The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

Visit us on FaceBookGenerations of Memories
from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Tobax Revisited

By John Hassell Yeatts © 1985

Issue: January, 1985

Very few people alive today have ever visited Tobax, Virginia and known it. Yet thousands pass it by each year as they travel the Blue Ridge Parkway between Mayberry and Meadows of Dan, Virginia. Approximately 100 yards north of Blue Ridge Parkway milepost 179, one can look east across the chestnut split rail fence to the hollow below and see the old community of Tobax. The quaint mountain post office established in 1872 and named, legend has it, by combining the words tobacco and ax was phased out in 1907. The building was demolished about 1932.

But what you will find today between state road 614 and the Blue Ridge Parkway near Meadows of Dan, Virginia, standing near the site of the old Tobax Post Office, is a solar and hot water heated building that combines the modern with antiquity. It was intended for use as a "back to basics" carpentry shop. Susan Elizabeth Shelor had planned to hand craft quality pine coffins for discriminating people who are tired of the plastic world and might choose to depart this life in a little more style, mountain style that is. Most of Susan's ancestors and their Blue Ridge Mountain neighbors have been returned to dust in pine coffins which were carefully and lovingly made by their families and friends. You may imagine Susan's surprise when she learned upon completion of her shop that the days when people respectfully made their own coffin or that of friends and loved ones are now outlawed by a legislative decree that forbids her or anyone else from supplying a hand-crafted coffin directly to a family or future consumer. Coffins may be purchased only from a licensed funeral home. Susan knew, of course, that the dead and dying have never had a strong voice in the legislature, but she was a little "set back" to learn of such legislation. She had never intended that her coffins would bypass the practical and mandated grave vault.

Susie Bett, as she is affectionately known by a host of friends may, however, still have her day in court and the legislative halls. Susie Bett is a fighter and she comes by it quite naturally. Her great, great, great grandfather, Captain Daniel Shelor, fought hard to help the Colonies throw off the yoke of British oppression. Captain Shelor whose grave is in the Pine Creek Cemetery in Floyd County has almost too many descendants in the Heart of the Blue Ridge to count. Several of her ancestors defended the South in the Civil War and her father, Posey L., slugged it out with the Germans in France in 1918. Susie Bett herself fought against the prejudice of her peers when she announced that she wanted to be a doctor of veterinary medicine. "Mr. Dorn Spangler [former Patrick County Superintendant of Schools], however, understood and encouraged me," she said. Circumstances did ultimately cause her to alter her goal, however, for a degree in medical technology from Virginia Tech.

Today she fights disease with all her considerable skills and vigor at Roanoke Memorial Hospital in Roanoke, Virginia. When her work week is ended she rushes with her white Persian cat, Pug, back to her 100 year old home that's "housed a lot of Shelors" and to her cabinet shop. She points, with rightful pride to a cherry desk she has built for the home and she casually mentions that she recently completed a custom built cabinet for the hospital where she works. Someday she believes, along with many of her friends, including this scribbler, that she will also be making coffins for those who "want the very best" at affordable Blue Ridge Mountain prices.