The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

The Final Caucus

By John Hassell Yeatts © 1985

Issue: April, 1985

Editor’s Note: Mayberry, Virginia is located 2.8 miles south of Meadows of Dan, Virginia and 4.3 miles south of Mabry Mill on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Not much is left of the once thriving community but the memories will live forever.

It was only 18 months ago, and it was the kind of day the late Allen Spangler once described as "made by God in Heaven and dropped below to impress mankind with His skill." The temperature was just right, the humidity just right, the sky a canopy of blue, and breezes enough to soothe an army. Singing birds were everywhere in brother Coy's back yard. Three men with more in common than just their ages were assembled to greet and celebrate the day.

Their total age almost equaled two and one half centuries and all of them were severely handicapped. Brother Coy was bent almost double from the residual effects of gouty arthritis, Pete Keiger was limited to outdoors mobility in a golf cart, having lost both feet to surgery for a circulation problem; and James Bailey, who sat in the cart with Pete was a victim of angina and developing blindness. Within the past seven months, all three of the genial and very witty men have bravely faced, and been defeated by death. But not without a fight that is worthy of veneration.

But on this summer morning their thoughts were on just about anything but illness and death. They all shared a mighty bond of love of nature and of a little community called Mayberry. All were from about as diverse a childhood as one could imagine. Except that they all had come from a humble and poor background. And all, through hard work, perseverance and comprehension of opportunity had become financially independent. During this meeting they were humorously sharing some of their memories of their rise from poverty. They joked and they tossed friendly barbs at each other. They laughed and tossed them back; to and fro, back and forth. And they filled the air with their laughter. Passengers traveling in open automobiles and bikes along the Blue Ridge Parkway sometimes stared in wonder.

Mr. Bailey and Mr. Keiger wanted to know more about the history of Mayberry, and brother Coy did not hesitate to narrate tale after tale - some from his own childhood and many from the tales handed down to him from his ancestors. There were hunting tales, and fishing tales, bootlegging tales, fighting tales and peacemaking tales. And all told in a disposition of mirth.

Throughout the three hour session there wasn't a single complaint, or lament. They were all in agreement that life is, by and large good, and old age nothing to be dreaded. Just accepted. It was optimism at its very best and expressions of great expectations for America despite the harbingers of gloom and doom. It was a session that should have been recorded. But it wasn't. And now this scribbler is unable to recall many of the finite details of the stimulating conversation. So far as I am able to determine, this was the last time all three gentlemen were together in such a relaxing environment. It's a pity, but that's life.

At Mr. Bailey's standing room only funeral, the ministers talked about his interest and activity in religious endeavor. They told how he, for years, had functioned as a volunteer counselor to ministers within the framework of the United Christian Church. One of them spoke about Mr. Bailey's love of nature, and of how you could tell from the light in his face and gleam in his eyes when he was getting ready to go to his beloved Blue Ridge Mountains. This weekend in mid January before his final heart attack, James had been on the telephone with Pete making plans for the summer of '85 in Mayberry. I was unable to attend Mr. Keiger's funeral, but I'm confident that some mention was made about his love of the place. And, of course, brother Coy's life was a living testimony of his love of Mayberry.

So now they all are gone away for awhile, and Mayberry is a sadder place without them. But a better place for having had them for a time that was too brief in the annals of the passing parade.