The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

A Most Unforgettable Character

By Frances T. Craig © 1984

Issue: July, 1984

In my fathers many moves, operating water-ground mills all over Virginia and part of North Carolina, we met some truly unforgettable people. My mother often remarked that she dreaded the arrival of that magazine known as "The Dixie Miller." "He will just see another place he wants to go look at, and will move again," she would say.

We lived in church-filled little villages in the Tidewater Section of Virginia, and in remote lonely places in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. We absorbed part of it all. The cool clear running little creeks emptying into the dark mill ponds, filled with frogs, eels and leaping fish were such play places for us that we developed an Indian like love of nature. We could name every tree, wild flower and bird anywhere near. We also noticed how differently the mountain people spoke from the people in Tidewater Virginia.

From our contacts in the Tidewater area, we learned a deeper appreciation of our Civil War Heritage. The statue of General Lee in the court house square always filled us with reverence. You didn't need a town council - "The Daughters of the Confederacy" ran the town. The major battles of the war were refought at my father's mill, and in the old rooms filled with old china, family portraits and old books, by the Ladies. The arrival of General Lee at one of these teas, would be no surprise. They kept his spirit so alive.

One person, whom I met in the mountains stands out. He was a handsome, young drifter who appeared one night, and asked if he might sleep in our stable loft. He offered to chop some wood for a meal. Papa gave him a room in the house and hired him as a helper at the mill.

My brother Charles and I followed him every step that he made. We even followed him to his room at night and fought over whose turn it was to wear his cowboy hat, and his wonderful leather boots. He played his guitar and we sang along with him. His affectionate nickname for us was "Hans and Fritz", comic strip characters at the time. Often he would tell me, "You're gonna break some hearts some day, with them big, blue eyes!" I would assure him that I would never break his, because I loved him too much!

He also possessed an extremely colorful vocabulary. However, he always cautioned us not to repeat his "bad words."

One night when he was absent from supper, Charles decided it was a good time to experiment.

"Pass the damn beans," he cheerfully requested. There was a stunned silence.

"You forgot the Gol," I helpfully offered.

"Yeah, pass the Gol damn beans!"

"Where did you hear such words?" my father sternly asked.

"Do you have to ask?" my mother angrily cried out, "That Kermit of course!"

We never learned what they said to him.

One night he came in from a trip from the near by little town. He was clothed in black from head to foot. He solemnly told us all that the world would end on Friday and went into his room and locked the door.

We cried and begged to be let in - we carried his meals to the door, and he still refused us entrance. Friday passed, the world went on and Papa made him come out.

One bright sun-shiny morning a few weeks later, we found him in his room packing up his meager possessions.

"Why are you leaving us, don't you like us anymore?" I tearfully cried.

"Where are you going? I want to go too." Charles put in.

"Well, Hans, and Fritz, I've stayed around this old place too long. I guess I'd best be traveling on!"

"Will I ever see you again?" I wondered.

He looked for a moment as though he would cry also. He kissed the top of my head, solemnly shook hands with Charles and walked out.

He had his guitar and pack of clothes strapped on his back.

"I'll be back, when you grow up and we'll get hitched," he promised.

Down that winding road he went, right out of our lives.

There is an old southern superstition that if you watch a departing person out of sight, you will never see them again. Since that happened so often for us, I'm inclined to believe it.

In the fifties a song came out that featured almost Kermit's exact words as he left us. "I've laid around and stayed around this old town too long, and I feel like I gotta travel on!"

I sometimes sadly reflect, that with all the crooked dealings going on in the music business, someone could easily have stolen his song.

I wonder too, why of all the many people I met, that he stands out so clearly. He hadn't a dime in the world, but I would gladly have followed him to the ends of the earth.

About The Author

Frances T. Craig is a resident of Danville, Virginia. She has written stories that have been published in Tennessee. She says she has been an avid reader since she was four years old. She is very interested in keeping the heritage of our past alive. She said, "I live right beside the creek that Old 97 fell into. I was furious when they tore down the trestle."