The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Growing Up On Tuggles Creek - The Hearse Driver

By YKW © 1985

Issue: January, 1985

(Editor's Note: Tuggles Creek is located in the Heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, near the tiny mountain community of Meadows of Dan, Virginia. Meadows of Dan is a crossroads community where US Highway 58 Business and the Blue Ridge Parkway cross. Mabry Mill is north about 1.6 miles and Mayberry Trading Post is about 2.8 miles south on the Blue Ridge Parkway.)

There was no such thing as an undertaker in our community when I was growing up. All the services had to be performed by friends and neighbors. Except, of course, the making of the coffin, which was done by a local carpenter. Will Smith performed that service in our neighborhood. He kept a supply of dry lumber in his shop loft and did a real fine job of putting it together. The coffins were covered with either black or grey cloth, lined with white satin and fitted with brass screws and handles.

When Elmer Castle died, all these services were duly performed. However, one task remained, that of transporting the body about ten miles to the Castle graveyard near Free Union.

Since, my dad was a close friend of Elmer's and a fellow mail carrier, he volunteered to do this service. So I was elected to drive the wagon in which the pine box was loaded, while Dad took Mrs. Castle and some of the kids in a buggy.

Our horses were never trained to a funeral procession gait and I had a time trying to hold them down to a decent pace. We went out what is now US Highway 58 and turned down what we called Cockram Valley which follows the Dan River down several miles. There were some places where I had to drive over projecting rock formations and I shivered to think what those jolts and bumps might be doing to that body back there in the pine box.

Further on we had to ford the Dan River and start up the long hill to the graveyard. I wasn't at all sure how deep the river was there and I kept thinking how awful it would be if the water was over the wagon bed and got into the pine box and coffin.

However, my fears proved groundless for the ford was quite shallow. We proceeded up the hill and soon some kindly neighbors were lifting the coffin from the wagon. I stayed around till the ceremony was over and I remember hoping that was the last time I would ever be asked to drive a hearse.