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.
There are times when I take things for granted, thinking they will stay the same forever. Each day, just as dark blankets our neighborhood and everyone is inside their home, their porch lights come on and I walk down the hall into our bedroom. Walking over to the windows to pull down the shades, I observe the quietness and serenity that slides quietly down our street. I have done this so often that the solitude this moment presents has been taken for granted. That’s disquieting. The one thing that 28,566 complete spins on this planet has taught me is that nothing is permanent. My wife and I were watching the evening news the other night, and it was mentioned that the Columbine High School massacre happened twenty years ago (April 20, 1999). That seemed impossible to both of us. I would have guessed it happened 8 years ago. What had I done with all that time? How could I think that 20 years was only eight? For me, there is only one explanation; I take a lot of things for granted. I am of the opinion that if you assume things will always be the same, the days merge in with each other and become indistinguishable, thus nothing makes them noteworthy. I can remember as a young boy (1950’s) making the long trip from our home to visit my Aunt Letha (Mom’s sister). After a couple of hours, my brother and I would fall asleep in the backseat and by the time we awoke the car was parked in Aunt Letha’s driveway. We had absolutely no recollection of that long trip. That was the way I felt when I realized that twenty years had passed instead of eight. It is way too late for a New Year Resolution, but I am making one now. I resolve to start looking closely at the blessings in my life, to refrain from assuming that tomorrow will always be as charming as today, and to notice the laugh or smile someone makes, or the brightness in their eyes. In the King James Version of the Bible, Job 1:21 says: “The Lord Giveth and The Lord Taketh Away”. I should always keep that in mind.
I read an article recently that stated, “The average wealth of the poorer half of American households has dropped below zero in the years since the financial crisis (2008-2009). What does that mean? It means that fully half of Americans hold more combined debt than assets.” … David Leonhardt––New York Times. That is surely a depressing thing to know. I also read a while back that the average American did not have $450 in the bank and that bothered me too. I don’t really know why it does, because as a young man with a wife and two children, I would borrow from the bank to buy things our family needed, pay it off in a couple of years, and then borrow again. I showed up for work every day and tried to do a good job knowing that sooner, or later, my head would pop above the waterline. That just seemed to be the way things were supposed to work. I believe everyone should learn that lesson, it worked for me, and I have seen it work for others, so I know it is a feasible life plan. I have had some blessings along the way to help, it wasn’t all the result of my hard work. When you invest in the stock market, you may as well be standing at the card table in Las Vegas, because you are going to need some luck (I don’t believe God blesses gamblers, so I’ll just call it luck😊). The person that says, “I am who I am because of what I have done” ignores the blessings received along the way. Ernest Dimnet said, “There is not a single man who has not had great moments, has not risen to rare occasions.” I believe that is true.
My wife and I are avid bird & squirrel feeders, and we have four positioned so we can watch them during breakfast and lunch. We also have a birdbath sitting on top of a big rock so they can eat, drink and bathe all in the same place. They have a choice of shelled peanuts, sunflower seeds, suet and hummingbird sugar water. It is easily discerned that squirrels have a hierarchy and, in some respects, so do birds (big birds’ rule). At night, we have flying squirrels on one particular feeder and then, late at night, Rollo (raccoon) makes his visit. Rollo is very smart, overcoming just about any obstacle we place in his way. We only do that because he is so wasteful. But give him time and he will figure out a way around our schemes to thwart his destructive nature. Well, lately he has been emptying the shelled peanut feeder on the ground and that annoys me to no end. So, determinedly, I take the feeder out to my favorite chair in front of my workshop and sit there and scheme some more. I am proud to announce that I have solved the dilemma, I think. I placed a locking mechanism on the top of the feeder handle, sorta like a device you would use to clamp two steel cables together. It requires a little more effort on my part to fill the feeder (every other day), but I absolutely refuse to be outsmarted by Rollo. However, I have to admit that I enjoy this simple little contest with him. To a younger person this would strictly be an annoyance, but to an old guy like me, this is a “get up off the couch and go do battle” kinda thing.
“I have no doubt we all appear simple and unsophisticated to superior beings” … Sir Arthur Helps. I cringe at the thought of Rollo outwitting me. Stay tuned.
I struggled out of bed at 0500 on Easter Sunday, April 21st , eyes blinking wildly, and got dressed for Sunrise Service at 0600. As we headed down the road to our destination alongside the James River, I noticed a line of cars behind us, headlights glaring, following us to the Sunrise Service location. Stumbling around in the dark after we left our car, we all gathered close to the water and Easter Sunrise Service began. After the service, we left for breakfast at the local United Methodist Church (Trinity).
I was raised in the Methodist Church. Each Sunday morning my mother would place a nickel in the hand of my brother and I and that was what we gently placed in the offering plate at church. There were a lot of Baptist in my hometown and they always, with a slight grin on their face, referred to us as “Warmed-over Christians”. I believe that was because some Methodist were known to imbibe alcohol occasionally.
Anyway, back to our Sunrise Service. After we arrived at Trinity Church, hot coffee and a delicious breakfast were awaiting and I dove right in, eating the last delicious morsel about 30 minutes later. As we said our goodbyes and drove home, the minister’s words were bouncing around inside my head, “Don’t be a Christer”. He was referring to those who only go to church at Christmas and Easter. I am guilty of not going as often as I should but I am definitely not a “Christer”. It is written in Matthew, 18:20: “For where two or three gathers in my name, there am I with them.” Yeah, but I still know he wants me there every Sabbath and not every other Sunday.