You Do Not Have to Believe All I Say 7

I well remember one summer day Mother decided that the church just had to be cleaned, so she took one of my sisters and me and went down with the scrub brooms and soap buckets.  I was to carry water and ___ was to scrub the church.  Mother was so allergic to tobacco and she got so sick that she had to spend her time outdoors vomiting and left my sister and me to throw water on the floor and the soap and they had holes bored in the floor.  After you messed it around with the scrub brooms, it ran down through the holes and ran away.  But we did the best job we knew to do to scrub the church.  But Mother couldn't stand the tobacco.  I think it was subjective rather than actually was poisonous to her, but she got very sick in trying to help clean this church.

Well, people in Bland were good and bad, and just like there are today.  I am not trying to promote Bland County.  Therefore, in order that you may have a proper perspective, I'm going to give some of the bad things that happened in Bland County.

I remember very well, Grandfather Muncy telling about when he was a boy that he went down near Mechanicsburg to witness a hanging.  Mother stopped him from telling more -- she didn't want me to hear it -- so I don't know what he was guilty of.

Also, later, a Negro named Dan was lynched for some crime that he was accused of committing but they never tried him, they never gave him a chance to defend himself in any way.  They just lynched him.

Now, I will tell several things which you and your Ma may mark off the book or keep going, just as you wish.

Reverend A. A. Ashworth[37], your great, great, great ancestor, went over on Father's land, and cut down a beautiful lumber tree, hauled it away and had it sawed up into plank.  Father, when he saw what had happened, he went to him and told him that he knew that he was on Father's land when he cut the tree.

And the old man says, "Now Jesse.  Now, Jesse, let's don't have any trouble now, Jesse.  You just go over on my land and cut down one of my trees, and take it and have it sawed up."  But the hitch was that old man Ashworth didn't have a tree as nice as the one that he cut off of Father's land.

Whiskey and women were the causes of a good many of the crimes in Bland County.  And of course, greed is always there as it has always been.  The three things which have cursed mankind.  I will give some personal knowledge.  I was in school with a young boy, he was older than I.  His name was Charles Umbarger.  He went to Wytheville one day, had to walk across the mountain some 20 miles with snow on, they found him down beside the road in the north of the mountains down in the snow frozen to death.  He had a half-empty bottle of whiskey in his pocket.

A neighbor of ours, by the name of ____[38], he lived, oh, about two miles away from home, he was determined that he was going to bootleg whiskey, and there was some woman mixed up in his affairs somewhere.

His father was a well-to-do man and had owned the farm there which he had virtually given to his son ____. But ____ is said to have killed a man and it cost his father some $50,000 to keep him out of the penitentiary. ____ went away to West Virginia penniless. He came back later for relatives to take care of him.

A boy that I knew quite well was ____[39]. His father was a drunkard.  His father said if you give a boy a dram when you take one, he'll never be a drunkard.  So that was his father's philosophy, but it didn't work with ____.  One time ____ wanted more than his father's small sip of whiskey, so he stole his father's key one night.  When the father demanded the key back he didn't return the key until he made a duplicate, then he turned it back and he kept on drinking his father's whiskey.

Now, I roomed with ____ and I knew him well, very well.  But as a boy, he had delirium tremors.  He told me that he had a fight with the devil and finally threw the devil out of the window.  But in a little bit the devil crawled through the keyhole and came back in; that he smashed him over the head with a chair and broke the chair all to pieces before his brother came in and quieted him down in some way.

Accidentally, he was out with a boy that he was fond of one evening and heard some people shooting off in the distance and the boy he was with had an old pistol and he tried to shoot it, couldn't get it to fire and ____ said, "Let me fire it."  And he took it and got to fooling with it, and shot at the boy that was riding the horse along side of him and killed him.  That sobered ____ up, and he decided that he was going to do right and he was going to get an education.  So he went to Emory & Henry College, later received his degree as a doctor.  He served in the Navy for years even after the close of the First World War, and since he died, he was buried in Arlington Seminary.  Arlington Cemetery.  Excuse my lisping.

Well, he was known in college as ____, and his early habits came back somewhat.  Though he didn't take up drinking, he never could keep from cursing.  He got into a little difficulty once with the faculty and he had some students around and he was telling the students to a group what he thought of the faculty.

There was at the time a ministerial student that I'll call Parson, Parson Bunts.  Some of the students said, " ____, you oughtn't to cuss before Parson Bunts that way; you'll hurt his feelings.  You see him walk away." ____ said, "My God, I'll apologize."

So ____ pulled out, went to see Parson Bunts, and he says, "Good ol' Parson, they say I cussed before you and hurt your feelings.  I wouldn't hurt your feelings for anything in this world. But when I get to talking about this God damn faculty, I get so damn mad I can't help it!"

Well, I was in school with another young man in the public school.  He was much older.  He was a grown young man when I was just a small child.  When he quit the public schools he went to huckstering.  He'd gather up eggs and chickens and various products and haul them away to the market and sell them.

And he got to drinking.  In time, he got to drinking so badly that he got on his horse one night and rode to a cliff, and after several efforts, forced his horse to dash over that cliff and killed himself.

Two members of a prominent family -- their name was ____[40] -- lived together.  One was married and the other was not. And they married into a prominent family.  Not the royal families, but very fine families.  These two brothers killed his wife -- both of them killed her -- and they tried to burn her up in a stove in the house.  Failing to do that, they took her up on the side of the mountain and pitched the remains of her over the cliff on the side of the mountain.

Well, then there were quite a number of murders. ____[41] killed a boy for surprising him in some act that he didn't intend the boy to know about.  Went on and killed another boy for much the same reason.  The deputy treasurer of the county, who was Cordie Stafford's uncle according to my brother Peery, he was crippled.  He had one leg.  He was elected to be treasurer of the County.  He had collected a considerable sum of money.  He took the money to carry to Wytheville, and he and his horse disappeared and have never been discovered.  Most people believed that it had been impossible for a one-legged man to have gotten away and not been caught by the detectives somewhere.  They are reasonably certain that someone in Bland County who knew about the deed and the plan to carry the money to Wytheville, disposed of him and his horse for the money.

Well, I could name a great many undesirable deeds.  But I will not.  The fact is that the human race has never been perfect and is not now.  We certainly have made great strides in the intellectual fields.  But in the fields of morality, in the field of government, and behavior, certainly we're in a very trying age today.  Where we're going and what the outcome is going to be, perhaps you younger people will learn more about it than I shall ever know.  But a grave crisis and a great problem is yours as well as it has been mine.

Now, Bland County is not different from other counties and other places.  It had very few real needy people. I don't think anyone suffered for food or clothing in the early days in Bland or later.

When I went to Baltimore to school at Johns Hopkins University, which at that time was downtown in a poor section of the city, I was shocked to see a man in his professional business was sifting the ashes that people carried out to the back alley to be hauled away. He had a little sieve, sort of like my mother used to -- used to use to sift the corn meal, and he'd sift these ashes, and get a few cinders out, and I would see some poor old lady come out and they would talk some little bit, I guess bargaining.  And by and by, he would empty some of his cinders into a paper bag and she'd give him a little money and she'd go back and try to warm herself with those cinders sifted from the coal in the back alleys.  Those were hard days.

And I heard while I was there in Baltimore, some women talking about the problem they had providing shoes and clothing for some poor children.  Since the father of the children drank so that he'd take their shoes and clothes and sell them to get whiskey.  So there is work yet for us to do.

I would like to say here, since I'm talking about Bland County, that as a younger man, I came down to eastern Virginia to teach school at a nice little town of Emporia in Greensville County.  At that time, they had complete segregation, and in that county they had three on the board of supervisors for the county.  One of the three couldn't sign his own name but had to make his mark.  In the white school, there were children who had their underclothes sewn on in the fall and they wouldn't be taken off until the spring.

A survey was made of the education in the state of Virginia by a team from the University of Cincinnati.  They found that this Greensville County had a one-room black school that had an enrollment of a hundred and eighty pupils.

I myself went with the state superintendent to visit a colored school while I was teaching there in the white school.  The superintendent went in and spoke to a lady teacher and looked over the room and he says, "How many do you have enrolled?"

She says, "I have a hundred and two enrolled."  The superintendent says, "There's not that many here now, are there?"  She says, "No, sir.  They don't all come the same day."

But the people of the South, of eastern Virginia at least, took great advantage of the Negroes during the days before the Civil War and after the Civil War.

Mentioning the colored people, of course it's a very great problem how it will all be worked out.  It will take someone who can see much farther ahead than I can, and perhaps than you can.

My cousin, Mrs. Leona Newton[42], and I, think we have rather wide interests.  We discovered along the bank of the James River a plant which hadn't been known in Virginia before.  I presume it was probably brought in on ships or it might have been carried by birds from South America.

Anyway, the agriculture department set to work and have done a pretty thorough job of destroying it by a powerful spray which killed not only the plant we discovered, but others.

We also have a lot of interesting birds.  And I spend considerable time and money feeding the birds.  We smear peanut butter -- the chunky peanut butter seems to be preferred -- and we smear it over pine cones for birds.  We mix the litmix feed, but buy sunflower seed and small grain.  And I have found out that if I use Leona's kitchen mixer and chop the sunflower seeds to pieces, that the little birds like it better.

Out of the number and varieties that we have, we've had one that seems to be a hybrid.  At least we can't identify it in any of our books.  It would be, I'd say, a finch, but it has white wings.  But we can't identify it.  We have siskins and bull finches and purple finches and sparrows and unnumbered, and black birds of many breeds, and doves and a large numbers of cardinals. Well, . . .

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copyright 2001-2005 Lawrence J. Smith