I was born in 1934 here in Bland County, in the old homeplace down Route 42, ‘bout 3 miles east of here. My birthday is January second, 1934. My mother was Rosa Jones Bird, and my father was Ben Lee Bird. I thought my name was Ben Lee Bird, Jr. until I was almost 40 years old, and I applied for a job at a large corporation, and they required that I have a birth certificate. I sent to Richmond to get my birth certificate, and when I got it my mother and father had lost it somewhere in the shuffle and when I finally got it in the mail, I found out that my name wasn’t Ben Lee Bird, Jr. as I thought it was; it was Benjamin Lee Bird. I used to have customers who’d tell me, "Is your name Ben or Benjamin?" People’d say, "Are you a Jewish boy?" and I’d say, "I dunno; I’ll ask my dad." Well, I asked my dad, and he says, "Your name’s just plain ole Ben Lee Bird, Jr." I found out when I was almost 40 years old what my real name was.
My father was born right here in Bland County; he was born over on Walker’s Creek at the old William Washington Bird place over there, and then his mother, after his father died, his mother built the house over on Route 42. My mother was a preacher’s daughter, and he was a Presbyterian preacher, and he started on in North Carolina, and he moved out to Eastern Kentucky, and he finally settled here in Bland; that’s where my father met her. And they were married in, I guess, 1920, or 1919. My father was with the Game Commission of Virginia, the Virginia Game and Inland Fisheries; he was a game warden, and he started out about 1933, and he was a game warden ‘til 1954 when he got promoted to supervising game warden, and he was responsible for the game wardens’ activities in Southwest Virginia, all the way down to the line, what they called the "Daniel Boone District." My mother was a homemaker until us children were older, and she started teaching music up here at Bland High School. She had a lot of students; she tried to teach me, and I didn’t have sense enough to take music lessons, but she had a lot of her students who went on and did real well in music.
My grandfather’s name was William Washington Bird. My grandmother’s name was Nannie Burton Bird. My grandfather passed away, and my grandmother remarried Mr. Fayette Grayson, and from that union was born one daughter, Virginia Grayson Jones, which many Bland County people know of her; she was very productive, she had eleven children, and educated all eleven of them. She worked for the state highway department. My grandfather was born down here on Walker’s Creek. His father’s name was Benjamin Valentine Bird; he moved up here from around Patrick County, Virginia, back many years ago, and built the old home place down there, the Woodrow Bird place. I guess he was born there.
I didn’t have any brothers, but I had three sisters. The only one still living is my sister, Carolyn. Carolyn Bane lives here in Bland County, and I had two older sisters. Next one up was Nancy, Nancy Bird Sawyer, and my oldest sister was Rosa Campbell Bird Mann. We were raised here in Bland. I married a Bland County girl. She did housekeeping over here right behind the court house, what they call Backstreet.
My house, it was just a big ole two-story farmhouse. In fact, when I was a young boy, we didn’t even have indoor plumbing. We had a pump out back, we had to pump the water and carry it in a bucket. Eventually, my father put the water in the kitchen. Then a few years later, he put in a bathroom upstairs. We thought that was the most wonderful thing. I was proud of that two-holer. We had the first two-holer in Bland County that had state seal of approval on the lid of it. Mr. Tom Dunn was the enforcer and he was the outhouse inspector of the county, and he put the seal on it.
You had a lantern and a flashlight. Flashlights were invented back when I was a boy. I can remember when we got electricity. I was probably 10 or 12 years old which would have been around 1944, right during the war or close to the beginning of World War II. It was a wonderful thing to get that electricity. We had the old lanterns that we had to use before then. The house was heated with wood stoves. Wood heaters and fireplaces, and later on we heated with coal stoves. We never had a furnace in the house. Later when I grew up, my father put a big oil stove in the downstairs with registers to the upstairs part of it. The heat would go off, but I’d had to hit that floor many a morning at four o’clock in the morning to go down and milk the cows and the cold floor, oh boy!
There weren’t many businesses really. There were grocery stores. There used to be an old hotel there in Bland, and there was a big store building there beside of it, and I remember Mr. Grover Hamilton ran the grocery store there. Later on Mr. Carl Stock ran it, and then Warren Newberry ran it. Pete Newberry started a store up on the other end of town. There was the Seddon service station that sold gas. When I was a boy, Mr. Frank Dunn was the man that ran that. Kidd Chevrolet was in Bastian back then, and then he finally moved to Bland. Mr. Guy V. Dunn had Dunn motors; he was the founder of that. There used to be a big competition between Kidd Chevrolet and Dunn Motors.
When I was very young, I had to cut the firewood and carry it in; we had an old wood stove. My mother cooked on that wood stove, and I had to cut the firewood and carry it in, feed the chickens, slop the hogs We had hogs out at the back, I had to slop them, and round the cows up. My dad being a game warden was out patrolling the streams, pretty much, and my mother would milk the cows and I’d have to round them up.
I did get into trouble and play pranks at school. I did a lot of things. One of my most favorite memories is when I was in seventh grade. Mrs. Marie Carr was our teacher, and Eddie and I were in that class, and we decided that we were gonna plan ahead and lay outa school and go down at the Slide where Woodson and Wayne Thompson had a store at that time, a very popular store. So we did; we met that morning before school started and we took off down Route 42 and started hitchhiking to go to the Slide. This old car came along, about ’38, ’39 model Ford that had the old mechanical brakes on it. It stopped, and we had to run about half a mile to catch up with it where he couldn’t get stopped in time, but we got in it, It was this older man and woman in the front seat and the passenger side seat, and this older lady in the back seat. We went and got in the back seat with the older lady in the back seat, and this little old lady in the back seat says, "Hi boys, how you doin? Where you goin boys?" I said, "We’re goin’ down to the Slide." She asked, "Well, how come you’re not in school, boys?" Well, of course, I had this big mouth. I told her, "Well, our teacher thought we were doin’ so good that she just let us off for the day." "Oh, that’s great," she said, "Who is your teacher?" I said, "Mrs. Marie Carr." And Eddie kicked me in the shin. I was just runnin’ off sayin’ all kinds of things that I shouldn’t be sayin’. Eddie kicked me a few other times. We got down at the Slide and got outta that car, and he got me around the neck, and he said, "Boy, do you know who that was you were talkin’ to?" I said, “No I don’t know who it was.” He said, "That was Mrs. Carr’s mother."
I had a lot of fun in high school. I guess my claim to fame was that I was involved with the Dramatics Club in Bland High School, and I tried to be a ham We had several plays and we went to state competition with our plays. At that time, Mrs. Ruth Kegley was our director and all. She led us to some very good success in that. I was with the Future Farmers of America under Mr. Ralph Reynolds, and I have a lot of respect for that man; he was a very good leader. We had a lotta fun, and Bland High School has changed a lot. The main school has since then burned down since I graduated from there, and they accused us of burnin’ it down to try and destroy the records, but there’s no truth to that. We didn’t burn it down; it was an accident as far as I know. I think we had around 40 in our graduating class. That was before Bland and Ceres merged. We had a very good class, and I guess there are about 40 of us. Yeah, those were the days. We had graduation in the old Wagner Auditorium. At that time, they were using the Wagner Auditorium for a basketball court and an auditorium. They’d put folding chairs up and that’s where they would have it. We had a baccalaureate sermon, which we had a speaker, a preacher to preach our baccalaureate sermon. And graduation was usually "go and get your diploma and get outta here." No, none of these big formalities or anything like that.
When it came time for me to go to college, my mother wanted me to go to college to be a preacher, cuz her daddy was a preacher. My dad wanted me to be a gentleman farmer and a politician. I didn’t want either one of them, so I didn’t go very long to college. I went a short time to King College in Bristol, Tennessee. And then I got married. So I kinda disappointed them in that way.
I was working at Radford Arsenal in Radford, Virginia Hercules Potter, Co. I worked down there and drove from Bland to Radford every day to work for about 3 years. We moved in a house down at Poplar Hill, Virginia, and lived there less than a year. That was after the Korean campaign. They had a big lay-off, a reduction force because the war was over. Since I didn’t have a job I went around to Bluefield and got a job over there with the radio station, worked there for a short time, and almost starved.
Later on as I got in FFA, my father built a dairy barn, Grade A dairy barn on the farm, and he made an agreement with me. If you’ve ever been in FFA, you know you have to have a written agreement for your projects. My dad built a dairy barn, and he thought I was gonna go to college, but we drew up an agreement that if I would manage the dairy farm, that he would give me one fourth of the milk check, which was a lot of money at that time. There was no expenses out of it.
We didn’t have a lot of things that kids now have, with televisions and all that stuff; we did a lotta huntin’ and fishin’. My father being with the Game Commission, I always got a little inside information on where they stocked the trout. I was always one of the first to get there, and I just had a wonderful childhood.
We teenagers courted just any way we could get away with it! We, of course, usually got infatuated with somebody in school. I was one of the lucky ones! My father would trust me with using the family car once in a while to go out, Then, when I was a Senior in High School I had a pickup truck, and I called it "The Thing”. It was a pickup truck, a half-ton pickup truck that had four hard years in it. Well on dates, we’d usually go to Wytheville. At that time they had a bowling alley and a beer joint over there too. We’d go over there and bowl maybe, or go to a movie.
I really don’t remember the first movie I saw. I remember goin’ with my mother and some of her friends to see Gone With the Wind, but that’s when I was a very young man, and it was too complicated for me. We had to go to Wytheville usually to see a movie at the old Willwald Theatre.
I remember when I was a boy, we had snow storms where the wind blew so hard it’d blow snow against the fences. You could walk over the fences on the snow, and that was always bad. To feed the cattle, we’d have to break off the hay stacks and feed ‘em; that was always very fun just to feed those cattle during a blizzard. The school buses ran when it snowed. I don’t know of a school bus not makin’ it. I guess once in a while they had to call off school, but the school buses were always there to pick us up. We had some tough old drivers. Then they had chains on the tires make it, but they were right there to pick us up.
I remember when I first heard about Pearl Harbor; I was down there in the livin’ room of the old house, and they had a radio on. I heard the broadcast on it, that it had been attacked. I was gonna go in and get a gun and start fightin’ right then, but I was a little too young for it, but that was a bad time. None of my family had to go fight. Some friends of my family joined the service, and a lot of people that I know fought. Some of them died and lost their lives, but none of my immediate family had to serve. We bought the war bonds, though. We supported the war effort. My dad would buy war bonds, and we kids would buy war stamps and things like that. We supported the war effort and everything we could do. There wasn’t any big celebrations in Bland when the Germans surrendered; they’d all war-hoop in appreciation. We didn’t have time in the town; we were all busy on the farm and stuff like that, mindin’ their own business. Japan surrendered after the dropping of the bomb. I’ll never forget after the dropping of the atomic bomb, that was a big thing.
I never had a television until after I was married in 1952. It wasn’t a color television, it was a black and white television. I bought it from Jack Dunn, who was the fire chief’s father here in Bland. He sold televisions, and we bought it on time and financed it. He had to run a line all the way from the top of the big hill behind the courthouse down for us to pick up reception. I thought that was wonderful. We had one channel, channel 10 in Roanoke. Later on, they got channel 7 in Roanoke, the CBS station. Then much later than that, they got some good westerns. Hop-Along Cassidy was one of my favorites they’d show on there, and the Sid Caesar show. They had a Lux Theatre on at about that time; Lux Soap sponsored the theatre show. Boxing was quite prevalent then. Boxing was one of the most popular things on television then.
President Kennedy was my hero, and I got to meet him personally .He came through West Virginia on his primary campaign. Mr. Kennedy and his wife, Jacqueline, and Franklin Roosevelt, Jr. all came through Princeton. At that time, I was livin’ between Bluefield and Princeton out of what they call Glenwood Park, where the 4-H Club camp is. He came through to present himself there. I’ll never forget it! Jackie pinned a campaign button on my lapel, and I didn’t wash my face for two weeks after that. I got to sit down and drink coffee with Mr. Kennedy. So he was kind of a hero. That’s one of my claims to fame: I had a chance to meet him personally. I thought he was a pretty good man. I don’t think he made a lot of good decisions, he made some bad decisions in the Bay of Pigs stuff and things like that. He had a lot of personality, that man. He was a true politician.
My Point of View
I think the country’s in one heck of a good shape, if we don’t screw up. It kinda scares me because everyone wonders what’s gonna happen today with the stock market, but I think our country has been well blessed with our economy. You don’t have to argue that at all when you read the newspapers and see some of these third-world countries and some of the other people in this world, how they’re living. I think the good Lord has really looked down on us. I can’t get over the change in since I was a boy, seeing it today with my grandchildren, and with all the things they’ve got. They don’t want anything, they don’t have to work hard, and they don’t have to carry any stove wood in or coal or pump water. They have cars when they’re in high school, and they have the best of everything. I have been lucky so far; my grandchildren have seemed to have adapted pretty good to it. My kids and grandchildren are smart. I didn’t have anything to do with that. They’ve done it on their own and through their teachers and instructors. And I’m mighty proud of our new generation. I just hope and pray they don’t let it go to their head and, as they say, "slop their dripper."
Narration by: Lauren Faulkner