The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

The Lewis Mountain Story Teller

By John W. Stoneberger © 1988

Issue: November, 1988

John Scot Roach had a daughter named Nellie. She was a very beautiful woman, tall with a pretty head of wavy black hair. She married Virgil Lam and her second child was a strong handsome boy with hair like Mom and Dad, and his name was Gerald Allen Lam, born May 18, 1915.

The Blue Ridge Mountain children were considered some of the healthiest in the world. They overcame minor ailments easily. Crib death and tuberculosis were the two most dreaded diseases until an outbreak of infant paralysis about 1919 and Gerald Allen was stricken with this terrible disease.

It left him cripple for life. His once strong body became thin, enlarged ankle joints three times the normal size and very weak wrists. He did manage to walk by himself in a very awkward way, swaying to control the weak joints with a wobbly balance.

I believe life is somewhat like a great wrestling match, with determination, faith, will power and suffering there is a counter for every hold, and any disappointment can be turned into an advantage, and so it was with Gerald Allen. He learned to listen carefully and became Lewis Mountain's Greatest Storyteller.

A day could never get too hot or cold, dark or rainy, that Gerald couldn't make me laugh. A great volume could have been written of his tales, these are a few of them. I wish I could tell them half as well.

The Junior Lodge of Elkton, Virginia started a yearly event called Fields Day along the beautiful Shenandoah River with plenty of shade and bluegrass lawn. A program of contest, prizes give away, pony and mule racing, ball game, carnival, concession stands, etc.; all to provide a day of fun, festivity, entertainment and fellowship for a small fee.

This drew the largest crowds of all times in this section of the county, with both the valley and mountain people attending for miles around.

Aunt Nellie met Mama there for the day and both of them had small children one of them being Gerald Allen.

After the greeting, joy of meeting, brief news, etc. Mama invited all to have a hot dog and a cold soft drink. As each child was being served, Gerald began to cry like his heart would break! Quick as a flash Mama realized Gerald was used to pure mountain food and didn't know what mustard was. Gerald got older and one day he said, "Aunt Elizabeth you are such a good woman. Do you remember when I was a little boy and I thought some bad cat had put yellow mustard on my hot dog and I cried and couldn't eat it and you got me another one?" Gerald could make us children snicker and laugh.

Gerald grew up in a large family of mountain people who were busy, hard working, with much to do, cattle, gardening, fruit, patch farming, canning and many chores. Gerald was a good child, being cripple he required no extra attention, but was expected to look after himself as the others worked.

There came a time when he became so quiet and contented, they thought, "we had better check and see what he was doing." His dad followed the cripple boy to a log building where he had been spending a lot of time. Here they found him playing in the soft dry dirt under a porch that sat on tall posts. He was pretending that he was operating a saw mill. Much work had been spent in preparing the saw mill site, but the shocking surprise was that he had trained two large rattlesnakes, he had them harnessed with strings and were using them for his horses to drag the logs to the mill.

He told me after he was a man how it hurt him to see his dad kill those snakes, "but now I am as afraid of snakes as you are."

Gerald being crippled needed a special job and he went to Fredericksburg, Virginia and there trained as a first class jeweler and watch maker, then set up shop in Shenandoah, Virginia where the Norfolk-Western Railroad men gave him a large part of his business.

He often entertained his customers with amusing tales and they in turn did the same for him.

Heavy weight prize fighting was a special interest about that time, country stores would fill up on fight nights to hear the round by round results on the radio.

Once the subject got started in Gerald's shop and a huge railroad engineer named Jim said, "I once went to New York where the heavy weight boxers were training and they had a big set of scales on a wall with a padded device that could register how many pounds a boxer could deliver in one punch. I observed as the strong fellows could cause the scales to show 600 or 700 pounds."

Jim said, "I told them I was no a boxer, but a railroad man, but could I hit one time? With their consent I plowed a hard right into the thing and it showed 1,440 pounds!"

Gerald said, "Man alive Jim that is as hard as a horse could kick!"

Gerald said, "A neat little aged woman was at her wood pile and had a one man saw that was too heavy for her. When a bum came by that asked her for a meal, she told him she would be glad to prepare him a good meal, but would he saw her a few blocks of bigger wood? He said he was hungry and weak and would have to eat first.

She prepared his meal; he ate and started walking toward the wood pile. She assumed he would saw wood while she cleaned the kitchen. She looked out the window to see how he was doing and saw no one. As she walked to the wood pile she found a note which said, 'You saw me coming, you gave me the saw, but you didn't see me saw.'"

One of Gerald's Lewis Mountain tales went as follows:

A small young man went to Elkton, Virginia and broke some small infractions of the law, and officers with a warrant come the 15 miles on horses to arrest him.

The mountain people had much sympathy for the fellow, felt he was a good person who by ignorance had made a slight mistake, and if he would hide a few times from the officers they would soon get tired of coming and forget all about it.

One day the officers came in he was in the living room and with plain furniture it was hard to hide. One lady told him to get down on his hands and knees and to pretend he was a bench so she could throw a spread over him and two of the children sat on him until the officers left.

Another time he was in the kitchen when the officers came to call for him. The owner of the home was a large very dignified lady who had on a hoop skirt that came down to the floor. She heard the officers coming and grabbed the small man and put him under her skirt.

The officers asked if she had saw him. She said, "Yes I saw him. I am sure he is close by somewhere, but I don't see him now."

After the officers left she was very angry and reached under her skirt and got him by the back of his neck and raised him to his feet, shook him and in a rash, harsh tone she asked, "What are you doing under there? Don't ever let me catch you under there again!"

Gerald would talk on the spiritual side of life sometimes and his words were very effective. He said, "I loved to go to Sunday School in Jollet Hollow and sit with my uncle George Meadows who was an extra large, robust, well built, 260 pound man with a 20 inch neck, muscular arms and rosy cheeks."

He said, "As I would sit and look at Uncle George I would think what a contrast. He is built like a big saw log and I am like a thin fence rail."

One Sunday, he said, "If I could have one wish in life come true, I would like to be as big and strong as Uncle George! Could you believe, before the next Sunday rolled around Uncle George had a heart attack and died and I was looking at him in his casket wondering how this could be. That was thirty-five years ago and I am still here."

Gerald said, "My grandmother once killed a wild bear with an ax." I questioned him for the details of the story. Her name was Mary Lam. She lived on Lewis Mountain near the stream of Devil's Ditch. She was talented at many things and had once won a wood chopping contest against a champion who was an aged man at a Mutton Feast.

One day she was picking cherries and had with her a baby in a basket and two small children which she had placed nearby in the meadow in the shade. She saw the bear and moved close to her children with her ax. As the bear circled the tree eating fallen cherries as though no one was around. She could see that he was going to pass within a few feet of her and in a sleuth way she raised he ax and dropped a forceful sharp blade into his skull as he tried to pass.

I admire her love to protect her children, her courage and physical strength, plus her good fortune to put a good roast of bear on the supper table along with a cherry cobbler pie, and end up with a bear skin sleeping bag for the baby.

March 14, 1912 [three years before Gerald was born] a political war broke out in the court house at Hillsville, Virginia that caused world news.

A fine group of mountaineers named Allen, known for their integrity, courage, love and wealth, were mentioned in this news. I have often wondered if the incident had any influence on Gerald Allen Lam's name.

I do know that he was a real mountaineer, a lover of guns. He had steady nerves, good eyes and was a crack shot with any kind of gun.

Soon after he moved his business to 2nd Street in Shenandoah, Virginia, Sunday morning came and Gerald dressed in his finest suit, white shirt and tie, shoes well polished, beautiful head of well trimmed and groomed hair. He also put a large 38 Smith and Wesson pistol under his belt with walnut engraved handle grips and a six inch blue steel barrel, buttoned his coat and wobbled over to the big Baptist Church on Third Street.

About half way through the lesson he unbuttoned his coat shifted his position so his beautiful gun would show and seemed to take a deeper interest in the lesson.

He came home somewhat disappointed because no one mentioned his gun.

If the minister or the Sunday school teacher would have asked why he brought his gun to church, I feel sure I could have told you his answer.

"Don't you know our right to worship God is the greatest privilege ever extended to a man and if I were you I would have two automatics of the finest caliber."

He had a great sense of humor and was the greatest entertainer.

Mountain life was more enjoyable and exciting than most people would think and Gerald Allen Lam was the one who could tell Lewis Mountain stories best of all.

I once asked Gerald if he ever had any great aspirations in life he had failed to accomplish. He said, "No, but when I die I want to be buried on the Great Prairie." I suppose with the great hero's.

He died on August 3, 1976 and is buried in Prospect Hill Cemetery at Front Royal, Virginia. I have a grave site there also. On the great resurrection morning should Gerald rise and attain eternal life, I hope he can be himself with a body like Uncle George's and we can meet those great prairie hero's and swap tales for a long time.

Gerald Allen Lam, we miss your stories. H-A-W, H-A-W, H-A-W, was the way he laughed.