The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Grandpa Doodle's First Dance, 1932

By Iva Lee Burcham Tate © 1985

Issue: February, 1985

grandpa doodleDilver Burcham, 1883-1969.My grandfather was Dilver Burcham, better known as Grandpa Doodle. He was born November 7, 1883 and died August 25, 1969. He lived in Fancy Gap, Virginia most of his life. I was the oldest grandchild and thought there wasn't anything like him. Everywhere he went, I thought I must go too.

Grandpa ran a "thrash" machine for many years, taking toll grain for his work. In the fall, after the grain was all thrashed, he would take a day and gather up his toll. He used horses and a wagon for transportation and sometimes I went with him. We would be gone all day. Occasionally I took a nap in the wagon while he gathered his grain and talked to his friends.

Grandpa Doodle was a Primitive Baptist believer. Whenever a preacher from far away came to speak, he would stop what he was doing to go to church. Sometimes we walked three or four miles and returned in the evening. The one thing I remember best was the time Grandpa went to a dance.

One of our neighbors, Elbert Kyle, had built a house. As was tradition, when a new house was built, there was almost always a neighborhood dance. My Aunt Lela asked my father (her brother) to take her to the dance. In those days, a young girl did not go much of anywhere, especially not alone. They walked to the dance because it was not over a mile away. My mother, my sisters and I stayed with Grandpa Doodle and Grandma.

We all sat by the fire and cracked walnuts and talked. Back then there weren't any radios or televisions. Along about 9:00 Grandpa said, "I believe I will dress up like an old lady and go to the dance."

We all agreed it would be a funny thing to do. We started looking for something he could wear. In those times, women wore long petticoats and dresses. We found a yarn petticoat for him to wear, but it was too small for him so we pinned it with safety pins. Grandma didn't have a blouse (which she called a waist) to fit him. She found a black shawl for him to wear instead. She also let him wear her black Sunday bonnet. Women always had a black Sunday bonnet to wear to church. With the black petticoat, sand and bonnet, Grandpa looked exactly like an old lady dressed in black from head to toe.

Grandpa carried his flashlight and took the path through the fields to the dance. Grandma told him to be sure not to tear her petticoat when he was crossing the fences.

Everyone at the dance was having a wonderful time. Grandpa just walked out on the floor and said, "Let this old lady have the floor for awhile." Everyone stopped dancing then. Some woman thought he came 'out of the loft. Some people just left. Others wanted to know who the old lady was. Grandpa told us later that he thought some of the boys were going to pull his costume off and he decided it was time to leave then. He told them, "Please don't hurt this old lady." He held out his flashlight and some of them thought he had a gun. While they were getting more help, Grandpa ran down the road and hid under a bridge. Everyone said it seemed like the old lady just vanished. All that excitement broke up the dance.

The Bunn brothers were hauling cabbage and decided to go by the dance. When they heard the story of the old lady, they said, "Sure we saw her about five miles down the road". It wasn't Grandpa though, because he was under the bridge.

When Grandpa got home and took his costume off, he told us not to say a word. It was hard for me to keep quiet, but I didn't say anything. When my father and aunt came home, they told us the story of the old lady. My father thought it was Uncle Clarence Vass. Clarence was always pulling pranks. It wasn't him though, because he was at home.

It was several weeks before anyone knew who the old lady was at the dance. Even then some people had their doubts. Grandpa was not the type of person to pull pranks.

I am not sure, but I think that was the first and only dance my grandpa ever went to. I know it was the last. He lived to be 85 years old and I never heard him curse. To me he was a wonderful person.