Bill Bird 303
Interview done by Jeffrey Johnson and Ryan Leftwich on Mr. and Mrs. Bill Bird on February 20, 2000
My name is Bill Bird. I was born right down the road from downtown Rocky Gap on September 28, 1931. My father was born in Bland on Route 42, about two miles east of Bland at the old Bird home place. My mother was born down Wolf Creek about two miles where my uncle Will Davis and his wife lived in the later years.
Our family ran a farm for a living My dad loved his purebred Hereford cattle made a lot of money off of them. He had a real good purebred stock and he sold a lot of bull calves. He would walk the fellows down if they came to look at the stuff if they went up to the north on the upper boundary. He would be talking, and fifteen seconds later, he’d look around and there wasn’t anybody around They’d be heaving their breath about fifty yards down the trail.
He was a hard worker. He had work ethics and in a matter of fact I can attest to that. He about worked me to death a few times on occasion. He got up early and worked late as a rule. He ran for office one time and got beat by a hand full of votes. He ran for the Commissioner of Revenue and Doc Havens beat him. Doc was known better in the more populated areas. Dad didn’t have time to get out and campaign.
My grandparents on my dad’s side were George T. Bird My grandma died when she was fifty-one and I never did see her. She passed away very early on. There were eleven children in the family, plus the parents made thirteen. I’ve heard people say often that we never grumbled about anything. When we would sit down to eat at the dinner table, we all grabbed what we could. When we were done, the table was pretty well empty. My grandmother on my mother’s side was Mrs. Emma Stafford. She married a second time. Her maiden name was Davis. She married an older man the first time. He passed away before I ever got to see him. It was sort of a switch around there, but I had a big time. I used to go over to their place all the time, which was in Mechanicsburg where they ran a country store.
The old boys and myself had some good old times together. To get money to buy candy and pop and stuff with that I just thought I had to have from a kid on. They told me to do this I would go up and raid the chicken house and get all the eggs I could find. I’d make four or five raids a day on that and I’d take them in the store so I could sell them to buy pop, candy, etc. etc. Now when pop went up to six cents after all those years, us old boys just threw a fit. We’d raise cane Stomping and carrying on. Back then if you had a dime you were lucky. You only had four cents to buy candy with. We went down and fished on Walkers Creek and swam, and did everything that boys got into as youngsters.
For fun, we did everything you name it. We went out and shot frogs with a bow and arrow, and so forth. I would also fish Using an old black line and tying it on the end of a pole. Once I got enough money, I bought my first fishing pole from Dave Carver for $3.00. The first red-eye I caught, I would take home as quickly as possible to show it off. As I grew older, I shot squirrels and ground hogs and so forth.
For chores, I started off at about five or six years old. I would carry a gallon of water to workers who were putting up hay and whatnot. By the time they would get done drinking all the way around, they would send me back for another one. Then when I got up around eight and nine years old I got hauling shocks. I would ride the shock in and then I would bring the horse and chain or cable or rope back. Then after a little while at nine or ten years old I would do it myself. And of course I would hoe corn. On one, or two, or three occasions in my young life there I had a little lamb at when it came feeding time he would come to the fence above and behind the house. I’d stick the bottle through the fence and he would really go at it. Of course I carried in wood. My mother cooked on a wood stove and boy you had to get that thing blistering hot. She had to endure that heat during the summer and so forth. We had more work that we did but that was some of the basic work that we did.
One chore that did not get any better for me was the hoeing of the corn. Boy, my dad believed in the hoeing of the corn, loosening up around the heel. When you started he didn’t believe in you quitting for water until you got to the other end of the row and back and then you got water. This was in the blistering hot sun. Sometimes I laid the hoe down where I was at to get water, and then I came back and finished. There was plenty of work and I’m glad of it because it will help to create good work habits and it will follow you right on through your life.
The big, two-story house down here. We had to carry our water in from the spring. That reminds me right there. My mother would pick me up every now and then when I was a little kid and fell and couldn’t get my breath. She said I was holding my breath but I say I couldn’t get it, I couldn’t get my breath. She would pick me up and run me around there and dash that water in my face and then I could breathe. If I fell or lost my breath then I couldn’t breathe until she did that. We had to carry the wood in, the water in and so forth. We got running water and a bathroom later on but we did not have one for a while. Electricity - why I was pretty well up in my studies in school when I studied by lamplight. If company came then we put out the Aladdin lamp, it put out about four times the heat that the regular lamp put out.
I went to Rocky Gap. It was nothing like it is now. It is much better and much improved. It was pretty good and we managed to have some pretty good principals and a bunch of pretty fair teachers. Mrs. Hazel Stowers just might have been one of the most outstanding teachers. We enjoyed it and I had a few fights along the way as most everybody does. We got along pretty good.
I think I was known to catch a Praying Mantis and put it on her desk. She came back in and she squalled and jumped. And I said, "A Praying Mantis is not going to hurt you". I don’t remember the outcome. She tried to make a big to do about it.
I remember when I got married - One thing that I remember, I was just as nervous as I could be and the preacher was pretty good. He said let’s go one time just make this a practice round. He could tell I was kind of nervous. We said our "I do’s". He said you’re Man and Wife. That practice round was the real thing. Harold Pruett was my best man. We had fished and hunted together for years at that time. He misunderstood the time we were supposed to leave the house. He was about 45 minutes late.
I had a little ’51 Chevrolet car. It had that little power glide transmission - great little car but it wasn’t exactly a speed demon. So the cop blew a whistle and I was trying to catch my cut off. I wasn’t going on real fast, and he said, "Move it on out there".
Back when we were young, you didn’t do a lot of drugs and whatnot. I didn’t know what drugs were when I was in school. Never heard of them didn’t know what they were. Still don’t except what I hear.
Now this old road here you think its bad now thirty miles an hour was top speed on it then or you would shake your car all to pieces. It was just rutted out and just an old road. They followed the main roadbed a great portion of the time and widened out a little bit and hard topped it. But as you know this road behind the house was where the old road went. You were aware of that weren’t you?
Franklin D. Roosevelt is the first president I remember from my time. My folks took me to see him at Roanoke. He gave a speech at Roanoke. I was just a little shaver maybe three or four years old. I couldn’t see him of course, so my dad put me up on his shoulder, and let me watch him speak. My dad thought there was nobody like Franklin D. Roosevelt and everybody else thought there was nobody like Franklin D Roosevelt. Because the country was going down the drain and he saved it, by shutting the banks down for a holiday. He got the banks straightened out where the people didn’t panic. The crash of ‘29 really set things off. We went through a depression - a major depression.
I was born in ’31 so things were beginning to get better, but don’t you think that I didn’t hear about it. My folks they talked about that for years. They never let you forget it. One time, I might have told you about this Ryan, but one time I was a little shaver about six years old getting up getting ready to eat breakfast. I had a pan of water. I washed my face and hands, and I laid the soap back down in the water, just not thinking. I didn’t think about it melting. Started drying my hands and my dad noticed and he said "Billy pick that soap out of the water it will melt, you’ll use that soap tomorrow." Things were tough then. You youngsters now would never believe how tough it was.
I can tell you where I was when FDR died. My dad and I were out behind the old house working on some old water pipe. He died in 1945 from a cerebral hemorrhage and my mother heard it on the radio, of course that was long before TV. She said "Franklin D Roosevelt is dead." Daddy said "What? She said "Yeah he died suddenly of a cerebral hemorrhage." My dad cried.
I can’t remember just how old I was when we got electricity. I know we kept hearing you know. I hoped that we would hurry up and get it. Finally it came up through here. We were really a fairly remote section at that time. When we got the electricity it was a big deal and great help. Speaking of a telephone we’ve still got the old telephone mounted on the wall down at my mother’s house, and it was mounted on the wall and its probably this high which is probably about two feet. You had a ringer on that thing. You ring it up and central would get you your people whoever you were calling. It’s nothing like today. It would be a valuable piece to sell. Many people tried to buy that old phone.
the westerns were my all time favorite television shows. I used to be able to go, from the time I was a little shaver on up to the time I was a pretty good size old boy, I could go to Bluefield, the folks would give me maybe a quarter. I could go to any of the theaters, which were a dime for a movie. Now they are whatever five, six, seven dollars I guess. I could go for a dime and now get this I could see maybe two pictures which might both be westerns or there might be one western and another on a weekend particularly. I could see two chapters of a serial, sometimes just one, a cartoon, and the news, and some previews of coming attractions. Which might be four hours of movie for a dime. Then I had me a nickel or two left over to buy pop and popcorn.
I was probably somewhere around the house when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. It was a devastating thing and Franklin Roosevelt got right with it there and the next day he, of course, he discussed it with Congress and the next day he declared war on the Japanese and buddy we were full fledged then.
My dad was in the service for WWII. He was ready to go over and do some fighting and about that time the First World War was over with.
During the war, they turned automobile factories into factories for building guns and ammunition, ships and planes so they just immediately turned them into and the production they put out had never been seen before. So anyway they just shut off cars from about 1941 on through to about 1945 and then they resumed the building of cars and all. The car factories were mobilized into building factories for munitions of war and they did an extremely good job. A lot of the women were into riveting. They had that Rosie the Riveter. She was kind of an example so the women were in on it too. They did a marvelous job.
Well, blackouts were more of a practice. Just to walk you through it in case you were bombed because it was a pretty terrible time. And they gathered up all those Japanese-Americans (especially in California and around the west coast area) they gathered them up and put them in a camp. They didn’t want them to be able to get messages back to their homeland but a lot of those Japanese as it turned out later fought (I saw a skit on that on TV here just the other night). They fought for the United States in that war against their homeland.
It was a war that had to be done. The Japanese really messed up. They bit off more than they could chew. When they bombed Pearl Harbor see we had been helping Great Britain, France and the other allied countries and sending ships and planes and ammunition and everything to them. But when they jumped on us particularly then the U.S. fellows went into it and they really got with it. And it had to be tough going.
We were around here at the house close when the atom bomb had been dropped, and I tell you what now if they hadn’t dropped that atom bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki it would have been a lot more lives because those Japanese were fortified to fight until the last man. And they would have done it. It wasn’t any use for them to continue after that. But if the Germans had gotten it, which they were feverishly working on it, Hitler and some of his people were working feverishly on that bomb but we beat them to it. One of the men that helped us build it was a German scientist. We would have been up the creek without a paddle if they had gotten the bomb first.
I thought highly of President Truman. Now a lot of people didn’t give him the credit I thought he deserved. But I thought highly of him. I thought highly of some of the others but they’re not in mention right now. But I thought Truman did real good. The only one thing that was a possible mistake I’m sure he had to do what he had to do the firing of Mac Arthur who had done a marvelous job. We were fortunate enough to have Mac Arthur, Patton and Wainwright, Admiral Halsey and some of them to lead the troops and everything. We were very fortunate because they were extremely brilliant and just great in the ways and the inroads of fighting and all. But Mac Arthur wanted us to go in there (especially in that Korean conflict) and Chinese while we had them going and go ahead and whip them but they knew it would cost a lot of lives and whip them and have to build them back up again like we did Germany and Japan. He elected to stay across this side of the Yehlo River where the border was. Now Mac Arthur got tired of those Red Chinese running and hitting and flying down and bombing and swinging back over the river and then we couldn’t bother them. He got tired of that. He was there. But it might be that it turned out for the best because the Chinese had an awful lot of men a big population 1.2 billion now or more. They had a lot at that time. It would have been a major struggle.
Eisenhower I think was a fine general. He’s one I didn’t mention a while ago. I just forgot. He was a wonderful general and really a superb president. He wasn’t, in a sense, a great statesmen I don’t think or a great, great president but he was a good president. He was a patriotic American. He was a great citizen.
Kennedy was a wonderful president. We traveled (Mary and myself) and Charlie Jarrell (a cousin to my mother) traveled to Charleston, West Virginia to see him when he made his appearance. He was campaigning and we got to see him. We were pretty close when he got out of his limousine. Then he got into the big civic center auditorium there and made a wonderful speech. He just breathed new life into a kind of a bad situation. He took over at a pretty bad time himself. He then backed old Krushef and them down (the Russians) when they had their missiles pointed at us down in Cuba. He was using Cuba as a staging ground. Now he shut them down. He told them, the situation got pretty grave, Kennedy told them that if they didn’t have those missiles out of there within a very short time that he was going to blow them out. So he backed them down.
When Kennedy was shot, We were in Bluefield near the old Kresge building on Federal Street across from where First Community Bank is now, which used to be Flat Top. An old colored boy walked out of there that had worked at Singer when I worked there (that was my first job) and he stepped out of the door. I stopped a second and spoke to him and he said "they’ve shot President Kennedy." I thought he was joking. It was a pretty terrifying experience.
I went in to Kresge to get more update and more information and we stood around there a while. They had gotten him pretty quickly to the hospital but of course being shot in the back of the head, he didn’t have any chance. So after a little bit they said Kennedy has died at so and so time like 12:01 p.m. Some such time it was about the middle of the day. Johnson took over, LBJ, took over on the plane headed back from Dallas, Texas.
They were out there so that’s where he got shot and Governor Connolly got shot at that time but he recovered. They spoke of that while I was still in Kresge listening to it that he had taken over taken the oath of office and had become the President. He was the Vice President of course.
Vietnam… What they tried to do, it was not a popular war. What they were trying to do was they knew they just as well take their stand there and fight over there instead of fighting here. If they would have let them come in there and whip those southern people, then the next thing you would have known is that they would have been over here. I think they did the right thing and I think that history will bare this out that they did the right thing.
They accused the American people of trying to police the world, which is very difficult, but this is the greatest country in the world. But they accused them of that and they had rallies against it and so forth. I think it still proved out to be the best thing.
I think Nixon could have probably won the election without doing all of what he’d done. He exposed himself and got into quite a bit of trouble and finally he had to resign before he was impeached. Then Gerald Ford got in and that was the first thing he did was to give Nixon a full pardon, which went against the grain of the democrats. But, they did it and it was probably like cutting a deal. Nixon probably said that I’m going to help you get in and when you do I want a full pardon and so forth. I don’t know that but it kind of seems that’s the way it was. Nixon and them did wrong and they got caught. A lot of the presidents have done a lot of things wrong and some gets caught and some don’t. That is pretty well the name of the game there.
I remember where I was at when he resigned. He gave his speech of resignation, Nixon. D.A. Mason and I were out selling encyclopedias. I don’t remember exactly where but we just stopped the car and listened.
I think in some respects things over the years have changed for the better. New technology, computers, new medicines, new methods of treating people and cancers. They have made a lot of strides and progress in that. Heart bypasses, heart replants, heart implants, I mean heart transplants. I’ll get it right in a minute. Thing of that nature they have made a lot of progress. When my dad and mother where in the car crash, he got his left hip crushed. They were able to go in there and pick those crushed bones out, which all and all took eight hours. They put him a plastic hip in and it lasted him the rest of his life. He lived fifteen years after that. He died at 93 and three months.
Bland County is a marvelous county. The scenery her is incredible. I thought I went to Flaming Gorge, Utah and we caught some nice trout. Saw some big ones that we would have liked to have caught. The scenery is incredible out there and the Rocky Mountains surround that Salt Lake City where I flew to. This scenery here is going to be home to us and it’s pretty incredible. In the fall the trees even got pretty and this year with the drought. When they pop out and get the colors on them in the fall it is pretty incredible. We have some big maples right up here on this little knoll across from the old Tolbert house that they are the first to bloom out of the fall. They are just a bright crimson, beautiful trees.
I would like to give the youth of today a little information on driving their cars and all. If they will be very, very careful and watch everything close and not speed then a lot of times they’ll get through and not have a wreck or not a bad one. If you are going 75mph it will take you about three times as long and it will take you three times as far to stop if somebody pulls out in front of you than if you are going 60 to 65. So hang in on that 55 to 60-speed limit or 65 at the most and you’ll be better for it. And a matter of fact you will probably still be living when you turn 21.