1928 - Alderson High School - 1968


The Search for Our Roots

John McCurdy - July 16, 2011

The long-awaited trip to Virginia with Cousin Karl Ray has come and gone! Just last Wednesday we finally got it on. I wanted to take my Blazer, having some knowledge of Karl's choices in transportation, I actually put my foot down and declared, "Dammit, if I go I'm driving! Well the day before the trip he called me and said he had a serious condition that was badly exacerbated, (his word, not mine), by sitting on leather seats, and that if I would go in his van he would provide the gas and buy me a "good lunch", (as opposed to a pack of Nabs and a Honey-bun). Out of concern for his health, I agreed. A bad mistake, on my part.

The next day I seated myself on what appeared to be a bathroom mat and a chair cushion and Karl was therapeutically seated on what appeared to have once been a basement rug. Aside from the noise, (he still had his studded snow tires on), I was comfortable when starting out.

After I got somewhat used to the noise from the tires and the creaks and groans from the van and after I got over my surprise at his observation that that the right front wheel had the disconcerting habit of falling off at speeds of 60 and beyond, I began to realize that the exhaust gases coming up from the floor would probably kill me anyway, so what the hell! After we got beyond the range of my fearing that anyone who knew me would see me, (around White Sulphur Springs), and before we got into the Rockbridge County and Lexington area where a few people knew me still, he explained that he had packed our lunch! Lunch was to be a bologna sandwich or a peanut butter sandwich, I could have whichever one I wanted! When I explained that I was on a lo-carb diet, I'm afraid I completely ruined his day. He realized he was actually going to have to spend money and buy me lunch!

Approaching the Lucy Selena exit beyond Clifton Forge, I made the comment that, our uncle James and his wife Leona had once taken me over that mountainous dirt road on the way to Kerr's Creek, nothing would do Karl, but that we must also go that way today!

Fortunately the road had been much improved in the years since I had traveled it, except for it being a 25 mile and 2 hour detour to travel just ten miles further along to get back on I-64, and despite the hidden concern I did not share with Karl, that I might not remember as much about that route as I thought I did, it was an enjoyable interlude.
We went on US Route 60 to Buena Vista, I had a salad at the Burger King, and we proceeded to go to Coffeytown. In the event anyone should want to retrace our journey, at the top of the second mountain past Buena Vista on Route 60, there is a small sign that says, "Orinoca," turn left there.

My mother used to visit, several times a year, "Cousin Sally". I don't know if she was a Coffey or a Fitzgerald or had married into the family or if she was someone from outside the family! She, at the time, lived in a small trailer below the road, (her son had bought it and insisted that she either live in it or come into Amherst and live with him and his wife). She opted for what she thought was the lesser of the two evils! Just beyond her trailer was her home, a log cabin with rooms added, the front of the cabin elevated about four feet on the hillside, the picket fence in the front had a canning jar stuck on every picket, she could hardly wait for spring so she could return to it! I asked her how long she had lived there and she said, " Pon my soul, ever since Jim took me from my mommy"! Further inquiry from me revealed she had married Jim when she was 14 years old, she was 88 years old at the time of our visit. She would not drink the water pumped into her house, each day she carried a pail from a spring nearly a half mile from her home!

I looked for her trailer this trip but was unable to see anything that might be it, perhaps it was on another road, it had been a long time! We stopped at a well-tended cemetery along the road, full of Coffey's and several Fitzgerald's headstones. Driving on we came to a large, six foot high or so boulder in a field on which some proud individual had painted "Coffeytown", it was as I remembered it. I recalled it as having been on the other side of the road, but perhaps we had come onto it from another direction. We stopped and talked to a fellow from Michigan who lived in one of the original Coffey houses, he insisted on telling us more history than we wanted to know just then. According to him, the house he lived in was one of the four original Coffey houses on that particular part of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

He told us the original Coffey, who lived at "Fiddler's Green," had four sons, all of whom joined the Confederate Army. All four saw battle, none got sick, none were wounded and none were killed! When they returned to the mountain after the war, their father gave each several hundred acres of arable land, with the provison that each must build a home in which a family could be raised. All did so, and with the exception of one, all were owned and lived in by descendents of that family of Coffeys. I understand that now that one house has been purchased by a Coffey and is once again back in the family.
We made a loop and came back onto Route 60. We drove by the spectacular Staton Creek Falls, the water would fall about 15 feet into a pool then fall another 15 or so feet and keep doing that until it finally reached the Pedlar River about 300 feet below.

Coming back toward Lexington and US Route 11, we drive into Timber Ridge and looked for the McCormack family home where our grandmother was born and raised. We stopped and asked for directions and the man we asked actually lived in Granddads' old house! Driving there we met his mom and then to our surprise a Lexington Police officer showed up. My first thought was that something had fallen off Karl's van and killed some innocent by-stander, but he was the ladies son-in-law and also, of all things, a Coffey! He invited us to the Coffey Reunion in July at the Marantha Church and "Fiddler's Green" at Coffeytown. We promised to attend. But thatís a story for another day!

We visited my sister and then hit the road for West Virginia. In the ten hours we had been gone, I had eaten a salad: Karl Ray, on the other hand had eaten, and I'm not lying; 1 bologna sandwich, 1 peanut butter sandwich, 1 hamburger and large fries at Burger King, 3 large honey buns, 2 packages of Nabs and had drank 4 large diet colas! The boy is a bottomless pit!

We got back to Alderson, nearly 11 hours after we had left. Considering the noise, the exhaust fumes that came up through the holes in the floor, worry about the wheels coming off and my hunger pangs, I was in better shape than I should have been, In fact, I had enjoyed the hell out of the day. Next time we'll take my car.

Exacerbate a condition, my hind end!

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