Grayson Memories and Family Stories
I wanted to relate stories from my childhood, and visits to Grayson County, and also stories told to me by other family members. These are for my Grandchildren and hopefully, Great Grandchildren.
Baseball in Fox, VA
As you can see from the above newspaper clipping, baseball was a favorite pastime of the residents of Grayson County in the early 1900's. Farming was a hard life. After working hard all week to scratch out a living, young men were eager for some socializing and competition come Saturday. On the above 1914 Fox Creek baseball team, four of the nine members were brothers of my father, Fields Pugh, and 3 more were cousins. (Fields was 10 at the time.) I remember a story my Dad told me about the first time he was allowed to play with the team.
First, I will relate a much later story from the mid-1950's. My father received a letter in the mail from an old friend in Grayson County, Rich Rose. It seems that Rich had a 1931 Model A Ford with a defective ignition coil. Try as he may, he could not find a replacement part in Grayson County, so he wrote to my Dad to ask if he could find the required part in High Point, NC, where we lived. I went to an auto parts store with my Dad on Washington St. in High Point. The man behind the counter did not have the part in stock, but he ordered it for Dad. A few weeks later the part had arrived, and my Dad picked up the part, and made plans for us to go to Grayson County that weekend.
We arrived at Rich Rose's home near the New River with the part. Rich was in his 80's at the time, but very sharp, with a keen wit and a friendly smile. He took a shine to me and asked if I was a baseball fan. I told him yes, I was a Brooklyn Dodgers fan. He went inside and came back out with a baseball glove, baseball, and team uniform. He had played professional baseball for more than one team. I recall the team name on the uniform was the Kansas City Zephers, but after more than 50 years, I cannot be sure. I know that I certainly enjoyed meeting Rich, and was impressed by him.
Back to my original story. The first time my Dad was allowed to play baseball in an actual game with his brothers, on the Fox Creek team, the pitcher he faced was none other than Rich Rose. My dad recalled that on the first pitch, Rich threw the ball behind his back for a quick strike one, before Dad knew what had happened. Dad went on to strike out. He admitted that Rich threw one tough curve ball.
Hunting with Fields
(Fields Pugh on the left)
If there was one thing my Dad loved more than eating a good meal, it was hunting. He was an avid and proficient hunter. He would always admonish others though, don't kill it if you're not going to eat it. When he was growing up, game killed by hunting was a necessary part of one's diet. He told me more than once that when he was a boy, amunition was scarce. His father would give him 2 bullets for the .22 rifle. He had better come home with 2 squirrels, or 2 bullets. The family could not afford to waste amunition.
Dad hunted with his brothers in Grayson County. It was a family tradition. In High Point he hunted with Jay Woodburn, a close friend of his, who was actually no kin, but I called him Uncle Jay when I was growing up, and was very fond of him. Uncle Jay and my Dad went rabbit hunting in Chatham County, NC. The gentleman on whose property they hunted was know for making very good corn liquor. He would always tell them, "be sure to shut all the gates, and if you see something you shouldn't, keep your damn mouth shut."
Dad and Uncle Jay were very competitive in their shooting and hunting. They would always keep track of how many shots versus how many rabbits. On this particular day in Chatham County, they each had taken two rabbits, and each had fired twice. On the way back to my Dad's green 1951 Dodge pick-up, the dogs scared up one last rabbit. It ran only a short way to take refuge under a rock pile. My Dad found a stick, got down on one knee, and poked the stick under the rock pile to try and roust the rabbit. Just as the rabbit was coming out from under the rocks, my Dad lost his balance, and went down on the other knee, accidentally trapping the rabbit. Dad simply grabbed the rabbit, stood up, took out his rather large pocket knife, and delivered a mortal rabbit punch to the back of the rabbit's head. He calmly looked around at Uncle Jay, saying: "3 rabbits, 2 shots, top that."
Dinner at Aunt Don's
Aunt Nannie Phipps, Leslie Martin, Aunt Donna Martin, & Aunt Stella Ublee
My Dad's sister, Aunt Donna Martin married Leslie Martin, and lived on a farm near the New River, about 2 miles off Highway 58. I dearly loved Aunt Don (as she was called by my Dad). She was a very special lady, and an excellent cook. (Dad said she took after his mother, Emma.)
When I was 5 years old, I had Rheumatic Fever, and was bed-ridden for about 8 months. After this I was skinny, pale, and a rather pickie eater. (I can testify that my appetite returned with a vengence in later years.) We were going to Aunt Don's for a Sunday dinner. My mother knew how Aunt Don's feelings would be hurt if I didn't eat much. (All the Pugh's were big eaters, especially when blessed with a great cook like Aunt Don.) So, my mother told Aunt Don of my appetite problems, and not to be surprised that I would not eat much at all. Well, sure enough, Aunt Don served a meal fit for a king. We had fried chicken and gravy, and home-made biscuits like only she could make, green beans and mashed potatoes made with cream, fresh from the morning milking, and about 20 other gastronomical delights that I cannot recall. For desert, we had home-made apple pie with hand-churned vanilla ice cream. Every item on Aunt Don's menu was one of my favorites. Needless to say, I ate like a pig. I later overheard my mother tell one of her sisters that she was so embarrassed. She just knew that Aunt Don was thinking " how much does that woman think a small boy should eat?"
Most of the Pugh's, my father included, were Republicans. They did not want government intruding into their lives. My father defended Nixon's actions in Watergate by saying that Nixon did nothing other Presidents had not done. He only got caught. My mother, however, was a New Deal Democrat, and dearly loved Franklin D. Roosevelt. My mother and father seldom talked politics.
This story took place at my Uncle Steve and Aunt Nannie Phipps' home. Uncle Steve and Aunt Nannie lived in a lovely historic home near Mouth of Wilson, VA, overlooking the New River. Uncle Steve was a dairy farmer, and the Post Master in Mouth of Wilson for many years. He was instrumental in getting the North Carolina legislature to declare parts of New River a "Wild and Scenic River". This effectively stopped Appalachian Power Company from building a dam that would flood much of Grayson County. (Uncle Steve was even on the national news one evening.) Aunt Nannie was my dad's younger sister.
About 1964 a childhood friend, Greg Goodson, and I travelled from High Point to Grayson County on Easter weekend. We stayed at Uncle Steve and Aunt Nannie's home. It turned off cold that weekend, as it often does at Easter, and I remember falling asleep that night listening to the sound of sleet falling on the tin roof. My Aunt Nannie was a wonderful cook; she had both a wood stove, and an electric stove in her kitchen. Next to the kitchen was the "spring room", where water from a spring was piped into the home many years before indoor running water became common. As usual, Aunt Nannie prepared a wonderful meal for Easter dinner. After dinner, Uncle Steve, dressed in a new "Sunday-go-to-meeting" suit, rared back in his chair and reached to his side to fetch his pocket watch, which he seemed to have difficulty in finding. Soon he began mumbling: "doggoned cheap Democrat administration, they don't even put watch-pockets in britches anymore!"
My mother and Dad had a cabin on a branch off Big Fox Creek, up above my Uncle Sam, Uncle Walker, and Aunt Neecie and their family. We would come up on weekends, and usually for a week over 4th of July holiday. Zeke and Alma Halsey lived just a short distance behind Fred Phipps store on Fox Creek Road. Alma wrote a community column for the newspaper in Independence. She took great pride in this endeavor, maybe embellishing the facts a wee bit. When my mother and father were up at the cabin, Alma would write in her column: "Mr. and Mrs. Fields Pugh spent the weekend at their mountain retreat, Brookside."
Brookside was a name that was invented by Alma. My mother and father really got a kick out of her columns. By the way, the cabin was later sold to my Uncle Walker, then to another Uncle, Dalton Orr, who enlarged the cabin, built a better road to the cabin, and whose family used the cabin frequently until it burned in the 1970's. Time spent at that cabin was the best time of my life. I will never forget the cabin.
As a footnote, the name of the road today that leads to the cabin is, you guessed it, Brookside.
A Visit from the High Sheriff
This story was told to me by my Uncle Dalton Orr, who married my mother's sister, Effie Osborne Orr.
Uncle Dalton had gone to Grayson County with my Dad. They were sitting on the front porch of my Uncle's home off Fox Creek, visiting with Dad's brothers, when the High Sheriff of Grayson County drove up the drive. He didn't get out of the car, but motioned for one of my uncles to come down to the car. The sheriff's message was " It seems one of your neighbors near the mountain place on Little Fox Creek has complained that some of you are running a still there. I just want you to know that it is my sworn duty to look for that still. If I find that still, I will surely bust it up, and come back down here and arrest all of you. I just have to go down to Galax, VA to take a prisoner, but as soon as I get back, rest assured I will look for that still."
As soon as the sheriff left, two of my uncles got into a black Model A Ford with a rumble seat, and drove up the creek to move the still.
The New Deputy in Town
This story also, was told by my Uncle Dalton Orr.
My Dad came from a large family: nine boys and four girls. Independence was the closet town of any size. Every fall, like most small towns and county seats, there was a fair. Several of my uncles were attending the fair. One of them got off by himself, and admittedly got a bit drunk. After getting drunk he had the bad luck to run smack into the new deputy sheriff, who arrested him for public drunkedness. The deputy was on his way to the jail with my uncle, when they rounded a corner and came upon 4 of my uncle's brothers. The brothers apologized for my uncle's condition, and kindly offered to take him home, where he could bother no one. The deputy did not like this idea, and informed the brothers that he was not going home, but directly to jail. After this it gets a bit fuzzy, but the jist of the story is that the disagreement slowly began to escalate. Hearing the comotion, the High Sheriff rounded the corner to investigate the disturbance. After asking his new deputy what had happened, and hearing his explanation, the sheriff offered his deputy the following advice: "You're new here, and you don't know these boys. These are the Pugh boys. There's a whole bunch of 'em. If they say they're taking their brother home, that's exactly what they'll do. If you know what's good for you, you'll let them take their brother. If you insist on taking him to jail, don't say I didn't warn you."
The deputy had a moment of clarity, and relented.
The Lady Boxer
This story was told to me by my cousin, Jimmy Orr, oldest son of Uncle Dalton Orr.
My Uncle Sam Pugh was a formidable man. Though not terribly tall, he was barrell-chested and extremely strong. He served in World War I as a lineman. He strung telegraph line through trees from a forward observation point, to the artillery in the rear. It was a very dangerous job. I remember him working a team of horses, as he plowed fields on the farm. He had a way with horses and children. I remember him as very caring, gentle and loving.
Uncle Sam went to Independence with some of his brothers, and some friends. They had all been drinking a bit. A travelling boxing promoter had set up a ring and tent in Independence. The promoter featured a lady boxer. Admission was charged to see the match. The lady boxer would give $50.00 to any man who could last 3 rounds with her in the ring. After much coaxing by brothers and friends, and probably one too many drinks, against his better judgement, Uncle Sam decided to give it a go.
Upon entering the ring, he walked over to the lady boxer, and told her he could not hit a woman. She showed no mercy to this kind gentleman. She continually hit Uncle Sam. He continually told her to stop hitting him. The punches and the pleadings went back and forth, but to no avail, she continued to pummel Uncle Sam. Finally, he had enough. He grabbed her, and put her into a "bear hug". After she almost passed out, the promoter stopped the fight, and awarded the $50.00 prize to Uncle Sam.
As his brothers and friends escorted him away he kept muttering, "I told her not to hit me, I told her not to hit me."