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Monday, July 13, 2009

THE OLD MAN OF THE MOUNTAIN


Tom Pruitt, who went to school in my house, grew up working his daddy Tobe's farm with his brothers in a time when the landscape at Air Bellows was corn fields, oat fields, hay fields. All the boys were too young for WWI and Tobias was too old. In a photograph I've seen of old man Tobias with the Air Bellows landscape behind him, there was only tree in sight, and it was cut down 35 or more years ago. Big areas that are all trees now were cultivated then for grains. Tom said it was a sight how many birds they had back then. His brother Millard told me the night sky was thick with stars. A few nights ago I was outside looking at the Milky Way. It looked like a thin cloud. It wasn't very long ago I could see the billions of stars in the Milky Way. In much of Europe the moon is the only star in the night sky.


Tom lived his first at least 40 years without electricity. By the time it came to Air Bellows, over a period of years in the mid 40s, people had been listening to the Carter Family on radios powered by batteries for years. Tom worked those big draft horses with hair over their feet like in Budweiser commercials. That was the kind of work horses people here used then. The logging trails you see all over these mountains were the double paths for these horses to pull wagons and drag logs on chains to the road where they could be hauled away. He said there was a time in the 30s that a logging company came through here and cut out all the trees. There was one spruce pine/hemlock above the waterfalls I believed to have been perhaps the only tree to survive that siege. Hurricane Hugo took the top half of it in 1984. He said a big rain in the fall (hurricane) caused landslides all over these mountains. I assume it was in that time the big rocks, boulders, made it to the streambeds all around here. I don't know that, but it's the only way I can see they got there.


Air Bellows the land of Tobias Pruitt, Elbert Crouse, Jim Scott, Clint Caudill, also Brinegars, a Holloway and some others. These were the families whose kids Tom and his brothers and sisters went to school with, went to revival meetings with when they'd have revival at the schoolhouse. A lot of people got saved in my house. Tom's mother, Luella Church Pruitt, found her salvation at the waterfall. If I can remember the names of the kids, I'll give it a go: Archie, Estil, Colonel, Boyd, Tom, Millard, Bessie, Hazel. All of them good people. Archie and Millard were preachers. Estil was a well respected guitar picker of the area. Colonel broke his back "grubbing" and spent the rest of his life in bed. He kept notebooks of every day's weather. Boyd worked in a factory in Maryland, retired here and is buried at Big Springs cemetery on Edmunds Rd. Hazel was the mother of the Pruitt boys I wrote you about yesterday. Her husband Sherman laid down on the steering wheel of his tractor, dead, heart attack, when the oldest boy Don was 15 and Judy a baby, 4 boys and 3 girls suddenly on welfare.


For church they went down the mountain to Landmark in Whitehead, then Regular Baptist. The cemetery at Landmark is the Pruitt cemetery. Millard, who had a church with its own cemetery in Glade Valley, chose to be buried at Landmark with his family. They also went to New Salem in Pine Swamp, also Regular Baptist. As times began to go out of balance, Tom was disgusted in his church that a particular preacher was ordained who had not demonstrated his calling to Tom's satisfaction. Later, he heard with his own ears this preacher tell a lie on him. That was it. Tom never returned to church. He said they were happy to take his money. Then they got no more from him. He was adamant in the telling of it. The feeling ran all over him remembering it.


Tom took care of his mother and his dad up to the day they died. Luella died in his arms. In Tobe's old age he would only let grandson Bill feed him or take care of him. Bill was with Tobe when he died. Tom continued to live in the old farm house, which was built around 1900 and Tobias bought it when it was 8 years old and moved his young family up the mountain from what is now called Pruitt Road in Whitehead. The man who built the house is the same who built a house on the Parkway at the exit at Laurel Springs that becomes Hwy113 a little farther on. I believe it is called the Woodruff house. It's in excellent original condition for a good idea of what Tom's house was before he let it go. The Pruitts of Whitehead and the Pruitts of Laurel Springs are the result of two brothers who came to Laurel Springs. One stayed and the other bought some land in Whitehead several generations ago.


The Caudill farm sold for a vacation farm to Winston-Salem people. The Scott farm was bought for a vacation farm by people from Winston-Salem and the Scotts moved to Pine Swamp. Elbert Crouse died. His daughter Sadie and her husband Reed Poole kept the land, but didn't live there or cultivate it. Reed used the land for rabbit hunting. He sold the hay on it, which probably paid the taxes. Then Tom was the only native living at Air Bellows surrounded by city suburbanites who wanted a farm and somebody else to take care of it. Tom made a good living taking care of two vacation farms. To them, he was cheap as dirt, but to him he was making good money. Gene Dysart bought his land and gave Tom lifetime right to live in the house as long as he lived. Throw in the money he made from the sale, Tom ended up with no money worries in his old age. Suburbanites coming in all around him. He was the last old man of the mountain, the one everybody who bought land up here loved. Everybody loved Tom. They stopped in to visit him, enchanted by the otherworldness of stepping into his house with three calendars on the living room walls, not one on the present year or month, a flight out of time.

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