|Two Hundred and fifty years ago many bannished and out-lawed
Scots came to the colonies to settle. One of the places the Scots chose to settle
was the hills of Northern Virginia. The hills were very simular to that of the
highland country they had earlier left behind. The Northern Virginia counties were
known as Augusta, Greenbiar, Kanawa, Harrison and Lewis. These were the parent
counties of what is now known as West Virginia. The Scots of West Virginia did not
change their working habits or traditions. They handed them down to each generation.
I am proud to be a part of that bunch. My grandparents kept the Scots spirit
alive by handing down many stories or legends. The other settlers of West Virginia
did the same. I found a lovely little story in The Journal of the Braxton County
Historical Society that I want to share. This is written by James Wilson Douglas in
memory of his father, Wilson B Douglas. They are descendants of my great..
grandfather Col. Benjamin Wilson. Col. Ben was a hero to West Virginia and his
brother signed the Constitution of the United States. Col. Wilson's grandfather was
David Wilson of Ayr that was bannished in 1715 for his support of the Jacobite cause.
Douglas is a very well known Scots surname. The Scots of West Virginia did
stay mostly to their own people as far as marriage and business was concerned. Here
is the little story I found...
From A Front Porch
Front porches hold a special if not
unique position in West Virginia culture. It is a place where, on summer evenings,
neighbors are entertained, tales are told, recipes are passed down, promises made, beans
are strung, music is played, politics are argued and re-argued, Scriptures are recited,
wooden swings are swung, offers of marriage are whispered and family history is generally
cleaned up. In addition to being the happy provider of these invaluable social
services, the front porch is a place of mediation and solitude, even theropy. where ideas
are born, hope is found, reasons are clarified, decisions are made, regrets are revisited
and the dead or dying are mourned and remembered.
The latter was my purpose in
occupying a black wrought iron chair on a wooden porch this paticular, sultry July night.
I had just been told that my seventy-five year old father had terminal bone cancer.
Aside from the usual emotions, I don't quite know how I feel about that. I
suppose that some reflection is in order. The front porch on a smoky mid=summer
night is a good place to do that. In fact, the fron porch is the only place in West
Virginia to honor your father.
My Dad is a man of contradictions, a
purveyor of accidental, unintended humor, the over-user of trite expression, the self
appointed perpetrator of homilies and a human time-capsule of Civil War era fiddle tunes.
Of course, he has his down side and his glaring through seldom admitted faults, but
at a time like this, they are barely noticeable, like a sock turned inside out, or perhaps
more accurately, they are out of focus, similar to a television signal of a program you
really didn't want to watch.
Personal memories center around
three episodes of my youth involving my Father, which with the passing of years, have
aquired allegorical significance, either real or attributed. I leave it to the
reader to impose his or her own vintage moral over facts:
As I approached the age of seventeen
in the Age of Aquarius, better remembered as the late 60's, my natural inquisitiveness
regarding the fundamental differences between male and female proved to be a source of
great discomfort for my father, which uneasiness was probably the product of lack of basic
knowledge, rather than modesty. When my questions became to graphic for his taste,
he condensed or rather distilled his accumulated wisdom regarding sexual matters in a
simple imperative of admonition and avoidance: "Go talk to your mother!"
Recollections also surfaced in
connection with a case of Pennsylvania beer in 1970, that, at the time, was to be
preffered to West Virginia brew due to the fact of fiction of the former's great alcoholic
content (7.0 vs. 3.5). Such was the supposed value of the alien ale that, in the
waning year of the 60's and early part of the 70's, non-West Virginia beer became a medium
of exchange; i.e., debts were paid, private mortgages were renewed and doweries were
embellished with the pale, amber fluids fron north of the Mason-Dixie line.
Calling in a loan I had advanced a
local gambler, who worked part-time steel mills in Pittsburgh, I had received a case of
the high powered PA. Rolling Rock, which I secreted under someone's red dining room
chairs in the crawl space of our home. The artifice was absolutely necessary, not
because of any thoughts of retribution from authorities for a violation of the West
Virginia liquor laws, but, given my Mother's Baptist upbringing and unwavering
condemnation of all alcoholic beverages, her wrath in finding "likker" under her
roof, in comparison to the prospect of juvenile detention, held no small fear for me and I
One day in the August of 1970, when
my Mother was at work and for some reason, my Father and I both were home, he discovered
my secret as I was accessing my beer stash in order to alleviate the late summer evening
thirst affectionately referred to as "trail dust".
Knowing my mother's aversion to
anything with more alcohom then the outdoor thermometer, Dad's price for his silence was a
joint title to and equal use of my liquid commodities. I relented and we both
managed to dispose of half of the case on our front porch by evening, afer first letting
the aging, white Frigidaire in our kitchen cool the forbidden brews to a more enjoyable
My mother returned from her job at
about five o'clock; and as I heard her mount the brown oaken stairs that ended at the door
to our living room, where I was relaxing in front of the television, without beer, I heard
Dad, who was still on the porch consuming the last of his consignment, drop the glass from
which he has been sipping the Pennsylvania "tea". I have neglected t
mention in these accounts that my Mother has the nose of a first class bloodhound.
She immediately detected an odious
odor from the fluids spilled from my Father's shaken hand and sternly demanded and
explanation. I found my Father's perdicament to be amusing, as I listened to the
drama unfolding out of sight on the front porch and waited ti see how truly quick-witted
he was. Much to my dismay and even terror, I heard my Father with whom I had shared
my treasure of Yankee beer, my blood parent, telling my Mother that he had suspected I was
into some foolishness and when he examined my drinking glass that I had left with some
golden contents on the porch railing and just moments before she came up the stairs, in
anticipation of cleansing the family honor of any reputed stains, he had tasted it and he
had discovered to his great disappointment that I had been drinking that "dirty old
beer". Dad also reported that the beverage in question may have had some
connections to my frequent comings and goings in the crawl space under the house.
A quick inspection by my Mother
guaranteed that the remainder of my Rolling Rock mother lode would be delivered to the
tender embraces of the crabgrass next to the crawl space door. Dad didn't look me in
the eye for quite a while after what was for me to be a memorable event.
The final, more serious and perhaps
fond remembrance of my Father involved a lesson about prejudice, humanity and generosity,
and yes, ice cream cones. We lived in Ohio during the mid to late 50's before
returning to West Virginia in the fall of 1958. On a hot June day when school is
just out, and the new summer offers or even promises, endless possibilities and high
adventure, my Father took my brother and me in mid-day to a local Dairy Queen for double
scoops of chocolate ice cream on pointed sugar cones. Although we were poor children
of construction workers, we didn't know it, and to our limited experience and now enviable
innocence, wealth and affluence was measured in scoops of ice cream without vain
accompaniment of birthdays or other holidays. We were rich because there was no
occasion to buy ice cream other than we were able to.
As we arrived at the sight of our
anxious bliss, two African-American children of comparable ages were seated at the red
picnic table positioned under the yellow umbrellas next to the Dairy Queen, as they were
waiting for someone. Needless to say, their hands and face were unmarred by melted
ice cream. My brother and I paid them scant attention, as Dad brought two of the
promised, heaping cones and delivered on into each of our trembling hands, while my
brother and I stood bouncing on one knee under and unoccupied table next to the black
children. As we fairly inhaled the sweet liquid, you may imagine our unsuppressed
joy when we saw Dad buy yet two more chocolate cones of equal dimension and size and
advance in our direction. My brother and I accelerated our consumption of the
initial confections, so that we would not lose one drop of the second edition of the
precious dark treat to the invasion of the June sun.
Our fomer celebration was abruptly
arrested when we witnessed the unthinkable. We saw my Father hand, without any
words, the two cones fist to one African-American child and then the other, whose
acceptance of the surprise gifts were tentative at first, and then when they saw the offer
was genuine, they, also without a sound, commenced devouring the cones with a fervor that
equaled or surpassed my brother's and my proir, puny efforts in that regard.
Seeing our candied indulgences being
rapidly diminished by one half, and being the vocal of us two, I complained to my Father
that those two items should have remained firmly in our possession for later enjoyment,
and that those two children were not only strangers to us, but they weren't like us in
other obvious ways. Dad's terse reply was."They're kids just like you, and they
like ice cream, too."
During the Civil Rights movement of
the Sixties, I never forgot this one simple truth from a simple caring man delivered to
his sons over forty years ago; and when I was asked my view afterward, which was not
often, on James Meredith's enrollment at the University of Mississippi, or the Alabama
peace marches, or the King speeches, I am sure that I was the cause of more than one
frowning face or confussed classmate, when I invariable, and to them, cryptically replied
that,"they like ice cream, too."
There are those who may doubt the
verity of the narratives, but if they are not true, they ought to be. After all, it
is not really a matter of credibility. It is the impending death of a parent prods
and sifts and crystallizes the memory, causing you to come to grips with the reality of
your mortality and the quality of your legacy. In short, you realize that you are
the next generation to die, and you must know you will leave something, something
worthwhile. My Father did.
James Wilson Douglas
son of Wilson B. Douglas