1928 - Alderson High School - 1968


Alex McLaughlin - March 31, 2010

My name is Max Nunley I am a time traveler who spent the first 180 of my 230 years traveling around, mostly in Greenbrier County and the surrounding counties in the state of West Virginia. My sidekick on most of those ventures was Joe Nicely. In the late 50s after we had gone to high school in Alderson, West Virginia, we went out into the world, and worked for NASA and several other outfits. Now that the statue of limitations has run out for service in the national intelligence agencies we can now reveal these” several other outfits” part of our 230 years on earth.

ROCK AND ROLL AND HADICOL: In the early 1970s we went to work for the CIA down in Uruguay in South America. The Tupamaros were a socialist revolutionary group that was trying to overthrow the government. Our mission was to engage the Tupamaros and turn them into government supporters.

Joe and I could always tell when an earthquake was coming and the magnitude by putting our ear to the ground. We also learned to detect the presence of the Tupamaros by gauging the speed at which tropical birds flew out of the jungle. The uppermost would start dancing and raising hell and the birds would come zooming out of the jungle at cruise speeds of about 30 miles an hour more or less by our ciphering.

Once we saw scores of tropical birds heading out of the jungle doing about 44 miles an hour. We knew there must be a large group of Tupamaros near the edge of the forest. We encountered the perimeter guards for the Tupamaros. We let them capture us and take us to their headquarters. They asked if we were CIA and we asked them, “ What is the CIA?” Then they asked, “Where are you from?” And we said , “The state of West Virginia in America.” Well one of their lieutenants wanted to know if we had ever seen Jerry West play basketball and we said “No, but when we were young we listened to him play on the radio.”

We lived with the Tupamaros for over 5 years. Over that period we gradually turned them to the government’s side by introducing them to rock and roll. But the real clincher was that we had unlimited access to Hadicol and Geritol. For you young fers (aka fellers ), Hadacol was marketed as a vitamin supplement. Its principal attraction, however, was that it contained 12 percent alcohol (listed on the tonic bottle's label as a "preservative"), Geritol was introduced as an alcohol-based, iron and B vitamin tonic in August 1950. We convinced them that these natural healers would make them stronger. Well HADICOL and Geritol were the salvation of the Uruguaiana people. Even today Uruguay accounts for 30% of the market for Geritol brand products worldwide. Hadicol sadly is no longer marketed . Some savvy Uruguayan entrepreneurs now market “vayacondiosicol” that has the same composition and keeps the old Tupamaros just as happy.

THE WALL MUST COME DOWN: Our next assignment was in East Germany where we were charged with bringing down the Berlin wall. Our direct contact was Werner. We never use Werner's last name because he still does some work for Leon Panetta, head of the CIA. Werner was a time traveler who became a secret agent for the Strasi, the East German secret police. At a relatively early age Werner was sent to the United States as a sleeper agent. He moved around from Florida to New York and finally settled in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia where he went to work as a butler at the Greenbrier Hotel. His mission was to keep an eye on the bunker at the Greenbrier to detect what dignitaries visited the bunker and to determine how the Germans could penetrate the bunker. He grew so enamored with the people of Greenbrier County West Virginia that he eventually turned and became a double agent for the CIA. Joe and I were the ones who turned him. So it was like old homecoming when we met Werner in East Berlin.

We worked hard for many years to bring the wall down. On the night when we finally completed the job and got the congratulatory calls from President Bush and former President Reagan, we decided to go have the best celebration we could with sauerkraut and German beer. Werner broke down and got nostalgic. He said, "Boys you won't know what words that I heard in America that meant the most to me." Immediately I thought of the Declaration of Independence or the Gettysburg address. Werner said “Does your husband / Misbehave / Grunt and grumble / Rant and rave / Shoot the brute some / Burma-Shave. “Finally Werner said, "Let’s have a toast to America and to all my American friends. Like Earl Campbell said Skoal brother.” Werner had become very American and always was a hoot.

NAM: Not all of our ventures were successful. President Kennedy sent us over to Viet Nam to turn all the Viet Cong into supporters of the South Vietnamese government based in Saigon. Although we spoke perfect Vietnamese, we should have known from the start that our disguises wouldn’t work. Actually Joe and I didn’t really have an aptitude for languages but we were around so long and practiced so hard that over time we became fluent in about 35 languages. Every one of those cats could figure that we weren’t really Vietnamese. You see we would wear those little black pajamas like they all wore. The problem was that we were both well over 200 pounds and the little black pajamas turned into big black pajamas.

In basketball there is the saying of “playing big ” which means with conviction and aggressiveness a smaller player can out rebound a taller and bigger opponent. In Viet Nam we had to learn to “play small”. But no matter how much we tried to shrink within our pajamas, no matter how much we bowed, smiled and said thank you and no matter how many bowls of rice we would eat the Vietnamese always figured it out. They would share a knowing wink which meant “those boys ain’t from around here”. I ate so many bowls of rice over there that to this day if you offered me raw fish or rice; I would take the raw fish. Pretty early on we figured that this Viet Nam caper was not going to work out. Finally President Johnson agreed to reassign us to where we would be more successful.

One lasting good thing did come out of this period in our lives. We started a discotheque on the outskirts of Saigon that is still in operation today. We started it up with the objective of increasing the camaraderie between the American and south Vietnamese soldiers. It still bring tears to my eyes when I recall hardened South Vietnamese soldiers belting out Conway Twitty and the AHS fight song at the top of their lungs.

IVORY TOWER: After all of the excitement in Uruguay. Germany and Viet nam we needed a calmer slower paced gig. We went to Boston Massachusetts with out a job. One Sunday we saw openings for two jobs in the classifieds that seemed promising, a day laborer and a tenured college professor. We first went to apply for the day laborer positions. When we discovered that these jobs weren't permanent, we lost interest.

So we went to Harvard University and met with their President, Larry Summers. We got to know Larry pretty well. He now works for the President of the United States as an economic adviser. He used to ask our opinions on major economic issues. But it is pretty clear to us that those boys in Washington are not listening to anyone that has any sense.

Larry said there are two kinds of tenured positions. The first you must have a doctorate and be an accomplished scholar, teacher and researcher in a real discipline such as mathematics or a science. The second kind of tenure is for political agendas where no academic discipline exists such as Serbian Studies or Appalachian Studies or whatever Bill Ayres teaches.

Joe said, “We are from West Virginia" Larry said, "Boys you now have tenure. You are now co chairs of the Appalachian Studies Department.” We asked what we needed to do to seal the deal. Larry said, "You need a birth certificate, a social security number and need to swear eternal allegiance to the liberal elite which is all knowing. In addition to tenure , Larry said that we would have first amendment rights as long as we did not take moderate or conservative political positions. This was the easiest gig that we ever had, but finally we had to leave. In a small part we came to realize that there was likely more clear original thinking at a confab at Ross's Exxon in Alderson than at a Harvard faculty senate meeting. But more to the point, Ed and I lived more than 200 years on earth and developed so much restlessness that we had become nomads.

A BRIDGE and A SCHOOL: After we left college teaching we were in between engagements and we decided to go back and visit Alderson once more. The first things we went to see were the bridges and the schools. Joe and I were the only people that I know that worked on both of the Alderson bridges. The old bridge was so much a part of the town and is part of many of the best pictures of Alderson. Oh I guess I could kind of understand the new bridge because as we all know an at grade rail crossing is pretty dangerous. And we know that one certainly was. And the structure of the bridge just like people deteriorates over time. The new bridge is a pretty impressive span. There is inevitability to building” new bridges." But It is a testimony to a lot of people's efforts that the old bridge was saved. Progress doesn't normally save old bridges.

Joe and I on the other hand decided not to work on the new school up at Fairlea. We never walked away from a challenge. But some how it just didn't seem right for us to work on a new school that would replace the Alderson High School. Again it is not really as much my business as it is of those who have lived their all these years. But I kind of feel strong about it because that is where I grew up. At the extreme it was tearing the heart out of our town and so many small towns across the country to consolidate. That word has an onerous sound in the first place. Oh I am sure it calls up images of efficiency, greater emphasis on college preparatory curriculums etc. But, please.

My current perception is that our schools are not doing the job for some of the kids. There are a lot of reasons cited. But maybe, just maybe, part of it is the disconnect between the community and the school. I think community schools made the teachers a little more committed to the kids. I know I had wonderful teachers like Marjorie Craig and Mary Bess Mitchell.

FIELDS AND DREAMS: The last thing that we went to see on this trip to Alderson was the old football field and the gym where the basketball team played. Joe and I saw at least one high school football game and one basketball game every season from the first time Alderson High competed in around 1928 until the school closed in 1967. Many seasons we saw every game. In fact we played both football and basketball for the years 58-59, 59-60 and 60-61. The hardest thing about being a time traveler is that when we signed up it was with the stipulation that we could go through k-12 only once on our time on earth. That meant that we could only play ball for three years. Three years out of 40 seasons. It all seemed so unfair. When we did finally play for Alderson High School it was little dicey when we had to make up a fake birth certificate. Because we were playing high school sports at the ripe young age of 180. But with all the intelligence work over the years we had pretty much mastered the fake document skills.

We were there when Coach McLaughlin coached his first game. We were there when Huck Skaggs and Bill Simmons played against Hillsboro at Hillsboro. We were there when Jim Rowe and HR Ayres played. As I remember it we were there when David Shields, Delmore, Eddie Connor and Bruiser played Green Bank in basketball. We were there during the war, actually all of them (i.e. World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam war) when the Indians would run out on to the field or on to the court. We actually saw Mule Bennett the time traveler from Hinton play against AHS. I am not sure but Tokyo Sallie may have been a cheerleader for Hinton High. These are only a few of the games that we saw over this period of 40 years and I am sure I left out some of the highlights. But after 230 years it is hard to keep everything straight in my head.

We were there when the Alderson boys split the atom. We were there the day Jim Rowe moved to Alderson. The town was never the same again. We were there when Rick Hughes learned to type on the internet and The Aldersonian was never again the same. And yes we were there in Detroit when Wire in pursuit of love gave away his heart and his teeth. Memories can be elevating or they can be depressing, if bad. At this point I like to remember all the good times that Joe and I have seen and our sense that there are a lot of wonderful people and friends that came from our little village in the mountains.

PLACE MATTERS: Alderson was the world as I knew it when I grew up and went to high school in the 50s and 60s. The horizons were physical and defined by the mountains and the river .When I was at the old field I thought of all the times the Alderson Indians practiced and played on that field, and all of the fans that watched. And long before that the American Indians that must have hunted, played and lived on the same field.

I hear now that the kids that go to Greenbrier East High School relate more to their classmates wherever they are from than to being from Alderson. Now there are cell phones, texting and internet social groups. For our generation the connection between who we are and where we came from is stronger because of the physical connection to the mountains, the river, and flat land, the human connections to our families, classmates, and friends, and the connection to houses, apartments, stores, and churches. Finally at a spiritual level there is the connection to all the generations that came before us and shared the same physical space, same physical surrounding, and to varying degrees shared the same history associated with all of that.

Oh I am sure the youngsters have their own unique experiences. But I would put the variety and depth of experiences that Joe and I encountered over 230 years, particularly for those years growing up in the 1940s, 50s and 60s, up against any of them .