Category Archives: Virginia

High on the Mountain

The mountain cemetery, as often as not, was placed on the highest ground.  My old neighbors Fred and Laurie Peterson had a family cemetery on a hill behind their house, on the highest point of land they owned.  You could see miles down the Toe River, as it flowed toward Tennessee.  Paying my last respects to them there, I felt uplifted, part of a vast universe.  

Ola Belle Campbell Reid said that when she wrote her song “High on a Mountain,” she was standing by the grave of her mother.  The lyrics speak of longing for “the days that used to be.”  Many people have interpreted the words as speaking to a lost lover.  I think they go much deeper than that.  

In northwestern North Carolina, near Ola Belle’s home grounds, I found the graves of my own great-grandparents and great-great grandparents, as near to heaven as they could be placed.  Standing at the top of a mountain, it’s hard not to feel inspired, even as you feel grief or nostalgia.  Ola Belle’s lyrics begin with “High on a mountain, wind blowing free…”  Every time I hear her song I see the Toe River valley stretching away into a blue-green haze and feel the free air all around, and imagine my neighbors and my ancestors gone to a well-deserved reward for their hard work, perseverance, and benevolence.

With all respect due to Marty Stuart’s interpretation of Reid’s song, I like Ola Belle’s own performance best.  It has a depth no love song can reach.

Copyright 2021 by Glenda Alexander. All rights reserved.

“As I looked at the valleys down below,
They were green just as far as I could see;
As my memory turned, oh,
How my heart did yearn,
For you and the days that used to be.”

Indian Stories

My Grandma’s mother, Martha White Johnson, told her grandchildren that she had Indian ancestry. My mother said that after her parents moved to the Sandhills, some kin from the mountains came to visit, with the purpose of finding some proof of their Native ancestry. Her father refused to talk with them and made them leave. My sister told this story to someone with Native connections, who explained to her that people with non-white ancestry were often refused credit at the banks and stores. As a farmer, Grandpa would have depended on credit to keep him going until he took his tobacco to market and received whatever cash he was going to make for the year. Unfortunately, if he or Grandma had Native ancestry, it was not to their advantage to prove it.

Mama repeated a lot of stories that were told to her when she was a child. When one of us children was crying, she would tell us that the old folks used to say when the Indians were hiding from their enemies, they would stop the babies from crying by covering their noses and mouths so they couldn’t breathe. If anybody made noise and they were discovered, they’d all be killed. She teased that if we had been Indians, we wouldn’t have survived.

Now I wonder if this story came from the Indian Removal of the 1830’s, when Native Americans of many tribes were forced to leave their homes in the Southeastern states and move to reservation land in Oklahoma. Some people managed to hide deep in the mountains and woods long enough to stay behind. Martha White’s great-grandparents, John and Rachel May, could have done just that, as they lived in mountainous and sparsely populated Patrick County, Virginia.

Copyright 2020 by Glenda Alexander.  All rights reserved.