William Jesse Absher was born on September 29, 1920, although his birth certificate marks the date as Sept 21. His sisters who were "walking family encyclopedias" were sure the 29th date was correct and attributed the error to a country doctor who was sometimes slow about getting birth records filed. He was born in Lunenburg County, Virginia, but was moved to Montgomery County as an infant. His dad, William Avery, was an entrepreneur and owned and operated sawmills and general stores about everywhere he went. He moved his family to Montgomery County after buying a stand of timber. He bought a house and General store on the Catawba Road in the McDonalds Mill community about a mile from the Roanoke County line.
The Absher family was already large when W. J. was born. His older brothers were Tivis, Frazier, Limuell, Harold and Creed. The older sisters were Helen, Viola, and Willie. Two sisters, Fannie and Thelma, were born in Montgomery County. William A. was a traveling man and was not always faithful to the mother of all those children, the former Dallas Allifair Cook. Apparent infidelity produced a half brother for the Absher kids, Avery. Avery Absher was taken in and raised like a son by Uncle Tivis’ family. It is an interesting side note that W. J, and his half brother, the youngest of W. A.'s sons, finally got the names William and Avery. Records indicate that these were both family names used over several generations. William Avery used the abbreviation, Wm., to designate himself and used "Wm. Absher and Sons" for his business title.
Bill’s mother, Dallas Allifair Cook, was from Richlands, VA. Her brother, B. J. Cook, served as mayor of Richlands for several years.
Much happened in Bill's early life but the tragedy of his father’s murder had to be a major obstacle for the young boy to overcome. There was always speculation as to why William Avery was murdered but the story William J. told me is as follows:
Wm. was working in Tazewell County. He had a half sister, Cynthia. Cynthia married John McGee, but their marriage was troubled. John attempted to patch up the marriage by purchasing a nearly new Model A Ford for her to drive. Must have been "too little, too late," since she told John that she was going to sell the car. John’ response was that he would kill anyone that bought the car. It’s unclear why Wm. proceeded to buy the car; had he known about the threat, did he think it had been retracted, or he just didn’t think it would happen? At any rate he purchased the car and was driving Cynthia, her mother and a young boy up the dirt road from the coal tipple at Raven in Tazewell County toward Buchanan County. They met a logging truck and pulled over to let it pass. The truck was driven by John McGee and when he saw who was in the car he got out of his truck rather than passing and pulled out a gun, aiming it at Wm.. Wm. Raised his arm or reached for the gun but John pulled the trigger shooting William in the chest, killing him instantly. John, in his enraged state, shot his estranged wife and her mother as they sat stunned in the car. The young boy was spared John’s wrath. The two wounded women survived the shots but at the scene, it appeared to be a massacre. Wm’s brother, Charles, was first on the scene, and he summoned the law. A deputy sheriff and a posse came and followed John to his house that was nearby. John took refuge under his porch and began spraying bullets at the approaching posse. Gunfire was returned and a bullet, allegedly from the deputy’s gun, struck and killed John. This ended the case, so there was never a trial that may have detailed the events that led up to the shooting.
This all took place in the Spring of 1931. Wm. was buried in a lonely grave at the crest of a ridge just up the hill from where he died. His grave and head stone were moved to Blacksburg on October 31, 2003.
The tomb stone name is W. M. Absher but should have been "Wm." or "Wm. A. "
Growing up fast.
Bill was 10 years old when his all happened. He lived at home with his mother and the younger brothers and sisters. Most of the Absher kids left home to find work in their teens so it wasn’t long until Bill was the man of the house. He felt the responsibility of caring for his mother and doing what he could to keep the subsistence farm producing something that they could eat or sell. Bill grew up hunting, not as a sportsman but as a provider of food for the meager Absher table. He always spoke of fried squirrel as a delicacy on the Absher table. When the garden wasn’t in, cornmeal mush might be all that was on the table besides milk and butter that came from their few cows, unless Bill had shot a rabbit or a squirrel. Their farm flock of chickens produced an occasional Sunday dinner. This made the family look forward to Thanksgiving, since that was generally hog killing time. Butchering was a community activity. Hogs were fed to get heavy and fat so that there would be sufficient lard and cured meats to last most of the year. Dressing hogs as a community activity made a lot of sense, since the hair had to be scalded and scraped off the pork carcasses. Water was heated over a wood fire, and it took a lot of manpower to handle, scrape and hang the big carcasses. Most farms had their own smoke houses, so the bellies, hams and shoulders were salted and smoked so they could keep for a long time without refrigeration.
Bill’s formal education began pretty informally in the old building that still stands
(2010) on what used to be the Stanley Wright place, across the road from the home place and up the road a short distance toward the church. The building was a church (before about 1880) and became an Odd Fellows’ Lodge. The Lodge allowed the room downstairs to be used as a school. The second school he attended was near Dry Run. As the name implies, Dry Run is a streambed that is dry most of the time. A dirt and/or gravel roadbed sometimes follows the streambed, and in wet weather the stream may use the roadbed. Dry Run is a connector lane between the Catawba Road (VA 785) and the Back Road. The Dry Run School was remodeled and a brick veneer was added by Bill Grub, fully disguising the old seat of education. The third building in which Bill attended school also still stands and has been converted to an attractive home by Lonnie Agnew. The lines of the building suggest a well-built structure.