From the first time I rode up the steep mountain from North Carolina to Fancy Gap, Virginia, I knew it was a special place. It took, however, living here as a “flat lander” to get to know the mountain people. One may ask, “What is a flat lander?” Those are the people who come from places far south…like Florida.
This “flat lander” had grown up in the Brushy Mountains of North Carolina and later in the Winston-Salem area. I was blessed with a big family…about 15 first cousins and many aunts and uncles…in that area, but my parents moved away from the cold of the mountains to the warmth of Florida. It took me over 50 years to return to my roots…even if for a few months of the year.
I found more than I had expected….a whole way of life that I now call the “Mountain Way”. It first became clear to me when my husband and I were looking for a second, get-away place in the Virginia area. The realtor who showed us around drove us in a 4-wheeler up a steep mountain that leveled out onto a pasture land with a beautiful view of the Blue Ridge. (In case the Blue Ridge is new to any of my readers, it is a stretch of mountains running over 400 miles through several southern states. The building of this wonderful place is another story, but briefly it was to give the people work during the depression. The wonderful rock bridges; scenic overlooks and miles of blooming rhododendron is worth the trip. Dogwoods blossom in the spring and there seems to be waves of trees and flowering bushes that make their entrance to the place known as the Blue Ridge Parkway.)
Back to my first introduction to the mountain way. The realtor stopped the car and a farmer who was bailing his hay made his way up slowly in our direction. No one introduced us, but the farmer and the realtor began an extensive discussion about his land. This conversation seemed to be quite long about almost nothing to those of us flat landers who like to get things done quickly. We sat quietly and listened. Finally something was mentioned about my early years down the mountain…in N.C. and all of my relatives there. There was a complete change of mood…and accepting smiles. We found out that the realtor knew what he was doing because in the mountains it is customary to “visit a while” before getting down to business.
Family relations mean everything to the mountain people. I was to find out that many of the old farms date back before the Civil War. One young man told us that his family was given hundreds of acres by the King of England, before the Revolutionary War. This land remains in his family until this day. One can see scattered around the hills little family cemeteries.
Mountain people, we are told, are glad that the outsiders come to the mountains…enjoy the area…and spend their money to help an ailing economy, but they have “about all the friends they need.” Almost everyone is related to someone…or if they are not, they have grown up with them and know all the family members.
These warm and friendly people are strong in their beliefs…as this is also known as the Bible Belt. Faith is important. When a politician made a remark about people “clinging to their guns and Bibles”. A truer statement could have not been made…even if it was said with some sarcasm. Even recently, we noticed that when the controversy about the Confederate flag made the people of the mountain think that their southern history was being attacked, the few Confederate flags suddenly became many flags being flown from porches or alongside the American flag. “Don’t tell us what should be politically correct here in the south….and don’t even think about taking away our guns!” one might hear a mountain man or woman say. While living here, we have not seen racial bias…which is not to say there isn’t any. One thing is certain. These are a strong people… a proud people…with mountain ways which anyone who plans to live here will be smart to learn and appreciate.
The mountain people have dug their roots deep into the soil. They are unpretentious and comfortable in who they are. It may be the older men who sit around at the local store passing the time or the hefty man in bib overalls talking on his cell phone about getting the cooler ready for a side of beef. Everyone shares their vegetables of corn, tomatoes, cucumbers, spinach and some things I didn’t know grew in the ground. Almost each time my husband returned from choir practice, he had a bag full of the latest items grown in someone’s garden.
Mountain stories and the history of the area tell of tough times when people tackled the cold of winter while raising huge families down in some of the mountain passes and hollows (low place in the mountain known as a “holler”). There are places with names like Buffalo Mountain, Fancy Gap, Groundhog Mountain and more than one can remember of gaps and passes. (*see history books below) The deer roam freely and stop their eating to stare at those of us passing by.
We had only just moved into our Virginia house when a man came down the road asking if we had seen his cow? It appeared that the cow had gotten through the fence…as did a very large, black bull that also came down our road. People in the mountains help each other…even the flat landers. Our neighbors arrived from Florida one snowy day and could not get up their steep driveway. Hearing the spinning tire noise, it was not long before another mountain neighbor came with his tractor to pull them the rest of the way up the drive.
Ever hear of the two finger way? Almost all mountain people use it. This means, regardless of who it may be…the passing driver will raise his two fingers off the stearing wheel to give a little wave as the other driver passes. My first impression of that was, “Do we know them?” The answer of course is “no”…but it is the friendly mountain way.
Music is a wonderful part of the mountains. Tonight we rode the parkway to the Music Center to hear a concert of country music along with the “blue grass” strumming of banjo, guitar, bass, and more. One of the best of the best is a gentleman named Wayne Henderson. Mr. Henderson has a tiny workshop where he makes guitars. These are so sought after that a person may wait years to get one…and at a very hefty price. He is a man of the mountains who has been honored for his contribution and preservation of mountain music…even playing in Carnegie Hall.
Below is a video that I’d like to share with you because this blog may become a book if I continue. The fact is I may write more about my experiences here in the mountains where the August temperature moves easily from 65-75 degrees, with a cool mountain breeze. Today this “flat lander” is glad to be in the mountains…enjoying the mountain ways and the wonderful people here.
Wayne Henderson video:
History books about the Blue Ridge areas found on Amazon.
The Man Who Moved a Mountain by Richard Davids