The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Checkers, Anyone for Checkers?

By Ernest F. Reynolds © 1990

Issue: February, 1990

In the sweltering summer of 1931 the citizens of Motoaka, West Virginia became so void of cash the town daddies closed shop every afternoon and labored at checkers. The board and checkers saw such heavy usage that black was hard to distinguish from red. One of the more innovative drew squares on red cardboard. T.L. Compton blacked half of the squares, leaving the others red. The idle onlookers awaited turns, discussed finance, and conducted necessary town hall business in the shade of the N & W water tank.

One of the more affluent informed the loafers of a big windfall, a $3.50 dividend - one cent per share - on Pawama Coal Company stock had come his way.

"What aire ye goiner do with hit, Charlie?" inquired senior greybeard, Uncle Jimmy Thompson.

"Why, I've decided to keep it for myself," said the flush fat cat.

"How do ye think your creditors will feel about a low-down trick like thet?" inquired his crony J. Lee Bailey.

"They'll all profit," Charlie Gilmer insisted, waving the check about. "I owe Fred Clard for hauling coal. Fred owes Emmett Mays for horse feed, and Emmett hasn't paid his water bill. Water Works hasn't paid my salary. I'm going to have a show down with all of them, clear my accounts, and get my check back afore it bounces."

Deserting the game, all listened while Olde Money Baggs Gilmer outlined his plan. Each man wrote his name on a live square of the improvised board. Each time his square was jumped, he went in debt $3.50. When the jumping checker landed on a named square, the name was credited with $3.50. Opie Garrett, the Ford Dealer, received four credits and four debits. Doctor W. W. Harlow walked away a free man, as did town councilman Cliff Bailey, and Constable John McKinney. When the game ended, the final checker was on Gilmer's Square. He got his check back and all players but two were debt free.

A new line of credit was extended to all. Water Works Superintendent, Wilbur Nicholson, was dispatched, post haste, to Emmett May's home to turn the wholesale grocer's water back on. Hardware merchants, Adam and Harry Vest, whose square had been jumped over more than jumped on, squared up by donating a new board and a hand carved set of checkers.

(Adam Vest was father of Davey Vest of Floyd, Virginia. Harry Vest was Bluefield's longest serving Mayor.)