Transcribed By Pamela Vick
August 26, 1948 - Reprinted March 15, 1979
* CAL’S COLUMN *
We have had numerous requests to resume the “Colyum,” and here we go again. This time we want to give an account of a trip to Southeast Kentucky and Southwest Virginia in company with our good friend, the late Elder Henry Oldham. Brother Oldham and the writer left Pleasant Shade, where we both then lived in September 1923, to take the train at Carthage Junction to make a trip to Southeast Kentucky and Southwest Virginia. We made the train all right and paid our fare to Middlesboro, Kentucky, which is located in the extreme southeast corner of Kentucky, about three miles from Cumberland Gap, through which many earlier settlers in Tennessee had came. We spent the night in a Knoxville hotel, and was it a hot night! We had hardly slept any during the night, the heat in the hotel seeming to permeate everything and making sleep out of the question. The next morning we took the train for Middlesboro, arriving there about ten in the morning. We were met by a man named H.F. Cole, who resided in that place. He took us to his home in a Model T car: and shortly after our arrival, Mrs. Cole invited us out to the midday meal, which we have called dinner most of our years in the world. That dinner was most excellent, and two hungry preachers did full justice to Mrs. Cole’s ability to cook. One episode I recall at that man’s table. Brother Oldham was eating fine yellow butter with a freeness that was almost amazing. We finally said to him, “Brother Oldham, didn’t you know that Sister Cole has to buy this butter?” He slowed down a mite in his buttereating and asked if this was true, and she replied in the affirmative. He then asked her how much the butter cost per pound. This was 25 years ago when money was about four times as tight as it is now. She replied, “Forty-five cents per pound.” Oldham then said, “It is worth every cent it cost.” And whack! he cut out another whale of a slice and virtually ate a pound of yellow butter, which cost in 1925 45 cents a pound. Not long after we had had dinner, and Oldham had made havoc with the butter, Brother Cole says: “Brethren, I am going to take you two men in Southeast Virginia, so you may attend the fifth Sunday meeting at Van Huss’s Chapel.” We rather doubt if he would have any grub left if he had had to take care of us for a considerable length of time. So he put four gallons of gas in the Model T touring car, invited his wife to go along, and then asked the two preacher’s to get into the rear seat. We accepted the invitation and were soon leaving Middlesboro, Kentucky, for the Clinch River Valley in Virginia, a distance of perhaps 30 miles. We left Kentucky by way of Cumberland Gap and soon found ourselves in Southwest Virginia. Brother Cole had gotten within about two miles of the church we were seeking and was climbing a rather steep mountain side in his efforts to deliver his passengers safe and sound at the place of the meeting. However, just before he reached the top of the mountain that Ford car began to cough and sputter. Cole said, “What do you suppose is wrong?” We informed him that the steepness of the mountain road prevented the gasoline from feeding into the motor. But Brother Old ham did not think it was possible for him to have already used four galloons of gas he had put into the car, and blurted out, “You know that you have not already burned four gasholes. We never did know exactly why he said “gasholes,” but suppose that he meant to say four galloons of gasoline. Anyway, two or three additional efforts to get to the top of the mountain failed. Finally he said, “Boys, it is only about two miles from here to the church. If I go down into the valley, which I will have to do if I take you all the way to the church, I will not be able to get out, as there is no gasoline in that valley for at least 25 miles.” We thanked him for having us as near the church house as he had, and informed him that we could easily walk the remainder of the way.
We had with us about all the baggage we could carry, mostly books and preachers’ supplies. We climbed slowly to the top of the mountain and there we paused, to gaze over the one range after another, reaching away to the east as far as the eye could see. We viewed the surrounding country for miles and miles. And enjoying the scene for some time, we took up our baggage and descended into the next valley. In the very bottom of this valley there were large chestnut trees, which grew in Middle Tennessee only on the tops of the hills in the lowest places between the mountains. We finally came to a home in the valley, to inquire as to the road to take. We were told to turn back up the valley, and climb out on the mountain and there we would find the church house. As we where about to leave the valley, we noticed a path leading up the mountain side and providing a short cut toward the church house. As we gazed up this steep path, we saw a youth running down the path and coming toward us. Directly he saw us and knew we were strangers. We noted also that he was being “rocked” by two boys about the same size and they had the object of the rock throwing in “high gear” when we first saw him. When the youth saw us, he turned and yelled back at his pursuers, saying, “Now see what you have gone and done.” They retreated in quite a rush as if they had caused us two strangers to appear on the scene. The boy coming down the mountainside had on his shoulder a rather large box. We asked him what he was carrying and he replied with a single word “bread.” We asked what was to be done with the bread and were informed that is was to be used in the public dinner the next day at the meeting we had come hundreds of miles from Middle Tennessee to attend. We also asked him about why the other boys were throwing stones at him, and were informed that they were mean. We asked where he lived and he told us that his home was a short distance down the valley. We were rather surprised at his answer when we asked his name. He replied, “Cold-iron.” We thought that perhaps he was only joking, but he informed us with all seriousness that such was his name. We informed him that we were Tennessee ministers and that we would most probably see him the next day.
After climbing out on top of the mountain, we came to a school house, with a belfry. We also met a strange gentleman and asked his name. He informed us that his name was Van Huss, pronounce as if spelled “Hoos.” We told him that we were on our way to a church of his name, and that we had been calling it Van Huss’s Chapel, with the sound of the letter “u” as in the word “us.” He got quite a kick out of our lack of knowledge of the pronunciation of his name. We then asked him where we could put up for the night. He informed us that his brother-in-law, named Marcrum lived on out the mountain a short distance and that he might let us spend the night with him. He added to this statement this remark: “My sister will treat you all right, but I don’t know about my brother-in-law.” This gave us a kind of feeling that we might be in for some rough treatment. We soon reached the Marcrum home and were greeted by Mr. Marcrum himself. To his credit it must be said that never were we better treated in life than we were by this total stranger, whose brother-in-law had given him the “blackeye” perhaps in some measure. Marcrum lived in a log house sitting on the top of the mountain overlooking the valley of the Clinch River, far below. On the opposite side of the valley ridges covered with small timber reached from the mountain top to the river, somewhat like the ribs in the body of some thin animal. It was a peaceful little place, with a fine young orchard full of apples trees and apples almost all around the house. The house, as has been said, was of logs, with a rib pole roof. Older readers will know that a rib pole roof is one without rafters and with the logs in the gable ends made shorter and shorter until finally there is a single pole in the center called a rib pole. Then long boards are placed from one end of the building to the other and the roof is formed from such long boards. This house, had a kitchen leanto, made of boxing. At the lower end of the main part of the house, was a boxed end room. It was papered with catalogue leaves, with not even one newspaper to be found pasted to the walls. This room was neat and clean and was evidently the parlor used by Mrs. Marcrum’s daughter, who was about 18 years of age and unmarried. She was not a beautiful girl, but we could not help but think of June Tolliver, the mountain girl in the story, “Trail of the lonesome Pine,” the scene of which laid in that very country by the author, John Fox, who resided only a few miles North of where we were, at a place called Big Stone Gap, Virginia. There were literally hundreds of things in that section to remind me of what is to be found in the story. We read this tale of the mountains years ago and have never forgotten it. It was John Fox’s best and most enjoyable stories. We sat on Marcrum’s small front porch overlooking the valley of the Clinch River and gazing at the mountains beyond the river, finding ourselves in a place of quietness and peace, far removed from the rushing centers of trade and commerce. We had a good supper, including fried chicken and hot biscuits, but I do not recall any butter on the table. Mrs. Marcrum was a very quiet and assuming woman and let her husband do most of the talking, which “kinda” makes a husband feel that he is “sumpin.” Marcrum refused to let us leave his home early that night to go to church unless we would promise to come back and spend the night in his home. We were more than glad to accept his hospitality.
In our next article we will try to give something of the situation we found in those mountains from a church standpoint, including certain mannerisms. The story of that trip of a quarter of a century is too long for one issue of the paper.