Your great Uncle Miller Thompson who married Molly Kate Ashworth, he was one of those men whom everybody loved. I never heard anybody say a word against Miller Thompson or say they disliked him. All the young people liked him and he was always ready to play and talk with them. And his little store and mill became something of a gathering place for the community. And he was always ready to have us there. My brother Peery and I would go down, usually pick up Doc Thomas' boys and meet there.
One time at the Christmas season, he had quite a stock of fireworks with big size firecrackers and Roman candles. Well, we'd spent all the money we had with him and went outside the store -- the four or five of us -- built a little fire where we could light these big firecrackers. We'd start lighting them and throw them away as soon as they began to spark, and throw 'em away and throw 'em away, and you'd hear bang, bang, like cannons, almost. By and by, one of the Thomas boys didn't manage to throw his away and it banged right by his wrist and nearly blew his thumb off. But we kept on playing and then we went over in the field above his house and started the battle with our Roman candles. And I never enjoyed anything more than to get a big Roman candle and shoot about a half a dozen fire balls and take after one of the Thomas boys. He was run like death. He was older and bigger than I was but I loved to chase him and I chased him all around and nearly burnt his shirt off of him.
It seemed like I can't remember the important things. Although the people that stayed way back there in the mountains, when it was way back in the mountains, we couldn't hear a train whistle anywhere, but my forefathers carried something with them into the mountains when they came.
There was old man Samuel Newberry. He served in the General Assembly in Virginia and was one of the Big Four, and when he wasn't elected governor, he came back and became a little bit sour and settled down on his farm, held himself to writing poetry and wrote some very good poetry, had it published in quite a volume. One of them was "Eagle Oaks." I remember a verse "Ye tillers and ye toilers, ye earn the nation's bread. You feed its hungry millions and all those crumbs are fed." I think it was pretty good poetry.
He had two sons way back there in Bland. One of them became a missionary to the slums of New York and the other became a doctor and died in Bland County.
Speaking of missionaries, I believe I told you that my mother had a cousin, one of the Peerys, who spent 14 years as a missionary in Japan. Also, there was one of the Muncy's that some of the Muncy's delighted in claiming kindred with, that never went to school in his life. But he became such a profound preacher that he was famous throughout the whole South. When Uncle Charlie Muncy was in school at VPI, they said that this William Elbert Muncy came there to speak and such a crowd gathered to hear him that when he came, none of them would give way so they passed him over their heads to the platform where he was to speak.
He went back in the mountains and became a pastor in one of the leading churches in Baltimore and then he went to Atlanta, Georgia, to one of the leading churches there, reading his sermons, which do not make a great appeal to me, but published in two volumes and are commented on often.
Well, there were able people of the frontier. I believe someone said that the most able people are those that go to the frontier and the less able stay at home. Anyway, the people of Bland County, most of them, had very great pride and they still have.
It's rather interesting the way the early settlers married. My great, great grandfather Bruce married Anna Ballard. Two of his sons, one of them my great-grandfather, married sisters by the name of Hearns. Two brothers married two sisters. Then my grandfather and two of his brothers married three sisters. They were the Justices. My grandmother was Minerva Justice and two of grandfather's boys married sisters to my grandmother.
It is strange how every animal, almost every animal, seems to want to return to the place of its birth. Of course we know the stories of the salmon.
Also, Little Creek on which we lived in Bland was a branch of what was known as Walkers Creek. It ran right up by Miller Thompson's, and Miller Thompson put in a dam that made no provisions for the fish running upstream to pass over the dam or around the dam.
For the first year or two or three after this dam was built, the fish would come up from Big Walkers Creek where they'd gone for deep waters to spend the winter, come up in the spring, and go into a little branch below the dam in the hundreds. And go out there and just pick the fish up with their hand, didn't have to use a net or anything, you could just pick them up with your hands. But in two or three years, they stopped running up that stream.
Birds -- the same bird wants to return to the same territory where they were born. And especially those that have nested there want to return to the same trees almost, to nest a second time. You can observe that in human beings. They want to return to the place of their childhood.
I don't know, I couldn't explain why, but Bland County to me is different from any other spot on the earth. It has changed so much, there's no one there, almost no one who was there when I was a boy. And everything has changed, which is a great disappointment when I go there.
But the longing to return to the scenes of youth remains, at least it remains with me, just as it does with the salmon and with most forms of life.
When I was about 14 years of age, my parents discovered that I was spending most of my time during the school days skating on the creek with another boy and decided they'd have to do something about it. They didn't whip me, they didn't even scold me, they knew the teacher I had was no account, but they told me that I had to go to Bland to school, Bland Courthouse, that is.
Bland Courthouse was four and a half miles from home. So they said in the morning, you pick up your books and hoof it this four and a half miles to Bland Courthouse, and be sure that you get there by the time school should open. And, of course I obeyed my parents.
I got my big geography under my arm, and my arithmetic, and grammar and reader, and whatever books I was supposed to be studying under my arm. I didn't have a haversack, but just took them under my arm and hoofed it up to Bland Courthouse to the school building.
The principal was named Tom Dunn and he was a good man, a good teacher, a fine fellow. He came around when I got there and said, "Let me see your books." And I showed them to him. He said, "These books are all right, you can use them here."
So he said to sit down such-and-such a place, and I sat and I kept my head down, ashamed of myself for being there as a late student entering, due to the fact that I'd been skating for hours and hours. It undoubtedly was up toward mid-winter when I started, but I don't remember that part of it. But I sat with my head down and listened rather carefully to what was going on.
They called it the high school, but there was only one teacher who taught all the high school subjects, and there was some other teacher who taught the elementary school subjects.
After I had been sitting there, I don't know whether it was hours or days, but I looked over across the room, and by George, if I didn't see the prettiest girl that ever lived, I thought. I fell so desperately in love with her, well I call it love, I just went to worshipping her, she was a goddess on earth.
And for a good many years, I worshipped her but I never received any blessings at her shrine. After the year was out and I went back home during the vacation and worked on the farm -- I say going back home, I was spending all my nights at home, I was a home boy if ever there was a home boy. In all my childhood I spent very few nights away from home. Home was the best place in the world and I loved it, so I went home and helped plant and thin the corn, and cut weeds, and brought in the cows, and did the usual jobs on the farm. Cut stove wood and so forth and so on.
My second year going to Bland High School, I had a man named Jim Gollehon, he was principal and teacher of the high school. His delight was selecting large words and sending pupils to the blackboard, have them write the word down on the blackboard if they could spell it. If they couldn't spell it, they would get a low mark but he'd have them write that word down on the blackboard and then he'd have them break it up into syllables and put the diacritical marks over it. Well, I knew that some words had syllables and had diacritical marks over them, but I didn't know what the diacritical marks meant. But I proceeded with one and then when I got through and he asked me to pronounce, I made an effort to pronouncing it and pronounced it all wrong and he joined in with all the rest of the students to laugh, while I wanted to crawl under the bench. But anyway, we learned a little about pronunciation, or I thought we did. That was the second year.
Then the third year, well, the local Presbyterian preacher served as the principal of the school. And though he was a married man and pretty good reputation, he made google eyes at one of the school girls, and all the children knew that he was doing it. I don't know whether it went any further than that or not. But one of the things he did that year was teaching history. He tried to make us memorize the Declaration of Independence from preamble through to the end and explain the meaning of each phrase in the Declaration of Independence. Well, after eight or nine months, eight months I'm sure, we got rid of him.
The next year, we got a young fellow who had been attending the University of Virginia. His name was John Corey Jammerson . He had finished three years at the University of Virginia and was going to take law. The first year of law would count as his fourth year at the university and he could get his bachelor's degree and then at the end of three more years, he'd get his degree as a lawyer. He was a splendid young fellow and I was very fond of him. He really taught me to appreciate "The Snowbound" and Longfellow's poems and some other poems, and he taught me how to scan poetry and how to write poetry and I thought, well, I would write some poetry, and I did, such as it was.
Well, after he had been there some time, I asked him if he would like to go coon hunting, he said he certainly would like to go. "How'd ya catch them, does the dog set the coon?" And I told him, "No, they didn't set the coon, they chased them up the tree and we either shook them out of the tree or cut the tree down."
So he decided that he'd like to go coon hunting. So, one Friday I took him down home. I took an extra horse and brought him down and I made arrangements with Jim Ashworth and Cicero Thompson and Uncle Jess Muncy for us all to go coon hunting. I didn't have a coon dog. Really, Uncle Jess was the one that had the coon dog, but Jim Ashworth and Cicero Thompson, they liked the hunting, too. So after mother had given John Corey Jammerson, the ___ who thought the dogs might set the coons, after she had given him a good dinner, I got out a couple of horses and we started. Jim Ashworth came by -- he lived east of the house -- he came by, and we went up, going west, to stop at this Cicero Thompson's, to get him.
Well, then we took to the mountains. And we went through the mountains. Well, Brushy Mountain at that time mostly had pine trees on it. Scrub pine, most of them, but some of them were quite tall and straight like telephone poles. And John Corey Jammerson thought . . . (tape runs out)
. . . and a large part of the night climbing trees. If there were any coons on Brushy Mountain, they were clear back where we started. So, we walked through the mountains about three or four miles and came back down home and when I got home it was getting daylight, Mother was already up and had breakfast ready. We sat down, hungry as wolves. I've always heard that wolves were hungry, I don't know. I've never been one, but I've just heard the expression that wolves were hungry, and we were as hungry as wolves. And we sat down to eat, but John Corey could hardly wait until he got through eating his breakfast. He was spent and all of his energy had come up and went as the story goes. Well, soon as he got through, we showed him to his room and he went to bed. I think with his shoes off, but possibly the rest of his garments on.