The Bend of Slate, as my cousin Scott described it in his guest post, is just outside the Grundy, Virginia, city limits, and “not too far upstream along Slate Creek where the highway hugs the base of a small, perfectly rounded mountain, making almost a complete circle before straightening out toward downtown Grundy. Slate Creek also bends around this small round mountain, and that section of the stream is called ‘Bend of Slate.’”
The locals call this little curve of land “the Bottom.” I’ve been told stories about the Bottom my entire life, some are so good that they are told regularly. But I am the only person in my immediate family who has never lived in the Bottom. While I don’t have many personal stories or memories of the Bottom, I feel like many of the stories of my parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and neighbors are mine because they include so many people and a place I love.
Daddy was born in the family homeplace in the Bottom, down near the restaurant. The small wood frame house sits right on the bank of Slate Creek. The creek was the community playground – a place to swim, skip rocks, or enjoy a cool breeze. It’s mostly clear and shallow, its floor covered with smooth stones. But, after a big rain the creek might visit the backyard or basement or sometimes the edges of the bridges leading to Big John Stacy Road or the High School. The house sat atop a basement with the kitchen and bathroom in the back that faced the river. The family room and a bedroom at the front of the house faced a small yard and the one-lane road that traversed the Bottom from east to west.
The small yard and one-lane road were framed from the living room by a picture window. It let the morning and evening sun peek in to brighten the brown wood paneling on the walls. And it was one of Granny’s prized possessions.
This little house was home to my grandparents and all my aunts, uncles and a few cousins. And as my cousin Scott would say, Granny’s house was the first place many of us ever saw Uncle I.D. laying on a couch, but that is a story for another day.
It was also where my family started.
On a fall afternoon, soon after Daddy returned from his two years in the Army, he and Granny sat in the little wood-paneled living room watching TV. The living room held a couch, a couple of chairs and a television. Sometime that afternoon my Aunt Martha came home with a friend she thought should meet my Daddy. My parents met in the front room of that little house.
Growing up it was clear that my Daddy and his siblings loved their Mommy dearly. Granny is often a topic of conversation, she has at least two namesakes, and she is universally, by male and female children, called Mommy.
My Mommy has always described my Daddy’s sweet relationship with Granny in the story of the first time she ever saw him that fall afternoon in the Bottom. She says, sometimes with a grin or an eye-roll that “the first time I met your father was in the living room your Granny’s house. Granny was sitting in a chair watching TV and your Daddy was sitting at her feet. That should tell you something.” This is a picture of our family, and maybe many similar Appalachian families – staying as close as you can.
I love this story and the mental picture it paints of Granny’s oldest boy sitting with her on a random afternoon. As I end my first month of marriage I hope that the same closeness and affection live on within and among my parents and me and my new family. I hope that we all stay as close as we can regardless of age or circumstances.
Many good things happened in the Bottom, including the beginning of the marriage that created me, in the crowded living room at Granny’s house.