When I was in my early thirties, I had three young daughters to raise in a new town where I knew no one. I was a stay-at-home mom and spent most of my time at home. When I decided to take my girls to church, I was also excited for myself. While they were in their designated classes, I would be in my own. Most of my conversations were with my children or over the telephone. The idea of actually having conversations with someone closer to my age had only been a dream for several years. I looked forward to making new friends in church and growing deeper in my Christian walk.
Things didn’t quite work out the way I had imagined. It seemed the moment I walked into our new church, I was “volunteered” to do what I did best, take care of children. I was the new member, so I didn’t feel I could say no. But I was disappointed, to say the least. I was starving for interaction with someone older than the age of seven. It had also been some time since I had sat in a church pew and refreshed my faith with stimulating sermons, music, and prayer. I was even missing the lessons in Sunday school class that regular churchgoers often find boring. I needed a place where I could fit in with other adults. I told myself that maybe this was my calling for now and dove into the adventure of teaching youngsters.
The first class I had was a Wednesday night class for preschoolers. I not only wanted to do lessons that they would enjoy and have fun with, but I also wanted them to learn a valuable lesson about Jesus, just as I had done at their age when I was taken to church by my favorite aunt. I was certainly comfortable with the age group. Knowing from my own experience as a mom that these little ones were like sponges.
I devised a new lesson each week using a set of bible story cards I had at home. For example, I did the story of Jesus calming the storm and walking on water. I printed out copies of a picture for each child to color and glue different media on for effect. First, I would sit the kids down and tell them the story. They would become very quiet as they listened to me, their little faces letting me know that they were absorbing every word I shared. I was amazed at this at their age. It was true; small children are little sponges. They absorb everything they see and hear.
I had a lot of fun while I taught that little class, but I began to burn out after a while. This just wasn’t what I needed. I didn’t want to be selfish, but I had to fill the empty tank I was carrying around. It was my turn to be a sponge, and so I was. I began attending service on Wednesday nights instead of teaching or caring for children. I particularly loved the Wednesday night sermon because there was no singing or socializing like on Sunday mornings. It was more of a long bible study. A lesson for us adults. I loved it! I needed it! It was filling my empty tank, just as church should do.
I miss the little sponges I taught on those Wednesday nights so long ago. I often wonder how or where those kids are now. Do any of the lessons I gave stick with them? I’d like to think so.
Yesterday I received a call from my oldest daughter, Robin, who began the conversation with, “I’ve got myself in a pickle!” Knowing my precious Robin as I do, that could mean many things. Robin has been married for 17 years and is the mother to my three grandchildren. She has two daughters in high school, and a 5-year-old son with autism. They fill her life with every activity under the sun. She is a stay-at-home mom but also has a job she does from home, and successfully I might add. She is constantly on the go, go, go! And did I mention that my son-in-law is a hard-working tow boater by profession? That means he is working on the boat and unfortunately away from home for a month at a time. So, when she says she’s in a pickle, my brain spins.
In a voice that told me she was feeling stressed and embarrassed, Robin shared her plight. She ran out of gas in a town 30+ minutes away. She didn’t ask if I would help, but instead began listing the friends she had called who weren’t available. As a Mama, I knew she was hoping I would “offer” to help, which I quickly did. I instantly heard the relief in her voice, which made my heart swell. I could have chosen the Mama card and given her a parental lecture about not checking her gas gauge when she was so far from home in a rural area with no gas station nearby, but I gave her grace, as she had done for me so many times over the years when ole Mama’s car had broken down and she so graciously came to my rescue. Now that I think of it, all three of my daughters have come to my rescue many times over the years! I’m one blessed Mama. It was time for a payback.
Robin joyfully accepted my offer and proceeded to give me these instructions: I had to go to her house and retrieve her gas can from the garage, then go to the Exxon, fill said can (I chose 4 gallons as sufficient), put it in my trunk, and then drive the 30+ minutes to the town where she was stuck. She warned me that it was a curvy country road and that she was sitting in a church parking lot and I would need to search for her. Her exact words were, “I’m way out there, Mama!” I began to think that this repaying of a good deed was turning into quite a chore, but then I felt a smile come over my face, a chuckle in my heart.
As we ended our phone conversation, Robin says, “I feel like I’m 16 again and needing my Mama to rescue me.” And just like that, the memory of my little girl needing me came flooding back. I didn’t care if it took me hours, I was filled with joy to give my busy daughter a helping hand this day and make her load just a little lighter.
After I got properly dressed (yes, I was wearing the now popular “quarantine casual”), I checked things off the list. After retrieving the gas can, then filling it with the four gallons, I texted Robin that I was on my way. She was right; it was a long, winding country road. Thank goodness I had plenty of gas in my car. But it was a pretty day! The sun was shining, so I rolled my windows down and enjoyed every minute of that beautiful drive. I realized I had not been on this road before. It was gorgeous, with lovely homes and farms sprinkled about. Spring was showing off its green glory this day, and I felt very blessed that my daughter had led me on this journey.
I finally spotted Robin’s minivan perched on a hill in front of a large brick church, and the first words to come out of her mouth when I pulled up were those of apology, but I didn’t want her to apologize. I had enjoyed the drive and had received even more joy in helping her out. She quickly poured the four gallons of gas into her empty van’s tank and gave me a heartfelt “thank you.” After some pleasant chit chat and several I love yous, we went our separate ways once more.
When our children are grown, they have their own independent lives to live. They can go months, or even years, without needing our help. Especially with the minor things that make up everyday life, such as keeping a vehicle hydrated with gasoline. Sometimes our relationships with them may resemble that of friends more than parent and child. I can’t speak for every mother out there, but I know it warms my heart and soul when I can catch a glimpse of my younger child again making me feel needed in the most basic ways, just as they did back then. With that being said, it was good to see my 16-year-old Robin yesterday.
By David Miller
As a youth, I spent some of my spare time at the Vansant Drive-In theater. It was a favorite place to take a date since you had great privacy in your car. I also went to the Lynwood theater located in Grundy. They had movies only on the weekends and so we typically went on Sunday evenings. It cost 14¢ for the movie and for another 10¢ you could have a bag of popcorn and a bottle of pop. There was also a movie theater, the Rex Theater, in our area on Garden Creek. It always had a double feature with westerns every Saturday. We would watch Movie Tone news followed by Tom Mix, Lash LaRue, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, and all the other great western stars. The guys in the white hats were always the good guys, and they always defeated the bad hombres in the black hats. This was great entertainment.
I was regularly active in the Garden Methodist Church and especially in the youth activities. The church was in a community center that was staffed by two deaconesses who were appointed by the Methodist Conference. The pastor was a throwback to the circuit riders of long ago. He pastored five churches each Sunday, and of course, drove his car instead of riding a horse like the early circuit riders. The pastors were appointed by the conference and usually stayed about three years. Our pastor was typically either just out of seminary or about to retire. If the young pastors turned out to be exceptionally good, they were typically transferred to a larger pastorate before the end of three years. My favorite pastor was Reverend Carl Beadles. While he was pastor, I made a profession of faith at nine years of age and joined the church. He was also the Scout Master and spent many nights with us on camping trips.
Our favorite camping location was on the Clinch River in Dickenson County. We camped on the banks of a river in a very sandy location. The eggs and bacon for breakfast usually contained a fair amount of sand. My Dad usually went along as one of the leaders and I noticed he normally cooked his own breakfast. The last camping trip we took while I was a Boy Scout was to the Breaks Interstate Park (Kentucky and Virginia). The park is considered the “Grand Canyon of the South” as the Russell River has cut a deep gorge through the mountains and provides a spectacular view. The leaders told us to gather a lot of firewood to keep the fire going through the night as it was very cold and there was a forecast of snow. It was March, so we ignored the forecast and failed to collect the firewood. Early the next morning, our tent started to sag from the weight of the snow. The leaders got us up and we started looking for firewood in about 8-10 inches of snow. Sadly, we were difficult to manage. Unfortunately, Rev. Beadles later passed away from a cerebral hemorrhage at the young age of 32 after being transferred from our church.
The two deaconesses were Miss Emma Mann and Miss Zella Glidden. They were kind ladies and extremely interested in helping the youth of the church in any way that they could. They lived in an apartment that was part of the community center/church.
They also did some remarkably interesting things that were not very smart. Their car wouldn’t start, so they decided to push it down the hill to get it started. They pushed and it started rolling down the hill from the church. The only problem with this action was there was no one in the car to steer and start it. Fortunately, it ended up just short of the highway with minimal damage! 😊
There was another incident when Miss Mann was driving and she drove over a dead dog in the road, doing quite a bit of damage to the car. When asked why she drove over the dead dog, she replied that she thought it was a soft dog 😊.
We also took a trip to church camp with one of them driving and five of us in the car. We had a flat tire about halfway between Tazewell and the church camp. We had to unload luggage for six people, which somehow fit in the trunk. No one knew how to change a tire other than me. I got the spare out of the trunk only to discover that it was flat as well. I then decided to take the tire off the car and go back to Tazewell and get it repaired. I hitchhiked with the tire both ways. Upon returning, I put it back on and we went on to camp, arriving several hours late.
During the summers we led a very carefree life, roaming the mountains and playing in the school yard bottom. We normally were barefoot and seldom wore shirts as we played all kinds of games. Our favorite game was holding the right foot still and kicking the can. You would have to witness these games to understand them as a written description would be difficult to understand.
We also liked to fish from the bridge that connected Garden Creek highway to the dirt road leading up to Poplar Grove. We used cane poles with worms as bait and typically caught suckers and sometimes snagged catfish as they roamed the bottom of Garden Creek. The water was always deeper at the bridge because high waters washing over the bridge created deeper holes. We also frequently climbed the mountains to build a cabin. We cut down trees that were about 5-6 inches in diameter and stacked them on top of one another. We never really finished one as we would normally tire of the activity as the cabin reached about waist high. We constructed several of these waist high cabins over the years. I wonder if the remains are still there. We had no idea who owned the property.
One evening, my cousins, Jimmy and Tommy McGlothlin, along with my brother Bill and I, were playing above the houses on Poplar Grove. Bill and Tommy went back to the house to get something and Jimmy suggested we climb a tree and scare them when they returned. He climbed the tree first with me following close behind. As he reached about twelve feet, he lost his grip and came tumbling down the tree. As you might expect, he fell on me and I went tumbling down the tree, landing on my back with him on top of me. I could tell immediately that I could no longer breathe. Bill and Tommy returned just as this happened and were delighted to see that our scheme had backfired. Finally, I was able to utter “artificial respiration” which we had learned in the Boy Scouts. They administered the artificial respiration and I recovered rather quickly.
We then decide to roll a very large rock down the hill. There is no rationale as to why we decided to do this. It was headed straight at a house and would go through a wall if it hit the house. Fortunately, it hit an electrical pole instead. When we arrived back at our homes, which were next door to each other, we were informed by our parents that the power had been knocked out on Poplar Grove. We acted as surprised as possible and wondered what caused such an outage, knowing full well we were responsible. As you can tell, we enjoyed our boyhood in Buchanan County, Virginia! I grew up there, not too far from Tommy Hale. I stayed overnight with him and his brother (Jerry) several times in the Page Coal Camp.
This is an excerpt from the book I am writing called, “The Story of a Mountain Boy”. I am doing this so there will be a record of our family for future family members.