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Stories of our past provide insight

Roger Barbee (Buy photo)

By Roger Barbee - redhill@shentel.net

As can happen in life, if you do something long enough, before you know it, it becomes a tradition, or as John Ferrel says, "an unexamined habit."

Thus, during this year's Shenandoah County Route 11 Yard Crawl, I found myself the designated driver for the fourth year.

However, I do not mean to complain, as it helps Mary Ann and it is safer -- I just drive and go where directed, to whatever pile of goods seems promising, and she concentrates on shopping. A good book and the Daily help pass time at stops move smoothly, and this year's book, a collection of essays by Eudora Welty, proved especially useful.

We live just off the The Pike -- also known as U.S. Route 11, so our first stop was close to home, but brief. I did not really have time to sort the paper for reading -- (I have never understood how someone can read a newspaper without first sorting the sections into an order to be read, and, yes, being male, sports, is first). But, we quickly went to our next stop, and as I began to read about the Olympics, a lady came to the passenger window to introduce herself.

As folks along The Pike browsed, bartered, and bought, I was fortunate enough to hear some history of our immediate area, Bowman's Crossing, from a Mrs. Golladay, whose story of being born in a still-standing house in Edinburg, of building first one house with her husband, then purchasing the present site to build a new brick house, and sadly of his death five years ago, was recalled with energy and insight. She even gently corrected some of my misunderstandings. The brief interlude was such a delight that I asked her to come visit so I could hear more history of our area. As we left her yard to go to whatever stop was on the horizon, I hoped that all shoppers would find the good bargain that I had just experienced, and Mrs. Golladay's story caused me to look closer for sites she had mentioned as we traveled The Pike toward Woodstock.

In her essay, "Some Notes on River Country," Eudora Welty writes, "A place that ever was lived in is like a fire that never goes out." Hearing Mrs. Golladay's story certainly was keeping a fire going and as we made our way north, I looked closer at the older buildings and houses that dotted our way. Instead of the unpainted, framed, falling-in pile of timber on the west side of The Pike, I tried to envision Mr. Shaun's store in its heyday of selling milk, bread, some meats, soft drinks in a cold tub of water, dry goods, and tobacco.

The small cabins with their faded sign for tourists took on a new light as I saw them when they were newly built for travelers before there was an interstate to carry families fast and far. Bowman's Crossing, as it is always, was full of commerce and activity anchored by H&R.

And so it went as we drove north past the restored mill, through Edinburg where U.S. Route 11 sadly laps at the front doors, down the hill past the small, white church, the old Painter home, and the empty stone building before crossing Passage Creek, and into the southern end of Woodstock, I wondered of the life that had been here long before us. And I hoped, as Welty writes, it all "is like a fire that never goes out." But for a fire to start, it needs fuel and oxygen. The buildings and homes, in whatever condition, are the fuel, but where is the oxygen?

In his delightful and useful book, "Names on the Land," George Stewart tells how places in America came to be named as they are. As we came back into Edinburg from the north, I took notice of the birth house of Mrs. Golladay, which not long ago was a favorite restaurant of ours and is now fully restored and for rent. When we stopped at the mill, I not only studied the high water mark from the January 1996 flood, but also thought of Granny Reb Clindins, who argued the Federals out of burning it. As we came up the hill toward Bowman's Crossing, I thought of Gordon who helped his father-in-law Clem farm their 13 acres tucked between The Pike and the railroad. Stewart gives us names on the land, but I hope we can keep the names of the land. Who will remember the stories of the people who worked the land and built their lives around it?

When I was a boy growing up in North Carolina, we would spend time sitting with older relatives after supper on the porch or in the back yard on a Sunday afternoon under a big shade tree or around the only heater in the house if it was cold. They talked. We listened. We heard stories, mostly real, that grounded us in whatever our heritage was. It was not always positive, but it was colorful and people and their actions before us came alive. We learned from what and from whom we came and that gave us an identity, good or bad or, usually, a mixture.

Perhaps because I am new in the valley, I don't know a great deal about it and her people, but I know that I listen and question older citizens to hear their stories. And those stories make the land and what it holds come alive. Our stories are us, and like an old burn pit behind a house, they reveal a great deal about who was here before us and what they were like. I hope Mrs. Golladay comes soon for a visit and brings more of her story to share.

Roger Barbee is a retired educator who lives in Edinburg with his wife Mary Ann, four dogs and five cats. Email him at redhill@shentel.net


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