For some reason, today I was reminded of a story about my Dad’s childhood that he still talks about. It starts when he was about 6 years old and lived with Grandmaw and Granddad Thompson in Bennett Gap near Riverton. Dad lived with them until Granddad died in 1966, at which time, Dad moved up on the mountain with Grandmaw Mary and Grandaddy Don. You see, Dad was the oldest grandson, and it is a family custom for the oldest grandson to live with his grandparents.
Dad, Age 6
Anyway, when Dad started to school, he went to the Old Dixie Schoolhouse in Riverton. It was an old school that had served the area since right after the War. Sadly the school was destroyed in the Great Flood of 1985. One day Dad’s older sister, Barb, was put in charge of getting him off to school, and Dad was being cantankerous. Well, when they got to school, Dad was wearing one of Barb’s dresses! Of course, Dad was always raw-boned and much larger than the other boys, so he didn’t get picked on about it!
Dad and Barb in Bennett Gap.
Thinking back on Dad’s stories, he tells of how he and Barb played in the holler road going up Bennett Gap. He said they used to love to go out on hot summer day and let the road tar squish up between their toes. Also, he said that they used to chew the road tar and pretend it was bubble gum.
Dad also tells of a giant grapevine that hung over the holler that the kids used to swing from one side or the other. It was a big drop and was between two cliffs. Well, it come to be Dad’s turn to swing and he was a little afraid, so Barb hollered “Grab ahold” and give him a big shove. Dad said he was trying for all he had to cling to the grapevine but sure enough, he lost his grip and fell. All the kids were sure he was dead and took off running for home. Dad said he took to cussing them and calling them “chickenshits” for running off like that. They then knew he was okay and came back to play, but as they got closer they could see that Dads arm was badly broken. Dad said that was the only broken bone he had in all his years, and he still says that Barb caused it.
Barb standing in the road in Bennett Gap.
Dad also tells of his first swimming lesson, which happened when he lived up Bennett Gap. He said someone hollered, “Let’s Go Swimming” and they all took off for Bland Hole, which was the deepest nearby swimming hole. This was before the big Flood and you could dive off the river cliffs into the water, after the flood, it is still deep enough to swim in but not deep enough to dive off the cliffs, which are now around 20 feet above the water. Well, at this time, Dad couldn’t swim at all, and he was planning on just wading around in the water to cool off. That is until his Uncle Dave grabbed him and threw him off the cliff into the water, and hollered “Swim or Drown”. This may sound cruel, but that is the way most kids learned to swim. Interestingly enough, Dad didn’t swim, he flailed around in the water and after a while, started to go under. It was quite apparent he chose the latter of the “Swim or Drown” scenario. Well, his uncle saw this and dived in to save him. After they pulled Dad out of the river, they couldn’t get him even close to the river after that. It wasn’t until Jason and I were in our early teens that we were able to convince Dad to get back in the water. He still won’t venture in over about chest deep, and never puts his head under the water.
Dad and Barb after being in the road tar!
I think the one of the best stories of Dads childhood was when he and Grandmaw Eva (pronounced Ehv-uh) were gathering eggs one morning. Grandmaw Eva’s full name was Evalena. Well, that morning just as they got to the chickenhouse, the great big ole rooster jumped up on the roost and crowed. This wasn’t an ordinary crowing though, Dad says to this day that the rooster talked as clear as anything. He said the rooster looked at Grandmaw Eva and said, “Eva Lena, this here is my house.” Nothing or nobody can convince Dad otherwise, he knows that that rooster talked that morning.