Trip to the Association takes us by Mom's homeplace

J. H. Osborne • Oct 13, 2019 at 1:30 PM

I learned something last week. Something that’s often been made a joke was actually truth. When my Uncle Guy Wallen and Aunt Ann Wallen walked to and from school, it was uphill both ways.

More on that later.

Mom and I were blessed to make it to two days of worship and fellowship at the 167th annual session of the Eastern District Association of Primitive Baptists last week. We made it to the “so-say-shun” on Thursday and Friday. The event runs four days each year (Thursday through Sunday, beginning on the Thursday before the first Saturday in October). However, we didn’t make it Saturday or Sunday.

And to be honest, we were a tad late on the two days we made it. This year’s Association was held at the old Blackwater School, which my parents and various aunts and uncles attended back in their childhoods. The former school property now is owned by Blackwater Lick Church, which together with four other Primitive Baptist churches within the Eastern District (Roller’s Chapel, Cadet, Wallen’s Creek, and Davis Chapel) hosted the 167th session. I want to point out that Cadet is pronounced “Kay-dette,” just in case you’re ever over that way and ask about it.

Mom wanted us to leave no later than 9:30 each morning for the drive to Lee County. It was more like 9:40 on Thursday, and I had to go through an ATM to get cash, stop at Berry’s to pick up a prescription, and stop for gas. But we made good time. I ask Mom which way she wanted to go. We had two choices. We could turn from Route 23 and go through Fairview and past “the homeplace” at Flower Gap, then down the mountain to Blackwater proper (Robinette’s Funeral Home). Blackwater School is just a couple of miles or so back up the road from there, going toward Duffield. Or we could stay on Route 23 to Duffield and turn left, then left again, and come down the valley to the school.

Doing the former would take us by Mom’s childhood homeplace (still in the family, though overgrown and fallow) and the cemetery where her parents and other family members are buried. Doing the latter would take us by where my father’s childhood home once stood (although I can’t pick out the spot), as well as the church he attended some as a boy (Flag Pond) and Osborne’s Chapel Church, where my dad’s dad attended before moving to Kingsport. Mom said it didn’t matter, do what I wanted. But clearly she wanted to go past her own homeplace. I knew because she said, “It isn’t much longer to go that way, is it?”

So I drove like the wind, winding down the road through Fairview until we reached the Tennessee state line at Dona and took a right. A few curves later, we passed the family farm, and it’s just about right there that the road begins a long, slow incline to the top of the ridge — a good mile or more away. And then it’s all downhill (and curvy) until you level out within sight of Robinette’s. As we started the downhill part of the journey, Mom said, “Whew! Wasn’t this a long way for Guy and Ann to walk to school! And then back home of the evening!”

I asked for details. Guy and Ann were two of my mother’s older siblings. She explained that when they were old enough to go on to Blackwater School (elementary grades were at a small schoolhouse near the top of the ridge at Flower Gap), they’d walked back and forth because there wasn’t  a bus. It immediately popped into my mind that it really was “uphill both ways,” although the end of the journey would be downhill both ways as well.

When my Aunt Mary, also older but closest in age to Mom, was old enough to go to high school, she went to stay with Uncle Harmon and Aunt Lizzie Wallen. It wasn’t that far from Mom’s homeplace, but it was just inside the Scott County line. So Aunt Mary rode the bus and went to Fairview School. By the time Mom was old enough to go to Blackwater School, Lee County was providing bus service, so she didn’t have to walk — uphill both ways.

We traveled home Thursday by coming “straight” up the valley to Duffield. I noted it only cut three miles from the distance compared to going through Fairview. But I felt like we got home a lot quicker. So the next morning, I insisted we go that way. We never pinpointed where Dad grew up. I looked for road signs and tried to remember where my favorite pen pal, Ruth Osborne, lives. I’d know I was close if I saw her road, because her family bought Dad’s homeplace which is near her home.

Both days my driving left Mom with a bit of vertigo by the time we reached the Association. But sitting outside for a while helped, and we both made it through each day without a full-on attack. Lunch served by the host churches was wonderful each day. Many thanks to all involved for that.

The big “reveal” came Friday afternoon when delegates decided where the Association will go next year. The Fairview Church, Bellbrook, Ohio, made a passionate plea to host it next year. But so did two churches from our region, working together. It was decided by vote that the 168th annual session of the Eastern District Primitive Baptist Association will be hosted by Copper Creek Church (Addington Frame), Nicklesville, Virginia, and Willow Chapel, of Kingsport, with the event being held at Copper Creek.

Copper Creek last hosted the association in 2014 — 100 years after it had last hosted in 1914.

J.H. Osborne covers Sullivan County government for the Times News. Email him at josborne@timesnews.net.