scooter down there and I watched Uncle Arnold crash it in the field around all the pine trees. My one regret is that I never made back to go to one of the 4th of July week long parties that Uncle Herbert threw ever year. Dad (Curtis) always said they had such a great time. As far as changing my name, I would never change my name from VIA since
      unlike most of you, I choose to be a VIA, when I adopted Curtis and Mona as my parents at the age of 5. I thank God every day for the childhood I had thanks to my Dad and Mom. One final note, I too still have a quilt that Grandma made!

      Love to my Aunts Hessie & Shelley!

  9. Elaine Via =^..^= says:

    I think since the Vias are so bad all of you “Vias” should just change your name! ….. Hessie, It is so sad that you said this because, that is just what Gene did. (Clarence son) He did not change the SPELLING of Via BUT he change how he pronounce his last name. After all he was just 13 years old and that was all he could do at that time.

    I can NOT tell you the “story” WHY he changed the way he pronounce his last name, because he did not tell me, he said it would change me, and he wants me to stay just like I am! (He had tears in his eyes and I knew he was serious) Clarence told Gene something that some of his family members did in Virginia, that up set him so much he said to himself, “I don’t want the SAME name as these people! (Remember he was just 13)

    I do not know the story, and I do not want to ever know! The story is not important. BUT please remember these things have happen to children and most of you are thinking like ADULTS. The story is NOT about Grandma, Chester, Curtis or Clarence or even Mom. It the CHILDREN!

  10. Charlie Via says:

    My name is Charlie Via and I am Clarence’s grandson. I want to thank Wally for taking an interest in our family and sharing these stories with us. He is a good writer and an even better friend.

    I love my Aunt’s Violet, Yvonne, and Elaine they have always been a great inspiration to me. I have not met many of my east coast relatives, however I was able to spend time with Great Uncle Chester on two occasions. The first was at my grandmothers funeral and the second at Aunt Yvonne’s, I am grateful that I was able to meet and spend time with him. It meant a lot to me that he traveled so far to spend time with our family. While I understand how this event may be hard for family members to read, what happened caused an incredible amount of pain for my grandparents and aunts and is a part of all of our history. I am very proud of Aunt Violet for sharing this story with us all. I love spending time with her and learning about her life.

    My father Eugene and I are very close and I am proud to be his son. He raised me and my siblings to be proud of our heritage. He always told me that if he was half the man his father was, then he would be a great man. We are proud VIA’S here on the west coast, and we embrace all our history, the good and the bad. VIA TILL I DIE!!!!

    I hope one day to make a trip to Virgina to spend time with relatives and drink beer on Paine Run Road.

    Whiskey always makes me feel better in the evenings. Sheers to you, and bottoms up!
    Charlie

  11. Donna Via says:

    I am Donna Via, daughter of Herbert Via. We visited our Grandmother very often when we were children. Our 4 hour drive to Paines Run from Baltimore was always an exciting time for our family. Cora was ALWAYS kind to our mother, Kathleen. Grandmaw was always excited to see us. She taught me how to peel potatoes “correctly” and how to snap beans! The highlight of the summer was when our “far away” cousins visited. Our Kansas City cousins being in Virginia was always the highlight of the summer. I do remember drying dishes too! Joyce Garrison and I loved to “hang out” with out our favorite aunts, Shelley and Hessie. Grandmaw was always happy with 10 or so grandchildren at her big table. We all sat on the long back bench so close that not one more child could fit. That same bench is at Aunt Shelley’s house now – it doesn’t look quite that long to me now! My fondest memory of my Grandmother Cora was when she held my infant daughter, Julie for the first time in 1980. Julie had very long hair for an infant and Grandmaw played with her soft curls while she held her. It was a cool autumn day and Grandmaw wrapped Julie in a handmade baby quilt she had quilted on her old Singer sewing machine. Sixty year old “stories” will never tarnish the memories I have of Paines Run! Cousins, and there are many, be mindful of the fact that MY father Shelley & Hessie are reading some VERY nasty comments about their Mother on this blog. This is NOT the place for such cruel and public discussions about our Grandmother.

    • Annette Via says:

      Donna, I enjoyed reading your comment very much. A lot of people don’t write about good things or all the happy times we all had at the home place. I have been in the family for 60 years as Chester wife, and proud of it. ♥

    • Annette Via says:

      Donna, I enjoyed reading your post very much. I never knew grandma Via ever
      cruel to any of the grandchildren.

  12. Shelley Via Smulsky says:

    THE WAR ON CORA

    In the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia in a tiny town named Harriston, Cora (mama) was giving birth to baby number 12. Little Hessie Irene joined her sister, Shelley; brothers, Chester, Curtis, and Lorenders on September 9, 1942. On this same day Arnold 17, was heading out of Harriston. The leaves on the maple tree in the front yard was beginning to turn yellow as he headed to Richmond,Virginia to enlist in the Navy with papers in his pocket supposing signed by his daddy. Arnold enlisted September 9,1942, in Philadelphia, PA. As his ship left dock headed for parts unknown leaving home, family, high school friends, and his mother with five small children to raise, I wonder was he thinking about his older brothers already in the military and soon to be scattered to every foreign hell hole on the map. I guess only Arnold knew what was going on in his thoughts as he sailed away into the South Pacific into unfamiliar waters. (Later years Arnold admitted it was a cruel thing to do to his mother.) She was a long time in getting over her hurt and fear, and a long time in answering his V-mail. Arnold was ready to fight for his country and to fight along with his brothers. Most of the military brothers would be a long, long time getting to see their little new baby sister.

    Rufus joined the National Guard in 1939 and left for England October 1942. James enlisted March 1942, and Clarence was also in the National Guard and left the USA September 29, 1942 for England. I can only imagine Leonard saying, wow! I think I’ll get the hell out of Harriston too. So off he went to France with a destination of West Germany at the age of 21 in 1944, far, far away from the good ole USA and Paine Run Road. Our mama had no clue where France, Omaha Beach, Australia, New Guinea, Germany, England, or the South Pacific might be, she did know her sons were somewhere in some horrible place never to retun home again. The propaganda in the newspapers and what she heard about on the radio was all she had to keep her hanging on to hope that the war would soon be over. Letters from the foreign places were few and far between. The sons were fighting and didn’t have much time to spend writing home and when they did it was often to say I cannot tell you where I am or where my brothers are. When the letters were received they were often months old. (Her son(s) could have already been dead.) She was a mother with a new baby, four small children, a broken-hearted mother and a 5-star mothers as each son left home to go fight in a war that she did not understand. Above all she was a survivor! She would survive another day of not getting the dreaded telegram from the mailman that said, “The Department of Defense sadly informs you that your son(s) was killed in action.” She survived day by day, month by month, year by year dreading that awful telegram that her friends and neighbors were receiving. (Mama so dreaded hearing the news that she wouldn’t go to the mailbox but would send one of the boys or Alice to get the mail. From 1942 to 1946, totaling over 2,000 trips.) The brothers had decided if a telegram came they would open it first. Our mama survived summers, falls, and winters working gardens, canning, gathering wood, and washing clothes on a washboard. She was raising her children still at home and waiting for five to come home. She learned to stretch a dollar. She took in ironing, cleaned houses, and worked hard. HARDER THAN MOST WOMEN COULD EVER ENDURE. I know all of this because I am fortunate enough to have in my possession the footlocker of my brother, Arnold. It holds many letters mama wrote him during and after his service years. The footlocker also contained letters from his brothers while in the service describing their wild side, women chasing, beer drinking, crazy escapade days. Just typical “Via Boy” fun.

    In 1944 Clarence’s fun caught up with him as he had a wife and baby on the way (not necessarily in that order.) So he may have said, “I need to act like a father and do something responsible and get my family out of England.“ So his family was leaving war-ravaged Plymouth for the land of “milk and honey.” An English wife, a step-daughter, and a 3 year old little girl all heading for the good ole USA. Just one of thousands leaving war-zones all over Europe. The motto, “Get a U.S. Soldier; get to America” usually worked well. This presented a problem as my mama had too many years of tears, too many years of hearing words like “foreign soil and foreign countries.” Too many years of waiting for all of her boys to come home safely. She was pretty heart sick also of hearing about our enemies and the war in England.

    Clarence was not the brightest star on the 5-star flag which hung in our front window for years. He must have been the one to contact The American Red Cross. I wonder what possessed him to even think “deliver my English wife and family to my mother’s door step?” He was responsible for his family not his mother. When they arrived at the Grottoes, Virginia Train Depot in 1947, we were living in a small house about a mile up the road from Aunt Daisy’s house in Grottoes. NONE of the story of a “Kidnapping in the Shenandoah Valley” EVER took place at the home place on Paine Run Road in Harriston. There was no smokehouse in the back of the Grottoes house in which people were made to sleep. There was however a small building used for an extra bedroom that had sheetrocked walls, beds, and a stove if needed. Since the house we lived in only had 2 bedrooms already overflowing this building was used as an extra bedroom. Sounds to me like it was better than the fear of bombs dropping on you. The smoke house on the home place was NEVER used to sleep in at any time by anyone. We were not living at the home place (which by the way was NOT up on a hill) so it was impossible for the story as reported to have happened that way. ( I wish we had a Model T Ford covered in red velvet. It makes for a good story but just was not true.) Also Aunt Daisy (Mama’s sister) never learned to drive until her later years. She did not drive a Model T Ford, ever. As for our mama, Curtis, and Chester standing in the doorway with guns–what a crock of crap. There was never but one gun in the household which was a double barrel shotgun kept by our father who lived alone on the home place in 1947. As far as the sheriff being scared of 10 & 12 year olds and one woman I think the younger generation of Vias that bought all of that crap and made nasty comments was rather gullible and should have just turned on their TVs for a good western movie.

    Clarence’s family did come to the home place on Paine Run Road many times down through the years. I remember when the twins (Eugene and Elaine) were about a year old. Violet and her mother were happily rocking the twins on the front porch and singing “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean”. It was late evening. Yvonne, Hessie, and I were playing in the front yard catching fireflies. Clarence managed to drop his family a second time on my mama as he had no place to take them while he was off somewhere else. Perhaps trying to find a place for his family to live again. Maybe it was Petersburg, Virginia as Clarence came to the valley and picked us up for a visit there. Clarence took us all to the drive-in movie and when we returned the refrigerator had burned up and the house smelled so strong from the motor burning that we spent the night with the neighbors the Whiteheads.

    I do not believe Clarence ever considered his mother dead. I think the big “kidnapping” story has totally been told so many times, no one knows what is truth or fiction. (Anyway since all of the “bad people” mentioned in the story are dead it is no longer of any importance.) I will never apologize for anything my mama did or said. When John called and asked me about the “kidnapping“, I certainly did admit to the incident. However my memory is so different from the printed story I would have corrected him if I had even suspected he was going to print such a wild story about an attempted kidnapping by my mother. My memory is of Yvonne sitting on mama’s lap in the back seat of Herbert’s 1940 Ford and Yvonne’s mother taking her back after a struggle between the two of them. Perhaps it was mama’s effort to keep Yvonne at a location where her father could find her when he returned home. The “Shenandoah Valley Kidnapping” story had so little truth in it the only thing I recognized as factual was that Clarence’s family did arrive in the USA.

    I am my mother’s daughter and the apple doesn’t fall far from the “Cora” and I am proud of it. We should have had a sixth star on the flag. A STAR FOR MY MOTHER.

    I repeat again a lot of these facts came from letters in Arnold’s footlocker. He must have saved every letter he ever received. They have made for some very interesting reading. And as Arnold always said, “SobeIt.”

    ShelleyVia Smulsky, Via til I die

    • Annette Via says:

      Shelley, I have really enjoyed reading this message. I believe the true story has NOW been told.
      Your mom was a very hard working woman and took good care of the family. She went through
      very hard times. I’m very proud of you for writing this and yes, there should have been six stars on the flag.

  13. Joyce Stickles says:

    Another Shenandoah Valley Kid Napping Story
    Imagine that, one diminutive woman with the strength to bear 12 children (all at home and all surviving to adulthood).
    I, being too young to know any details of the Shenandoah Valley Kidnapping story, can only speak of my Grandmother from my most unique position in the family.
    Grand mom delivered 9 sons and 3 daughters. It took her 3 daughters “together” to produce their 9 sons. Those same 3 daughters however, only produced 1 daughter. My perspective comes as the only female cousin in the family to descend directly through the female line.
    I, like many cousins had the fun of visiting our Grandmother during summer “vacations.” I also lived with her several times. I spent one entire summer living with her, Shelly and Hessie
    That wonderful summer I dogged her every step (as only a 5-year old could). I followed her to the strawberry patch where Herbert’s home is now, to the wood pile where she and Hessie worked with a two-man saw to fire the cook stove for making that season’s strawberry jam in the heat of summer. I followed, while she pumped water to fill large tubs in the yard to wash clothes and followed when she hung them to dry. (She used one of those same tubs to bathe the dirty, little 5-year old I was then). I followed her up and down the garden rows in the hot summer sun where she weeded and picked those vegetables to feed the steady stream of summer vacationers. Whichever family was visiting, she somehow always whipped out a favorite jar of pickles, jam or other delicacy she had made for that special son; one for eating then, and of course, some as a “take-home gift.”
    In the summers of my childhood memories, the only Happy Meal® I knew of was provided by my Grandmother’s back-breaking work and was eaten on the “bench” surrounded by visiting family.
    That summer, each trip to the garden began with a stern warning “Don’t step on the ground cherries.” They grew wild and though they were “in” the garden they didn’t stay “in” her neat, straight rows that all her weeding and hoeing gave to the rest of her garden. Why ground cherries? You might ask. They were what she needed to make Uncle Clarence’s favorite jam.
    Some of those family heirloom quilts that are so beloved and coveted now are what she made while she “rested”. At least that’s what she would tell me. In the heat of the day she would say “I’m going upstairs, to ‘rest’”, (I think that meant, don’t follow me). I was supposed to be “the kid napping” downstairs, soon I would fall asleep hearing the old treadle Singer humming above my head.
    By the time I was spending my summer of ’56 with Grand mom she had already survived being evicted from her home in Sugar Holler, birthing 12 children over the course of the 25 years before, during and after the Great Depression. She had sent her 5 sons off to fight in war, buried one son and her Mother just months apart. I, however, knew little of these things, all I knew was it was a wonderful, fun-filled adventure for a 5-year old.
    Grand mom turned 60 that following winter after I had gone home. Was she thinking of retirement? Maybe. But, her meager Social Security check was still a few years off, she still had two teenage daughters to raise and she was still pumping water, planning her next garden and hoping the wood supply would last through the winter. AND She had a job in Waynesboro. I don’t know if she was this families’ first single, working Mother, but I do know she hasn’t been the last.
    Did she smile much? Hell no! At that time, I often wondered why. Sometimes, with my 5-year old mentality, I tried to produce a coveted smile.
    To all of those who would seek to distance themselves from these humble beginnings by pronouncing “Via” ’til I die as “Via” rhymes with diarrhea, I would say this:
    Grand mom began life as a Harris. Whether her strength came from “her” family line or began with her own determination to be a survivor (long before Hollywood made it a reality show), I believe our family members owe their strength to Her.
    Her incredible survival skills prove Strength has nothing to do with gender and Smarts have little to do with education. She survived all this and so much more without ever seeking the joy of relief at the “Via” moonshine still.
    As I have aged, some have suggested they recognize similarities to Cora in me. Be it my un-dyed, waist-long hair, my southern cooking style, my somber demeanor, or my prohibitionist ways. Perhaps, they have seen my basement outhouse (the only place I didn’t follow her) with the original “Go ’way Bee” sign hanging on the wall. It was first hung by Arnold in the newly-dug outhouse that summer in ’56. Maybe they’ve heard my answer to the question¬―How do you live alone in the heart of a Baltimore inner-city ghetto? THEY GROW ’EM TOUGH WHERE I COME FROM!
    I should be so lucky as to possess even one of Grand mom’s qualities. If, in fact, there is any similarity, more likely it’s our shared unapologetic, contentious way of dealing with those who don’t live up to “their potential” or “our expectations.”
    As for me, I still try to visit her each summer in the place where she finally learned the meaning of “rest.” To quietly thank her for all that she “gave” to make this family what it is. To thank her for my very life, for without her, none of us would exist.
    I’ve lately been thinking of adopting a new slogan to honor Her.
    Harris ’til I Perish!

  14. Hessie Via Dailey says:

    Joyce, I would say thank you for your wonderful memories of my mom if I could see to type through by tears. Auntie Hessie

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