The Sawmill Bottom
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by Frank Shortt
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I'm sure that all of us have a place that stands out in our minds as the favorite place
we ever played. In the Appalachians, namely southwest Virginia, there are many haunts that we as children could look upon as being
our favorite place to play, but the one that stands out in my mind no longer exists. It is now the bedrock for a four-lane highway.
It was called by all of us kids as the “sawmill bottom”.
In the late thirties and early
forties, the hillsides surrounding our area were covered with first growth pine, oak, maple, and poplar, which at the time were in
big demand for building houses. The pine for framing, the oak and maple for flooring and the poplar for finish work. By the time that
George Horn's sawmill did its work, the hillsides were denuded of any decent timber. All that was left of the sawmill community were
a few old knotty apple trees, a large pile of sawdust, and lots of memories.
bottom was very rocky, a haven for snakes, with a creek [Grassy Creek] running through it. Nevertheless, it became the playground
for many successive generations. We used it for football, baseball, wars of all kinds, and a place to have wiener roasts. I'm sure
that many trysts between lovers took place at night when the traffic along old route 460 died down for the evening. Many friendships
were made and broken in this playground of all playgrounds. I have had many fights with friends just because we became tired of the
others’ company or because another friend came along to cause one or the other to want to play with the other friend.
The aforementioned apple trees were usually full of knotty apples, even though no one attended to them. These became weapons to be
used in battle when the apples were still green. We would each choose a tree and begin pelting the other side with as many apples
as we could gather. These wars usually didn't last long as someone invariably was hit in the eye or some other vital part thus ending
our war. The affected child usually went home crying while the rest of us waited to see who would eventually get the blame. Southern
Appalachia mothers were quick to carry out justice to the offending party. After the apples became ripe, we were usually seen with
our pockets full to be used as food for the long days we spent in the “bottom”. We cared less that the apples were wormy and a little
bitter. They served not only as nourishment but also a source of moisture.
source of entertainment in the whole “bottom” was the sawdust pile. This was where every game known to mankind was played with all
vigor. When the astronauts were first venturing into outer space, the pile became the surface of the moon and we would have trails
going in every direction with sudden drop-offs that would leave us at the bottom of the pile. If we saw a Tarzan movie, the pile and
surrounding brush became the jungle with traps at every turn. If the movie we were reenacting happened to be a Western, the pile became
the rocks and dust mounds of the American southwest. Indians hid behind every mound that we piled up and cowboys were forever diving
into these mounds to extract the wily Indian. We would spend hours riding cardboard sleighs from the top of the sawdust pile. Sometimes
we would make tunnels, starting at the bottom side and working our way upward thus having hiding places for all kinds of adventures,
not realizing that we could have become buried alive by the caving in of the tunnel. There was always some older kid to come along
and cave in all our hard work. This was a built in modern playground with slides, climbing bars, tunnels, fireman poles, and whatever
else a modern playground might contain. The best part was, it cost us nothing. It is too bad that children nowadays have been robbed
of the ability to use their imagination. Television and the computer do most of their thinking for them. As a result, obesity and
complacency reign supreme.
Give me the wide open spaces, the freedom we felt, the friendships
we cemented at the old Sawmill Bottom. I still see it in dreams.