Author’s note: Back in 1981-82 I wrote some articles about my life of growing up in Catawba Valley. I suppose I was missing the Valley or just nostalgic and wanted to put things in writing. I have a dozen or more of these and will release them over time on Echoes from Catawba. I was employed by VA Tech University based in the Northern part of Virginia north of Charlottesville. I had attended a training at Tech and was headed home. I decided to go from Blacksburg to Catawba taking the road that I commuted on to VA Tech for four years. This describes my feelings as went back to my roots that day in February 1982.
A drab, dark cloak had settled over Catawba Valley giving forth a gloomy, death-like appearance on a February morning in 1982. God must have anticipated my coming because HE gradually changed that scene as I motored along. God colored the scene with a cloudless blue sky that washed the valley with bright sunshine softening the impact of what I would see. It was a homecoming of sorts for me as I made the trip from Blacksburg to Minor Keffer’s store down the winding Blacksburg road by way of Luster’s Gate and MacDonald’s Mill. It had been years since I traveled the entire length of Catawba Valley and each passing mile, brought back a memory. This is where it all started for me as I grew up in a small farming community like, I’m sure, many of you readers did. Going back to one’s roots is both educational and emotional, and this trip was no exception.
It must be a need for inner security to always want to keep one’s home community the same as when you left it. Isn’t it strange that we do not hesitate to move away and bring about change and progress in an area; and simply deplore the fact that the area we left does not look the quaint, pastoral way we left it? How often have you remarked, “I can not believe how much my home-area has been ruined by progress?” Actually, had we stayed there we probably would not have realized the change as much although it would have been happening all around us. Well, regardless of the reason why, Catawba Valley had changed.
As I slowly drove along, I could see signs all around me that Catawba, as I knew her, was in the twilight of her previous existence. The old log barn on the Custer farm was slowly tumbling down, giving forth a pained expression appearing to be humiliated by the unfairness of it all. Mercifully, several barns and houses had collapsed to the ground, seeking solitude in the closeness of the earth while hiding their misfortunes behind cedar trees and pokeberry bushes. I was sad to see these landmarks go as they had succumbed to the neglect and pressure of modern times. Their owners had long since died or retired, and the uses of the land had changed. The fields, for the most part, had grown up, giving in to years of overwork and undernourishment. They lay silent now awaiting yet another springtime to awaken them.
Yes, a change had come to Catawba Valley. It has been said that land is an extension of the people living on it, taking on the owner’s personality, being what the owner wants it to be. For generations, Catawba had given up her meager wealth to sustain many rural families like my own. No longer to do this in an inflationary world, she has quietly allowed herself to be used by those who need her only for residential purposes. Houses now dot the Valley to provide shelter for folks moving from the urban area seeking more room and a piece of the “good life.” Children will be raised here and grow up enjoying what the Valley has to offer, mainly, the aesthetic things. And I am glad for them. Someday, they too will reflect back to their home community, but it will not be the same as my reflections. No one could love the Valley any more than I do. I suppose that living there during the hard times instilled a closeness that following generations could not feel. Some of that closeness to Catawba will always be in me.
Catawba is not unique in that it has changed significantly. Other such rural areas across the country have or soon will go through such a change. It is sad and irreversible. My eyes were wet as I completed my trip. My solace was that Catawba Valley did not choose the way, the way chose her.