How I Got This Way

Born in 1951—a late baby boomer—I grew up in Marion, Virginia, the seat of a rural Appalachian county bisected by US-11, proudly named “Lee Highway” and speaking to Southern heritage, long memory and general distrust of anyone whose speech lacked the proper drawl.

Nearly all the stores were downtown and most of them closed on Wednesday afternoon. But on Saturday everyone from miles around showed up: Bibbed overall convention. Sidewalks were crowded, barbers and beauticians had standing room only, movies ran all day and you had to look both ways before crossing the street.

Marion had only one school district (the county only four), so all we kids got to know each other.

We played backyard baseball and kick the can, rode bicycles all over, climbed trees, skated on frozen ponds, sledded down hills in the winter and rolled down them in barrels in the summer, played war games with jackknives and milkweed leaves, laid on the grass to stare at the stars, swam in streams and a mountain lake, camped in cow pastures, hiked to the highest point in Virginia and along the Appalachian Trail, fished in ponds and streams, and hunted small game on farms.

Several of us are tight to this day. One claims he’s the newcomer—only 45 years.

Life was safe. Keys hung in car ignitions and doors were seldom locked. In 1967, to sell our house, my dad had to install new locks because we couldn’t find the key.

“Backdoor friends” just showed up and were always welcome, whatever we had going.

Like so many kids, I went away to college, then jumped fence into what was advertised as greener pasture.

But by fifty I was pretty well shopworn. The most satisfying job I’d had—other than trucking—was writing two years of life adventure columns for a regional newspaper. But undiscovered, non-syndicated writers without a day job sleep in lean-tos and urinate out of doors. Dramatic change was in order.

Lots of guys about this time get red sports cars and girlfriends. I moved to Winston-Salem and got an MBA. The sports car would have been cheaper, more fun and just as helpful finding work.

But the local writers’ group offered a monthly open mic. I made writerly friends, heard the work of talented people and practiced telling my stories to increasingly receptive audiences.

At conferences I even met storytellers who’d eeked out a living.

I’d eeked before….

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