The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

The Mayberry Willows Weep

By Bob Heafner © 1984-2012

Issue: August, 1984

Mr. Coy Oliver YeattsIf Mr. Coy had an equal, it would be a mountain top tree standing alone on a high wind swept knoll. He had been buffeted by the winds of time and his trunk was bent by the continuous gusts of mountain wind and winters. Unlike the tree that grows in groves in sheltered hollows, the timber of his soul was not straight grained common boards, but the intricate curls and complex beauty of inlay from a tree whose fibers were constantly challenged to survive. Such timber and people are rare and when they do come along, they’re cherished by all who know them.

The funeral director lined us up four to the side on the porch of the Meadows of Dan Baptist Church. The breeze sweeping across the porch didn't bring relief from the heat brought on by the unaccustomed suit and the collar made too tight by the seldom worn necktie and the lump in my throat. We were ushered inside the church and up the aisle past a capacity size gathering of those who had come from far and near to pay their last respects to a genuine mountain man, Mr. Coy Oliver Yeatts.

We were seated on the front pews, four on either side of the aisle. From my place on the end of the pew next to the aisle, the coffin lay barely an arm's reach away.

the mayberry willows weep fpMr. Coy and Miss Addie at Mayberry Trading Post. Drawn by Willard Gayheart.The coffin was made of polished oak and on each side was an arrangement of flowers. He would have thought they were pretty.

As the prayer was delivered and the minister spoke, I only caught an occasional word. Not out of any disrespect to the place or the speaker, but my thoughts were with the old man lying just a few feet away in wait of a grave. He was without doubt, one of the most remarkable people I've ever met. In his youth he was noted for his sheer brute strength and few around Mayberry could equal his power or his wit.

He often accompanied me when I was gathering information for BACKROAD tours or other articles and sometimes, we just went riding. Shortly before the stroke that led to his death, we went to Greensboro, North Carolina together and on the way, he told me of the mysterious illness that had struck him when he was in his late 20's and left him bent nearly double for the rest of his life. He wasn't complaining, just explaining why he couldn't straighten his back when he walked.

He was a man that questioned everything in order to learn, and more than once he had been known to take the opposite side of his own views in an argument just to hear the other person's reasoning. He never closed his mind to new ideas or different viewpoints and his views and beliefs were always subject to change when new evidence was found or a different logical viewpoint was discovered.

the mayberry willows weepCoy Oliver Yeatts - April 26, 1899 - June 28, 1984For months after I discovered he had been recording his memories for years in an old notebook, I encouraged him to grant us permission to print them in The Mountain Laurel. Finally one Sunday morning as we sat in his kitchen by the stove, he relented, but only if his name would not be used. I had argued that his memories of mountain life during the early part of this century were important and unless people like him shared those memories, they would one day be lost forever and a way of life would soon be forgotten. When I encouraged him to sign his work, he said he wasn't a writer and his feelings were easily hurt and if people made fun of his stories, it would hurt.

Perhaps it began before that moment, at this point I am not sure, but then I knew that big, honest, tender-hearted Coy O. Yeatts was a friend I would always love and cherish. He could, and would, share his opinions with a friend, but he was man enough to share his fears as well. Response to his articles soon proved he had nothing to fear and he began signing his work, "Y.O.C.," which was his first name as well as his initials spelled backwards.

The first of his stories that he permitted us to print was, "The Half a Hundred Springs of Mayberry" and in it he told of the springs on Round Meadow and Mayberry Creeks surrounding the Mayberry Community where he had lived all his life. It was not written by a journalist but by experience and from it could be learned the importance of spring water to a mountain community. At most of the springs, he recalled a home being close by and more often than not, he recalled the folks that had lived in the long disappeared log homes. From the article, an idea was inspired in the mind of Mr. Dorn Spangler, the retired superintendent of Patrick County Schools, to draw a map showing Mayberry as it was in 1915, complete with the location of homes as they were then and the names of those who occupied them.

Mr. Coy's first article not only provided an insight into the forming of a community around available water, but it inspired the Mayberry Map. Already maps of Meadows of Dan and Vesta are being planned by Mr. Spangler that will record for all time the activity and essence of this mountain area as it was circa 1915. Such an undertaking required a tremendous amount of work by Mr. Spangler and his son Larry; work inspired by a self educated old mountain man who never claimed to be a writer, but whose first published story inspired such a contribution to the preservation of the history of the place he loved so dearly. A copy of that map was in his room when he died.

During the funeral, my thoughts raced from episode to episode, some funny, some sad, but all a part of Mr. Coy's life that I had been fortunate to share or know of. He once shed tears while telling of cutting a tree that stood in his front yard. It was necessary, but necessity made it hurt no less. He loved trees and big old trees had a special place in his heart. His sense of humor was wry and he loved to pull your leg. On more than one occasion I realized Mr. Coy had done it again, caught me off guard with one of his sly practical jokes. We always laughed together when I finally caught on.

He made the comment to others that I was the "world's best driver" without ever explaining to them that he had come to that conclusion, not because of my safe driving traits, but because I could drive, read a speedometer and make notes for BACKROADS all at the same time, miraculously without hitting anything.

On one of those trips, we spotted a yellow finch lying in the road. I stopped the car to see if it was hurt and could be helped. Unfortunately, it was dead. As I held it in my hand, Mr. Coy leaned over the seat gazed gently at the beautiful small bird and said, "The poor little thing." His words of remorse at the death of a bird were not the kind of great quote any history book would bother to include, yet the waver in his voice and the tear on his cheek, along with his words demonstrated, to me at least, the greatness of the man.

He was labeled a maverick, which was true in the sense that he never ran with the herd. There was never any danger of him joining the crowd and blindly following the leader. He was a man who made his own decisions and blazed his own trails.

During the funeral service, the observation was made that had he been an educated man, what heights of greatness might he have achieved, and what contributions to society might he have made. No doubt Mr. Coy could have achieved academic success in most any field, had the opportunity and desire presented itself. He chose instead to spend his life in Mayberry where he was born and raised. He educated himself by reading and observing and intellectually, he could hold his own with anyone. And I personally tend to believe that Mr. Coy achieved great heights. Perhaps not by the standards set by our modern society and his name might not appear in any history books for contributions to the elevation or destruction of mankind, but his life exemplified the ideals upon which our nation was founded. He contemplated facts and made decisions independent of anyone else's prejudiced influence. He minded his own business and expected others to do likewise. He loved the land and the creatures on it. He was compassionate and caring and he believed in the right to debate differences of opinion in order to learn. What more can we ask of our fellow human beings than they live their lives in such a noble manner as Mr. Coy Yeatts?

On one occasion, we passed a roadside junkyard strewn with the wreckage of old cars. I allowed as how it should be illegal to mar nature's beauty in such a manner. His response was typical "Mr. Coy." He said, "I think they're good. Let's people see where their money goes." He didn't hold with pretenses and wasting money on fancy ways to impress others.

Once someone asked him what he thought of the TV program "Hee-Haw." He replied, "Terrible. They've run up the price of overalls up to $14.95." His "hobby" was sitting in a straight back chair in Mayberry Trading Post and arguing with Miss Addie Wood. He always held, or pretended to, the opposite view of Miss Addie. On matters such as politics, he loved to debate with her simply because she could debate her beliefs and not back down. She always had a well reasoned counter response to his arguments and he respected anyone who would hold their own and stand their ground. He loved to argue with Miss Addie and he loved her for arguing back. Shortly before he died, Miss Addie visited him at the hospital and told him, "You gonna have to get out of here and back up on the mountain. We're getting behind in our arguing and we've got a lot of catching up to do." He silently wept, aware that those days in Mayberry would be no more.

I once made the remark to him that my dream would be to walk back in time, up Mayberry Creek and see it as it was before the settlers came, when virgin forest covered the land and chestnut tress towered above. He replied that I could do that "now" by just closing my eyes and imagining.

If Mr. Coy had an equal, it would be a mountain top tree standing alone on a high wind swept knoll. He had been buffeted by the winds of time and his trunk was bent by the continuous gusts of mountain wind and winters. Unlike the tree that grows in groves in sheltered hollows, the timber of his soul was not straight grained common boards, but the intricate curls and complex beauty of inlay from a tree whose fibers were constantly challenged to survive. Such timber and people are rare and when they do come along, they're cherished by all who know them.

From the church we carried his coffin to the small family cemetery at Mayberry. There in the fields he had roamed and worked all his life, he was laid to final rest in the shade of a tall evergreen tree. It is a picturesque place on the side of Hurricane Hill, overlooking Kettle Hollow. It is a place where one needs only to close their eyes and imagine in order to see him now slowly walking down the ridge to his home in Mayberry.

Shortly before he died, he had given me a copy of the following poem which his father had written many years before.

by: John Henry Yeatts

Will yon Mayberry continue to flow,
and vegetation upon your banks grow,
when the willows weep for me?

Will your sands continue their sift,
through the meadows and by the rift,
when the willows weep for me?

Will your bridge be as of yore,
or wait the footsteps that sound no more,
when the willows weep for me?

Will the old home upon the bank,
recall the days of childhood prank,
when the willows weep for me?

Are there some cherished memories still,
of this home and the water mill,
when the willows weep for me?

Or will the willows drop their leaf,
shed no tears and show no grief,
for they may not weep for me?

The willows will always weep for Mr. Coy.