Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Coming Home

Reminiscing September 15, 2006

Today, I drove Dad’s 1979 GMC truck to the refuse dump/recycling center. I drove down Ryan’s curve, up through Happy Hollow, out Mt. Tabor road, down Bishop Lane, up Hwy 460 and then into Coal Bank Hollow. The trip was about 3 miles long, and because I didn’t want to distribute my trash over the scenic countryside I never got in high gear. The return trip was even more interesting because I turned wrongly on Bishop road going the other way from where I had traveled it before. I give you these travel details to illustrate that you don’t go straight to anywhere in Montgomery County, Virginia. In my short trip I could see sets of mountain ranges in every direction with a different view at each turn. This is the heart of the Appalachian Mountain Range. Just a few miles from Coal Bank Hollow, one can get on the famous Appalachian Trail that meanders along ridge tops of these Eastern Mountains from Maine to Georgia.

I was taken with the beauty of this pre-fall. Technically it is summer but in the Virginia Highlands there needs to be more seasons to describe the climate adequately. It was sweltering hot just a week or so ago and it will probably be that way again before serious leaf fall. But for now it we have the green of spring, the yellow (Golden Rod) of late summer and the coolness of fall, not cold but the kind of cool that makes you enjoy physical activity outside. I had the windows down and at my slow pace the breeze was refreshing. It almost made the trip to the dump something to write home about.

I turned 66 last month. I left Blacksburg when I was 23. Why? I had graduated from Virginia Tech, for one thing and I wanted to further my education at a Western university. But still I ask, why? I thought, “I’ll bet Daniel Boone had some of the same interest that I experienced when I was younger.” “What’s beyond that mountain? What adventures lie ahead? If I leave can I find my way back? Those were real questions for me and I have a career full of stories. But more importantly, I have a large family that still recognizes that they have roots in these Virginia Mountains.

What is it like to return to the mountains? It is not a complete return but the times at home have been more frequent and of a longer duration than in previous years. I still see the beauty of God’s creation, but the journey has given me new eyes. What were mono colored green mountains now look like waves of the ocean with differing hues of blue, green and gray. The clouds can change from soft and fluffy to dark and bold in what seems to be a flash.

Since I’ve been away barren and back woods places have become prime building sites. Properties that once had rows of peach and apple trees now have columns of houses. The mottled pink and white colors of the springs-past have given way to the symmetry of rooftops. And I wonder if the people that have swarmed to the mountains appreciate the place that now holds them. I hope they respect and work to achieve a balance between use and preservation of this colorful region.

My journey has also given me new insight to the people of the region, my kin and my neighbors as well as the “foreigners “ that have moved in. Foreigners don’t necessarily mean from another country. It’s just that they are “from off,” i. e. “not from around here.”

Some of what I saw as normal black/white/gray has taken on soft shades like the mountains. Most folks with whom I grew up were from Scotch-Irish decent. But they had been away from the motherland so long that they were no longer Catholic, in fact they were almost anti-Catholic. As I grew up I probably had little thought about diversity (probably had never heard the word) . But if I did it would have meant something like people from Floyd or Carroll counties that moved in or real foreigners that had relocated from another state. The English of natives often shocked foreigners who failed to recognize the Celtic terms and phrases ( although somewhat modified) that have stayed with mountain people. And around here folks communicate as Jesus communicated. They tell stories, some are true, some mystify, some make a point, others just stimulate a laugh or another story. The best stories understate the main point and some do only what a native story teller can do; cause one to laugh at the antics of the teller or people of the region. If outsiders told the same stories they would be “making fun.”

Coming home as a stranger to strangers is an interesting journey. May I have eyes to see and ears to hear and appreciate the new colors that blended traditions and modern advances produce.

A Special Dental Appointment

A Special Dental Appointment
Like every place, Blacksburg has some special people.
Seldom do we want to remember a visit to the dentist. Yesterday, I took my 87-year-old Dad to a dentist that was not his normal one on an emergency, and I hope I’ll never forget that visit.

Dad had pretty good teeth until he had radiation for cancer. The radiation left his body cancer free but started deteration of his teeth. His regular dentist has been working to preserve as many teeth as he can but has had to replace some. One tooth that served as an anchor for a partial plate broke off on Sunday. Early Monday morning we began calling his dentist to see if he could get in just to get the sharp edge rounded to protect his tongue. We learned that his regular dentist was out of town for the week. His very helpful receptionist suggested a dentist that was to take Dr. Robertson’s patients on an emergency basis but she cautioned that he might not consider this an emergency. Dad thought of Dr. Huff who was a member of Dad’s church. He said, “Call June Cox (another member of his church), she runs Dr huff’s office.”

I called for June Cox and told her our problem. She said “just a minute” and was off the line for a while. She came back on and said, “ The receptionist will give you an appointment.” The receptionist told us to come in immediately but be prepared to wait.
She sounded busy and when we got to the office we found out why. Apparently,
Mondays are exceptionally busy in a dentist’s office. The father-son dentist team and a full staff of hygienists and assistants. were swarming around like bees in a hive.
But we got the red carpet treatment.

Dr. Huff brought tears to my eyes when he told me in the hall that Dad was one of the finest men he had ever known. He said Dad had been a mentor in the church and when he brought his family to church, it wasn’t quite complete unless they saw Mr. Absher.
Dr Huff rebuilt an anchor on the damaged stub, showing me what he was doing with each step.

He told Dad that he would be able to speak at prayer breakfast. Dad had played a key role in starting and maintaining a monthly prayer breakfast and often contacted speakers.
Apparently, he had contacted Dr. Huff when he was active and Dr. Huff had said yes but later. That later time had come and Dr. Huff remembered.

When Dad left the chair Dr. Huff hugged us both and told Dad he was honored to be able serve him. Instead of giving us the folder to give to the clerk, he said, “ tell them on the way out there is no charge.”

Dr. Huff and the staff witnessed to their faith. Words were not necessary. It was a busy Monday morning but we weren’t rushed nor treated abruptly. We were made to feel that the morning was ours. We left the dental office with new fillings but not for our teeth.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Meandering Near Blacksburg

Meandering :September 17, 2006

Yesterday we may have gone places that National Geographic doesn’t know about. But Virginia Department of Highways knows about them because be drove on smooth ribbons of asphalt along the borders of Montgomery and Floyd Counties, Virginia.

While Christianburg, the county seat of Montgomery County, has sprawled to include multiple shopping centers and tangled thorough fares, the County Seat of Floyd County, the town of Floyd, has resisted commercialization. Instead of the golden arches there is the Blue Ridge CafĂ©, one of a kind, just a cross the square from the historic courthouse. A “real” hardware is on the opposite corner, one where you can still buy pitchforks and barbed wire as well as little red wagons. The “tourist attraction” of town is the Schoolhouse Fabric Store. This three-story pile of fabric and sewing notions draws alumni of the school and other seamstresses to get items they can’t find in crowed malls. And on Friday nights you can go up the street to the Country Store and hear homegrown bluegrass music.

While county seats towns are on most maps, it takes a detailed one to pickup Pilot and Riner even though they both have U. S. Post Offices. Probably only State Maps would have Auburn and Rogers and you may have to get a county map to find Huffviille and Basham.

Picturesque churches salt the countryside. More bland are the closed country stores that one can recognize occasionally. But the striking beauty of the drive was the well-kept farms. They aren’t the extravently adorned like Central Bluegrass horse farms but they are more rolling and bordered with well-maintained fences (mostly wire) and framed with distant mountains. Every turn of the road provides another subject for an artist’s brush by the Artist of the Universe. Nearby commercialization appears to benefit this pastoral area as indicated by new houses, fixed up old houses, and new houses fixed up to look old.

The journey was colored by intersecting gravel roads, many with the name of creeks that dissect the countryside and others that have taken on the name of the predominate family name that live off the main road. Adding color to the area is the memory of stories about moonshiners who populated the region in days gone by. Rocks and trees didn’t provide a viable income for many so they turned to the fermented products. Many of these maverick entrepreneurs also supported the community churches. This apparent contrast can partially be explained by the anthropology of the earlier settlers of the region. Way back in time, their ancestors had left Europe looking for religious and economic freedom. Many had a strong mistrust of man-made institutions. While some were God-fearing men they felt their first call was to take care of their own. Others fell captive to the products they produced and led troubled lives. This was a great area for illegal activity. A native could easily hide in the complicated countryside from those that had not grown up hunting and fishing those woods and streams.

A sport of national popularity had its birth in these hills, NASCAR racing. The moonshiners had to deliver their products. To evade the law the drivers needed powerful cars and superior driving skills to navigate these winding gravel roads. ‘40 Ford coupes were the vehicles of choice. Many had better engines than they had brakes leading to disastrous consequences. A movie, THUNDER ROAD, amplified this lifestyle to the nation.

Blending visual images with stories is an exciting activity. The apparent serenity of the countryside of today masks times past. But the journey gave life to stories I had heard all my life. I guess that is why people make pilgrimages to the Holy Land.