Bend of Slate: Granny’s House

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The Bottom is Route 686.

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.

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Mommy at the restaurant,  a few houses down from Granny’s House

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.

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Bend of Slate: Top of the Bottom

Just outside the Grundy, Virginia, city limits, and not too far upstream along Slate Creek, 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 neighborhood on the narrow strip of land along the sandy banks at Bend of Slate–between the highway and the creek — is known locally as “the Bottom,” which I always took as “bottom of the mountain,” or “bottom of the holler,” or, for a while (before I could really read or write), some foreign word pronounced “boddum.”

I lived in and visited the Bottom throughout my childhood, and still drive through the old neighborhood whenever I’m in Grundy.  My memories include cousins, creeks, mountains, motorcycles, and walking down to the filling station to get a banana-flavored popsicle.

My fondest memories, however, cluster at the upstream end of Bend of Slate.  It was here, at the “top” of the Bottom, that Granny owned and operated Caudill’s Drive-In, with the creek on one side, a vegetable garden on the other, and a patch of trees out back casting shade over a gigantic natural sandbox, carried there by the creek, grain-by-grain over time.

I have sparse recollections of being inside Granny’s restaurant during its evening hours.  When the sun set and the small parking lot began filling up, I wasn’t allowed at the restaurant, I wasn’t allowed in the road, and sometimes I wasn’t even allowed outside of Granny’s house, which sat within sight of the restaurant a short distance “down” the Bottom.

During the day, and from as early as I can remember, I roamed the Bottom as I pleased. I spent most days chasing my older cousins, John and Jim, on their adventures; I went along on many of their outings, but got ditched on others when I was “too little” or otherwise bothersome (I spent an equal amount of time running swiftly away from John and Jim, but those are stories for a later day).  Another playmate, Harley, was closer to my own age. It seems to me now that everything Harley and I did back then resulted in one or both of us getting chased off the creek bank and switched into the house.

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Granny and 8 of her 13 grandchildren.

So, whenever John and Jim ditched me for the day (or I had escaped them, as the case may be), and poor, slow Harley couldn’t outrun his chasing, switching mother, I found myself alone, still free to roam the Bottom on my own whim and leisure. I invariably found my way to the restaurant, where I knew Granny would be back in the kitchen, cooking and cleaning, getting set for that evening’s crowd.

Granny’s restaurant was a small brick building with a sign hanging on the corner which read “Caudill’s Drive-In.”  I don’t remember whether the sign lit up (I was never there at night, remember?), but I think “Caudill’s” was spelled out vertically from top to bottom, and “Drive-In” was lettered horizontally along the bottom of the sign.

A small door led into the front room; there was a pool table and a countertop bar across the room.  I’m sure there were booths and/or tables, but the front room usually was dark when I visited.  Beyond the front room and counter was a door to the kitchen, with a service window opening up behind the counter.  Somewhere in there was a snack rack, with chips, nuts, candy, and the ever-popular Slim Jim “smoked meat stick” on display.  I loved me some Slim Jims, and Granny knew it.

What I knew was that I stood a much better chance of getting a Slim Jim from Granny if I was alone.  I don’t remember how I stumbled upon this notion, and it only occurred to me years later that she probably didn’t want to hand out whole boxes of Slim Jims to a gaggle of Bottom boys every day.  Thus, on most visits to Granny at the restaurant, I was actually sneaking up there by myself.

Sometimes I’d get straight to the point and ask Granny for a Slim Jim, sometimes I even grabbed one on the way to the kitchen, then asked if I could have it while poised to rip open the package. Most times, however, I hung at the counter and beat around the bush while Granny worked and talked to me from the kitchen; at some point, she would stop what she was doing and come out to the counter, grabbing a Slim Jim on her way. She would open the package and toss the wrapper, and I would eat the whole thing right there while we chatted.

I don’t recall ever discussing with anyone my solo visits to Granny’s restaurant, until many years later, after everybody was all grown up and could go get their own Slim Jims.

Scott Caudill

The Bend of Slate

The Slate Creek winds down from Bradshaw Mountain along State Route 83 to Grundy, Virginia where it converges with the Levisa River and heads on into Kentucky to become the Big Sandy and then the Ohio River.

Screenshot 2018-04-06 14.33.05Just a few miles east of Grundy, situated along the shallow banks of the Slate Creek is the Bend of Slate, or as it is known to those who are from there, “The Bottom.” Between the 1940s and 1970s my father and his siblings were born and grew up in wide curve between a two-lane state road and the creek.

The curve was lined with small box houses, some of which were built onto and others that were later torn down and replaced with single or double wide trailers. Across the creek from the bottom was a one-lane road dotted with houses of a few families, some of whom you can still find there. At one end of The Bottom was “the restaurant,” official known as the Caudill’s Drive-In. My grandmother ran it for years – best hamburgers in the world I’m told.

The creek was not quite a stream or river. It could easily become swollen and forceful, quickly filling up backyards and basements. But most often it was the site of rock-skipping and swimming. Like the mountains, the river was part of the family.

The Bottom was home to a cast of unforgettable characters and the scene of a number of unbelievable stories of family, friendship, love, nonsense, and survival deep in the mountains of Central Appalachia.

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Martha, W.J., Fred, Omalee, and I.D.

In the last few years, we have lost 2 of the 5 siblings my father’s family, Omalee and Fred. In an effort to hold on to and celebrate those memories I will be posting stories from time to time about the Bend of Slate. I will start with an essay by my first cousin Scott about our Granny. His daddy Fred, who left us last month, once said that Scott and Granny had a “special understanding.” Now I know what Fred meant.