1928 - Alderson High School - 1968



My Town
Amanda Iodice

I grew up in Alderson during the thirties and forties and life seemed relatively comfortable. The owner of the drygoods store lived just down the hill. The banker lived on the next street. The Methodist preacher lived next door. The drugstore man and the doctor lived between us and Main Street.

We ate the same kinds of food on the same kinds of dishes. We wore similar clothes. We sometimes had Sunday lunch at Mrs. Ayer's restaurant and saw our neighbors there too. The depression did not seem to have affected us too much, other than city folk coming through trying to get back to the family farms where there was food. Some local business men had an understanding with the local filling station and with Mrs. Ayers to give gasoline and/or a meal to the most desperate ones. I understand the local townspeople helped an awful lot of people during those hard times.

Every few years the Greenbrier River flooded. Some houses washed out and everyone collected blankets, clothes and food for the river's victims. The Presbyterian Church was in Monroe County, The Baptist (established in the 1700s) and the Methodist were on the Greenbrier side. Each one maintained a separateness, but we had Wednesday night prayer meetings all together during the summer. We sat on bleachers in a walnut grove just across from the Baptist church. Those who did not attend could still hear the hymns echoing from the surrounding hills. We also had an ecumenical youth group, more or less. The largest crowd was  always where the cutest girls or the football boys went any particular year.

My parents lived in a small house on the river until I was born. Fearing that I might wander away and drown, they moved to the "Max Miller house" up on the hill next to the Methodist parsonage. It was a three bedroom house with a glider swing on the front porch. The kitchen had a small alcove at the back for a washing machine and there was a typical enamel-top kitchen table in front where we ate lunch, rolled out cookies, made colored peppermints and other kinds of candy. There was one of the old-style upboards with a flour bin and pull-out counter. We ate dinner in the dining room, then did our lessons there. The living room was for reading, playing games (Parchesi, Rook, etc.), listening to Inner Sanctum and Jack Armstrong on the old Zenith Radio, and, in later years, practicing scales and such on the small spinet piano. There was a framed calendar picture of Venice over the telephone in the front corner, and since we shared a party line with my father's business, I could seldom talk to my friends.

My bedroom upstairs was on the down side of the hill, so the windows were almost three stories above the ground. My father came home one day to find that we had unhooked the screens and were leaning out the windows throwing water bags. He immediately impressed us with the fact that if we did not keep the screens tightly hooked, a bald-headed eagle might fly in and pluck out our eyeballs. Not only did we hook the screens, we spent the whole summer with the windows locked, the shades drawn and a sheet covering our heads to escape such a terrible fate. That was the same summer we spent one whole day stretched out in the front yard under a blazing sun pretending to be dead, so that when the buzzards came down to eat the bodies we could see exactly what they looked like.

My brother's bedroom was directly across the driveway from the room occupied by two of the preacher's sons. They had an elaborate message system of pulleys and shoe boxes, which operated for a couple of years, and at one time even a tin can and string telephone which actually worked up to a point.

Summers were spent in or on the river or roaming the mountains surrounding the town. There were several "swimmin' holes," and as one's swimming skills improved, one moved to deeper and more distant places on the river.

Anvil Rock was the most desirable goal. It was a gigantic boulder, sort of anvil shaped, which had tumbled from the mountain into the river during some earthquake thousands of years ago. To get there, one had to hike or bike four or five miles along the narrow dirt/sand track almost to Fort Spring. Then it was necessary to slide down a steep, shaley hill to the flat rocks which formed a sort of beach. Anvil Rock towered above, some short distance from shore. There were very tenuous toe-and-hand crevices on the far side, where the current was strongest. Climbing the slippery rock with wet hands and feet was always scary but once on top -- Wow! The only way to get off was to dive or jump. I always imagined that I knew exactly how those cliff divers in Mexico must have felt plunging hundreds of feet into a small bay. I was never not scared going off Anvil Rock.

The mountains had places like "Indian Lookout" on the Fields' farm. The Fields had a very deep well and it brought up the coldest, clearest spring water I have ever tasted, especially after a long hike on a hot day! Legend says Chief Pontiac stood up there and viewed his enemies coming through the valley.

Split Rock was a bit further up the mountain. It was a huge chunk which had split away from the mountain side and the split went nearly down to river level. The people who owned it had put a bridge across the split and built a small one room cabin out on the split. The cabin was a construction masterpiece. There was one big room with a loft across one end for sleeping quarters. Dishes were stored in the stair risers, the dining table and benches were hinged and folded up against the wall when not in use. There was a big stone fireplace, a tiny kitchen, an incredible view over the valley on three sides and down the scary, dark ravine on the fourth side. The bridge across the split was up a short hill which the owners had made into a lovely rock garden with nearly all the species of wildflowers native to West Virginia. Unfortunately, it was vandalized so many times that the cabin interior was destroyed. The disheartened owners quit coming and the gardens were quickly overgrown and engulfed.

Keeney's Knob was the mountain to the west and it had a fire tower on it. It was farther afield and we didn't venture up that way until we were older.

The old golf course was an enchanted land in itself. We flew kites there in the spring. Once when the wind was strong enough to almost lift a small boy off his feet, my brother seriously asked my Dad, "Wouldn't Jesus be surprised to see me coming up to heaven not dead?"

We always had at least one chinquapin hunt in the fall on the old golf course. The hill on the lower side was covered with broomsage. We built a two-level camouflaged fort, excavating a large square from the hillside, laying scavenged boards across the hole for a sort of floor with trap door, and tying bundles of broomsage together to make walls and roof. It really could not be detected unless one was right on top of it. However, big, ugly ground spiders soon made the basement level most undesirable.

Crossing the golf course was the most direct way to Mr. Knapp's farm, down the hill and over the log foot bridge across Muddy Creek. He had Maple Sugar and Syrup and Mrs. Knapp made the best hot biscuits in the county on cold, snowy Sundays.

We found crawfish and thunder eggs in Muddy Creek. Thunder eggs are a type of Geode sometimes with lovely quartz crystals encased in a roundish rock that looks sort of like lizard skin on the outside. We found teaberries and wild blackberries on Muddy Creek Mountain. The easiest-to-find fossils were behind the Chevrolet garage at the foot of Flat Top Mountain. Mrs. Lobban had the best Halloween treats. Old Mrs. Andrews would chase us out of her cherry trees but she always kept marshmallows in an old icebox on the back porch. Mrs. Johnson, across the street, had a never ending supply of homemade cookies and she also had an aerial croquet set.

Once we learned to jump cracks and curbs, we could roller skate all the way from the "Max Miller House" down past the Gwinns, the Baptist Spring, Dr. Smith's house and the feed store, all the way to the bridge. If some skated and some rode the wagon, we could take turns pulling each other back up the hill.

Old Mrs. Mays lived up the hill at the beginning of the path leading to Black Diamond. She cooked apple butter in a huge black iron kettle hanging over a fire pit in her back yard. She also made soap but I assume she used a different kettle! She knew more different kinds of greens to pick for cooking than anyone I've ever met. One could often see her stooped figure crossing the fields rain or shine, looking for greens to go with her cornbread.

Throughout that limestone terrain, there were also lots of caves to visit. Some were small, one-room affairs, others had many caverns, underground streams, albino lizards, stalactites and stalagmites, quartz deposits, and a myriad of other wonderful things. (Sometimes older boys used the nearby caves as refuge from the truant officer.) There was a diamond mine out along the Blue Sulphur Road! If one got permission from the farmer, there was nothing more fun than scrabbling the dirt hillside after a rain and finding huge, clear, sparkling quartz crystals -- at least two and sometimes five or ten carats worth.

Winters were for ice skating, again on the river, or sledding on the high school hill. These were activities whole families and all ages engaged in. Someone made a bonfire and there were always old tires to throw on it. The "big 'uns" watched out for the "little 'uns" and as the little 'uns got bigger there were always littler 'uns.

However, no matter how idyllic life was, we could not escape some chores. A penny a row for weeding garden rows longer than a football field seems like slave labor in retrospect. Making beds and dusting chair rungs was something one simply had to do with no recompense. My brother and I used to argue about who dusted mother's and dad's room on Saturday morning. There was a radio there and "Let's Pretend" broadcast a wonderful story each week.

When we moved to a larger house, my father got a cow to milk and chickens to feed in order to "build our characters." My father already had a very strong character, because, as soon as we went off to college, the cow and chickens disappeared!