Growing up on the mountain was not without its colorful characters and hilarious moments. One of these characters was Vernon. He was our next door neighbor, and was a distant relative of ours, as was his wife. Vernon always started his sentences with “By God…”! While Vernon had grew up on the mountain, he had also been out in the world, he was in the service and had served in Korea, and after getting out he went to work up in Dee-troit at the GM plant. Vernon worked in Dee-troit for several years but the call of the mountains brought him back home. He would sit around in his front yard and talk to himself and to anyone else who would listen, and he was generally a nice old man, and his disposition was the polar opposite of his wife, whom all the neighborhood children had nicknamed “The Squawnk”.
Vernon liked to drink beer. He would sit under the pear tree in his front yard and drink all day long. He never really got drunk, or perhaps he never really got sober, but he was always fun to be around, hear and watch. I remember he would regale us with tales of how he’d drive home from “Meech-e-gun”, as he referred to the state of Michigan. He told us that he travelled Route 250 almost all the way home, and he made his frequent trips home in a 1947 Nash. “By God,” he’d say, “me and that old Nash had some times together. The thing about a Nash is that it looked the same from the front and it did from the back.” I remember him telling us about how one time when we he was driving home from Dee-troit, the Ohio River was flooding and had covered the bridge he needed to cross. He figured he’d come too far to turn back, so he got out and looked at his car, and it struck him that his old 1947 Nash looked a lot like a boat, so he figured it’d float, and he decided to put it to the test. He started across the flooded bridge, and used the tops of the bridge signs to guide him. Soon, he told us, the old Nash started to float so he hit the gas pedal and the car pushed forward across the muddy Ohio, being powered by the spinning wheels. About halfway across the river however, the motor flooded out and he seen he was in a pickle. Vernon, always accompanied by his loyal rabbit beagle Stubs (who according to Vernon, was the smartest dog that ever lived), said he looked over at ole Stubs and asked, “By God, Stubs, how are we gonna get out of this one?” He said Stubs looked at him and swatted the air with his paw and gave him an idea. Vernon said, “I knew then that Stubs was telling me that I had to row us the rest of the way across”. He said he rolled down his side window and using his hand, paddled them the rest of the way across the Ohio River in his car. He said once they got to the other side of the river, they got out and worked on the carburetor and got the car started again. Vernon said that once they got the Nash started up again, ole Stubs looked over at him and barked “Whew!"
The Moundsville Bridge across the Ohio River.
Like I said, eventually Vernon and Stubs moved back to the hills and they were quite the rabbit hunters. Vernon would tell about the time they were hunting rabbits up at Teter Gap. He said that Stubs had jumped up a rabbit from a big rock pile. Vernon said that Stubs took after the rabbit and the rabbit tripped over a rock and went rolling across the rockpile, hitting his head as it rolled along. Vernon said that rabbit’s head bouncing off the rocks made a sound like “conkety-conk-conk-conk”! He said that hitting the rocks had knocked the rabbit unconscious and that ole Stubs picked up the rabbit in his mouth and brought it back to him. He said that at the time he thought the rabbit was dead so he stuck it in his gunny sack and he and Stubs went back to hunting. Vernon said that after about a half hour or so, the rabbit came to and started clawing at the sack, and that the clawing had alerted Stubs. Vernon said he knew he’d have to turn the rabbit loose and then shoot it because if he just smacked the sack against some rocks that he’d bruise the rabbit up so bad that he’d never be able to eat it. Well, Vernon called Stubs and set the sack on the ground and turned the rabbit loose, and the rabbit just took off running for a nearby thicket. However, this time Stubs didn’t take to the trail of the rabbit, never in all of his days of rabbit hunting had Stubs seen a dead rabbit come back to life and he didn’t know what to make of it, so the rabbit got away. “By God”, Vernon said, “I’ll bet that rabbit had a headache the next morning.”
I also remember one time Vernon was trying to mow his lawn with his old push mower. The mower looked like it had been through the war, and before that came over on Noah’s Ark…it was really just a pile of rust with a motor hooked to it. Well, Vernon hadn’t mowed for quite a while and his grass was pretty high, and was too much for the old mower to handle. He’d mow about 2 feet and the mower would die. Every time the mower would die, Vernon would take a break and have another beer. This continued throughout the afternoon. After a couple of hours of this, Vernon took to cussing at the mower every time it’d quit on him. He’d say “By God lawnmower, if we’re to get this grass mowed today, we’re gonna have to work together. I can’t do it by myself and neither can you.” Well, then he’d again fire up the old lawnmower and mow another couple of feet before the mower died again. He then took to cussing the mower, and was standing by it and pointing at it with his finger, a sure sign that Vernon was fed up. You knew he was to his limit when he started pointing. Well, by this time, most of the neighborhood was watching (without appearing to), and it was veritable street theatre right there on the mountain! Soon Vernon mustered up enough patience to start back to mowing, but he said to the lawnmower before he started it up, “By God lawnmower, this is your last chance. We need to get this damn grass mowed.” Everyone in earshot was laughing their butts off at Vernon for talking to the lawnmower. Well, ole Vernon got the mower started and he mowed about a six foot swath, and the mower died yet again. “By God,” Vernon told it, “that was your last chance. I told you (he pronounced it “I toad you”) that you’d better by damn cooperate with me” and he calmly walked off toward his house. Well everyone around there just figured Vernon was giving up and was going inside to sleep it off, but oh no, within a couple of minutes here came Vernon out of his house, walking toward the old mower…and carrying his old double barrel shotgun. He calmly walked up to the lawnmower, sighted it with his shotgun, and shot it with both barrels! He then said to the dead mower, “By God, I’ll bet you won’t bother nobody else!” Vernon then walked over to his chair under the pear tree and sat down. After a few minutes had passed, my Dad hollered down the hill to Vernon and asked him if he needed some help with mowing. Vernon hollered back up to Dad, “By God, my mower ain’t wanting to run today!” Well, that had us all in tears of laughter, but somehow Dad managed to hold a straight face and told Vernon he could mow it for him if he wanted. Vernon was happy to get the help, and Dad later told us that every time he mowed past Vernon’s old shot-up lawnmower he couldn’t help but laugh.
I also remember that Vernon was always giving out free advice and witty quips to the neighborhood residents. Some of the topics were completely off the wall and totally out of the blue. Like the time he told my mother about the miracles of corn starch. Vernon said to her, “Corn starch is a very versatile product. You can use it to thicken your gravy or powder your ass!”
I still remember that one and to this day, every time I see a box of corn starch, I am reminded of Vernon.