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Watch Now: Glade Spring woman remembers, honors family with ‘she shed’
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Watch Now: Glade Spring woman remembers, honors family with ‘she shed’

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GLADE SPRING, Va. — With the daily news coverage of today’s global pandemic monopolizing the media, a Glade Spring woman is often reminded of another disease that spread across the country in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

The parallels of the COVID 19 virus and the polio epidemic are striking, said Gloria Surber, 64, whose father died from long-term complications from polio in 1981 when Surber was 24.

“I’ve thought so much about the polio epidemic since we’ve been in this pandemic. My father, paralyzed from the waist down for most of his adult life, was a victim of this horrific epidemic in the 1950s.”

Gloria Surber

Surber has found a way to help her remember her father and the struggles he endured.

A shadow box about her father’s polio experience hangs in a “she shed” retreat behind her house.

After extensive hospitalization and being put on an iron lung ventilator, her father was sent to the Woodrow Wilson Rehabilitation Center in Fishersville, Virginia, where he learned clock and watch repair to help make a living.

The shadow box, which contains photos of her father, newspaper clippings, and several instruments from his repair trade, was a gift created by local artist Mimi Harris.

Oh, the memories

As a tribute to her family, the she shed retreat was created in her backyard a few years ago. It has continued to comfort Gloria during the uncertainties and challenges caused by the pandemic.

The charming little retreat in her backyard is a place she can call her own, where she can unwind and rest. It’s also a place where memories abound.

The novelty sheds have been growing in popularity since the early 2000s, with some companies reporting an increase in sales during the outbreaks of COVID-19.

The sheds are as unique as the people who create them.

The she shed is typically a furnished living room actually inside of a shed, but Gloria designed her shed to include a bedroom and living room.

When Gloria’s husband, Tony Surber, gave her a stained glass window on Mother’s Day a few years ago, she knew she had to find a special place for the colored glass keepsake.

Gloria’s mother, Lillian Hite Wagner, had recently died, leaving her with many of her mother’s belongings, so, she decided to combine her mother’s keepsakes with the stained glass to create something she’d always wanted — a backyard getaway.

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“Everybody toys with the idea of having their own little space like a man cave. I thought it was a cool idea,” she said.

She wrote about the adventure in a memoir entitled “A Gift and a Death,” which is displayed in a frame in the shed.

“I love this picture of my parents, taken on my father’s family farm in Meadowview before his illness,” she said, pointing to one of numerous photos in the structure.

“This barn was torn down in 2017 and our daughter, Mollie Ailey, was able to get some of the barn wood, have a frame made from the wood, and put a copy of this photo in the frame. She gave it to me three years ago on my birthday.”

Building the shed was a family affair, she said.

The shell of the shed was purchased in Glade Spring with just four sides and a roof. Openings were cut and filled with old windows found at Surber & Son, a downtown hardware store owned by her husband who, along with a local carpenter, did most of the work on the interior. Son-in-law Bryan Ailey laid bamboo flooring gifted to the project by Kyle Sensabaugh, another son-in-law.

A porch for the shed was made from leftover wood purchased for a deck on the couple’s house years ago.

Many of the interior furnishings were found at local consignment shops.

A matching sofa and rug were found at the estate sale of Helen and Klell Napps, longtime Abingdon residents.

Her mother’s belongings in the shed include a desk made from a remnant of a drop-leaf table; her walking cane, which leans in a corner; red and blue glassware her mother collected from selling Avon for 45 years; and a Tiffany clock and monogrammed coasters her mother also won from Avon. Skeleton keys from her mother’s Meadowview house hang by the door.

She also included artwork from her late brother, David Wagner.

A four-poster bed in the shed belonged to Gloria’s grandmother, Fannie Mitchell Hite. A chamber pot under the bed came from Tony’s grandmother, America Roberts Callihan. The bedspread is a treasured keepsake from Sue Callihan Surber, Tony’s mother.

Framed items include her favorite Bible scriptures and mantras, and of course, a map of Ireland, a place she has come to love. An Irish welcome sign bearing the word “Fáilte” which means “welcome” hangs above the entrance door.

This time of year, the shed is decorated with potted flowers and a row of zinnia seeds planted along the outside wall.

Gloria’s grandchildren — she calls them grandjoys — love to play at the shed. A fire pit outside the shed serves as a family gathering place.

“We’ve spent the night in the shed. My children and grandjoys have spent the night there. I just love going to visit the things that bring me joy — the family treasures, the artwork and gifts from family and friends,” Gloria said.

“It’s one of my happy places.”

Carolyn R. Wilson is a freelance writer in Glade Spring, Virginia. Contact her at citydesk@bristolnews.com.

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