Luke Bullington bought the cabin overlooking Banister River at Tightsqueeze during the 1930's.
As far back as I can remember, the family story was that Granddaddy wanted a farm more than anything else in the world. My grandmother, on the other hand, couldn't think of anything she wanted less. So, as a rather dubious compromise, Luke Bullington bought that little log cabin in the '30s and Myrtle lived in it. That was shortly after the Depression, when money was short and I don't know how they managed, but they did.
Built in the '20s as a hunting cabin, it had been owned by men whose names I've long since forgotten. There was only one main room on the ground floor and a miniscule kitchen; water was toted from a hand pump outdoors and the Necessary was across the rough tobacco road and not readily accessible. The steps to the attic were hand hewn, with a railing rubbed from so much use that it felt like satin to the touch. The trap door that separated the steps from the attic was actually just that: a hand-split, made-to-fit log door with an iron hook on the bottom side for pushing it up. A long, heavy chain ran from the top side of that door and through the chinking between the logs; it fell at least 20 feet down the outside of the house; there were mammoth pine cone-shaped weights that kept the door from crashing down on some innocent head. (But one had to have the secret, magic touch to know just the exact second that it caught and balanced, or it was duck soup…and the Innocent sported a minor concussion for several days.) Beneath the stairs was a drawer (that stuck) and held all of my treasures when I came along in '47. The little stone fireplace in the main room was a perfect fairy cottage shape and size; a marvelous Tasha Tudor creation — and completely useless. It smoked no matter what was put in it — cured, green, old, new or scrap wood. It was one of Granddaddy's winter obsessions to make that thing work once and not smoke before spring. It never happened. Oh, he made it work — and the smoke came frothing out of it, carrying, I imagined, grizzled gnomes and gremlins tumbling over each other scrambling for some fresh hell to entertain them. Miserable humans threw open windows and flung themselves out the doors.
Looking down the long slope to Banister River. White Oak Mountain is barely visible in the distance.
Grandmother found herself discovering that new and loving neighbors — Louise and Frank Riddle, Frances and Gus Motley — and Richard and Reva Motley in their turn, too — the Battermans, Normans, Neals, Bill and Cecil Jones, the Newby folks, the Pruitts and all the people who colored Tightsqueeze and Chatham — made up for the years of being alone on a farm, with all of her family in Danville. She had three sisters, two brothers and sisters-in-law she loved like daughters, so not being able to pass her days in close contact was devilishly hard for her.
She never filled that root cellar with canned goods — she was terrified of a pressure cooker — but all our neighbors did! Frances Motley and Louise Riddle could put up more canned everything than anyone I knew or have known since…they had that dancing energy of dust devils, never slowing down till the job was done and the fields empty of all they bore. Louise Batterman could have easily walked away with my heart in her pocket the first time she made a brown sugar pie for my birthday. I've never tasted a morsel of any recipe that could come anywhere close to the richness, texture and sublime joy that her pies gave me…or anyone who was lucky enough to have a slice. I had the whole pie though and strolled through my personal Elysian Fields with every bite.
I went back to that cabin on the hill this past weekend. That little place looks as if it's been to the cabin salon! Charles and Peggy Newby have owned it for 13 years, he said, and it's clear to anyone who sees that farm that it's a most beloved piece of land. The Newbys have created a vast sloping lawn all the way down to the trees on the river banks — and area where there were rickety outbuildings and dilapidated curing barns and goat-milking stands and hay lofts leaned nearly to the ground — not to mention barely hangin' together chicken houses, rabbit hutches, corn cribs and that poor, fallen in, bilious green “Little House.” Now, the cabin is back to its original logs and chink façade, and the shade the weather has given the logs is incredibly beautiful to me…
Those upstairs windows are the same they've always been — untouched by time or owners. Those long little Rapunzel windows on either side of the chimney are the ones I peered through looking for the bus every school morning.
Lord, how I loved living on that farm. Sometimes, I thought, by sitting on the eggs in the baskets to keep them warm, the babies would be born sooner — I'd go from basket to basket, giving each its due minutes of needed human warmth and help. Unfortunately, many of the precious feathered kinder I expected turned out to be not at all warm (stone cold dead, to be precise) and I'd have to go tell Grandmother. In tears. And with a spanking as the inevitable payoff. I came away from the confession with the repentance of 12 good men and true, and couldn't even look at a chair seat for a week.
I couldn't begin to guess how many times I did something totally insane…but, based on later, adult examination, seemed far less damnable than when the sin was committed. Sitting on baby chicks, however, was never on that list.
Granddaddy died in 1979, having already sold almost all of the planting acreage and the little spot where the radio station is. (Did you know that the station — WKBY — was given its call letters based on the K in my name and the B in Bullington? Guess that's my 15 minutes of fame!!) Grandmother sold the cabin and remaining land in '80 or '81 and moved to Danville. She died in 2002.
Nevertheless — despite the generations that will continue to come and go — that little log cabin on Banister hill will endure, leaving its indelible mark on the people who cross its threshold. People with kind hearts and good souls…folks a lot like Luke Bullington and Charles Newby.
This webpage is sponsored by Mitchells Publications and the Sims-Mitchell House, Chatham, Virginia.
Copyright © 2005 Kaye Jackson Elliott.