Darnell Miller lives on Kimberling Creek and was interviewed by Angela Williams and Josh Buchanan in the spring of 2000. Narration by Jessica DeHart.
Introduction to Darnell
My name is Darnell Miller. I was born on March 8 of 1937. I was born in my mother and dad’s old home place out around the curve out here in Bland County. My father was Albert L. Miller, Sr., and my mother was Edna Ruth DeHart. My dad and mom both were born and raised within a tenth of a mile from where you’re sitting right here. My dad was born right up there on the hill at the Miller. That’s my great-grandparents’ home place up there. My mother was born right here. Not in this house cause this is a new home, but in my Grand Dad DeHart and Grandmother DeHart’s home. I guess she was born right here, as far as I know. My mother never worked, other than as a cook at the school in Hollybrook for a good number of years, which was the most work she ever done outside of the home. My dad worked as most people around here did. He worked at the saw mills, various places and in later years worked for Saller Lumber Company in Bluefield. He worked for Cort Construction Company in Bluefield, which was the last work that he did before he retired. My parents were simple every day farm people. They never had a lot to give other than to try to bring their kids up the right way. We never considered ourselves poor. We always thought the folks down the road were the poor people, but in essence, we probably were. Economically about the same as most people around here, no better no worse.
I’ve got a lot of memories of childhood years. I can remember the first day I started to school. My first memory of anything that I can recall is being in the hospital in Bluefield when I was about three or a little better than three years old. I had double pneumonia, and that is actually the first memory that I have of anything, being in the hospital in Bluefield. It had a nice big green door. The room had a green door on it and I thought that it was beautiful. I thought that was the prettiest thing I’d ever seen, ‘cause in the old cabin we lived in there was no paint, no nothing like that. So that’s actually the first memory I have of anything is being in the hospital in Bluefield.
My grandparents were Frank DeHart, his wife’s name was Gizzy DeHart, which I always thought was a beautiful name. My grandmother, I think, was born down near Whitegate somewhere down in Giles County, I believe. She was a Strock. I’m not sure where. To be honest with you I don’t know where my grand dad was born. I don’t know whether he was born in Bland County or maybe Giles County. I’m not sure. My grand dad just farmed for a living. That was his, this farm that I live on here was his. This was his farm here. I think he worked at times for lumber companies around here too, but gosh that was years before I was ever born. The only thing I can ever remember my granddad doing was working on the farm here, and he was a janitor at Hollybrook School over here. Back in the early years when I was just seven eight, or nine years old. I have one older brother, Albert Miller, Jr. I also have a younger brother. His name is Douglas Miller. He lives in Dublin. Jr. lives up Kimberling.
For fun when I was young, we, me, and my cousin out the road here, Roger Morehead, Argel Nunn that lived across the creek over here, that’s passed away now, and my younger brother, would play around here. We played out in the woods. We played ball together. A little later on Roger and I began to play music together. We played guitars together. Mostly, probably what most children through this area done. I didn’t get that many toys when I was young. I’m sure that’s the case from most people around here. When we grew up, you were lucky if you got maybe two things for Christmas. I usually got cap guns, ‘cause I was a big western movie buff. I read comic books, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers. So I had a lot of cap guns. I got a ball glove one time. I probably got some dump trucks or things of that nature when I was smaller too.
For chores you had to carry wood in and that was usually a primary thing for just about everybody through here, ‘cause most women through here cooked on an old fashion wood cook stove. So that was one of the things you usually had to be sure you had wood in. During the summer if my dad had crops and things out in the fields, me and my older brother would take care of the weeds and things like that. In the garden and in the corn fields and things like that. I never was loaded down with chores. I had time to do things that I wanted to do. I don’t know that any of them was a favorite thing. I never, I don’t think I ever minded doing things. I actually used to help my mother in the kitchen wash dishes, ‘cause her and my dad would go to the barn and milk cows in the morning before my dad would go to the mountains to the saw mills and stuff. And lots of times I’d wash dishes in the morning for my mother before I went to school.
The house we grew up in out the road was just a very simple four room log cabin house. When I was a kid there was no sheet rock or anything like that on the walls. It was just the logs. Later on I was probably nine or ten years old when my dad put sheet rock and stuff in most of the rooms. I think at one point in time he put some new windows in the house and things. When I was small it was not, I’m sure, the best house in the community, but it was livable. We had a cook stove in the kitchen, which my mother cooked on, and it heated the kitchen and dining area. Then probably like everybody else, we had a big warm morning stove in the front room, and a big coal pile and a wood pile, and that’s how it was heated. We didn’t have running water either. The fried chicken was so much better cooked on the stove than today.
I expect that my mother washed clothes on an old fashion washboard with a wash tub, but later on of course my mother had a washing machine when electricity came through this valley, back in the mid forties. I guess it was, when it came through here. Of course everybody by that time got refrigerators and washing machines and things of that nature. When I was small my old brother, who is four or five years older, I am sure she washed clothes by hand with a wash board and a tub.
We had a garden too. My mother and daddy always had a huge garden. They had potatoes, onions, sweet corn, several rows of tomatoes, peas, and carrots. We had almost anything you can think of. I used to think that my mother put out enough garden to feed three or four families. There used to be people coming through here from Bluefield and places like that in the summer, trying to buy produce. They’d come to your house wanting to buy, if you had it, a bushel of tomatoes or something. You got a bushel of beans or a half dozen ears of corn or something that you wanted to sell. When I got up some years, when the garden had done well, and it was a good year, I remember people would come through and want to know if they could buy a bushel of beans or something. She’s say, No, but I’ll give them to you. My favorite food out of the garden would have to be carrots. I like to take carrots and split them and put peanut butter between them. You should try that sometime.
I started school at Hollybrook. I went there through the elementary years and through Jr. High School. At that time Hollybrook School went up to ninth grade. So, I started school there and went through the ninth grade. Then I went to Bland High School for the last two years and graduated up there. We mostly studied the same things that kids study today. We had math, history, civics, US geography, and on up in high school, we had more advanced classes. We had algebra, geometry, although I never did take geometry. In Bland, I think, you could take Latin, and you could take Spanish classes. I took Ag. I was in Agriculture classes, both years I was in Bland. We took mostly general studies. We also took social studies. We took whatever to get enough credits to get through high school.
I’d pack my lunch in the early years over here before they had a lunchroom or a cafeteria. I probably mostly carried peanut butter, crackers, and hot cocoa to school. After we got the lunchroom, of course I would eat in the lunchroom. So I would eat whatever they had there. I don’t think I ate very much in the cafeteria in Bland when I went to high school, because by that time I was in my junior year of high school. I was also playing on the radio in Bluefield in the afternoons. So I only went to school half a day. I outlined classes from noon through the evening or the afternoon periods. I simply did outlines of them once a month to keep my grades up, but only went to school a half a day. When I started school at Bland, my older brother was in the Korean conflict but then, and he had a car, so I drove his car mostly, because I left there at noon and drove to Bluefield to play on the radio in the afternoon. So, I can always remember that, because I’d go by Bland High School or I’d go by Rocky Gap out there, and I’ll see dozens and dozens of automobiles. When I went to school at Bland, I had the only car. Me and one other boy, by the name of Louis Diller who passed away last year. Louis Diller and myself had the only two cars in Bland High School at that time. That was 1953 and 1954. We had the only two. You’d go up there now, and everybody’s got an automobile. Most kids have them or have access to them.
Ethel Billers was my first grade teacher. Myrtle Stowers was my second grade teacher. Lauren Wagner was my third or fourth grade teacher. Must have been the third grade teacher, and Mable French was my fourth grade teacher. Mrs. Caldwell, I can’t think of her first name, Mary Anne, Mrs. MaryAnne Caldwell. She must have been my fifth or sixth grade teacher. Louise Berg was my seventh grade teacher. Probably one of the best teachers I had. Her and Mrs. Lauren Wagner. Then Garland Updike, who was principal of Hollybrook School, he was my eighth and ninth grade teacher. When we got in high school, of course I had a lot more teachers. I had Helen Hardy, Virginia Brown, Marge Blankenship, Dowell Davis, Ralph Reynolds, Victor Gilly, and Lord, I don’t know. I had a lot of teachers up there.
I never really got in trouble at school. I was always told that if I got in trouble at school, that I’d have more trouble when I got home. So, I usually didn’t have any trouble at school. I remember some pranks in high school, not in grade school or so much in junior high school. I took Chemistry and Mrs. Virginia Brown was the teacher. Mrs. Brown was way up in years. I Mean she was like probably ten or fifteen years past where she should have retired. She was way up in the years. She was a sweet old lady, but we had one boy at school and his name was Alfred Smith. We called him Flop, Flop Smith. We would all go in Chemistry class every morning for Mrs. Brown, and she would call the role every morning. She didn’t look around, she called it everyday. You had to say present. Alfred Smith would always come in, he’d be there when she called out Alfred Smith. He’d yell out, Here Mrs. Brown!, and then in the middle of class Alfred would disappear, because at Bland High School at that time. The old school had burned down now. The one that you see all up there now is not the same one. But the old school, they kept all the athletic equipment in a kind of like closet of a stairwell. The stairs went up and they had an opening in there. They kept all the gloves, bats, equipment, and things in there. There was also room enough for Alfred to hide in there during class, because he set right beside the door, and sometime during Chemistry class every other day or so, Alfred would disappear in to that little closet. She would look around and she would ask him questions, you know ask questions and get around to Alfred. What do you think about that Alfred, or is this formula right?, and of course Alfred wouldn’t be there. She’d look around and she’d say, Well he was here. He answered the role. Has anybody seen him? Did he get up and go out of the classroom? I didn’t give him permission to do that. And of course he was hiding in the little closet there, and when class was over he’d come back out and walk out. He kept the poor lady confused all of the time. But other than that, I never did pranks. I mean, I never done things like that. I was a good boy.
I never fished much. I never cared much for fishing. We went in the creeks and went swimming. At one time in Wilderness Creek, there were two or three holes in it that was big enough to swim in, and most of the time we swan in Kimberling over at the bridge over there, past Mr. Helvey’s place. That was a good swimming hole.
Love and Marriage
I guess we courted the same way back then as they do now. We went to the movies, and we went on picnics. We went on little outings and things of that nature. I suppose church socials, and things like that. I doubt that has changed any today. You probably do the same thing, going to movies. You probably go to amusement parks. We didn’t have an amusement park back then to go to, but I doubt that that has changed to any great extent. I met my wife when I started playing on the radio in Bluefield when I was fifteen. We played on Saturday afternoons, me and my cousin that lives up the road here now, Roger Morehead. He grew up in this house right up the road here. We auditioned and won a spot on a show called the Home Folks Barn Dance in Bluefield. It was a broadcasted every Saturday afternoon. I think at four o’clock WHIS. Sues and her sisters and cousins all used to come up and watch us perform. That’s how I met her, and that’s how she met me. We got married in Tazewell, Virginia at the Methodist parsonage. The old gentleman, I’m sure he’s passed on, was a nice minister. He really put me on the spot, ‘cause I asked him how much I owed him for doing the ceremony, and he looked and me and said, whatever you think she’s worth. Obviously I didn’t have enough to pay him, but that’s how we met. We married when we were seventeen. We’ve been married almost forty-six years. We didn’t get to go on a honeymoon. I played, we got married on Friday evening, and Saturday night I played a dance at a blues club in Bluefield. We never had a honeymoon. My wife’s first name is Alona, which a lot of people around here have never heard that name. Her middle name is Sue, but everybody calls her Sues. We have one son. His name is Allen Lee Miller. He’s a retired naval officer. He lives in Chesapeake, Virginia now. He was born in Bluefield at the Bluefield Sanitarium.
It was much easier to raise children back then than it is today. I say this because back then drugs were very seldom ever heard of. I mean the most problem back then that the parents had, and even back before then was making sure that they started out right. Making sure that they understood right from wrong, and maybe, just maybe you might have a problem with them slipping a cigarette or something. All of that’s changed today. You’ve got people that raise kids today that got drugs they got to worry about. Alcohol and marijuana they’ve got to worry about. All types of drugs and stuff. So sure it was easier back then to raise children. I don’t envy any young parent today. I don’t envy them at all. At times I feel sorry for them.
Growing Up in Bland
While growing up around here, there were very few businesses. I’m sure that there isn’t anymore around here today than there was then. You’ve got maybe a different set of ownerships or something. When I grew up here, we had store at Hollybrook that belonged to Henry Sarver. Him and his brother JK Sarver ran it. There was another store as you started over towards Crandon, which belonged to Gordon Gussler. He also owned the sawmill, thus did Mr. Henry Sarver, and both of them owned grocery stores. Up on No Business, a little farther up there, there was a store that was owned by Carl DeHart, who was my mother’s cousin. He also owned a sawmill. Of course Mr. DeHart no longer has a store up there, but the two stores. There’s still two stores up Hollybrook. Just owned by different people now. Very little has changed when you come to stores or businesses, through this valley. It’s pretty much the same as it was back then.
I would say that the weather was probably more severe back then than it is now. We have a lot less snow, and cold weather in the winter now than we did when I was a kid. We never got out of school for snow either. You kids get out every time a flake falls. I mean we had to have snow up to our knees before the bus put chains on it, and it would go with chains on it. You still went to school. When it got too deep for that, they’d call off school, but nothing like it is today. I mean we went to school with twelve, fourteen inches of snow on the ground, and thought nothing about it. Of course there wasn’t that many kids back then either. They called school off now like I say, if it looks like it might rain, or looks like there’s a little glaze on the road or anything, they call it off, whether that’s for the good or better or rather it would be better to make you go to school. Just make you get it over with, ‘cause that a way you didn’t have to go so long in the spring and summer months. It always seemed to me like we got out of school a lot earlier than you all do now. We were out of school by, it seemed like the middle of May of something.
Christmas and Other Holidays
We had a tree for Christmas. My mother and dad put up a Christmas tree maybe a little different than some people around here. My mother and them never put up a Christmas tree till about a week before Christmas. Some people put them up really early, but she never would have a Christmas tree up maybe more than a week before Christmas. We all got a certain amount of presents. It’s like I say most of the time in Christmas we usually get a couple of presents a piece. If you drew names at school, you got a present at school. If you drew names at church, you got a present from the church. Usually, no more than mom and dad had to raise children off of. I’m sure you’ve heard that before too. We were lucky to get what we got.
Back then on Halloween, the biggest prank that I think was ever played was usually how somebody always turned the outhouse over at the school house. That was the most common thing that ever happened. I never got involved in that, but somebody always done it. I think they used to soap people’s windows. They would take a cake of soap and go around and soap your windows and things. When I was probably eight, ten, or twelve years old, there was no such thing as trick or treat. You didn’t do that. That didn’t start through here till, Lord, until the late fifties. I can remember us taking Allen trick or treating. When I was a kid there wasn’t trick or treating, we just didn’t do that. But sure there were all kinds of things done, pranks pulled. They used to cut trees across the road, which was a really terrible thing to do. There were all kinds of mean little, mean little tricks.
I don’t think we ever done anything real special on the Fourth of July, but Easter of course was a big time for kids through here. Usually you got a new outfit to go to church in, and a new pair of shoes. You dressed up on Easter. Easter was a little different. On Memorial Day, I can’t remember when the American Legion used to come to that cemetery at Shiloh around there every Memorial Day. They’d do their programs and things of that nature. I don’t ever recall us ever doing anything special. I don’t think that we ever done anything special for the Fourth of July, it was just another day.
The first president that I can remember would be Franklin Roosevelt. I would’ve just been probably about six when he died. I can remember hearing about it. There was no TV back then, so you didn’t see anything like that, but I can remember hearing people talk about him when he died. Really I can remember more about Truman, ‘cause when I was in school, Truman was president up until of course Eisenhower got elected. I can remember when we were in the eighth grade at Hollybrook School over here when Truman fired Beck Alther. Garland Updike was principal and he brought a radio to school. For our history lesson that day, we listened to McArthur's speech for Congress.
When I was a kid, we didn’t get to see that many movies. Most of the movie stars that I liked were all cowboy stars, like Gene Autry. I liked Gene Autry. I liked him better than Roy Rogers. I always liked Gene Autry better. I liked Lash Larue. You probably never heard of him. He was a cowboy star. Johnny Mack Brown, I liked him. Most of the other stars, you know like Carry Grant, Jimmy Stewart, and people like that. When I was a kid, I paid very little attention to them, ‘cause I was more into western movies. But later on, if you asked me now who my favorite movie star is. That’s a different thing. I like Charles Bronson. I like Clint Eastwood movies. I don’t think he’s ever made a bad movie. I liked Angie Dickinson. I thought she was a good movie star. I always liked her when she had the TV series. Bette Midler movies, I like her. I think she’s a good actress, a good singer. You know there’s a difference in the movie stars today and movie stars back then. Today they’re more actors. There’s very few of them that are stars. Back then they were big big stars. People like Betty Grable and Marilyn Monroe, they were really really big stars. You can be a movie star today and walk out on the street, and nobody would know who you are. You’d never be recognized cause they don’t build the studios in Hollywood now. They don’t build the star image. They look more towards how good of an actor you are. Clint Eastwood is a star, I mean if you walked out on the street and seen him, you would know who he is. You might see a half a dozen people that have won Oscars on the street now and never known one of them, because they’re not stars. They are actresses or actors, but they don’t have the star status that people did back in the forties and the fifties. They just don’t build them that a way. They’re not promoted that a way.
The first movie I ever seen, my dad went to Bluefield and took me and my younger brother. My dad didn’t have an automobile. He didn’t have a truck till we were probably ten or eleven years old before my dad owned a truck. He used to have to hire people or either bum a ride to Bluefield with people to buy grain and feed for the cattle, and bring it back. The first movie I went to see, Mr. Henry Nunn over here across the creek had a truck, and they went down. My dad took me and my younger brother, and we went down on Princeton Avenue. There was a theater down there that had a Lash Larue movie. They ran double
features, western double features. The first movie I ever seen was the Last Larue and Fussy Saint John. I can't remember, but I think the other movie that day was maybe Red Rider or something like that. I was a theatre called the Center Theatre on Princeton Avenue in Bluefield. It’s probably about where the parking building is over in Princeton. There was a restaurant down there then called Jimmy’s. Jimmy’s restaurant stayed open twenty-four hours a day. Then that little theater was next to it. At one time Bluefield had four theaters. They had one called The Colonial, and they had one called The reyolda. There were four theaters in Bluefield at one time. Now there are none.
I have no memory of the exact place or time of where I was when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, ‘cause I was too young. In nineteen-forty one I would’ve been only five years old. So, I can’t remember pretty much about man in the country here that had to go in World War II, but when it started. I don’t have any exact memory of that day either, where I would’ve been or anything.
My dad had two brothers that was in World War II. One of them contracted tuberculosis while he was in there, and passed away shortly after they discharged him. My other uncle, Bill, that lived in Roanoke, was in Patrons Army in World War II. So, my dad was too old to go. My dad was too old and had too many kids. My uncle in Roanoke was like only two or three years younger than he was, but they took him because he had no children. He had no children so they took him in a heartbeat. Of course my dad and mother had three children, but he was a little too old, so he never, but he had two brothers in it. The only rationing that I can remember is that all these people through here that had automobiles had to have a gas stamp. You could only buy so many gallons of gas a week or a month for a certain day. Other than that, that’s the only thing I can remember about rationing in World War II, ‘cause you had to have one of those stamps. They had to be put on your windshield or something. It was kind of like an inspection sticker today. Other than that, I don’t remember any rationing or anything of that nature. I can’t remember much when the Germans surrendered, but I can probably remember more when the Japs surrendered. When the battleship in Massery, McArthur signed the surrender agreement and stuff. I can probably remember more stuff about that than I can about the Germans surrendering though, because it was just so much of a bigger thing after they dropped the atomic bombs on Japan. I can remember when that happened.
Most of these people through here are Democrats. They probably loved Truman to death. I think personally myself that Truman was probably a pretty good president. I think he inherited a tremendous amount of problems and stuff from Roosevelt. When Roosevelt died suddenly the way he did, and I think Harold Truman was all and all a great president. I’m not necessarily affiliated with his party, but history has shown that he made some tough decisions.
I think people in general supported the Korean War. There was an awful lot of young people here. See my brother was drafted in during the Korean War, although he never actually got to Korea. They stopped him in San Francisco. He was a medic. There was a lot of young men from here in the country and in this area. There was probably two or three from over here in Hollybrook,that I think was in the Korean War. My brother was in it. A Burton boy up the road here, Jr. Burton, he was in it. I don’t know whether Paul Williams was in Korea or whether it was near the end of it or before. He was in the service during that period. I know there was one boy from Hollybrook over here, a Wright boy, that got killed in Korea. He never came home. I think there were several people around here that were involved in the Korean situation.
I Like Ike
I liked President Eisenhower. Ike was a national hero. He was a good president. A lot of people have forgotten maybe some of the things Ike done. Eisenhower is the architect of the interstate highway system. He’s the guy that got that started. One year of the eight years that Eisenhower was in office, I think it was nineteen and maybe fifty three or fifty four. This country had a balance budget, it’s never had one since.
Good Ole Times
I think that probably the times in the nineteen fifties were a lot less stressful than they are now. I don’t know that you could say times were better back then than they are now, but probably less stressful and a lot slower. Seems to me like in the past few years, we’ve gotten in an awful hurry to do things around here. Now that’s maybe simple, because I’ve gotten older and you get in a hurry to get things done, or maybe when I was younger, I didn’t have that much to do. It just seems to me, that back in the fifties and early sixties that it was a much slower pace. If you did things, you did get in quite such a hurry to do things. Things moved along at a lot slower pace than they are now.
Right now I don’t think that the country’s in all that great of shape. Not to dive into religion or anything, but I think today people place less emphasis on the way their children are brought up. I think they care a lot less about the discipline that gets get today. I think that the country does in general. Although it’s been prosperous times the past few years, I think that the attitude of the American people has definitely turned downward. I don’t think that the attitude of the people today is. . . well you know. That doesn’t really make any difference. I know they’re talking about shooting up in Detroit or wherever it was up there. Well you know. The gun! The gun! The gun! The gun is this! We need to outlaw the guns. We need to put things on the guns to keep kids from firing them. They still are looking. They still haven’t found the problem. The gun isn’t the problem at all. That’s not why people are shooting each other, and this is that. That hasn’t got anything to do with the gun. The gun hasn’t got anything to do with it. It’s the attitude of people. They’re not. The six year old child obviously had little or no discipline at all, because back when I was a kid if my daddy told me not to touch a gun, you didn’t touch a gun. If you did, you got your rear end busted a time or two, and you knew to leave it alone from then on. I think in general the attitude of people in this country is downward. I think the country is prospered as a whole, but I think people’s attitude about things and everything definitely needs to be reshaped.
Beauty of Bland
I have probably traveled as much as anybody in Bland County that I know. I’ve traveled through twenty-two different states, five of the Canadian provinces, playing music, and entertaining people. Bland County is in some respects, a virtual paradise for people, but I think that most people around here have to leave before they appreciate it. If you live here everyday, and you see the mountains and you breathe the nice air, and there’s no pollution, there’s no smokestacks sticking up here bothering anybody, you take all of that for granted. You have to get away from it. You have to leave here, and then come back to realize what’s really here. So there’s all kinds of places in this country worse to live than Bland County. As far as advice to young people, the best advice probably that anybody could give, would be to choose what you what you want to do in life. Aim for it, strive for it, and never give up, ‘cause it’s admirable. If you want to work at it.
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