The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Beyond The Blue Mountains

By John W. Stoneberger © 1990

Issue: March, 1990

I am reluctant to want to write this tale. It has some merits and some things I am ashamed of, yet I need to be honest as I write Lewis Mountain history of my folks who were the community leaders that put the first mission and school there. I know some negative things did happen. It is my personal opinion this tale bears much truth and some imagination.

I was born on Lewis Mountain but raised in the valley at Hemes Run [Virginia]. Our home was in between two county stores and two churches. C. M. Dovel and St. Peters on the north and W. H. Alger and Bethel Church on the south.

As children, we went to both stores and churches. For some reason, we bought more groceries at Alger's store, even though it was much further to carry them. As a boy I often wondered if it was because we used a charge account and whenever we paid a good amount, Mr. Alger always gave us a huge bag of penny candy, really good!

On our way to Bethel Church or Alger's store, during the Great Depression of the '30s, we would pass through Greenwood, an all black community of about 200 people and this was where this tale was first told to our knowledge.

Mr. Hobard Willis lived near the center of this village in one of the few painted houses. His place was well cared for, nice lawn grazed short, a small garden, fruit trees blossomed with plenty of shade.

He seemed to be a kind man, he would allow the village children to gather at his home after he had done his morning chores. As the summer sun got hotter, he would entertain the young folks with stories, tales, etc.

On one of these occasions my brother Bill was on his way home from Alger's store with a load of groceries or hog feed on his back, He decided to rest a few minutes as Mr. Willis was getting into his daily act of feeding the hungry minds of the blessed children who loved to hear him speak.

The Massanutten Mountains are about a mile west of Greenwood and the Blue Ridge Mountains quite a distance east.

One of the children with an eager mind to learn said, "What is way over there beyond those Blue Mountains?" pointing in that direction.

Mr. Willis smiled, chuckled, and said, "I have been over there and I can tell you".

"I once agreed to trade a mule of excellent quality to Mr. John Scott Roach for a beautiful fine ridding horse. To do so, I had to take the mule over and bring the horse back. So it took one day to go over to those Blue Mountains and the next day to come back."

"Mr. Roach owned over 1,000 acres of land, a well built log home and barn, with a strong mule team. He was a very congenial mountaineer with a large well respected family... Well... well... All except one son named Josh who seemed to have an extra amount of energy and mischief."

"The evening I got there, Mrs. Roach sent me a huge plate of food by one of the children out to the barn, as delicious as I ever tasted. I prepared myself a soft bed in the sweet smelling hay in the barn and settled down for the night."

"I was sleeping like a log when sometime during the night, Josh came out and woke me up and said, 'Say fellow, can't you dance?'"

"I could see he was in the mood for a frolic or a fight and very polite, I said why yes, I can hit a couple of steps. He said come with me and headed toward the main house."

"In the large living room he poured me a drink of mountain dew from a gallon jug and took one himself."

"He then started playing a five string banjo like his fingers were on fire and my feet were clicking on the heavy plank floor in rhythm, note for note as he played!"

"When daylight came, Mrs. Roach came down from upstairs with a look of bewilderment on her face, she looked at me and said, 'What in the world do you think you are doing?' I nodded my head and pointed at Josh with the banjo, the jug of dew and the pistol! She said, 'You stop that dancing right now! Who ever heard of anyone dancing all night long? Josh, I am ashamed of your behavior. Don't you ever let this happen again!'"

At this part of the story, Mr. Willis had the perfect attention of his listeners. He raised both hands to put the emphasis on the punch line and said, "That was one time in my life I danced all night long".... as they all broke into a joyful laughter. One voice said, "Mr. Willis, did you really dance all night long?" Mr. Willis said, "Yes sir... Yes sir... Yes sir... I really did!"

As more laughter broke out, he said, "No... No... No, you would never want to go beyond those Blue Mountains unless you feel you could dance all night!" More laughter would break out along with much mumbling and talking and a few saying they believed they could dance all night.

At the end of the story, Bill said he smiled, put his load on his shoulder and started walking toward home. He thought to himself, "I sure hope they don't know Josh is my uncle as I might have to dance all day! I do know one thing, they will never find out by me telling them!"

Bill was a strong handsome boy and many a Sunday morning he was the admiration of many a Greenwood youth as he walked to Bethel Church Sunday School barefooted, wearing a beautiful blue striped shirt that my precious mother had made from her dead brother's clothes, who was Uncle Josh.

Uncle Josh died working in the coal mines as a young man. He is buried on Lewis Mountain in the family graveyard. He drew the largest funeral ever to take place there.

I believe Mr. Willis was a loving, forgiving man and he will be blessed. I remember these times as most precious, traveling with Mama, our spiritual leader, walking over rocks, roads, under hot sun, owning almost absolutely nothing, yet dressed well and feeling like young princes, going through Greenwood to Bethel Church Sunday School - finding out someone owns cattle on a thousand hills, also the potatoes under the hills, and that he loves us all and all men should love one another in the valley or beyond the Blue Mountains.