The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Holpin' Momma With The Cookin'

By Rodger Goodson © 1985

Issue: February, 1985

My Granddaddy Troy Goodson was probably the most well-known and well-respected restaurant owner Galax, Virginia ever had. It wasn't just what he called "good home cookin'," or the ruinous portions he made the cooks dish out in the kitchen until threatening economic disaster literally forced him to cut back on the "holpin's." It was the man himself. Many and many's the customer - men, women, couples, families - who would call me over when I was working in Granddaddy's cafe, introduce themselves and shake me by the hand, and tell me how they'd driven fifty miles out of their way "just to come up to Galax and eat dinner with Uncle Troy."

Now the point of this is not to brag on my own granddaddy. To do that would be a kind of insult to him. Troy Goodson was simply a remarkable man, and he came from a remarkable family of timber-cutting, farming and whiskey-cooking Blue Ridge mountaineers who, some time around or before the Civil War, settled at the foot of Fishers Peak in Grayson County, Virginia, not far from what is today the Fairview section of Galax (where many of them still live), right up beside the Blue Ridge Parkway near Fox Hunters Paradise, on the North Carolina border.

Old man Leander Goodson, founder of the Goodson Settlement, was himself an exceptional if mysterious old man. "He come up in here on horseback, and he had two saddlebags full of silver. He was an outlaw, a-hidin' out from the law. He said his name was Goodson, and he wouldn't never tell nobody - different nor where he got all that money at. He was an educated man, and her, she was an educated woman. When they didn't want the younguns to understand, they would talk to each other in Latin."

Troy Goodson got every bit of four years of schooling: "In the wintertime, when I wasn't needed about the place." There are so many people in Grayson and Carroll Counties of Scotch-Irish descent that I am strongly tempted to wonder if it wasn't Scots or Irish Gaelic instead of Latin that old man Leander Goodson knew how to talk. Granddaddy wouldn't have been able to tell one from the other and Leander, from what Granddaddy said, wouldn't ever tell any of them anything about it.

When Granddaddy was growing up on the mountain before the First World War, they made everything they needed on their own except shoes, because they didn't have a cobbler. They made their own coffee out of chicory, bark and/or berries (a lot of readers can tell better about life up on the mountain than I can - "Why, that boy growed up in town: he don't know nothin'!"), they used sourwood honey for sugar, and all his life long there wasn't a single edible that Troy Goodson didn't know how to cook, dry or cure, to make it last through the winter.

Granddaddy said the boys all wore homespun shirts down to their ankles until they were ten or twelve years old. (Grandma said the only way she could ever keep my daddy Price Goodson in one place for any length of time when he was a baby was to put his skirt tail under the leg of the kitchen table.) They wore those long shirts winter and summer, and the children had no shoes at all. "Why, our feet was so tough, we didn't need no shoes!"

In the winter, when there was time, they would clear new ground by felling trees on top of each other and light fire to them as soon as they would burn. "And when the far had melted off enough snow around it, why we would go in thar and burn off another patch."

Granddaddy was the youngest of five sons, so "I had to holp Momma with the cookin'." That, and a little bit of arithmetic (not half enough, as it turned out) were his origins and bona fides in the restaurant business, though he first tried out clerking for Truman Woodruff down at Low Gap, on the North Carolina side, before he moved up to Galax and he acquired a Low Gap wife (Bessie Lowe) and a Low Gap mother-in-law (Mollie Lowe Galyean) in the process.

With three younguns and the mother-in-law, they settled in Galax after it was first named Bonaparte and then re-baptized after the Galax leaves that Truman Woodruff had been turning into cocktail coasters for fancy New York restaurants in his factory down at Low Gap (the building was still standing when I drove through Low Gap in August, 1984). Granddaddy started out in a hole-in-the-wall on Main Street, making hot dogs, hamburgers and box lunches.

"Them factory workers had to have them somethin' to eat like everybody else. I would buy me up jist a little bit of hamburger meat at a time. The next day. I'd buy me up a little more. I got my business built up pretty good. Then I put me in a couple of tables and some chairs in thar, and the next thing you knowed, I had me a resternt business right out on Main Street, and business was good!"

Troy couldn't have seen the Great Depression coming any better than anybody else at the time even though the Goodsons had been just about completely wiped off the mountain at Fishers Peak by World War I, after that series of minor depressions that just kept on keeping on over the fifty years following the Civil War.

Troy and Bessie Goodson had an older daughter, my Aunt Ila, who would marry Howard Chappell of Woodlawn, and my father, Price Goodson, who would be Commonwealth's Attorney of Carroll County during World War II, and who raised so much hell at Galax High School they had to send him off to a military academy. And there was the baby, my Aunt Beulah, who would be President of the Student Body at Radford College and today lives surrounded by her children and grandchildren on a farm near Jackson, Tennessee. Granddaddy outlived my father and Aunt Ila by a good number of years, and their premature deaths were the great grief of his existence.

It was my father Price who claimed he first saw the Depression coming. He was at William and Mary by then and he hit the road running for law school and got in another year or so before the Crash hit and that was that. I have mentioned elsewhere that he stole his law books, studied on his own with Galax Mayor Dacosta Woltz and Judge Horace Sutherland, passed the bar exam and mailed the books back to the law school.

At 19, Price had to wait two years before he was legally allowed to practice law. In the meanwhile there was a busted restaurant business to get back on the road, and with my father's help and mainly with the strong and feisty, devoted shoulders of my Aunt Ila, Troy Goodson reopened Goodson's Snappy Lunch Cafe on West Grayson Street, right behind Main Street and the First National Bank. And again, for a short while, he prospered and became famous all over Grayson and Carroll Counties for his home cooking and for his natural-born human kindness to man, woman and child, of whatever race, creed or color.

Granddaddy was fairly flush before the 1950's. I remember as a child when he knocked down the wall to the store next door and doubled the size of the restaurant. Like all mountaineers back in those days, he was a Republican, for the very precise reason that the entire Byrd machine down in the flatlands was Democrat. (My father always described himself as a "Jeffersonian Democrat.” I think it kind of rubbed off...)

I remember vividly also when Granddaddy started repainting the restaurant around 1948. He told everybody proudly that after the inauguration he was going to invite Mr. Dewey down to Galax to eat dinner with him. The day after Harry Truman won the election (to everybody's general surprise), Granddaddy stopped painting and certain parts of the cafe would remain two-toned to the very end.

Troy lost his two eldest children, as I have already mentioned, and the Eisenhower '50's didn't really bring him a whole lot of luck, though they brought me a university education toward the end - my diploma at Chapel Hill was the second university degree in the family after my Aunt Beulah's at Radford and my Masters of Arts was, I suppose, the first graduate degree in Goodson history.

To me, the struggle of Troy Goodson to maintain quality and survive in the 1950's, the desperate struggle of the small businessman to survive under changing and degenerating economic circumstances, will always be represented by his losing battle over the price of a cup of coffee.

Nobody ever questioned that Troy Goodson made the best coffee in town. He handpicked expensive coffee - he would only buy one brand - and he had two great metal dripolators with huge cloth filters - he didn't believe in percolator coffee except in a pot on an open fire, and then you had to be real careful it didn't cook too long.

Granddaddy believed that his regular morning customers ought to have their first cup of coffee for a nickel and the second cup for free. In the early 1950's he agonized for months before he finally had a sign painted that said: "First cup of coffee 5 cents, second cup 5 cents." Months again, years even, before he was forced to take the fateful step, so contrary to his in-born sense of hospitality: Coffee 10 cents a cup." I don't think Granddaddy ever got over the rise in the price of coffee, or the fact that he couldn't always dish out second and third "holpin's" of everything - the way he was brought up on the mountain, you just didn't treat people thataway!

My great-grandmother went first, when I was still at Galax High School. We buried her in Low Gap. My Grandmaw died right around the time that Goodson's Cafe burnt down, in 1962. Granddaddy died some eight years later. Now, Troy and Bessie Goodson lie side by side in the Goodson Graveyard, up at the foot of Fishers Peak. The Blue Ridge Mountains have recalled their own.