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by Frank Shortt
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Halloween is difficult to celebrate when one lives in a rural, farming community.
unless, the participants are inventive in imagination. Such was the community at the head of Grassy Creek in Buchanan County, Virginia.
“Are you comin’ down to the school house tonight?” Roy Darvis inquired.
“I don’t know if my parents will allow me out tonight,” I replied doubtfully.
always sneak down the hill over the sawdust pile,” Roy replied hopefully.
Roy wanted to
make sure there were plenty of kids at the school so that any mischief done would be covered up in case there was an investigation.
It was Halloween and most activities in the Shortt Gap/Grimsleyville area took place
at the Grimsleyville Elementary School. This was the place we all knew. This was the place we felt safe. We knew every stick and stone
in the playground that we referred to as “The Bottom”.
Farm kids do not have the opportunity
to ‘trick or treat’ like most city kids. Their fun on Halloween is mostly ‘tricks’.
is one story passed around in the neighborhood about a farmer having his outhouse dumped into Grassy Creek every Halloween. He took
it as a normal happening until one time this changed! Some of the older Osborne Mountain boys decided to do the usual thing as they
emerged on the old, beat-up edifice called ‘Grassy School’.
Next morning the angry farmer
came to the house of one of the boys that he had definitely recognized the voice.
wanta see Tivis!” demanded the irate man.
“Why, what’d he do?” asked his father Tom.
“They dumped my outhouse in Grassy Creek.”
“They do it every year, what makes this year
“This year I happened to be in it when they dumped it!”
Tom Osborne rolled on the ground laughing and promised the farmer,
“The boys will be down
to help you fix it soon.”
The farmer finally seeing the humor of the situation began laughing
Tom had nineteen children by the same wife, mostly boys.
There is another story floating around about some boys from Davis Mountain who became very creative one year.
There was a split rail fence running quite a ways alongside the Shortt Gap/Davis Mountain dirt road. This is now called Shortt Road.
These boys, wanting to pull the greatest trick they had every pulled, began removing the rails one by one, until they figured they
had enough to do the trick.
About midnight, a preacher was returning from a revival meeting
in Richlands, Virginia. As he carefully drove the winding dirt road, his high beams suddenly caught a strange sight: there was a split
rail fence built all the way across the road.
This particular Halloween that I am writing
about, started out as most others. Kids appeared from nowhere off the hills and spurs of Davis, Horne, Shortt Gap, and Osborne mountains.
We began by soaping the windows of the school and setting the outhouse askew. Then one of the Horne boys, who had conveniently brought
an ax, suggested that we go up to the highway and cut a tree across the roadway. He did not think there would be any traffic on Route
460 knowing it was Halloween.
There were choruses of “Yeah, let’s do it!”
“We should have started out by doing that!”
“Murtis ain’t gonna like that, she’ll be mad
enough when she sees the windows. When she can’t get to school in the morning, she’ll be furious and take it out on all the boys.”
Murtis Wade was the head teacher at Grimsleyville School.
“Ah, she’ll never know, besides,
if you boys are too chicken to help me I’ll do it myself.”
This particular Horne was a
red-haired, freckle-faced giant who was, seemingly, fearless.
There were several girls
there also, namely, Susie Osborne, her sister, Nevada, Rootie Wade, one of the Pruitt girls, and some others from Davis and Osborne
Mountains. They were all for cutting the tree.
The chosen tree was a Beech tree, looking
just tall enough to reach across both lanes of traffic. Lookouts were placed up higher on the hill so that they could yell if any
traffic was coming before we got the tree down. The boys doing the chopping did so with a fury. They wanted to make sure the tree
was down before any traffic arrived.
Just as the last few chops were made, the lookout
The chopper hurriedly
did the last few chops, dropping the tree with a crash, just in time for the first coal truck to arrive. The driver slid to a stop
just in time! Kids scattered like cockroaches when a light is turned on. Making our departure more frantic someone yelled,
“Cops air comin’!”
Whether the County Sheriff’s deputy was on the way or not, we fled up
toward Osborne Mountain like Billy goats. I happened to be the partner of tomboy, Susie Osborne. Boy was she game! Briars and nettles
had pricked her legs, let-loose branches had slapped her in the face. Although bleeding and scared to death, she never complained.
I gained a new-found respect for the girl who eventually wrote her initials on her hand with poison oak. She made a beautiful grown-up
Eventually, some men, who were probably guilty of the same thing, or worse, came
and used chain saws to remove the large tree from the roadway. By this time, all the kids had cooled down enough to simply sit on
the hillside, either laughing, if they were hard-hearted, or thinking deeply of what the consequences could have been.
Our Weiner roast afterward was a mixture of frivolity and repentance.
next morning, was a solemn assembly. Not only had Mrs. Wade seen the downed tree on the way to work, but was greeted at school by
the askew outhouse and the soaped windows. The same boys who had pulled the tricks were commandeered to clean up the mess. We did
it willingly, fearing the paddle-with-holes more than all the hard work. Besides, we got out of a lot of school work that day!
Mrs. Wade sat with a smug, knowing countenance. She had seen the worst and she had seen the best. After a stern lecture about “always
doing the right thing, and the Truth will stand when the world is on fire”!
was, “Boys will be boys!”