Abingdon – Harry Baya
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Last Update May 12, 2020

Chapter 17:  Abingdon, Virginia

Though most of the named sections of my memories are from a much smaller span of years this “Abingdon” chapter covers the sixty-five years from my childhood up until 2004 when I moved to Abingdon.

I don’t know when my father left the U.S. to go to the South Pacific for WW II. I had been born in Tampa and was living there when he went away. I was born in 1939 and he returned from the war in December of 1945. At some point while daddy was away mother must have moved to Abingdon to be with her family.

We lived in a house called “Carpet Hill” just off of Court Street (first turn to the right after crossing Valley street going North. It is the large house straight ahead at the first turn on the road). The house is still there and I remember it well. I remember that my mother’s father, Granddaddy White, lived in the house and I would sit with him at breakfast. He put a lot of sugar in his coffee and I was allowed to eat the remaining sugar.

I remember some things from before my father returned from the war.

I remember going to Sunday School, and I think a summer program, at the Episcopal Church in Abingdon. An elderly woman, a cousin (“Cousin Katie Booker”, the woman that had lived in the house Paul Blaney now lives in) ran the Sunday school. She is the same cousin who had the boys summer camp at Red Rock near Saltville.

I had become good friends with Irvin Wells. He was my age and we met in the Episcopal church. He lived in a house about a 1/3rd of the way up Oak Hill on the opposite side of the street from the Abingdon Elementary school. Irvin and I started first grade together at that school. It was located where the library is now, at the northwest corner of Valley Street and Oak Hill. I remember Irvin and I gathered with the other first graders on the first day of school waiting to be sent to a classroom. We were pretty confused but not afraid.

When I would come to visit in Abingdon as a child one of the first things I would do would be to walk from Aunt Kathleen’s house to Irvin’s house. When I first knew him his father, who was a long distance truck driver, was sometimes there. I think he was from Abingdon. Mother told me he had been a handsome young man. He died before Irvin was 10. After that when I would visit there would be Irvin, his mother, and “Miss Jean”. I think Miss Jean was an aunt. Irvin’s mother and Miss Jean were always very kind to me and Irvin. Sometimes I would spend the night there. In the morning they would make toast with butter, sugar and cinnamon. It was the only place I had ever had that and I loved it.

Irvin’s mother worked at the Hospital, about 1/2 mile directly behind the house. I think she was a nurse. In between the house and the hospital was a large fenced in pasture area. There was a good sized tree somewhere near the middle of the pasture. Irvin and I would sometimes cross that pasture to go to hospital to see his mother. There was a bull in the pasture. If we were lucky the bull would be far away or not notice us. However, on several occasions we had to run to get to the nearest fence when the bull came after us. At least once we ran to the tree, climbed into the branches, and had to wait a while till the bull got far enough away for us to get to a fence.

While we were living at Carpet Hill the Abingdon Hospital was on the other side of Court Street, where it still was when I moved here in 2004. It has since moved out on Lee Highway North of Abingdon. Across the street from the hospital, about a block from our house, was the town swimming pool. My cousins, Fred and William Alexander (sons of my mother’s sister, Mary, who married Uncle Fred Alexander) were life guards at the pool. I remember that at one point I did not yet know how to swim and would edge out to the deep end holding on the side of the pool. I wasn’t supposed to do this and I think I had to be pulled from the water at least once. I remember that my cousin William (who just died about a month ago at 87 or so) was a bully and was not kind to me. We were not supposed to run near the pool. I ran anyway and one time I fell and knocked myself out cold on the concrete. I came to in the hospital across the street.

The house at Carpet Hill had a big back porch and a nice lawn in the back. The backyard overlooked a golf course. There were family gatherings on that back porch and in the back yard. I remember that at one point there was a cage with rabbits in it beside the house. I think we ate the rabbits and this was upsetting to me. I also remember that sometimes live chickens were killed in the side yard and I watched. I saw their heads chopped off and saw them run around headless. I also remember that sometimes they killed them by breaking their necks, holding them by the head and swinging them around. Those these were a little bit upsetting to me, everyone treated them as just normal necessary events and I was not given a lot of consolation. I mention these things because they were parts of what I assumed was a normal childhood. I don’t think many people younger than me went through those experiences.

When I was probably four or five we would sometimes visit Aunt Annie and Aunt Madge, my mother’s father’s sisters, in the house across the ally from the Cave House. Later, after the great aunts left the house to Aunt Kathleen, I would spend a lot of time in that house and stayed in it for a number of weeks over the years. However at this point my two great aunts were living in it and I would visit them in the living room just to the left as you came in the front door. I can remember that early on they were both there and later it was just one, Aunt Annie I think. I remember a canary in a cage, maybe two or more canaries and maybe two cages. I was fascinated by them. My memory is that Aunt Annie was fairly heavy and not very mobile. When I would see her she would be sitting in a very large chair near the door. I was little and kind of awed by her. It wasn’t fear, it was more like a sense of very strong humility in her presence. She was nice to me and would ask me questions.

I remember a particular visit when mother took me to see Aunt Annie and it was planned that I would sing a song for her. I was no more than 6 and possibly younger. It’s the first song I can remember singing. We went to the house and were admitted through the front door and I waited in the hall. I think I was kind of dressed up and this was kind of a big deal. I was eventually called in and I stood in front of Aunt Annie in her chair and sang “Old Dan Tucker”. I still sing that song when I get the chance. The chorus was:

Get out the way, old Dan Tucker
you’re too late to come for supper
supper’s over and breakfast is a cookin
and old Dan Tucker just stand there lookin

Aunt Annie seemed very pleased and asked me some questions about the song. One of the verses was:

My old man is a funny old man
washed his face in a frying pan
Combed his hair with an old cart wheel
and died with a toothache in his heal.

Aunt Annie asked me a question that tied the “old man” in the song to my father. The question must have been something like “Is your old man a funny old man?” What I remember was that I was caught off guard and didn’t know what to say. I think I stuttered through an answer. After I got out of the room I was worried that somehow Aunt Annie was making fun of my father. This is an interesting experience to me because later in life, after I got to college, music and singing began to play a big part in my life. It still does. This was the earliest memory I have of anything to do with music and I did very little singing for the next 14 or so years.

One night I was woken up in my room at Carpet Hill and brought downstairs to the main living room where there was a group of ten or more adults, including some aunts and uncles. It turned out that my father had just returned that night from the Pacific. The War had ended a few months earlier. I was introduced to him. I did not recognize him at all and was kind of frightened. He gave me, probably then, a Japanese officer’s Samurai sword which I had until about 15 years ago. I don’t know what happened to it. I assume this was in December of 1945 and I would have turned 6 the previous summer. The 31st division was returned to the U.S. on Dec 12, 1945.

I think the following memory was from before my father returned in December of 1945. As I mentioned above an older woman, Cousin Katie Booker, ran a boys camp called Red Rock. I think it was near Saltville. I had gone out with mother to visit the camp on several occasions. All the boys were older than me. There was a swimming pool built above the ground and I can remember how strange it looked sitting on a flat piece of ground. I think I knew how to swim and went in the pool. On one occasion I was left at the camp to spend the night under the care of Cousin Katie. I was assigned to some older boys, who I now assume were counselors, to look after during the evening activities. I don’t know if this was a weekly event or a special occasion such as the last night of camp. In any case they had built up wood for a large bonfire in an open area between the swimming pool and the main buildings of the camp. I am guessing that the way they started the fire was a ritual they did every year. I knew nothing and was young enough to believe in magic and ghosts. The got me good that night.

All the boys were gathered in a circle around the unlit stack of wood. It was dark, probably just after dusk. Someone, probably an adult or senior counselor, told a story about Indians living in the woods and worshiping spirits. At one point in the story an Indian chief called on the great fire spirit to give them the gift of fire and start our bonfire. Remember, I was young and gullible. I’ve always been somewhat gullible, but at 6 or so it was bad. To my utter amazement a great ball of fire came whishing out of the dark from high in the air and, as if thrown at the wood, went directly into the center of the pile of wood and set off a huge flame. The bonfire was lit well and in no time there were high flames. I was quite impressed. I later found out that this was done with a wire going from the top of a tree down to the center of the wood. The place where it stuck was a pile of kindling wood soaked in kerosene. Boys at the top of the tree lit some rags that had been set up to go down the wire They lit the kerosene rags and sent the ball of flame down the wire.. It worked perfectly and blew my little six year old mind. It’s a great memory.

Later that night it was time to end the evening and put out the fire. Apparently Cousin Katie and any other women on the staff had already left. The boys were all at least two or three years older than me but I was allowed to stand with them for this final ceremony. We pissed on the fire. Unfortunately no-one had the sense to tell me that I should not till Cousin Katie about this. They probably thought I had enough sense not to tell her. I did not. I did tell her and some people got in trouble. I realized I had become a little snitch and I felt pretty bad about that, but it was still a great evening for me.

Here are a few other memories from around this time. I remember one time when we had arrived in Abingdon, probably coming from Fairlington, and I wanted to see the Bright Lights. After some discussion they figured out that little Harry (me) wanted to go to downtown Abingdon to see the lights. We got in a car and I saw the lights on the theater and the other night-life establishments around the intersection of Main Street and Cummings street. It was a lively area in those days. My desire to see the “the bright lights of Abingdon” was amusing to the adults.

One time when we were staying in the Cave House I stole a dollar from my Aunt Harriet’s purse. I went up to the store on the corner across the street at the top of the hill. The store had a counter and sold candy, soft drinks and other things. I went in to buy a pack of gum. I gave the woman my dollar and she began to count out nine dollars in change. I was horrified. I had not stolen a dollar. I had stolen ten dollars. Ten dollars was a lot of money in those days. I asked for my ten dollar bill back and raced back to the Cave House to put the money back in Aunt Harriet’s purse. The purse was gone. I was probably as close to having a nervous breakdown as a 6-year old can get. I worried myself sick trying to figure what to do. Meanwhile Aunt Harriet had noticed the ten dollars was missing and everyone was searching for it. I put it in with dirty clothes about to be washed. It was eventually discovered and my crime was never known. What a relief that was.

I remember that over at least two summers Madge and I and friends (Phoebe Fullerton comes to mind) would play on the porch and in one of the rooms in the basement of the Cave House. The porch ran along the back of the house, around the East side, and then up to the front door in the front. The porch was wide and covered, as shown in the photo below. In the corner of the porch on the front right there was a large bench swing suspended by chains. I remember that when we were swinging we could reach out to the grape vine that was all around that area and pluck off a large purple grape. Those grapes were big and juicy and had a unique taste. Every few years I will eat a grape with that flavor and it takes me back. I think this memory stretches over at least two summers because I remember planning on going back for grapes and then doing it.

Cave House – 2019 Photo

Across the street from the Cave House and Aunt Kathleen’s house was the Campbell Funeral Home. A son in the Campbell family around my age, Tommy I think, would occasionally join us in our play. I remember that at my Grandmother White’s funeral the arrangements were handled by that funeral home. My grandmother’s body was laid out for viewing in the front bedroom on the right side of Aunt Kathleen’s house. The mourning party were in the living room. It seemed strange to me that the body was not at the funeral home. I think mother told me that there had been many family funerals handled exactly like this one.

Though we moved to Falls Church, Virginia in the middle of my first grade year I spent many weeks in Abingdon every summer from then, 1946, till we moved to England in the summer of 1950. During those summers I remained best friends with Irvin Wells. Madge and I were also good friends with Phoebe Fullerton. Phoebe was kind of a tomboy and the three of us played well together. At some point Phoebe moved to a farm and we used to play in the loft of a barn there. Phoebe and Irvin went through school together in Abingdon. Each was well known in Abingdon, Phoebe for being rather wild, and Irvin as one of the top football players in the state. I did not see Phoebe from the time she was about 10 until she was about 21. I only saw her briefly then and she had become a stunningly beautiful, tall and wholesome, woman. I have seen her a couple of times since moving to Abingdon. She had a very interesting life and has a number of children and grandchildren. She lives in Fincastle, North of Roanoke.

I guess most of my memories were from the summers I spent in Abingdon. There were a group of kids that spent time together. I used to remember their names. I can remember Wayne and Ronnie Ball and Pookie Blevins, but the other names are gone. I remember that one time we discovered an opening in the ground in the lower yard by the Cave House and we enlarged the opening. We thought we had found a new entrance to the cave behind the Cave House. It turned out to be an abandoned cesspool.

I remember that when we wanted to go to the center of Abingdon where the train station, the movie theater, and most of the stores were we would walk along Plumb Alley. It was not paved then, it was gravel and we would throw the stones at things.

We moved to England in the summer of 1950 and were gone until the summer of 1952. While we lived in Carlisle, and before and after living in Monterey, we must have spent time in Abingdon. Those memories are all blended in with the earlier visits, though I was older now and was probably not so much a member of a group of friends. I continued my friendship with Irvin.

The main thing I want to note was that when I was in Abingdon during those years before we moved to England I felt like a normal American boy hanging out with a bunch of other boys doing the things that boys do. I felt at home, I did not feel like a visiting stranger. In some ways I was never to feel that way again.

We were still living in Carpet Hill when my father returned after the war but I think my mother’s parents moved from there into Kathleen’s house on Main Street shortly after that.

The Cave House is a well known landmark in Abingdon ( 279 East Main Street) and It belonged to my family for many years. My mother’s grandfather lived there when my mother was little and it ended up in the hands of two of his daughters, my mother’s Aunt Annie and Aunt Madge. I remember them. They owned the cave house and the house across the alley (now called Whites Alley). Neither married. They may have taken in borders at the Cave House, but aside from that neither ever worked. They raised my mother’s sister, Kathleen. The Cave House was sold in 1949 after the Aunts had died and Aunt Kathleen ended up owning the house across the Alley. Aunt Annie and Aunt Madge’s generation inherited property and money. I believe the two aunts lived on that inheritance and passed enough on to Kathleen for her to live on all her life. Aunt Kathleen never worked. After 1949 we would stay in Kathleen’s house when we came to Abingdon.

Mother told me that when she was little her grandfather lived in the Cave House and used to lead the family into the front room to the Christmas tree on Christmas morning. Each Christmas he would choose a child to lead in as the first child in the room. One Christmas my mother, probably 5 years old or so, was chosen and she told me of that precious memory.

Cave House Memories:

These memories had to be from before the Cave House was sold in 1949, so I was, at most 10 years old. It’s a strikingly beautiful, kind of classic, house. Behind the house was a good size structure kind of like an extended barn covering about 100 feet next to Plumb Alley. The East end of that building was a roof and wall protecting the entrance to the cave. There was a set steps going down into the darkness that lead into the cave. The cave goes from there to the middle of Abingdon, underneath the Martha Washington Inn. It’s been closed off for many years but you can still walk back there and look down the steps. When I was young and the family still owned the house we kids would be led down into the cave by adults on special occasion. My cousins Fred and William told me they use to go exploring in the cave, on their own. The cave is known as Wolf Cave and the earliest name for Abingdon was Wolf Hills. . Here is an excerpt from this website (https://localwiki.org/abingdon/Wolf_Cave_)

A sign in front of the Cave House tells of the history of the wolf cave:: Lair of wolves which attacked Daniel Boone's dogs 1760 and from which came the Original name of this town. Wolf Hills

I sometimes tell people that I used to live in the Cave House in Abingdon. There is some truth to that. Sometimes when we came to visit in Abingdon we would stay in the cave house. I may have lived there for weeks some summers. I was little and it was big. There were four levels. In the front of the house the yard had doors into the lowest level of the house. The backyard was higher and there were steps down to the lowest level. The main floor was near ground level in the back. The upstairs had a number of rooms, mostly set up as bedrooms. Some rooms were entered by going through another room. There was also a dusty old attic. The few times I was in the attic it was like a story book of old chests filled with old things. As kids we only went in a couple of rooms in the lowest level, on the East end such that they looked out into the yard. The west end of the lowest level was essentially underground, like a basement. I have had many dreams of being lost in that basement area – tunnels, monster, fires, being locked in. It was a very spooky place to me.

I remember that we were taken down into the cave on a number of occasions but here is a particularly vivid memory. I don’t know how old I was, maybe as young as four or five. I and several friends my age were going to be taken down into the cave. An adult led us down into the dark cave. It was done rather ceremoniously, kind of spooky. We went down the 20 or more steps and were then told where to stand. We had no idea what to expect. There were flashlights, or candles, but there was not much light and all we could see was darkness. There was light coming in from the top of the stairs but it didn’t help us see much down where we were.

An adult took a little piece of flat wood with a candle standing on it and held it in front of us. They lit the candle and then, as if by magic, they turned from us, leaned forward and gently floated the wood, with the lit candle on it, out into the air. It was a pretty big deal to us. We were enthralled. Then we found out how they did this. There is a pool of cold spring water at the entrance to the cave near the foot of the steps. The water was crystal clear and in the dim light we could not see it. The candle light shown in all directions, including down through the water, but the water was invisible. None of us knew there was a pool there. Magic. A strong memory.

Another memory from the Cave House was a birthday party in the back yard. It was my birthday (probably 5th or 6th). My big gift was a large toy moving van made of metal, about two feet long. It was the kind where the back trailer could be detached from the front cab. It was a bright orange and was labeled “Allied Moving”. I loved it. At that point my ambition was to become a truck driver. We had cake and ice cream. The ice cream was home-made and people had to take turns turning the handle of the machine that made the ice cream. We also had watermelon. This must been a year or so after the floating candle in the cave. The watermelon was kept in the spring water pool in the cave. The water was cold and watermelon was chilled. I went down into the cave with some adults to get a watermelon. I don’t think I was big enough to carry it back up. I can still kind of see and taste the bright red, ice cold, juicy watermelon slices on that hot summer day. My birthday is July 31, mid-summer. There was always much debate about whether it was OK to eat the seeds. That debate was of little interest to me.

On several occasions I and other kids, probably with an adult, used flashlights to go 30 or 40 feet back into the cave. I remember that we had to crouch in places and that there were places where the cave branched off. It seemed to me that it would be easy to get lost down there. I had no great desire to go further.

When we were visiting in Abingdon other families, aunts, uncles and cousin would also come to visit. Mother two sisters, Harriet and Mary, and her brother Jimmy were all married and did not live in Abingdon. Uncle Bill and his family lived on the West side of Abingdon and Aunt Kathleen lived with her Aunts in the cave house or the house next door. My mother’s father and mother also had siblings who would sometimes visit. Among those I clearly remember visiting and staying for a week or so were: The Alexanders: Aunt Mary, Uncle Fred and their three boys, Fred, William and Markham; Aunt Harriet and her daughter, Little Harriet; Uncle Jimmy (his wife, Big Clare, and their daughters Martha and Clare, rarely visited); My mother’s Aunt, “Big Een”, her daughter, Estelle Henry, and Estelle’s son, Bill. I can remember waking up in the Cave House and hearing that someone like Uncle Fred (one of my favorite Uncles) had arrived after I went to bed the previous evening. I and whatever other kids I could find, would begin to explore the many upstairs rooms to see if we could find him. When we found him we would rush in and hug him.

Estelle’s son Bill Henry was about my age and though we were only together a few times we became good friends. I had hoped to resume that friendship when I moved back to Virginia in 2004 but he died unexpectedly right around the time I was to move here.

Sometimes when there were a bunch of us cousins in Abingdon one or more of the adults (especially Uncle Fred) would arrange to take us to Hungry Mother State park in Marion. There were no other lakes anywhere nearby back then. The TVA lakes either didn’t exist were simply not visited by us. Marion had a good sized lake and a beach. It was the only beach for hundreds of miles so far as we knew. We considered it a great outing.

While the family was still living in the cave house they used a smoke house out back to cure meat. I remember that it was separate room in the back of the brick part of the house and it was dark and dank, and pretty spooky. In that room they would hang hams that were being cured. I remember going in there with adults and seeing these incredibly gross things hanging in the air. The surface looked like a scabby black mold and I thought they were about the ugliest things I had ever seen.

Later on, after Aunt Annie and Madge were no longer there, we would go to Abingdon, often by train from Washington, D.C. and stay in what was now Aunt Kathleen’s house. I have memories of staying in that house from 1948 through 1979, more or less. I can remember that I would sometimes use the telephone in the living room to call Irvin, or maybe someone mother asked me to call. There was no dial. I guess it was probably a party line with multiple users. I would go over and pick up the phone and say “Hello”. I can remember that sometimes when I did this the operator would respond with “Is that little Harry? Hi honey. Who would you like to call?” I would respond “Irvin” and she would say “I’ll connect with your friend, Irvin. Just hang on till someone picks up his phone.”

When I visited there as a young teenager, probably during the time we were in the U.S. between England and Venezuela, aunt Kathleen had an old black car that looked like it was from the 40s. It could be started with a crank and the reason I think I was a teenager was that I was big enough to turn the crank to start the engine. These are foggy memories. I cannot believe she would have still had that car when I visited in Abingdon in 1957 after returning from Venezuela.

During many of the weeks I was in Abingdon as a child we would go down to the train station either to meet someone coming in, or to see someone off on the train. Often there would be a group of family members, parents and kids, at the station. We kids would do things like put pennies on the track so that we could get the flattened pennies after the train was gone. We would also play on the big wheeled vehicles the porters pulled around to load and unload the train. We would get yelled at for doing that, but it was till tempting. I remember that an adult would take kids to a place where you could stand on the tracks and look a good distance to be sure there was no train coming. Then we would put our ear on the track and would hear the train when it was close enough, but long before you could see it.

There was an overpass at the east end of the station, a metal walk-bridge that allowed you to walk upstairs and cross over the tracks and come down on the other side. That overpass is still there in 2020. Sometimes we would stand on top of the overpass to watch the train come in.

All the trains in those days were steam locomotives and I remember being on the train and feeling the train surging forward and picking up speed with each burst of steam. I could imagine how much power it took to pull something as heavy as a train forward. I also remember listening to the sound of the clicks as the train rolled over the end of each rail. It took the train a few minutes to get up to speed and I would listen to the accelerating beat of the clicks. I assume you can still hear that on trains today. The passenger trains stopped coming to Abingdon well before the turn of the last century.

I remember that there were Negro porters in uniform on the train. There may have been white porters too. The train would pull in and a porter would hop down and put down a little wooden stool for passengers to step on when they got off and the train. On more than one occasion I can remember porters greeting us with something like “Hi there Miss Madge, how are little Madge and Harry doing?” Mother would respond with something like “They are just find Carter. How are you getting along?” The porter would be on that same train every time its schedule brought it to Abingdon.

During some of the years that we visited Aunt Kathleen the kitchen stove was a wood burning (or maybe coal) stove. If you lifted the round lid where you put pans to cook with you could see down into the fire. I remember mother would cook rolls and biscuits in the oven of that stove and they seemed especially good. Mother had probably learned to cook on that kind of stove. One year when we came to visit, Aunt Kathleen had a new stove. I think it was probably a gas stove. We were taken in and shown the new stove and everyone made a big deal of the change. I think Aunt Kathleen was very proud of her new stove. Aunt Katleen was probably one of the last people in a good home in Abingdon to stop using a wood stove.

When we visited Abingdon, starting with when I was probably 9 or so, and on through the time I was in college, a group of us would usually go to the Barter Theater. It’s still a special event in my life since I moved here in 2004. Back then we would walk from Kathleen’s house to the theater and would be greeted at the door by Bob Porterfield, the founder of the theater. He knew the White family and he always made me feel like we were especially important people. I have since realized that though he did know us, and may even have been good friends with some of the Whites, he greeted a lot of people that way. He had a wonderful presence at the door and when he introduced the play from the stage. His folksy “If you like us, talk about us, and if not, just keep your mouth shut” is still used as part of the welcome to the audience before the play.

My cousin, Fred Alexander, was recruited to play a part when he was 10 or so and he was in a play with Gregory Peck. He was proud of that and talked about when he was in his 70’s.

Summer of 1957

I left Caracas shortly after graduating in June of 1957. I spent a few weeks with George Felts in Miami, visited Tampa, and then took a bus to Abingdon where I stayed for the rest of the summer before leaving for MIT. I stayed in Kathleen’s house with Kathleen and Grandmother White. Grandmother White looked after me and got me ready for college. She helped me decide what I needed and took me shopping to buy those things. She got nametags with my name on them and sewed them on every article of clothing. I think she even helped me pack the suitcase. She drove me down to catch the Greyhound bus at the bus stop near the train station when it was time to leave. I got along well with Grandmother and got to know her better than I ever had. She was pleasant, well balanced and intelligent. She had good common sense, more than me, and she seemed comfortable looking after me and kind of managing my life.

My time in Abingdon in the summer of 1957 was a significant experience in my life. Though I very much saw myself as a typical American kid while in Caracas, I was in fact in a very different world. The summer kids who had been in the U.S. during the school year brought with them some aspects of what was going on in the U.S. relevant to teen culture, but most of them were more at home in Caracas than the U.S. My friends during the school year were fairly diverse. I’d say about half of them were U.S. citizens, but the rest were from all over the world. Also, regardless of the behavior of my friends, we were living in a foreign world with many differences from being in the U.S. I arrived in Abingdon with no direct exposure to American teen culture for the last 3 and ½ years, and only a brief 1 and ½ years exposure before that.

Abingdon was as down home root American as you can get. Not only that, it was a southern town and far away from any big cities. I spent a lot of time with Irvin Wells and he was a very popular and active kid in Abingdon. Like me he had just graduated from high school. He had been president of his class and a football star. Irvin was a big handsome young man with a reasonably quick mind and a lot of friends. I went to parties, movies, and outings to the local hangouts like Statzers ( a drive in restaurant), the People’s drugstore ( which had a typical American soda fountain bar and booths), and the local pool hall ( a fairly sleazy establishment near the train station).

Irvin was dating Sue Sommerson and they eventually married, had children, and stayed together till her death a few years ago. Sue was a pretty, lively, young woman and I participated in the social life of Irvin, Sue and their friends. Sue’s father was the manager of the Martha Washington Inn and a highly respected man in Abingdon. Hanging out with Irvin also meant hanging out with his football buddies and they were a fairly rough and ready group of boys. This was all a new world to me and I drank it all in, absorbing, it seems to me, a lot of what it was to be a typical American teenager just out of high school.

We went on road trips to Damascus to visit someone’s girlfriend, and to Bristol to shop. The nearest record store was in Bristol and we went there to buy the latest hit songs on 45 RPM records. The Everly brothers and 50’s Doo Wop were popular then and the radio in Irvin’s car was always on. I felt that Irvin, and other kids, drove to fast and were not careful enough and I kind of remember telling him to either slow down or let me out at least once. Among the outings I remember was one to the Moonlight drive-in theater. I had never been to a drive-in movie before. Irvin told me the movie we were going to see was called “The Thang” and it was not till I saw the title on the marquis as we drove in that I saw that it was called “The Thing”. It was a popular horror movie that summer. At that time the drive in movie charged for each passenger. Irvin and his friends put several boys in the trunk of the car to avoid having to pay for them. We got in and parked the car well before the movies started. We got out and walked down to the snack bar to get drinks and popcorn, and to meet with other kids. As we walked down one of the boys said something like “Where’s Charlie?” and there was some discussion. He had been in the trunk and no one had seen him since getting out of the car. We went back to the trunk and found that Charlie had passed out, probably from the crowding, and that the others in the trunk had not noticed him when they got out. He woke up and was alright for the rest of the night.

Another night Irvin and some friends, including Sue and another girl, drove up to the swimming pool on the Martha Washington in property. The pool was inside a locked building a good distance from the hotel. The building consisted of four walls around the pool but had no roof. The roof had been blown off years earlier by a tornado and had never been replaced. One of the boys climbed over the wall and unlocked the door to the building. We all went in and went swimming in our underwear. I felt this was pretty risqué and daring. I had never been swimming with girls in their underwear before. It was pretty dark so it was not a particular revealing experience. While I was in the pool I saw what looked like a flying saucer come sailing over the roof and land in the pool. It seemed very strange at the time. It turned out that one of the boys had gone outside and sailed a garbage can lid over the wall of the building so that it would land in the pool.

One night there was a party at the house that is now known as the Fields-Penn house. A family (Fields?) was living there and among other guests was a niece from out of town, about my age. I liked her and she liked me – but it turned out that she was leaving soon and I never saw her again. Around 2008 I volunteered as a guide (Doyenne) in that house during the Highlands Festival for a couple of years.

My experience with Irvin and his friends was a somewhat intense, and delightful, experience for me. By the time I left Abingdon to go to college I felt a lot more acclimated to the U.S. than I did when I first got to Miami months earlier.

Visiting Abingdon with my mother:

While I was at MIT from 1957 through the spring of 1963, and between my 1977 divorce and my mother’s death in in October of 1981 I visited Abingdon many times, but only when my mother was also visiting. I have many memories from those visits.

My mother told me that there was an old family cemetery in Abingdon where her earliest Abingdon ancestors were buried. We drove to see it. This was kind of like a magic garden to me in that it had been there all along and I had never known about it. This seemed odd to me. The cemetery is located on top of the hill North of the train station, near a large water tank. This is only about ¼ mile from the house I rented on Mason Place. My landlord, Mike Edwards, told me that the big house beside mine used to belong to a James White. I checked, he was a brother of one of my direct ancestors. I infer that the Whites then owned all the land around that area up to and including where the old graveyard was.

The graveyard has a metal fence around it and contains about 50 graves. One the earliest is a large pedestal with engravings on all side. On the East side is the name of the first of the White family in Abingdon. He was James White and he died in 1838. There are many other Whites buried there. Though many of the stones are weathered to where it’s impossible to read what was on them, others are still legible. There were at least 6 to 10 infants buried there. I have been back many times since that first visit, several times with mother. When people visit me in Abingdon, some I knew in New York, some of my Baya cousins, I often take them to that graveyard. There were no tombstones in that graveyard after around 1905 ( a guess, I should go look). However, one year, perhaps after I had moved to Abingdon in 2004 I went up to the graveyard and was amazed to see a brand new tombstone. It was Ann Tilson’s gravestone. Somebody had to pull some strings to get here buried there. There is quite a story about Ann Tilson’s inheritance ending up in the hands of her lawyer, Emmet Geary. She was a good friend of both Aunt Harriet and my mother.

Probably around 1980 there was a White reunion in Abingdon. Our family stayed in the Martha Washington Inn. I believe nearly all of the living members of my mother’s generation ( my aunts and uncles) and nearly all of my generation ( the 11 first cousins of whom I am one) of the White family were there. I remember that Markham was there and had not been back to Abingdon since his mother died in 1958. Also Clare (nee White) and her husband, Werner Sahling, were there. That may have been the only time I met Werner. The main event of the weekend was a dinner party at the “Greenway Party House” (361 White’s Mill Road), a beautiful home on a hill on White’s Mill road. The Greenway family are cousins. My mother’s maiden name was Madge Greenway White.

At some point the house began to be used to host gatherings, often with a meal. We had booked the house for a dinner party for the White reunion. I think there were around 40 people there. Mother and I walked around the house, including the upstairs, and mother told me some of her memories of visiting that house as child and as a young woman. My recall was that it had been an especially elegant old Southern home and that she had attended many family gatherings there and had gone to dances there as young woman. She would point into a large room upstairs and tell me that this was the room the young ladies used to dress for a dance, or that this was the room she stayed in when she spent the night with her cousin. Mother remembered horses and carriages bringing guests to the house.

Around the year 2000 the White cousins decided to have another White reunion. The only member of the previous generation still alive was Aunt Clare, Uncle Jimmy’s wife, and Martha brought here down from Roanoke for the reunion. . I remember two events. One was at Jim’s house, where he lives now. I think it was something like a bar-b-que outside. The other was another dinner party at the Greenway Party House. I think there were around 30 of us there, including all 11 first cousins. I remember that my cousin Fred Alexander brought his second wife and she lived up to her reputation of being a finely dressed and quite elegant lady. My cousin Martha was also there and she has a similar reputation. I don’t know that either of them felt any sense of competition, but I certainly did. I called it an even draw. Both were at the top of the game and it made no sense see one as more impressive than the other.

After I moved to Abingdon in 2004 I ended up working for Emory & Henry College for nine years. On several of those years my work group (The Library and Computing Support departments) had Christmas luncheons at the Greenway Party house.

When we came back from Venezuela in 1957 my father brought a new car. It was a four-door, all white, 1957 Chevrolet. The 1957 Chevrolet has long been considered one of the classic car designs of the 20th century. I didn’t know that was going to happen, but I did know that I thought this was a beautiful car. I loved it. One summer I was in Abingdon when my father and mother were there and I got the car to go on a date. I don’t recall how the date was arranged, but I do know that I was quite taken with the young woman. She was Bibi Perry (Mary Louise), about my age, and, it seemed to me, not only smart, but also outrageously attractive. Bibi lived with her family in Glade Spring. I think I went over around lunch time and spent an hour or two with her. Though nothing awkward or embarrassing occurred during the visit Bibi let me know that she there would be know future dates. I think she had a good excuse (going away? Dating someone? ), but I was still somewhat upset by the rejection. I drove back to Abingdon and, God knows why, got on Valley Street going East past the library. I was upset and I stepped on the gas. I think I was going 60 miles per hour on Valley Street when a police car pulled me over. Aside from feeling awful about the whole thing I especially did not want to have to tell my father I had been stopped for speeding. Believe it or not I managed to talk my way out of getting a ticket. I remember that I mentioned my grandfather White (who had died at least 20 years earlier) having been Clerk of the County court.

I have two more things to tell you about Bibi Perry. After I had moved back to Abingdon my old friend, Irvin Wells, was visiting one summer and he and other friends arranged for us to have a dinner gathering at the Old Mill Inn restaurant in Damascus. We sat outside at a big table overlooking the Holston river. There were around 12 of us. I had known some of them, like Wayne Ball, when I had been a child in Abingdon. Also there was Richard Smith. Richard had been in my first grade class in Abingdon but I did not remember him from then. I got to meet him through Irvin Wells and Richard and I became friends. We have a lot in common and he is a fascinating, and very adventurous, guy. While at the dinner party somehow we got talking about girls we had known in Abingdon and I, trying to fit in with the insiders, mentioned that I once had a date with Bibi Perry. It turned out that I was one of four (it may have been five) of the men at the table who had all dated Bibi.

The second thing is that Rufus Morrison, who is now probably my best male friend, not only dated Bibi (he calls her “The Snail”) off and on over the years but actually ended up married to her for a few years. I had often heard of Rufus from my old Abingdon friend, Jimmy Moore, but did not meet him until the funerals of two brothers (Chris and Pete Brown) who we had both known when we were young in Abingdon. Rufus is 6 years older than me and was close to Chris Brown’s age. Peter was a year older than me. I had renewed my friendship with Pete Brown after moving back to Abingdon in 2004.

Many times when I visited Abingdon after returning from Venezuela I would sleep in the big upstairs bedroom on the left. Sometimes mother, or mother and daddy, were also sleeping in the room. On other occasions they and or other cousins might be sleeping there too. It was a nice experience. I remember Little Harriet staying with us. It seemed like a natural thing to do

On one of these visits while staying at Kathleen’s house I remember hearing music from over at the Cave House across the alley. The Cave House had been sold in 1949 and ended up being owned by Robert Porterfield, the founder and director of the Barter Theater until his death in 1971. I was probably in college or graduate school at this time. I knew that some of the Barter actors and summer interns were staying in the Cave House. I walked over to the backyard where an informal afternoon party was in progress. There were people my age and some just a little older. I was very impressed with the fun they seemed to be having. I visited for a while. The people I met were actors and actresses, and staff, there for the summer, mostly from far away. They were delighted with their work at the Barter Theater, their new friends, Abingdon, and the Cave House. I remember thinking that I very much envied them the experience they were having. As enthusiastic as I was about MIT, and in spite of my expectations for a rich and interesting future life, I had to wonder whether I would have been happier on their path.

On one visit mother told me that she would like me to meet a family cousin who happen to be in town. We walked up Main Street and turned right to go down Court House Street toward Valley Street. About 2/3rds of the way down, on the right side of the street we came to a fairly small house and knocked on the door. We were met by a dapper gentleman in his 40’s. This was Andrew Rowan Summers. I think he was a 2nd or 3rd cousin of my mothers. His small residence had a lovely walled in garden in the back with beautiful flowers. I think the wall on the right of the garden was probably along Plumb Alley – I will go look next time I’m in that area. We had tea and snacks and a delightful visit. I think we had a second visit. I was very impressed with Andrew. He was bright, colorful, interesting and a fine host. You can Google him to see his Wikipedia entry. He played dulcimer and sang in a high tenor voice. I later bought a 33rpm record of his singing. This was his home in Abingdon. He was a lawyer for part of his career. He normally lived in New York City. Fifteen or so years later I began to have occasional gay male friends. I had grown up somewhat homophobic but the 70’s had cured most of that. At that point, looking back, I realized that Andrew Summers was gay. At the time I had no awareness of homosexuals, but on looking back I could see Andrew clearly. Mother had said to me something like “Some people say Andrew is a little strange, but he is my cousin and I love him dearly.

There is a separate section of these memories that covers my experience in Abingdon and Bristol after retiring from Hofstra University and moving from Yonkers to Abingdon in 2004.