I draw energy from gatherings, I think. The noise of a busy restaurant, the loud beat of music on the dance floor of a darkened club, glasses clinking and shrieks of laughter around a crowded pool on a hot day — all can be welcome distractions, and can sometimes be, well, enlivening. I draw strength from solitude. Hiking a trail. Just taking a drive. I miss going to church, where I find both energy and strength from the sounds and sights ... and sometimes solitude, too (I’m a balcony guy).
It is human nature to gather. It seems to have always been that way. During childhood, my own home and yard were a regular gathering spot for my siblings and me, joined by various nearby or visiting cousins and friends from the neighborhood. As a timely side note: I was “baptized” many times, in our swimming pool as some of the older cousins wanted to play “preacher.” Other gathering spots were Borden Park (except the side farthest from our house as dusk approached, for fear we’d be waylaid by Cape Man) and “the circle” (Federal Place).
When Mom was a child, living in the rural Flower Gap section of Lee County, Virginia., the young folks had a gathering spot, too. Mom, being the baby of the family, never got to go. But she heard lots of stories about “the white post.” It wasn’t far from her homeplace, but it was out of sight — and that was too far for Popie Null, Mom’s father.
Mom remembers several of her older siblings going to the white post, which was a road sign at the fork in the road (state highways 600 and 601) and where dozens of young folks met up to socialize. Those who went at the white post’s peak of popularity included my Uncle Mitchell, my Aunt Mary Ruth, and my Aunt Bonnie, according to Mom. Others who came from near and (what I’d probably consider) far included friends, and cousins. There would be: my Aunt Gracie (Tankersley) Wallen (who married Uncle Mitchell, their courtship having included gathering at the white post) and her brothers Milam and H.L.; their cousin George Tankersley and his siblings Dewey, Blanche, and Rosie; Mom’s cousins Millard Ray Hall and his sister Juanita Hall; and various Hurds, Olingers and Willises.
Aunt Gracie and her brother H.L. sometimes provided live music, she on guitar and he on banjo.
Once George showed up with a newly acquired bicycle, not yet a common thing in the country. When he asked if anyone wanted to try it out, Juanita quickly said oh, yes — and Aunt Mary Ruth jumped on to be Juanita’s passenger. Juanita assured George she knew how to ride a bike and she and Aunt Mary zoomed off down the road. It was all fun until they reached a curve. Aunt Mary suddenly learned Juanita knew how to ride a bike, but not how to stop one. They tumbled down the bank. Aunt Mary was bruised and sore for several days. If Popie Null had known, none of the siblings would have been allowed to go back to the white post. So until she healed up, Aunt Bonnie and Uncle Mitchell tried to do Aunt Mary’s garden work in addition to their own, without Popie Null knowing they were doing so.
Another time, a local friend who’d moved away and found factory work returned driving a convertible. He asked if anyone wanted to take a ride. Aunt Bonnie and Aunt Mary wasted no time climbing in with some others. Their ride took them on a circle to “the Ford,” (Kyles Ford), on over to Blackwater, and back. While they were gone, the gathering at the white post disbanded for the evening. Uncle Mitchell, knowing he’d be in trouble if he got home without his sisters, stopped well short of the front porch and hid behind the corn crib until Aunt Bonnie and Aunt Mary came walking up the road. He told them they would not be doing that again on his watch.
Cousin Millard Ray is a poet and has published a collection of his works, titled “Poems to Stir Your Mind & Soul.” One poem, “Our Meeting Place,” is about the white post. It mentions those who gathered there ranged from 10 to 20 years old and at times numbered in the dozens.
“I stopped by the ole white post, Where we all used to meet. As I had expected in my mind, There was no one there to greet. The hills and valleys were the same, As they have been so many years. And the echo of those voices, Kept ringing in my ears.”
“I hope we all meet again someday, Where there’s no sadness, cares or tears. And the echo of those voices, Will stop ringing in my ears.”
Happy Easter. Hope everyone gets back to their own “white post” soon.