I was born and raised in the hills of southern West Virginia. I left when I was 14 and moved to Jacksonville, Florida. That was around 1960. The weekly series The Waltons was almost an exact replica of the life I led in those hills. The balladier, John Denver said about West Virginia: " Life is old there, older than the trees." The Waltons was based somewhere in the year 1930. West Virginia was still the same 25 years later when I lived there. As a matter of fact, it is still pretty much the same even today.
My mind goes back to an incident that occurred when I was on my way home from piano lessons. I used to ride the bus over to the Van Stavern sisters, two spinsters, after school and take a weekly piano lesson. I would then walk home. It must have been a couple of miles to walk. The route took me by my cousin Smokey Dunbar's house. I must have been 13 or so years of age the same age as Smokey. On this particular occassion, Smokey, was playing around out by the barn. I saw him out there and stopped off to goof off with him for a little spell.
I noticed right away that he had his cheek all pooched out and a little drizzle of what looked like chocolate escaping down his chin. I asked him what he was eating and he told me that it was some Red Man, did I want some? In a state of constant hunger and no stranger to tobacco I decided that I would try some. He loaded me up and I commenced to chewing and spitting. In spite of the fact that I was coming back from piano lessons, Smokey refrained from beating me up on general principles. I think the fact that I relented to chew some Red Man with him got me a pass on the thrashing for being a sissy that took piano lessons.
We sat there on the fence and talked and chewed and talked about things that 13 years olds do, mostly girls and school. After a brief few moments those beautiful mountains on the horizon began to appear upside down. I also began to feel ill. I uttered a weak " I gotta go Smokey" and took off for home. As soon as I got out of sight of Smokey I cleared my mouth of the vile weed but the damage was done. Man, I was sick. I almost immediately threw up and then broke out into a cold sweat. The nausea and dizziness was more than I could take.
In an effort to find some respite I laid down in the ditch by the side of the road. I laid there for quite some while attempting to start feeling better. It was a little one lane country road. The weather was pleasant and I had decided that it was not a really bad place to die. Not many vehicles passed by. The ones that did did not notice that frail, skinny little kid beside the road, in the ditch with the greenish hue about him. It was starting to get dark and I had about resolved to arise and commence my journey home.
I saw the headlights of an old pick up truck that looked sort of like my Dad's coming towards me. As it got closer I was right about the truck but wrong about the driver. It was my Mom who had become worried about me and came looking for me. I loaded into the cab and she inquired as to why I was so late. I advised her that I had become ill and laid down in the side ditch along the road hoping to get to feeling better. I had no idea as to what it was, obviously a virus floating around school. She drove us home. I went to bed pretty much immediately without dinner. I felt pretty wicked to have been chewing tobacco when I should have been heading home and not worrying my parents.
Today we are a much more sophisticated tribe. You rarely ever see people chewing on that animal purgative, tobacco. Nowadays the habits gravitate in the direction of a capsule, tablet or hypodermic. The masses consume barley by the barrels in front of the television. Somehow we are more developed and aware.
I hear John Denver's refrains: " Dusty road, take me home, to the place where I belong. West Virginia, mountain mama, take me home, country road." In my 70 year old mind I see myself. An insignificant, little country boy living a life in paradise and did not even know it.