I awakened on the morning of, June 4, 2019, at 3:55 a.m. after having a vision of crossing Catawba Mountain, Virginia and immediately taking in the natural grandeur of the valley that lay in the forefront of my gaze. Often during my now lengthy years, I have pondered the diverse thoughts that my Creator has inserted into my subconscious with the same response by me: What is this about Lord, what is the meaning of what I see before me? Signs and visions were commonplace in the Old and New Testament happenings that God used to direct a path of action for a chosen person or people. Those things are not commonplace now, nor have they been for two thousand years. Or do these things occur in this day and time in the form of early morning thoughts, words, and pictures (visions?)
At present, I am one year removed from diving headlong into the crowded world of writers or wannabee writers. The desire to write and specifically to do so about growing up in the Appalachian Mountain region of the Old Dominion’s Catawba Valley was, most likely, with me when I crossed over Catawba Mountain, leaving my birthplace and formative years behind as I headed into “the world” in the 1960s. Over fifty years would pass before I returned to my roots to stay, a homecoming that would now take on a mission. It would not be a new mission as such since I had over the last five decades never forgotten my “raising” and although I had flourished wherever I was planted, my roots would always be in Catawba. After several years leading up to my retirement as a fourteen-year pastor, I had what appeared to be a remaining time of longevity and the obvious question of “what now, God.” He who had planned the agenda of my life to date would, finally, set me forth on my final endeavor, to be a writer. Even though I have one book written, Echoes From Catawba Volume One, I feel, physically being back in the area has consummated my calling to write Catawba’s history in terms of the life and times of her people, one family at a time. After all, life is about the people, isn’t it?
As I replay that vision of the mountains and meadows, I see more than the natural, breathtaking beauty of Catawba Valley. I see back to the days of the Cherokees, the original inhabitants followed by the pathfinders and settlers. People named McAfee, Brand, and Spessard amongst others.
Having spent the past sixteen months visiting in Catawba to interview people who would provide the many stories that I would write about in Echoes From Catawba, one would think I had established myself back into God’s Country. The fact of the matter was that I still lived in Greensboro, and something was missing. Sunday, July 21, 2019 that changed.
Shiloh Church Homecoming
My wife Tina and I were invited to attend the 161st Homecoming of Shiloh Church, where my mother and her siblings of the 19 member family of Will and Luemma Garman had attended church. Our visit to this event would, in our minds, represent our return to being a part of Catawba in reality. Four days earlier, we had moved into our new home in Roanoke County (Salem, Virginia) as the commute from Greensboro to Catawba was over.
As we crossed Catawba Mountain and headed up Newport Road to Shiloh, I tried to envision what I was about to experience. Although it had had some upgrades both inside and out, it had not lost its character of being a country church. We parked in the back, and as we walked around to the front door, we could hear the chatter of voices that flowed through the open windows and side doors. Country churches in the Appalachian mountain range do not have air conditioning; Ceiling fans, maybe, but no a.c. We were greeted upon entry and treated, not as visitors, but as God’s children coming to share in the fellowship and worship. Before the beginning of the service, Frank Garman, Pam Garman, Steve Garman, and Linda Eaton provided instrumental music from the piano, violin, guitar, and mandolin. They expertly played hymns from the mountains that all present could recognize as heart, mind, and soul were prepared for worship to be followed by food and fellowship. The choir was made up of vocalists who upheld the tradition of gifted singers that had sung there over the decades in Shiloh church.
A former preacher, Gus Wright who served the church for one year almost forty years ago, delivered the Homecoming message in a style that was true to his style back in 1979-1980. A well-liked preacher then was well-received by all that experienced him previously. Mr. Wright stated that in all the places he had traveled and preached the word of God in two continents, Catawba Valley, Virginia was the best experience.
As we all headed to the picnic pavilion for country cooking at its best, God sent forth distant thunder to alert us that much-needed rain and cooler temperatures were on the way. The food and fellowship were typical of a country church homecoming with the raindrops not dampening any spirits. As we headed back to Salem, Tina and I shared our feelings about the Homecoming. It was a great experience spiritually and emotionally as we interacted with old friends and made some new ones. I am so blessed to have grown up in Catawba and further blessed to record in book form the stories of our heritage that so many people left. After all, life is about the people, isn’t it?