John Peyton McGuire, the second of that name, was of Irish descent. I never knew him while he was on this planet, but he was so alive in the three or four generations of men that he educated that he is still a part of our community. He founded a school for boys in Richmond in September of 1865, six months after the Army of the Confederacy surrendered at Appomattox.
His students, when they were mature, felt that he was one of those who had helped to salvage from the ruins of defeat what was best in the South, and to establish it firmly in the characters of those of the postwar generation whose lives he touched. With others like himself, he was responsible for sustaining those qualities that still keep Virginia's government free of corruption and her leading citizens people one can trust.
His love of teaching was doubtless inherited. His father, for whom he was named, was an Episcopal clergyman, the founder, at the request of Bishop Meade, of a school in Essex County, Virginia. Later, again at the behest of his Bishop, the senior McGuire became Headmaster of the Episcopal High School near Alexandria. The second John Peyton was born in Essex County in 1836, and when he had graduated from the Episcopal High School and the University of Virginia, went back to teach with his father. War closed the school in 1861, and young John Peyton entered the Army of Northern Virginia under Robert E. Lee. The great general became and remained the shining hero of his life.
Though he enlisted as a private, his frail health made continued active service in the field impossible. He served as a clerk in the War Department, then instructor in mathematics at the Confederate Naval School, with the rank of lieutenant. The founding of his own school at war's end was an act of dedicated service; he chose it instead of the ministry, which had been his expected career. He saw clearly that what was needed most in the battered South was strong leadership for the young, those who would have to forge a new world.
One can picture the earnest young man, still not 30, not tall, but very erect and quick in his movements, with a neat Van Dyke beard, and moustache.
In his portrait it is his eyes that convey the vigorous spirit; the gaze is unequivocally direct. He wasted no time in carrying out his plan. He rented a house at Fifth and Cary Streets in Richmond and enrolled his first pupils.
The school grew rapidly and after several moves was established in 1888 at Belvedere and Main Streets, across from Richmond1s Monroe Park. The upper floors of a short block of three stores, Proffitt1s Market, Wilkinson1s Furniture and Chasie Trafieri1s Bar, were converted into one large room, with petitioned classrooms opening on two sides. Mr. McGuire presided over the large room of the Upper School from an elevated platform. Behind him hung a placard with the words 3I1d rather be right than be Presidentý - Clay. Mrs. McGuire, called 3Old Ladyý by her students, shepherded the Lower School, since, said the catalogue, "long experience has taught us that the actual teaching of small boys is far better done by women than by men.ý
Some of Boss1s still living students describe him vividly. He was somewhat portly after he reached his forties, and he had neither time nor means for sartorial elegance. He was clean but rumpled; it never occurred to him that he might make a better impression if his trousers were pressed.
He abided by the biblical injunction, "Do not be anxious about your life, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?" He habitually dressed in black, in a long coat like a Prince Albert.
Nevertheless, there was something jaunty about him as he moved briskly about the school yard, his cape swinging out behind him, his brilliant eyes shining beneath his cap. He was good humored and his smile was always ready.
Like many of his contemporaries, he chewed tobacco and was a crack shot at hitting the spittoon. He was always active. When snow was on the ground, and during recess the McGuire boys had beaten the Nolley School boys two blocks away and then joined with them to snowball the 3Jaspersý of Richmond College farther up the street, Boss walked up, stood on the corner and rang the big brass bell that he carried with him. The fighting stopped and headmaster and students walked back together to resume classes.
From the beginning the boys called Mr. McGuire "Boss". It was a term of affection, created by their willing acceptance of his authority; they both respected and loved him. He was born to lead boys; he loved them, and his breadth of intellect and high moral standards inspired confidence. A later catalogue of the school makes the view of the principal clear:
Maxims of Mc Guire1s University School
"Prominence in school ought to be attainable only through hard work, tested scholarship and high character. The whole system and our best efforts keep that principle in view. The honest ambition of every boy and the spirit and purpose of all our requirements will be satisfied by obedience to the maxims of the school.
"Be Earnest, Work Hard and Speak the Truth."
"Perseverantia Vincit Omnia, Fides Intacta!
.....Conduct enters the estimate for...honors because, as a basis for true manhood, self-restraint and devotion to duty are worth more than brilliant talents. The purpose of discipline is to help the faithful, reform the careless or ill-trained, and rid us of the obstinate and those who lead others into wrong."
The school was an immediate success -- not financially -- but educationally. Poverty was ubiquitous in the post-war South; no southerner of integrity had any money left when the terrible struggle was over. If a boy's family couldn't pay the tuition, Mr. McGuire took him anyway. The sons of friends who lived too far away to commute to school boarded in Mr.
McGuire1s own house and shared the meagre fare. Their families paid if they were able, but the boys stayed on if they weren1t.
The three sons of a Richmond clergyman were among those who benefited from Mr. McGuire1s large-heartedness. Though no one was rich, clergymen were as always underpaid and poorer than the poor. Mr. McGuire taught all three boys and never sent a bill. One of them grew up to become very wealthy and is today a generous benefactor of the city in which Mr. McGuire1s kindness gave him opportunity.
Boss was a natural teacher and discipline was no
problem. Corporal punishment in those days was the accepted method of keeping order, but Mr. McGuire had the force of character that made physical force unnecessary. He kept a long stick in the drawer of his desk, and when a boy tried his patience too far, he tapped him on the shoulder with the rod. It was rumored that there was a leather strip concealed somewhere for serious offenses, but it was never seen. Boys were kept in after school for incomplete work or infringement of rules, and Mr. McGuire himself sat with the offenders. Unlearned lessons were studied until their recitation to Mr.McGuire was satisfactory. Breaches of behavior were atoned for by the addition of long columns of figures. His method was to inspire his boys with a love of goodness and honor, and to assist them in their growth. He understood them, and they knew it. He did not expect perfection but he felt that it was his own duty to evoke the aspiration that exceeded their grasp.
The Boss1s Friday afternoon talks, delivered after the last class every week, expressed the heart of his educational philosophy. At his table on the platform at the end of the large schoolroom he would stand and take his text. Most frequently he spoke of an incident in the life of his hero, General Lee. Quoting from Lee1s letter to his son Custis, he would rise to his favorite climax: "Duty is the sublimest word in the English language." The boys would exchange glances. The development of this theme was usually too much for the Boss1s emotions. His voice would thicken, tears would fill his eyes, and he would sit down and put his head on his arms. "Go home," he would say, waving them out.
Mr. McGuire was witty and a good story teller; he had some epigramatic anecdotes for particular circumstances. Most of his analogies, in a society where people lived close to the land, were drawn from the farm. "The Conestoga," he would say, "is the biggest and strongest horse we know. But a general chooses a thoroughbred because the thoroughbred has endurance that outlasts them all."
To rally the student falling behind in his work, Boss referred to a farmer who took his first ride on a train. "He wanted to sell his cow in town, so he tied her onto the back of the train the way he had always tied her onto the back of his wagon. When he got to town there was nothing left but the horns."
Above all he sought to strengthen his boys against the temptations that he foresaw as the old aristocratic pattern gave way to an industrial society. "What you are going to have to contend with in your world, boys, is the 'tramp doctrine': 'I want what I want, but I don1t want to work for it.' Every human creature is put on this earth to do his share of its work. Tramp doctrine will make a tramp world."
"Simple, plain honesty," he emphasized again and again. The worn adage 'Honesty is the best policy' made his face flush with fury. Honesty was not a policy but an imperative. One of his students made the mistake of boasting about stealing a ride on a horse car and Boss overheard him. The incident was the subject of the next Friday afternoon talk. To steal a ride on a conveyance operated by a man trying to make a living was like reaching into his pocket to take his money, Mr. McGuire stated. That was reprehensible enough, but to boast about it laid the burden of guilt on Boss1s conscience as well as on the boy1s. There was no more stealing of rides. Boss leaned heavily on the educational value of adages; one of his favorites can be repeated by every graduate: "Where you feel your honor grip, let that aye be your border."
Respect for Mr. McGuire's rules provided resistance to what must have been a terrible temptation to healthy boys. Between the school and Monroe Park across the way, along Belvedere Street, ran the main line of the
Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad. The trains always slowed down for the stop at Elba Station at Broad and Pine streets, a few blocks away. It was absolutely forbidden ever to hitch a ride on the slowly moving cars, and so firm was the discipline that no one remembers a single breach.
The lunch hour at McGuire1s University School lasted twenty-eight minutes. Mrs. Jeffress, an impressive lady, came in from her lovely house at Meadowbrook Farm to protest the shortness of the time allowed her son Robert to eat. The following conversation ensued:
"Mr. McGuire," said Mrs. Jeffress, "Robert is frail and has a delicate stomach. Twenty-eight minutes is not enough time for him to eat and digest his lunch."
"Mrs. Jeffress," courteously replied Boss, "I never have but twenty-eight minutes to eat mine."
"But you are a large man, Mr. McGuire."
"Yes, but I was made from a very small amount of material, like your son."
Mrs. Jeffress went back to Meadowbrook and the lunch hour remained twenty-eight minutes for all.
Mr. McGuire1s response to goodness in others was his Achilles' heel, and the boys knew this; they played upon it as much as they dared.
The most dependable occasion for getting around Boss was presented annually by Turkey Day. For weeks before the holiday, the boys would beg to have no school on the Friday following Thanksgiving. Boss would reply that it was out of the question; Thanksgiving Day was enough, there was too much work to be done and he had no intention of encouraging laziness. School would be held on that Friday as on all others.
Nevertheless, the Turkey Day Committee was chosen from among the older boys. On the Wednesday before the great day, with permission from one of the masters, the Committee slipped out of school and down to Cary Street Market. Having collected a generous sum of money from all the students, they spent it lavishly, on turkeys, ducks, celery crates of apples and oranges, and all the appropriate items for the annual feast. They then hired a horse and wagon to carry their bounty. As they bumped toward their destination they tied all their purchases with the black and red ribbons of the school colors.
In the meantime, in the school a hundred boys were wriggling in their seats with excitement. A sentry was posted, and when at last he spied the bedizened wagon, the shout went up, "Here they come!" The whole school ran out to meet them and to bring in their trophies to Mr. McGuire. The headmaster remained calmly at his desk playing his part; he always pretended not to know the cause of the hubbub and to be overwhelmed with surprise. As soon as the booty was bestowed at Boss's feet, a chosen student mounted one of the desks and made an appropriate speech of presentation. Boss then responded, expressing his astonishment at being the recipient of such abundance. He always closed with the long anticipated words: "Now go home and don1t let me see you until Monday!"
Food is always uppermost in the minds of the young, but in those days, when it was not abundant, its attraction was intensified. A block from the school was a bakery, where most delicious cream puffs could be bought for 25 cents a dozen. Brockenbrough Lamb, a bright, strong boy who grew up to be Judge of the Chancery Court of Virginia, was inordinately fond of these, but was financially unable to satisfy his appetite. He devised a scheme to solve this problem; he bet his friends that if they would pay for them, he could eat a dozen cream puffs during recess. His classmates took him up on it, with the stipulation that if he failed, he would have to pay for what he ate. He readily agreed.
It took several days for the boys to accumulate 25 cents, but on a bright Monday in Spring, the sum was in hand and as soon as the recess bell rang, they were down the street to buy the cream puffs. Brokey ate the first three and said he would have to run around Monroe Park before he ate the rest. He came back looking rather pale, but he ate seven more. He trotted over to the Park and began his circuit, and suddenly the boys saw him bolt down Franklin Street for home. He didn't return to school for three days, but when he came back he brought 25 cents. Boss, learning of the incident, make no comment; he doubtless thought that justice had been fully operative.
Any serious disagreement in those days was settled by a fist fight. These always took place in the alley behind the school, and were usually attended by the majority of the student body. Dr. Carrington Williams, one of Richmond's most distinguished surgeons, remembers that in his day the two chief pugilists were called "Pug" and "Guts".
Other forms of athletic activity were conducted in a small dusty courtyard. Here the football, baseball and track teams worked out, spilling over into Monroe Park when space became too great a problem. One member of the baseball team, named Boehling, went on to become pitcher for the Washington Senators, and a hero at the school he left behind.
There were no specific classes in the Upper School at McGuire1s. Boys were drilled in reading, writing, mathematics, history, Latin and Greek, and French and German, in preparation for entrance to Mr. McGuire1s alma mater, the University of Virginia. Practice in forensics was provided by four competitive "Literary Societies." When Mr. McGuire thought they were ready, the boys went on; some took longer than others, but most went into second year work at college and graduated in three years. Their records, especially in mathematics, were outstanding.
But Mr. McGuire1s greatest contribution to his boys was not the knowledge from books that he imparted with such care; it was the example of manhood that he himself provided. "He was such a good man," says Dr.
Carrington Williams. "He influenced everyone whose life he touched. In honor and fidelity, in industry and honesty and discipline Mr. McGuire, through his own life, showed boys how to be useful and honorable citizens."
Two other doctors, graduates of McGuire1s, demonstrated years after his death the practice of his teaching of "simple, plain honesty".
Dr. Hunter McGuire, a young internist not yet fully established, and Dr. Randolph Wellford, a successful otolaryngologist, were at dinner together one evening in Richmond. Dr. McGuire happened to mention that he needed a car.
Dr. Wellford remarked that this was a happy coincidence; he wanted to sell his three-year-old Packard Phaeton and buy a new one.
"You can have the Phaeton for $800," he told his friend.
"It1s worth many times that, Ranny," Dr. McGuire replied. "I could not think of accepting it at that price."
"Nonsense! It1s not worth a penny more than that to me. I1ll be well paid not to have to dicker with the salesman on the trade-in."
"But you would get so much more toward your new car. I cannot accept such a low price."
Ranny grew a little angry."Damn it! I don1t want more than $800 for the old thing! You either buy it at $800 or it1s not for sale!"
"It1s not an old thing," Dr. McGuire persisted. "You have kept it in mint condition. I thank you, Ranny, and I appreciate your generosity, but I cannot buy your car." And he didn1t.
As Boss grew older, it must have been a deep satisfaction to him to know that his son and namesake was qualified to continue the school. Gradually the younger John Peyton took over, carrying on his father1s methods and philosophy. The school continued to grow and Mr. McGuire lived to see it enter its fifth decade. On a Sunday in April of 1906, only a few months before his seventieth birthday, Boss died. His funeral overflowed the church of which he had long been a vestryman. A Richmond newspaper editorial expressed the feeling of the community:
"Probably no man in Virginia, or in the South, ever taught longer or more satisfactorily in the same place than did Mr. McGuire. His influence, far from waning, grew steadily to the end. ... Without one single thing to build on, save character and fitness and devotion, McGuire School became a household word over a large territory, and was far better known, and vastly more influential, than many an endowed college. No man who witnessed the splendid testimony paid Mr. McGuire when he was finally laid to rest can ever question again the value and force of a pure and lofty and loyal character."
A Wreath of Mountain Neighbors
Until recently most of what we read about the mountain folk of the eastern United States told of feuding and moonshining, ignorance and inbreeding. Fortunately for the human record and historical justice, people like Earl Hamner, Jr., of "Homecoming" fame, Eliot Wigginton in "Foxfire" and Alberta Pierson Hannum, are now balancing the account.
Because we have had the good fortune to spend our summers on a farm in the high meadows of the Blue Ridge in Virginia, and to know the mountaineers well, I want to add a small tribute to these people who, before very long, will exist only in legend and memory.
Quite by chance we have found ourselves among some of the descendents of the pioneer settlers, living much as their great-great-grandparents did a hundred and fifty years ago. It is as if we had come upon a group of human beings like the grove of Chestnut trees one occasionally finds in a high mountain cove, untouched by the destroying blight. We have discovered that our neighbors are intelligent, humorous and kind, with a wise innocence that seems a part of the beauty of their surroundings. They are in the exact center of a culture adapted to an arduous life lived in constant and close companionship with the natural world.
Among the first people we met when we were acquiring our mountain property were our neighbors, Homer Rodman and his wife, Velma. Their farm adjoins ours to the east, and we went to call on them when we were negotiating for our land. Much later, after I had come to know Velma well, she said to me, "You know, we live off by ourselves up here, and we have plenty of time to think. By the time a stranger gets from our gate to our front door, we know more about him than he can tell us in an hour." Looking back on our first visit, I realized how true that was. When we walked up onto the porch of their gray clapboard house with the wood shingled roof, the Rodmans had us all sized up.
Mr. Rodman is tall and spare, with broad angular shoulders, and a face creased with humor. Friendliness beams out from his startlingly blue eyes and he is accustomed to taking command. "Ya'll come in," he said with enthusiasm, "and sit down. You make yourselves at home; we're just glad to see ya!"
As in every mountain home that we have visited, cleanliness shone from every surface. A stove occupied the place of honor in the living room, and there were inviting chairs that showed signs of much sitting. The window sills were lined with blooming plants: begonias and geraniums, lantana and coleus. Over a doorway was a large cuckoo clock, elaborately carved; I admired it.
"We went to town one day," Velma told me, "and there were plenty of things that we needed, but Homer saw that clock and he just had to have it.
So we came home with the clock and nothin' else." Homer enjoyed this immensely. "That thar1s a fine clock, ain't it? A man would be a fool to pass up a clock like that, now wouldn1t he?" We agreed. I asked Mrs. Rodman who kept it running. "I take it down about every six months," she said, "and clean all the parts and oil it and put it back together again. It runs good."
We were telling Mr. Rodman how beautiful we found the area in which he lived. "Yes," he said, "it's purty country. I been living here in
Montebello all my life and I wouldn't live nowhere else." His eyes began to twinkle. "I got a nephew lives in Florida and I been tellin' him for years that he better come up and see this beautiful place. He finally come last year, and he was disgusted. He come in and he said, 'You been writin' me about Montebello all these years, and tain1t nothin' but two ol' houses at a crossroads, -- a sorry post office and a ol'1 gen'ral store.' I told
him, 'Son,' I said, 'you mustve hit the by-pass!'"
I longed to accept the Rodmans' invitation to stay to supper that evening, but my husband insisted that we go back to town before dark. As we were leaving, Mrs. Rodman took me into the bedroom to show me the quilt she had just finished. It was a work of art, a complex geometric pattern perfectly done in bright colors on white."I never saw that pattern before," I told her. "Where did you get it?" "Well, I was watchin' 'Maverick'on television and these two thieves was running away and they hid in a bed under a quilt. They stayed there just long enough for me to run and get a pencil and copy down the pattern."
The Rodmans were old friends from the beginning, and when we began the next year to plant the Christmas trees that were to be our chief crop, Homer came to help us. His natural affection for everything living makes any job in which he participates a pleasure for all.
"These trees are gonna grow," he said, beaming down on the little switches as our backs grew weary and our fingers numb. "They just are. They gonna like it here in this purty place so much they just gonna grow like nothin' you ever saw. Look at that," he smiled, holding up a skinny white pine seedling. "Did you ever see a purtier little tree? I never did!"
Among his other talents, Homer has the gift of healing animals. He has had little schooling and no scientific training whatever, yet all the neighbors call him when they have a sick calf or an ailing ewe (called 'yoh' in mountain language). He talks to animals with the same humorous gentleness with which he approaches people, and animals, being more perceptive of human quality than most bi-peds, respond immediately. Homer1s face, as he bends over an ailing creature, is something that I am grateful to have seen.
I became rather possessive in my affection for Homer, and one day when a visiting friend expressed what I considered dangerous enthusiasm for his charms, I warned her that I would tolerate no competition where he was concerned. It happened that the Rodmans had to attend a funeral on this particular afternoon, and on their way home they stopped by the field where we were still planting trees. I immediately told Velma of the threat that my friend had posed.
She looked especially young and pretty for her sixty years that afternoon, but she put on a long face. "People always ask me why I look so much older than he does, and I tell 'em it's because I stay tore up with jealousy!" Homer immediately parried, "Velma, you know everybody takes you for my baby daughter!"
Velma is a born naturalist, and she can tell you where to find the patches of wild strawberries and when to pick them before the raccoons and bears strip the vines. She knows every wild flower by its mountain name, like Old Man's Beard (Virgin's-Bower) and Ivry (Mountain Laurel). Once when we met her on a walk in the woods she handed up a bouquet of trailing
arbutus, with its waxy pink flowers so marvelously fragrant.
I exclaimed over its beauty and said, "It grows everywhere in this forest, doesn't it?" She shook her head. "No," she told me, "only where the angels have trod; that's what the old folks say."
Velma also enjoys watching the many birds that live in our mountains.One mild spring day she washed a pair of Homer's trousers and hung them on the fence to dry. "When I went out to get them that evening," she said, "a pair of wrens had built a nest in one of the pockets. I had to leave those trousers on that fence until all the eggs hatched." Wrens have an affinity for the Rodmans. Their grandson Wesley, who works for us, has a Jeep truck in which he travels between his house and our farm. A pair of wrens insisted on building a nest on a corner brace under the bed of the truck. Their hours seemed to coincide exactly with Wesley's. They would begin building at 8 o1clock in the morning when he arrived, and call it a day at 4:00 in the afternoon when he left. I worried that the female would lay her eggs and that they would be broken jolting over the mountain roads. I discussed the problem with Wesley. "Well," he commented, "everybody is crazy about mobile homes these days!"
In the higher reaches of the mountains, beyond the web of county roads, live a few families whose only transportation is their feet. They "walk out" when they need seed or fertilizer or salt or coffee, and they carry their purchases home on their backs. Of such is Whitey Brooks, who walks out in the spring to help us plant our trees.
So remote is the house in which Whitey lives with his mother and father and sisters that it belongs, literally, to another world. When Whitey comes to work with us he brings his remoteness with him, and you can feel it,
surrounding him, keeping him apart. It seems that the wind is always blowing wherever he stands, even on the quietest day. Whitey almost never speaks. His beautifully molded face, with its straight nose and light blue eyes, never changes expression.
One early spring day he came out to help us plant pines on a steep slope where the thin turf had broken open in winter, leaving the rocky subsoil exposed. This particular mountain flank is half a bowl, carved out by an awesome force in a grand, satisfying curve. Its deep shape shelters it and catches the sun. This was in April, usually cold in the mountains; a man doesn1t count on leaving his coat at home until June is well established.
Whitey walked out that morning dressed by the calendar; he had on a pair of workpants over his wool underdrawers, a wool shirt over his wool undershirt, a pair of overalls and as a final precaution, an Army surplus overcoat, and, of course, his felt hat. It was cold when he had his breakfast of cornpone and eggs and ham and boiled coffee, but while he was covering the five miles to the county road, a low pressure system moved into the mountains.
He joined the planting team in the bowl, out of the wind, and by the time they quit for lunch, the temperature was up in the eighties. By two o'clock a pocket thermometer that Elliott carried registered 92 degrees.
Planting trees is hard work, made harder by heat. The other men by this time had shed everything but their trousers, but Whitey remained faithful to the calendar. The sweat poured from his face until the collar of the Army surplus overcoat was dark with moisture, but he never removed even his felt hat. It was still cold on his mountain top, and he would not yield to a lower world.
Working for his friends is a gift that Whitey bestows. He doesn1t need money. His lifestyle is so simple and so fully solved by hundreds of years of living that one day1s work in a month provides the cash that he requires.
He doesn't work regularly because a five-day-a-week job would interfere with his companionship with nature. He hunts and fishes and works his own fields, and when this contract is fulfilled, he shares his most precious possession time with his friends.
The farm that adjoins ours to the west belongs to a widow, Ethna Bryant. Many years younger than her husband, she was still in her thirties when he died and left her with two little girls, aged 6 and 4. We went to see her some months after his death, in the early autumn.
A dirk track turns off the county road where a large mailbox is nailed to a post, hand lettered by someone unskilled in the art, Ethna B. Bryant. A fair-sized barn with a rusty tin roof is on the rise to the left as one enters, and the road curves around on a shelf that falls away sharply to the right. A corn crib and a woodshed are placed where the slope levels off, on the edge of a large, neat vegetable garden.
Coming around to the house, one can see only a part of its white board siding and green tar paper roof; a huge white pine stands in front and almost conceals it. A square yard is enclosed by a picket fence and a gate with a clicking latch, and is ornamented by what are called bushes -- not shrubs. A lilac, a calycanthus, a hydrangea ("snowball") and an old-fashioned rose are conventional ornaments for the yard of the self-respecting mountain housewife, status symbols second in importance only to the number of handmade quilts on her beds and the rows of jars of canned food on her storeroom shelves.
We walked up onto the front porch and knocked on a solid wooden door. After an appropriately polite interval, it was opened by a tall, slim woman with a gentle face and large hazel eyes. She welcomed us shyly in a low voice and asked us to be seated. A pretty child of four years clung to her mother1s skirts and climbed into her lap to hide her head when she sat down.
Both were dressed in simple cotton dresses, as clean as the room in which we sat. As is the custom in mountain houses, the front door opens directly into the sitting room or parlor, where stands the all important wood or oil stove that heats the house. We made polite conversation to which she replied with a natural dignity, but it was clear that grief for her husband still clouded her life. Her eyes filled with tears when she spoke of him.
At length we told her that the purpose of our visit was to inquire if she would be willing to sell a section of her property that adjoined ours and that had originally belonged to our farm. She replied that a friend "had been wantin' to buy it. He helped us when we needed help," she told us, "and if he wants this land, I want him to have it. But if he don1t want it, I wouldn1t mind to sell it to you." Our offer of a larger price had no influence on her thinking whatever. She repeated, "If he wants it, I want him to have it."
We would have liked to buy Ethna1s farm, with the understanding that she and her family would continue to live on it as long as they wished. We spoke of this, and she said that she would "think on it." When, after many weeks, we didn't hear from her, we knew that she had decided against selling.
One of the advantages of owning the property would have been the opportunity to make improvements to the house, such as inside plumbing and a furnace, that would have made it much more comfortable for Ethna and her children. As winter set in and the fierce northwest wind blew harder every day, we were disturbed by the thought of our frail and lonely neighbor having to bring in the endless armloads of wood that are needed to keep even a minimum of warmth in a house like hers. After much conferring with Elliott, our manager, we decided that Ethna might not take it amiss if we offered to install an oil floor furnace.
We made another visit and found her recovering; she was able to smile when she invited us to come in. It happened to be a warm day, with respite from the wind, and the big stove was not lit. We talked a while, about the children, and school, the weather, and the condition of the road, and then plunged into our mission. We told her that we did not like to think of her having to go out in all weathers for wood, and we asked if we might put in a floor furnace. She could buy the oil for it; we would just put in the furnace. She would do us a favor, we told her, because we would be relieved of worry. "We've always had a wood stove," she said, "and it's ready and fixed for winter." We urged the convenience of merely turning a switch, against carrying endless armloads of wood, and she listened politely. She said that she would think on it and let us know. Three days later she called and thanked us and said that she'd just keep on with the wood. "We've always had it," she repeated.
Now that we know her better, we understand. The pattern of Ethna1s life has been developed throughout generations of living in exactly the same environment in exactly the same way. She is secure because she knows what to do every hour of the day and every season of the year, and she knows precisely how to do it. She is self-reliant, and in an emergency she knows that she can count on her neighbors. Under her gentle manner still burns the rugged courage of her pioneer forebears; she had a husband and she lost him, but she can manage the farm and the sheep for his children, and of this she is proud. It is her way of life and she finds it good. She means to keep it just as it is.
Not far from our farm is Irish Creek. The Godfreys must have been among those first fugitives from Erin to settle in these mountains. Clarence Godfrey, head of the family, is a giant, standing about six-feet- four and weighing well over 200 pounds. His physical strength is local legend, and he enjoys life with a freedom from petty refinements that would have appealed to Rabelais. Black-haired, with black eyes, ruby red of countenance, he enhances his pleasure in life with a liberal use of whiskey. His family is evenly divided between following his example and believing that liquor is the devil1s tool and that to drink it is a sin.
In the early years of this century, when lumber barons were raping the virgin forests of the Blue Ridge, Clarence made good money with a team of horses hauling out massive logs on steep and inaccessible slopes. He has always been a farmer, with a special skill with animals, and he had trained a pair of big Percherons that could outpull any tractor ever made. His sons love to tell about their dad: "All he had to do was yell 'Pull!' and those horses would bring out the biggest log on the mountain just like it was a stick of firewood."
Clarence has ten children, ranging in age from fifteen to forty, and all of them, without exception, share the passion of his life: hunting. Like most mountaineers, they hunt almost anything for the love of it, but the quarry of quarries is bear. On the first day of bear season, early in November, you can't find a man at home anywhere in the mountains unless he is too old to walk or is bedridden. As soon as the first light shows in the east you can see them in groups along the edge of the woods, unloading the dogs and guns from their trucks, oblivious of everything in life but the chase ahead.
In the Godfrey family, the girls hunt right along with the men. Margaret, who has driven the school bus two round trips of sixty miles every day for fifteen years without missing a single trip, has to hunt only on weekends, but she has killed several bear. She knows how to find them.
All mountain people can read the tracks of the forest as clearly as a map. It is not just the print of the paws or claws that they recognize instantly, but the tunnel through the thick laurel and rhododendron that means a bear has been traveling that way, or a place pressed down in the high grass where a doe has rested with her young. "Look thar!" Elliott will exclaim as we are walking through the old orchard. "Old b'ar1s been a usin' in here! Look at that tree! He's done eat all the apples high as he can reach and broke down the branches trying to get the top 'uns!" And sure enough, there isn1t an apple in sight on the lower half of the tree, and heavy branches torn away are evidence of the hungry predator. "He1s a big'!" Elliott concludes, and I can almost see the huge animal. There can be no real hunting, of course, without dogs. The breeding of b'ar dogs is a science developed over hundreds of years, and where hunting is the principal sport and favorite recreation, the value of a dog is a revelation to the uninitiated. When Elliott with his family moved onto our farm, he sold his b'ar dogs because we had a large male who would tolerate no canine competition. When our dog died of old age, we told Elliott that he was free to keep dogs again if he wished.
Like his father, Elliott is successful with cattle and horses and loves them, handling them with a rare gentleness and making pets of them. I was startled one day to see him loading his favorite calf, an exceptional Black Angus, into his truck. "Elliott!" I exclaimed, "you're not selling that calf, are you?" "No'm," he grinned, "I1m trading him to the man I sold one o' my dogs to; I1m gonna get Rapp back." "You mean you1re trading a calf for a dog?" I was incredulous.
"Yes, ma1am, and I1m giving him $200 besides. My Daddy, he turned down $2,500 a man wanted to give him for Rapp1s father!" I was stunned, especially when I saw Rapp, a big, reddish half-starved hound who put his tail between his legs and cowered on the ground when I approached him.
Elliott assured me that Rapp had no equal when it came to trailing bear, but I had difficulty in picturing such a change in personality.
The yards of all members of the Godfrey family swarm with dogs, each with the same unfortunate lack of social grace. I have yet to meet one that didn1t run to hide under the nearest house if you even lifted your hand to wave to his owner. Many dogs are kept tied night and day for months. I found this difficult to understand until I realized that a mountain man's dog is his most treasured possession. He dares not risk having the dog wander off and be stolen. If a mountain man can1t hunt, he is ready to die.
Everyone knows that mountain people love music, and the banjo is their favorite instrument, preferred even to the fiddle and the lately arrived guitar. In our good fortune in having Elliott Godfrey for our manager, we have in him also a "natural born" banjo player.
He learned "just by pickin." He is modest about his talent and can be persuaded to play only with difficulty. But it is so much a part of him that he has to play, and the presence of an audience is of no consequence.
Because Elliott1s house is very close to ours, he hesitates to play there when the spirit moves him. He goes down to the vehicle shed, closes the door to the shop, and plucks away to his heart1s ease. We have come home late in the evening to see light shining under the shop door and the merriest of music issuing from the solitary artist.
The Godfrey family is very close, and Elliott is the favorite for good reason. He is without hostility, boundlessly kind, and as he says of himself, he1s always been a "jokey fella." He is handsome, with black curly hair and black eyes like his father, and high color. But there the paternal resemblance ends. Elliott is a committed Christian; he gave his life to God at a revival at his church some years ago. It is something which he never mentions, but simply lives. He does not drink. He works literally from sunrise to sunset, and then is free to help his friends or his family, to hunt a lost cow, assist Ethna Bryant with lambing, or drive his mother forty miles to market. Never have I known a happier person. He is always in a good humor. "Good mawnin'",ý he'll say, "you feelin' real good this mornin'?" The implications of this greeting are invariably encouraging.
Prodigious worker that he is, Elliott would rather talk than do anything else in the world. He has a story to fit any situation, and
he views his fellow human beings with the unprejudiced eye of humor.
When we work in the garden together, Elliott takes it upon himself to entertain me. I was telling him one day how handsome I thought his young son was. "I'm glad he ain't as ugly as ole Henry Coffee!" Elliott laughed.
"Ole Henry Coffee was the ugliest man you ever saw. One day when I was young my Daddy sent me to git him to come help with hog killin'. I said, 'I don1t know him, Daddy.' And Daddy he said, 'You won1t have no trouble, son.
Just look for the man with the longest neck you ever did see, the ugliest man in the world.' So I went on up the road and after a while I saw a big ole tall man standin' behind a oak tree. I said to him, 'Is you Henry Coffee?' And he said real mean, 'What makes you think so?' And I said, 'Cause my Daddy sent me to look for the ugliest man in the world.' He come right back and said, You're Clarence Godfrey1s little devil, ain1t you?'" And Elliott gave himself up to laughter.
At this moment, Elliott1s helper, Wesley, aged 18, came into the garden, and I greeted him on the topic of immemorial interest to all country dwellers. "Isn't it splendid that the rain stopped on the very day we wanted to work in the garden? It1s better to be born lucky than rich.
Before Wesley could answer, Elliott spoke for him. "Wesley says he1d rather be good lookin'." There was a dramatic pause. "The trouble is, Wesley got cheated on all three!" Wesley, who looks up to Elliott with adoration, joined in the laughter, and after checking on his next assignment, was off.
Elliott continued his monologue. "I said to Wesley the other day, I said, 'Man, you got it made, no wife, no family, nobody but yourself to worry about. If tomorrow never comes, it don1t make no difference to you.'
Wesley he grinned and says, 'That1s me, man, ole cool hand Wes!' That's what he calls hisself, Cool Hand."
Elliot1s tact is in the same vein as his humor. He handed me a cheque from one of his acquaintances in payment for some trees we had sold him. "I hope you don1t have no trouble with that cheque," he said. 3"He1s a fella don't always keep right up with things. I like him real good, but some people give him a bad name. Brother of a friend of mine1s been workin' for him and he says every now and then his cheques ain't good for a while. He's a fella you gotta work with, or he just might come and cut down all the trees for meanness!"
And this commentary reminded him of a man whose cheques were always good, his friend Homer Rodman. "I sold Homer a bull once," he told me, with mischief in his eyes. "I didn't know Homer had a writin' desk, but when I went in the house, Homer r'ared back just like a rich man, and said to his wife, 'Velma, write this man a cheque at the writin' desk." Homer is a jokey fella, too.
Elliott1s brothers and their wives and children visit him frequently.
One summer afternoon when we had a houseful of young people, and Reuben Godfrey and his wife Ethel had come to see Elliott and Rose, we prevailed on them all, including their two little boys, to come over and make some music for us. Elliott brought his banjo and we sat on the wide stone wall that edges our grass terrace. As soon as Elliott starts to play he becomes completely absorbed, and his usually smiling face wears an expression of intense concentration, oddly serious in contrast to the jaunty music. We began to pat our feet and we urged our friends to dance.
Elliott said, "I ain't never been much of a hand to dance, but Reuben there, and Ethel, they1re just first class!'" After much persuasion, the two consented, and with the blue mountains behind them, faced each other and joined hands. It was a kind of dancing that carried one back hundreds of years, a sort of stepping to and fro, slightly awkward, but following a formal pattern. Their faces, as they moved, wore the same rapt look as Elliott1s. The carriage of Ethel's head, erect, but with eyes modestly cast down, evoked another world. At the end of how many long days of toiling on the land, I wondered, over how many centuries, had the spirits of our ancestors refreshed themselves with the magic of music and dance?
Much of the time we have the feeling, on our mountain top, surrounded by these friends, that we are living in paradise. And that thought immediately triggers the doubt that it can last. The chances are that it cannot. The Rodmans' daughter, Hazel, who is secretary of the County School Board, is one of the few young people who decided to remain in the mountains. "You can1t imagine the pressure that is put on us in school," she says, "to leave the country and go to the towns where we can get good jobs and 'make something of ourselves.' I love the mountains, and when I decided to stay, nobody could understand it. One other girl in our class stayed, and now there1s a new baby a year in this section of the county."
We cannot change this; it is part of something that is happening all over the world. People born in the country are moving to the cities, and those city dwellers who can arrange it, are moving to the country.
The tragedy is that those who migrate to the city seldom share its real advantages, while city people, with the best intentions, by their presence alter the very quality that lures them to the country.
We are aware that we are the beneficiaries of a most delicate balance, and so we rejoice in every day that is given us on our mountain, surrounded by the lively members of a vanishing race.