The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge


By Russel E. Pangle © 1986

Issue: January, 1986

Can you laugh at yourself? I can. I learned to enjoy a good laugh at myself at an early age and it has helped me in many ways all through my life. I am ready to laugh when the joke is on me, but look out, when it comes my turn to return the favor. I'm a game player and I believe in having my innings too.

The first real inner satisfying, tension relieving laugh that I had about something that happened to me when I was thirteen years old is still fresh in my mind today. Up to that time I had a short temper that would explode like a nickel firecracker if someone played a prank on me.

Let me set the scenario for you and then I'll tell you what happened.

I was working for a roofing repair company in 1938 when this happened. I was man size when I was thirteen years old and I was tending a hot tar boiler when we were repairing the roof of a two story bank building in Basic, Virginia. Basic, Virginia? Where in the world is that, you ask?

Okay, I'll tell you. When the Basic-Witz Furniture Company built a plant east of the South River near Waynesboro, Virginia in the late 1920's. The community that sprung up around the plant identified itself by the name of Basic. Unofficially of course.

The town limit sign for Waynesboro was on the west side of the river so when you come down through Rockfish Gap, the first settlement that you came to was Basic, Virginia; which has long since been incorporated into the city of Waynesboro. But, there never was a highway sign indicating that Basic was a village separate from Waynesboro in the early years.

Basic was also a crossroads for the Norfolk and Western and the C&O railroads, and still is today, so I'm sure it was confusing to a stranger to see such a thriving community without an identifying sign.

All much for the groundwork. As I write this I feel a good chuckle coming on.

I was on the wide sidewalk on Delphine Avenue tending the gasoline fired hot tar boiler. The hot tar was used to patch the roof of the bank. I would fill up five gallon buckets with hot tar and then hoist them up to the roof with an overhead pulley. The pressurized gas gave off a roar that made hearing difficult.

I had just hoisted a bucket of hot tar up to the roof and stepped quickly back to the edge of the sidewalk to prevent any hot tar from dripping on me when a big new 1938 Buick pulled to the curb in front of me. I noticed the Michigan license plate right away. A very stately looking gentleman leaned across the passenger's seat and shouted, "What time is it?"

I indicated that I didn't have a watch and shouted back, "I don't know!"

The man had an incredulous look on his face as he leaned back under the steering wheel and drove away.

My boss, Mr. Lambert, came towards me and for a change he had a big smile wrapped around the nasty wet cigar he always chewed on. I had grown used to a perpetual frown on his face.

"What did that man ask you?" Mr. Lambert wanted to know.

"He wanted to know what time it was, but I don't have a watch so I couldn't tell him," I answered.

Mr. Lambert doubled over laughing. I didn't like it and I could feel my face redden and the short hairs on the back of my neck began to stiffen.

"Russel, that man didn't ask you 'What time is it?', he asked you 'What town is this?', your ears must be stopped up," Mr. Lambert finally told me.

I stood there for a moment on the thin edge of exploding with my bad temper when the man's face came to my mind and I suddenly burst out laughing.

I caught it, in spades, for about the next two weeks. Mr. Lambert told every man in the work crew about it and of course my two older brothers heard about it and ragged me unmercifully. I was asked, "What town is this?" several hundred times and each time I laughed heartily.

I am retired now. I worked for forty years in the oilfields of the United States and 17 foreign countries. I advanced from the hot tar boiler to Regional Superintendant and retired in 1983. I am convinced that the lesson of humility I learned on Delphine Avenue in Basic, Virginia in 1938 was my most important lesson and has been invaluable throughout my life.

If perchance we should meet and you ask me what time it is, please don't be angry if I chuckle.