The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Hoover Hogs and Miracles

By Jeffrey Rowan Lockhart © 1991

Issue: June, 1991

My grandpa, John Rufus Lockhart told me, "Times were tough during the Depression." He lived in a city and said meat was hard to get. If you didn't have bucks to buy meat you either wet a line or shot Hoover Hogs. He called wild rabbits Hoover Hogs.

According to Grandpa, politicking President Hoover promised, "A chicken in every pot!" Grandpa declared, "I didn't see no chickens. Hoover didn't put a thing in my stew pot. I put it there. If I wanted a taste of meat I had to shoot Hoover Hogs!"

In fact, my daddy told me a rabbit hunting tale. When he was a young boy, Grandpa, Uncle Clayton and Uncle James would pile in a car at night and take off to their chosen rabbit hunting roads. One drove as dexterous as possible while two stood on running boards poised with loaded shotguns. They cruised down dirt roads on the outskirts of town and when a spooked rabbit bolted across headlights, they'd pick 'em off. That was Grandpa's Hoover Hog. That's what splashed into the stew pot.

Grandpa informed me, "Sometimes I didn't know where my next meal was coming from." I thought he was pulling my leg. He really meant it. He must have prayed for a solution because twice his prayers were miraculously answered. One answer came tumbling from under an electric street car on Granby Street in Norfolk, Virginia. The other from a rich gentleman driving a brand new coupe hunting a plumber to plumb his new home. I'll explain later in detail.

Grandpa was born in Asheville, North Carolina in 1898. His father was a mechanical whiz. He operated steam generating equipment and had no trouble finding steady employment. Grandpa's mother always raised a big garden. They tended cows and chickens. They never went hungry. With the lure of better employment the family moved to Salisbury - Spencer, North Carolina, to Petersburg, Virginia and then to Norfolk, Virginia in 1919. Grandpa was 21 and apprenticed as a plumber on Church Street.

In the early 1920s Church Street was lined with shops full of merchants needing plumbing work not only in their stores but also in their homes and rent houses. Grandpa followed a plumber for a few weeks and caught on fast. Soon they gave him a pushcart of his own and 50 cents an hour, a fabulous wage in those days. He'd push the cart up and down Church Street hustling plumbing work.

In 1922, he married Dorothy Milette, a French Canadian from Concord, New Hampshire. In 1923, a son was born, my father, John Arthur. They were renting a house and sailing along when times began to change. The wild spending spree immediately following the first World War came to a screeching halt. One dreary morning Grandpa reported to the plumbing shop and was sadly informed, "No work for you today." He returned home with no promise of work, a hungry little mouth to feed and the landlord due any day demanding rent.

He said times were awfully tough. In the city few folks had space for a garden or a milk cow. Grocery stores absolutely stopped giving credit or went out of business when the lists of patrons owing money couldn't settle their debts with next week's paycheck because next week's paycheck didn't manifest for months. A lot of men became hobos, they skedaddled and left their wives holding the baby and the bag. Except the bag was empty.

Grandpa didn't skedaddle. He wasn't built like that. But he did wander around on Grandby Street in Norfolk not knowing where to turn. On one particular aimless stroll the answer to a prayer came tumbling out from the clanking wheels of a street car. He said it was a bill, money. He looked around to see if anybody noticed. None. He quick as a cat on a mouse grabbed the bill, rolled it up like a cigarette and stuffed it in the watch pocket of his work trousers. He headed home excited and like a broken record repeating to himself, "I know it's a dollar bill but Lord let it be a two dollar bill!" Ascending the front steps he reached into his watch pocket and slowly unrolled the bill. A big bold two popped up and he exclaimed, "Lord thank you, it's a two dollar bill!" He continued unrolling and his bright eyes focused upon an "ought." It was a twenty dollar bill. He proudly gave it to Dorothy and she bought bags of groceries with it for a month.

Grandpa said on another occasion his belly hadn't felt a morsel of grub in a couple of days and that morning the last parcel of food in the pantry went to John Arthur. Grandpa entered the plumbing shop praying for work but the boss for the umpteenth time discouragingly reported, "No plumbing work for you today." The rest of the skeleton crew had about half a day's work out of the shop. The boss directed Grandpa to stay at the shop and "Keep an eye peeled for new customers" with orders to clean and oil tools, sweep up and dump trash. That did not pay 50 cents an hour, I can assure you.

Out of the blue a well dressed man pulled up in a shiny coupe wanting someone to do a major plumbing job at a new construction on the oceanfront at Virginia Beach. The man was willing to drive Grandpa twenty miles to the house and pay him top dollar if he did a swell job. Grandpa felt uneasy leaving the shop unattended but the fellow was in a rush and mentioned if he didn't find the right plumber for the job at this shop he'd go looking for another. Grandpa quickly responded, "I'm your plumber, let's roll!" He gathered up tools he had just finished oiling and laid them on a clean sheet of canvas draped neatly over upholstery, so showroom new it looked as if not a soul had sat back there. Grandpa told me he did the best day's work of his life and pleased the man ten times over. The plumbing shop picked up a steady customer and the supper table in the Lockhart's dining room was far from bare.

Doesn't this say to all of us, no matter how bare we might feel inside there's an answer to our problems close by if we are in the right place and the proper frame of mind.