Robbie Moorehead: This is Robbie Moorehead, and I’m interviewing Mr. Bird at the Bland County Fair, and the date is September 11, 1999. Mr. Bird, where and when were you born?
Ben Bird: 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 1/2/34.
R.M.: That’s interesting. Who is your mother and father?
B.B.: 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.
R.M.: Where were your parents born and raised?
B.B.: Well, 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.
R.M.: What did your parents do for a living?
B.B.: 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 kind of growing, and she started teaching music up here at Bland High School. And 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, including my daughter. She got hold of my daughter when she was three years old, and my daughter’s now a teacher in one of the major high school’s in West Virginia. Music teacher.
R.M.: That’s excellent. Who were your grandparents?
B.B.: 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.
R.M.: Where were your grandparents born at and raised?
B.B.: Well, my grandfather was born down here on Walker’s Creek, I guess; either that, or down there at the old Woodrow Bird house. His father’s name was Benjamin Valentine Bird; he was I don’t know the whole story but I’ve heard he moved up here from around Patrick County, Virginia, back many many years ago, and built the old homeplace down there, the Woodrow Bird place. I guess he was born there. My grandmother was a Hitts; that was her maiden name. Nannie Hitts was her maiden name. She was born over on Walker’s Creek somewhere. I’m sure there are a lot of those Hitts over there who are still active around here.
R.M.: Yeah. Who are your brothers and sisters?
B.B.: I didn’t have any brothers, but I had three sisters. The only one still living is my sister, Carolyn, Carolyn Baine lives here in Bland County, and I had two older sisters; next one up was Nancy, Nancy Bird Sawyer she married a Sawyer and my oldest sister was Rosa Campbell Bird Mann she married a Mann "M-A-N-N" was his name, from up in Illinois. Both my older sisters are dead, and nobody’s left but me and Carolyn.
R.M.: So you were raised here in Bland?
B.B.: Yeah, I lived I was raised here in Bland and I married a Bland County girl, and went to housekeeping over here right behind the court house, what they call Backstreet. My two oldest children were born there, and 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, and I thought, "Well, I’ll move closer." So I moved in a house down at Poplar Hill, Virginia, lived there less than a year, and that was after the Korean campaign, and they had a big lay-off, a reduction force because the war was over, or the conflict was over. But I was sittin out in the middle of nowhere, Poplar Hill, Virginia, with a family and no job. So I went around to Bluefield and got a job over there with the radio station, worked there for a short time, and almost starved. I got to know certain people around Bluefield. I met a man by the name of Mr. Clyde Elliott; he was quite well-off, and a food broker, and he had the Borden account you’ve heard of Elsie the Cow? well, he had the Borden account, and he was lookin’ for a good ole strong-backed country Bland County boy to hustle that stuff for him since he got commission off everything he sold, and he got me lined up for an interview, and I went to work for Borden’s in 1957. And worked until I was promoted, and I worked for them until 1973. And I resigned from that job and went to work for the Armor Company, Armor Dial, which was Armor Canned meats and Dial soap. So I still wake up in the middle of the night every once in a while saying, "Aren’t you glad you used Dial; don’t you wish everybody did?"
R.M.: Advertise your products.
B.B.: Yeah, it was they were two great companies; they treated me very good.
R.M.: Well, when you were growing up here in Bland and everything, what did you do for fun? What types of games -- ?
B.B.: Well, we had a lot of fun at Halloween time; we used to go around turn over outhouses, and put wagons on top of barns. We were always careful not to tear down too many gates because there was livestock gettin’ off, but we had a lot of fun.
R.M.: How did you go about putting a wagon on top of a barn?
B.B.: Very carefully, with a lot of planning. But, no, 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, and we had several plays and we went to state competition with our plays. At that time, Mrs. Ruth Kegley, who’s since passed away, 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 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. I still know a lot of people around Bland. I come over here now and I don’t know anybody, but I can look in their face and tell where they came from or who their parents were or something like that. But no one personally I don’t know them that well.
R.M.: Who were some of your other teachers at Bland when you were there?
B.B.: Mr. Claude Stowers; he was my teacher. And Mr. Victor Gilly, who has since passed on, both he and Mr. Claude Stowers. Mrs. Virginia Brown, who was the librarian, and Mr. Dall Davis was a teacher up there. I’ll never forget one time; we used to come down here to the fair ground to play ball, and I’d heard my mother and father refer to Mr. Davis as Dow, you know, and we were heading back up to the schoolhouse, and Mr. Davis was sittin’ at the top of the hill watchin us come up the hill, and I hollered up there and said, "Hello, Dall!" Boy, he let me know in a hurry that I didn’t call him Dall, his name was Mr. Davis to me. So from then on, I always called him Mr. Davis; he scared the dickens out of me. But Mrs. Margie Blankenship, some of you younger people probably don’t know Margie, but she was an unmarried lady, an old maid, and she had a little farm down near Mecanicsburg; she had an old 1938 or ’39 Ford coupe. I’ll never forget one time, we were in school, and she had hung her pocket book on some of the controls in the car, and flipped it over, turned the darn thing upside down. She was quite a colorful character.
R.M.: Now did she farm, herself?
B.B.: Oh, she farmed. She set some livestock, and I’ve heard she had a male friend, Mr. Burton from over in Hollybrook, but I don’t know if that’s official, but there’s probably something to it. She was quite a lively little lady. She taught Biology and stuff like that, you know, but she was she was certainly a piece for discussion. And then there was Ruth Kegley; she was one of my favorites. I always could wrap her around my little finger, in fact, she was our dramatics coach. I could con her, I conned her even into seein that I got the dramatics medal for the year I graduated. And Mrs. Helen Harley, she’s still alive, God bless her soul; she’s the only teacher that ever flunked me, I never could pull anything on Mrs. Harley. She flunked me in Algebra, and I had to take it again, and I was never so ashamed in all my life; I couldn’t get her on my side, but I had to make my way with her. She’s still alive, what a lady!
R.M.: When you were younger, what kinds of chores did you have to do around the house?
B.B.: Oh, Lord! 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, and when I was just a young man, we had some cattle. 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, and 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. So 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.
R.M.: What did your house look like when you were growing up?
B.B.: Well, 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; that’s another chore I had, carrying the water. My father, as time went on, he put the water in the kitchen, and then a few years later, he put in a bathroom upstairs, and we thought that was the most wonderful thing. But 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. The first two-holer in Bland County.
John Dodson: How did you get a state seal of approval on it?
B.B.: Well, it was a seal. Back then, the people of the state inspector’s had to come in and inspect the Johns, the outhouses, and they put a seal of approval on the lids of it to make sure that it had been inspected in person. Mr. Tom Dunn was the enforcer and he was the outhouse inspector of the county, and he put the seal on it.
R.M.: What a job! What happened if it didn’t pass inspection?
B.B.: I guess you’d have to dig another hold and move the thing. I know it had to have a great big bit there for a two-holer there; we were in the elite because we had a two-holer.
R.M.: I’m sure! Did you have a light in it at night?
B.B.: Oh, no! You had a lantern and a flashlight. Flashlights were invented back when I was a boy.
R.M.: When did you get electricity?
B.B.: I can remember when we got electricity; I was probably 10 or 12 years old, maybe, which woulda been around 1944, right during the war or close to the beginning of World War II. Mr. McClarity, that’s all I remember; he put it in the old house. That was a wonderful thing to get that electricity, we had the old lanterns that we had to use before then. So I think it was hooked up at that time, during the Depression, my father had it pretty rough, and after the Depression, things got a little better; farmers had it a little better. My dad got a job as a game warden about 1933 after the Depression; he started getting a check from the state of Virginia.
J.D.: How was your house heated?
B.B.: 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!
R.M.: It’ll wake you up! With your father as a game warden, what would people hunt back then? There weren’t any deer back then were there?
B.B.: There weren’t many deer. Not many deer at all, but there were squirrels and fish; there were a lotta fish over here on Walker’s Creek; a lotta bass and red-eye, what we call red-eyes are rock bass. My dad stopped, I guess, the first coon back in Bland County; hauled up and down Eastern Virginia and stopped ‘em. Also at that time, the game warden was the dog warden for Bland County. He would just find dogs and be sure dogs had a license, he would check with the courthouse and look at the people who had dogs. If they didn’t have a license for ‘em, he’d go and shoot their dogs or somethin’. He was a mean son of a gun! He’d bring the dogs, many of ‘em, to the holler over behind the house. My dad’d catch a dog, he’d bring it over there, and I’d hear "Bang, bang!" and he’d shoot the dog in the head, which wasn’t a very popular thing, being a dogcatcher at that time.
J.D.: Yeah, did people ever get angry at you?
B.B.: People had coon hounds and everything, but I’ll tell you before it was over with, they had a lotta respect for that man; most of them had their dogs licensed and all that if they valued their dog. I still had people to tell me the other day that he was a straight down-the-road game warden. He had no favoritism. Even his cousin: he’d catch him fishin’ or huntin’, he’d sock it to him. And he socked it to me one time, too as a boy.
J.D.: What’d you do?
B.B.: Well, during the summer time, we were supposed to be puttin’ up hay. We had a man living on the place there helpin’ us put up hay. My dad was supposed to be patrolling the streams over on Walker’s Creek and all through there. Well, we owned a little bit of Walker’s Creek; it was just from the house where we lived across the hill there was Walker’s Creek. So my dad put us all in the hay field, started us workin’ the hay and all, driving the horses and stackin it and all this, that, and the other and I watched ‘til I could see him leave in his car. And I said, "It’s time for me to go fishin’," and I’d walk off and leave the men there workin’ the place with us, and I went across the ridge and went fishin’. And I was sittin’ there, catchin’ those red-eyes right and left it wasn’t in season and I heard some brush behind me rattling and I turned around and there stood my dad, he was a tall man, he was a big man. So he jerked me up, took me right up here to the courthouse under Mr. Kegley, and says, "I want you to fine this boy right now; caught him fishin’ out of season." Judge Kegley says, "You don’t wanna do that, do you?" "I sure do, what’s his fine?" It was $14.75. He paid the $14.75, but I had to work it out on the farm at a quarter a day, so I never broke the law then after that, and I always stayed in the hay field when I was supposed to. He was very strict, just doin’ his job. He was eventually promoted to pretty good positions and stuff; he didn’t retire until he was 70 years old; he was supposed to retire when he was 65, but he didn’t think they could run without him. He’d had a heart attack and state officials says, "Mr. Bird, if you can pass the physical examination, you’ll be allowed to work until you’re 70." They didn’t think he could pass it because he’d had the heart attack. He went and took it and he passed with flying colors, so he worked ‘til he was 70 years old, which he regretted years after that, he said, "I was a fool." After he retired, he and my mother went to Florida every winter and enjoyed life so much.
J.D.: When you were in school up here at Bland, did you ever get in any trouble?
J.D.: Did you ever play any good pranks or remember anybody you played some good pranks on? Anything like that?
B.B.: Oh yeah!
J.D.: Could you tell us about that?
B.B.: Yeah, well, I did a lot of things. One of my most favorite memories is when I was in seventh grade... I think your wife said she knew Eddie Hubb, do you know Eddie Hubb? Works for the railroad...?
J.D.: I don’t think so...
B.B.: Well, I think she knows Eddie’s wife, his second wife, but I was in seventh grade, and Mrs. Marie Carr, Mrs. Marie Groseclose is her name now, but she was Mrs. Carr then. She was our teacher in the seventh grade, 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 had the old mechanical brakes on it. And 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, and 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, boys? Where you goin boys?". "We’re goin’ down to the Slide." "Well, how come you’re not in school, boys?" Well, of course, I was this big mouth; I had diarrhea of the mouth. I told her, I said, "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 was sittin’ beside of me, and he hauled off and kicked me on the shin. "Oh, how do you like Mrs. Carr?" I said, "Well, she’s pretty good sometimes; I don’t think she’s as smart as she oughta be..." I was just runnin’ off sayin’ all kinds of things that I shouldn’t be sayin’. Eddie kicked me a few other times and we got down at the Slide and got outa 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." Oh, boy! So that’s one of the first time I should’ve... My mouth was runnin’ faster than my brain, and that’s stuck with me for all my life to watch what I say and my business and everything. That was certainly an education. 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.
J.D.: How many were in your graduating class?
B.B.: How many were in it?
J.D.: Yeah, you remember?
B.B.: I think we had around 41, I’m not sure. Forty, maybe 40. That was before Bland and Ceres merged.
J.D.: A lot of people quit school at that time.
B.B.: Yeah, we had a very good class, and I guess there’s about 40 of us. Yeah, those were the days.
J.D.: Where would they have graduation?
B.B.: 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.
J.D.: What was graduation like? Did you all have a speaker come in, like they do sometimes?
B.B.: No, I don’t think we had a speaker, we were too restless for that. As many as there were, and tryin’ to get it all organized and all, there was a pretty long session, to get everybody up and let ‘em walk across the aisle to get our... 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 outa here." No, none of these big formalities or anything like that.
R.M.: When you were a teenager, how did teenagers court?
B.B.: Just any way we could get away with it!
R.M.: How did you go about doin’ it? What all did you do?
B.B.: We, of course, usually got infatuated with somebody in school, in class, and I was one of the lucky ones; my father would trust me with using the family car once in a while to do it, and then I had a pickup truck when I was a senior in high school, and I called it "The Thing"; on the back of the tailgate was written out "the thing", that’s when the song became popular, "the thing"; I don’t know if you’ve ever heard it or not. But that was written across the back of it.
R.M.: What type of truck was it?
B.B.: It was a pickup truck, a half-ton pickup truck that had four hard years in it, and I had clearance lights, a radio, a squirrel tail hangin’ on the aerial, my name on the door, you know, big deal!
J.D.: Where would you go on a date?
B.B.: Where would we go? Well, 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, and get it to Bluefield or maybe Wytheville. And I like to tell people that I’m born in Bland and I tell him that I didn’t know there was any outside world; they put the tunnels through there. That was quite a trip to go to Wytheville or Bluefield back then, goin’ across the mountains!
R.M.: What was the first movie you saw? Do you remember?
B.B.: I really don’t remember. I remember goin’ with my mother and some of her friends to see Gone With the Wind, and that’s when I was a very young man, and it was too complicated for me; of course, years later, I understood the thing a little bit. It could’ve been that or one of the old musicals. But we had to go to Wytheville usually to see a movie at the old Willwald Theatre, which is still in business there, I guess. Yeah, it was a thrill. Used to hitch-hike to Wytheville on sale days, which was on Tuesday; they had a livestock sale on Tuesdays, and I would always catch a ride on a Tuesday during the summer time cuz the farmers were takin’ their livestock over there, and most of ‘em knew my dad or knew me and they’d see me hitch hiking, and I’d hitch-hike to Wytheville, hitch-hike back, you know, just to go to the big city and goof off. That was quite a lot of fun.
J.D.: There weren’t any beer joints in Bland?
B.B.: Oh yeah, yeah they used to have a place called the Beer Garden just right there at the bridge; called it the Beer Garden. Now that was a heavy-laid place.
J.D.: And what was that like?
B.B.: Out behind there, there was a big area where they could take their beer and liquor and drink, and that was on a Saturday night, you could always go down there and see a fight. They always had some families here in the county that were known for their indulgence in alcohol, and they would get into an argument over something, and they’d have a terrible fight. They’d cut at each other with knives or sometimes shoot at one another. Mr. Jim Munsey, who was editor of the newspaper, owned that Beer Garden, and that was quite a rowdy place.
J.D.: You ever remember any particular fights?
B.B.: Not any particular ones, and I wouldn’t want to call any names. But I wouldn’t want anybody to know, but yes, I knew some of the people that had their fights; some of the Simons were in Bland County and...
R.M.: Did anybody around here make moonshine?
B.B.: Oh Lord yes! My dad was a law enforcement officer at that time, and there was a sheriff here in Bland County by the name of Mr. Whitt Price; a good sheriff. But every once in a while he’d luck up and a liquor car pushed down from North Carolina would come through here to go to the coal fields, and once in a while one would accidentally break down and he’d catch it. He never outran one, but he’d catch it if it broke down. He took the liquor away from them and arrested the people driving. Instead of breakin’ the liquor like you’re supposed to do, he kept some back and gave to his friends. My dad, being a member of the law enforcement professionals was a friend of Mr. Price’s, so he would always give my dad some of it. I didn’t know this ‘til later on, but my dad wouldn’t bring it in the house; he hated to tell them he didn’t want it, but he took it and hid it in the grainery, down where we kept the grainery; we had big boxes full of wheat when we harvested the wheat. And I had a good buddy who lived next to me; his named was Server King; I never heard that name before, but his name was Server. And he and I used to play, and we loved to play in that wheat box in the hot summer. We’d climb up there on the edge of the box and jump in there with our bare feet and it was real cool and nice. We jumped off the edge one day, and my toe hit somethin’ hard down in that wheat, and it hurt. I reached down there and pulled it up and there was a half-gallon fruit jar full of clear liquid. I may not have known any better; I thought it was spring water so I screwed the top off of it, and (makes drinking sound). It set me on fire. Server looked at me, you know, and I said, "Here Server, have some of this, boy this is good!" and he took it; he turned it up and "AAAhh!" So we got to goin’ down to the wheat box every day and dippin’ into that. There was two half-gallon fruit jars, and we’d get some outa each jar so that it looked like Then it dawned on me; if my daddy catches that, I’m in a heap of trouble. So we got so we’d fill the things back up with water to dilute it down, cuz I don’t think he ever drank any of it. If he’d have found out, it would’ve been a rough time in the old house.
J.D.: So he never found out that y’all were doing this?
B.B.: No, I don’t think so. He finally just threw what was left of it away. That was, yeah, we had some moonshine sales around the area. Some people made home brew; they’d brewed up beer. When I was runnin’ a barn down there, the dairy barn, this old fella used to bring me half a gallon of home brew and I’d put it in the milk cooler. We had these old big milk coolers. I put it in there to keep it cold; I tell you, but the time we got done milkin’, those old cows didn’t know if they’d been milked or not.
J.D.: Were there any other beer joints?
B.B.: I think, when I was a young boy, that was about all there was, was the Beer Garden there. And later on, right across the street, Mr. Ike Pauley started sellin’ beer. The old beer joint finally burnt down; I think somebody set it on fire. And he sold beer there even after I was married. We, of course, had a lot of bootleggers who would go to Wytheville every day, you know, to the military or something, and he’d haul ya a pint of whiskey if ya needed it. We never had trouble getting’ our spirits if we needed.
R.M.: What other kinds of businesses were there in Bland back then?
B.B.: There weren’t many businesses really. There were grocery stores. The Newberry’s had where the old hotel was; of course, you’re not familiar with Bland at that time. 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. Then Pete Newberry started a store up on the other end of town. Then there was the Seddon service station that sold gas. When I was a boy, Mr. Frank Dunn was the man that ran that; he’d always, if I was sittin’ in the car, he’d call me the bird warden, cuz my dad was the game warden, as far as he was concerned my name was "the bird warden." There just wasn’t many businesses. There was Kidd Chevrolet was in Bastian back then and then he finally moved to Bland, that Chevrolet dealership. Mr. Guy V. Dunn had Dunn motors; he was the founder of that. Later he sold it to J.T., and J.T. ran it for several years. J.T. finally turned it over to his son Tommy Dunn, and so I don’t guess there’s a car dealership in Bland any more. But there used to be a big competition between Kidd Chevrolet and Dunn Motors. I’ll never forget one time when I wrecked a car, a 1949 model Chevrolet, and I was pretty popular with my buddies because I could get my daddy’s car and my dad would let me bring ‘em as far as Bland if I wouldn’t go any further than Bland, even before I got a driver’s permit. So I was sneaky and got the idea of how to disconnect the speedometer so he’d wouldn’t know how I’d gone. We were sitting up there in front of where McHogue’s old place is now, it’s for sale there now, and we saw the state police go through with their sirens full blast and Carl Rudder was in there, "What’s goin’ on?" they said. I said "Ah, these cops are gonna go break up a cock fight over at Bastian." Somebody said, "Let’s go chase ‘em; let’s watch it!" And then Server King, my buddy down there, was sittin’ in the driver’s seat; he didn’t have a permit either. I said, "Let’s go, Server, pour it on!" He poured it on, and we got up there i call "Nigger Holler" but it was a steep curve up there at the bridge and we got that far and he lost it. On the other side of that bridge, right over the side he went, bumpty, bumpty, bump! So all the boys, they didn’t wanna be caught in there, they didn’t want anybody to know they were in there. Finally I got it all together and called Buck Collins; probably you guys never heard of some of these names, but Buck Collins was a wrecker driver for J.T. Dunn. Buck came up there and drug it out. The car was drivable, but the whole side was bent up and everything on it...almost a new car. I went home and come up the back stairway, and I said, "Dad, I wrecked the car." He said, "Are you hurt?" I said, "No, sir." "Was anybody hurt?" "No sir." "Go to bed then, you’ve gotta milk cows in the morning." I heard him, in a minute, goin’ down the steps to look at the car, and came back up. The next morning, he found out where I’d had the car pulled in from J.T. Dunn’s at Dunn Motors, and he wasn’t mad at me wreckin’ the car; he was mad because I let Dunn Motors pull the darn thing in! Because he and Mr. Harvey Kidd were real close friends and he thought I shoulda called Kidd Chevrolet. He let me know about that in a hurry. I thought I was gonna be grounded for the rest of my life for driving a car, but no. But that was quite a time.
R.M.: You remember any bad snow storms or floods or anything in Bland?
B.B.: Oh yeah, snow storms especially. I remember when I was a boy, we had snow storms where the wind blew us so had it’d blow snow against the fences, and you could walk over the fences on the snow, and that was always bad. You’d have to feed the cattle we had cattle that we’d have to break off the hay stacks and feed ‘em, and that was always very fun just to feed those cattle during a blizzard. You kids nowadays talk about how hard they have it, how rough it is; heck, they don’t know what rough, hard work is! And now one man can do the same work it used to take four or five men to do on a farm, right on. Yep, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I tell people as far as my life’s concerned, I think I’ve lived in the best time there was because I’ve seen a little bit of all of it. And it didn’t hurt me a big; I’ve grown up to be pretty healthy, and I’ve seen it when time were rough, some rough times and the good times, and I think I’ve lived a good time in my life, that I can tell about it.
J.D.: What about school buses back then when it snowed? Did the buses still run?
B.B.: The school buses ran. I never knew 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 them to make it, but they were right there to pick us up. Lots of times, when I got older, I’d hitch a ride to school, you know, not ride the school bus. But back then, the students didn’t have a car like they do now. I know my grandchildren, they each one have their car, and they drive their cars to school; there wasn’t much of that went on in our day. We’d get the old man’s car at night, and we’d race up and down the road with our buddies or somethin’ like that; it’s a wonder we hadn’t gotten killed, but kids don’t do that any more.
R.M.: That’s true. Who’s, the first President you remember?
B.B.: Franklin D. Roosevelt.
R.M.: Do you remember the Depression?
B.B.: No, I came along right when the Depression was gettin’ over with around 1933, 1934. I do know in my early years that I’d sleep in the old farmhouse down there without any heat in the upstairs bedroom, and there were broken windows in it and we kept rags in it to keep the cold air from gettin’ in. That was a result of my dad, you know, not being too well off during the Depression. But, no, I don’t remember any of the Depression.
J.D.: Was Roosevelt well thought of?
B.B.: Oh, yes. My dad, of course, his name’s Bird and he’s from Virginia, and all those Birds were Democrats and the Democrats really backed Franklin Roosevelt. Yes, he was well thought of. In fact, people of that era, they think he’s a savior because after the Depression, he pulled things out, you know, and he got the credit for it, whether he did it or not, he got the credit for it. And they worship him for that. But he was a very popular man.
R.M.: You remember when Pearl Harbor was bombed?
B.B.: Oh yes.
R.M.: You remember where you were at when you heard about that?
B.B.: Yes sir, I’ll never forget it. 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.
R.M.: Did you have any family members that had to go fight?
B.B.: No, none of my family. 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 bombs, though. We supported the war effort. My dad would buy war bombs, and us kids would buy war stamps, you know, save these stamps and things like that. We supported the war effort and everything we could do.
J.D.: Do you remember when you heard that the Germans had surrendered?
B.B.: Oh yes. I remember very clearly.
J.D.: Were there any kinds of celebrations?
B.B.: Oh, not around Bland, there wasn’t any big celebrations; 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. I’m sure there were celebrations; a lot of the local winos got drunk and celebrated, which they well should have celebrated, but there wasn’t any big celebrations in my family. I think that was around 1945, wasn’t it? And then when Japan surrendered after the dropping of the bomb; I’ll never forget after the dropping of the bomb, that was a big thing, the atomic bomb, and we were having a Halloween party up here, a costume contest, and my older sisters was tryin’ to get a costume for me and Carolyn, my sister. She got some of Daddy’s old long underwear, put it on us, stuffed it full of rags and everything, and we were atomic bombs. I was Atomic Bomb #1 and Carolyn was Atomic Bomb #2, and we went in there, and I think we wont first place in costume, but that was the year after Japan was hit with those bombs. I remember my buddies and my friends you know how kids’ll do. We were really ballooned up there, and they were out hittin’ us with their fists and pushin’ us and everything. I didn’t have any trouble because I was always bundled down with all that loads. The next day or so, I caught ‘em and I kicked the manure out of ‘em though.
R.M.: When’d you get your first television?
B.B.: I never had a television until after I was married in 1952. I lived over here behind the courthouse, and of course, it wasn’t a color television, it was a black and white television by about 1953, in fact. 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.
J.D.: What kinds of channels did y’all get?
B.B.: Well, we had one channel, channel 10 in Roanoke. Later on, they got channel 7 in Roanoke, the CBS station. Then much later than that, I don’t think we even got channel 6 while I was livin’ in Bland, but those two stations...
R.M.: What were some of your favorite T.V. shows back then? Did you have any favorite T.V. shows? Or favorite movie stars?
B.B.: I’m tryin’ to think; it was a long time ago. They had some good westerns; that Hop-Along Cassidy was one of my favorites they’d show on there, and the Sid Caesar show. That was a comedy, very good. And they actually had a Lux Theatre on at about that time; Lux Soap sponsored a theatre show. And then boxing was quite prevalent then, you know. Boxing was one of the most popular things on television then. I used to love to watch that and baseball during the summer time.
R.M.: Who was your favorite boxer?
B.B.: I guess Rocky Marciano. He was always my hero.
J.D.: I remember, that was the Friday night fights.
B.B.: Yeah. And baseball, I’ll never forget I saw Bob Larson pitch that perfect game back around 1952, and that was a thrill to see that game. We didn’t have videotape recorders, or I’d have liked to videotape that, but we didn’t have those.
R.M.: What did you think about President Kennedy?
B.B.: Well, he was my hero, really, because I got to meet him personally.
R.M.: Oh, really?
B.B.: Yeah, he was coming through West Virginia on his primary campaign. Jack 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. And he came through there to present himself there, and I had just moved in the neighborhood, just up the road about a half a mile, and I went down there and 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 Jack 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 should have blamed that on somebody else, but that’s history.
J.D.: That West Virginia primary’s what really got him started.
B.B.: That’s right. He claims that’s what really put him over the hump for the countdown, right. "And I hepped," as they say on television. Yeah, that was quite interesting. He had a lot of personality, that man. He was a true politician.
R.M.: What kind of shape do you think the country is in today?
B.B.: Well, right now, I think the country’s in one heck of a good shape, if we don’t screw up, and evidently we’re gonna screw up some time. It’s beyond me; I didn’t think it would last this long with the economy being as good as it is without the bottom fallin’ out of it. 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.
R.M.: Is there anything else you’d like to add about life in Bland County, or advice you’d give to young people today?
B.B.: No, I just... 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 for anything, they don’t have to work hard, they don’t have to carry any stove wood in or coal or pump water, carry it in. 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. They call my hand; they’re smart. 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."
J.D.: We certainly appreciate it!
B.B.: Yes, thank you!
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