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 by Frank Shortt
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The Cave
        Times on Grassy Creek were hard when the Shortt family lived down there. Grassy Creek ran all the way from the base of Osborne Mountain in upper Shortt Gap, Virginia, down to where it emptied into the Levisa River.
        We were poor but we had plenty of games to play such as Annie Over, Tag, Whoopie Hide (hide and seek), Cowboys, and a score of other games either established or made up. We had great imaginations. These games accounted for all our free time when we weren’t working in the garden or the perpetual “digging of the basement”. That basement was never finished. I often wondered why dad kept us at it, until I grew older. Suddenly, it dawned on me, it was a way of keeping us busy when there were no other chores to do. Lee Burke finally built the basement when he bought the house from Arch Shortt, dad’s cousin who bought it from dad when we moved to Shack Ridge.
        Weekends were usually taken up with “church” on Saturday night and Sunday mornings, but Sunday afternoons we were allowed to play with visiting cousins or the neighborhood kids. Our place of play on summer days was usually at the “Cave”. Girls did not choose to accompany us to the cave.
        The ones who did usually left when the rough-housing began.
        This was no ordinary cave, mind you, this was a genuine, upward spiraling, crack in the rocks where all sorts of pirates, cowboys, Indians, and any other character that we could imagine, hung out. We’d spend countless hours climbing out of and down through this edifice. We knew every foothold and handhold and just when to jump down from the last place to stand. There was a second smaller tunnel leading off into the hills that none of us could fit into. It was always used for speculation as to what might live there!
        While climbing upward out of the “Cave” there was an opening that led to the top of the cliff where, just as one emerged, lay a bed of teaberries that would ripen just as the first snows of winter came along. My brother,Wendell, Ken Brown, Gabe Brown, and I knew just when they ripened and were usually the first ones there to taste the juicy and delicious treats. Teaberry leaves had to suffice as treats during the summer. We would just lie in the sun and eat to our hearts content. I have never to this day found another bed of teaberries such as that one.
         Of all the kids we took up to our retreat, none were ever hurt badly. There were just the usual scratches from sliding down over the rocks and mountain laurel that grew profusely alongside the cliff. There were sometimes hurt feelings.
        Can you imagine that we never saw or heard a snake in the vicinity of the ‘Cave’. Copperheads didn’t seem to like that side of the hill and I cannot remember anyone in the neighborhood ever seeing a rattlesnake. Years later, after we had move off Grassy Creek, we heard that a man from Florida had gone “snake hunting” at the “Cave” and had netted one hundred and fifty large “rattlers” out of the adjoining edifice. My skin crawls to this day when I think of all the times we placed our hands in the cracks and crevices to pull ourselves up to the top or to let ourselves down to the bottom of the “Cave”. We surely had a guardian angel.
        It is interesting to note what became of some of the boys who played in the cave.
        Bill Chambers became a tractor trailer owner in Cleveland, Ohio. Bill Whited became a cement contractor in Cleveland, Ohio. Gabe Brown became a television preacher. Ken Brown also pastored a church. Carl Edward Addison worked for a newspaper. Elmer Pruitt drove tractor trailers until he retired. Darry Grimsley joined the Air Force and made it a career. Wendell, my brother, joined the Air Force and afterwards became a coal miner retiring with a UMWA pension. Albert and Hobart Stilwell went to work for local businesses. I too joined the Air Force staying four years and eventually became chief of operations for a school district in California. I now have become the unofficial historian for the Shortt Gap gang.
        The cave taught us how to play together, work together and to settle our differences with the least amount of stress or bruises.
Wendell and I visited the cave a couple years ago and immediately became disappointed. It was almost covered over with fallen logs and debris. It was also much smaller than when we played there.
        Isn’t that the way of life? When we look back, things are much smaller than what we remember. Modern events crowd out favorite memories of an idyllic childhood.