I'm sitting here thinking of my appreciation for the Whitehead township in Alleghany County, North Carolina. The present Raleigh government that has turned state government against the people of North Carolina, and some other problems I have with the state have to do with every brush up against the State of NC costs dearly with regrettable consequences. And I don't mean felony or misdemeanor or anything like that where the state is ruthless to its citizens. I learned never to look to the state for help. That is, unless I could afford it in hundreds of thousands or millions. If I had that kind of money I wouldn't need help.The state of North Carolina, like the United States of America, wants my money and that's the long and short of it. Whitehead Community does not collect taxes, does not provide services or make anything of itself. It is something on the order of an extended family of neighbors whose families have been neighbors for generations. I don't know most of the people of Whitehead, probably don't know more than one or two percent of the small population. It's at this level that people take care of one another, where someone who needs help can find help. I think of Whitehead as my community and have a heart connection with the people of Whitehead, the ones I know and the ones I don't know.
I have learned over the 37 years I've lived at Air Bellows, hearing a history of the community from Tom Pruitt for fifteen years, from his brother Elder Millard Pruitt for fourteen years, from Jr Maxwell for seven years, the past and present of Whitehead, which now amounts to a small sign on a post by the side of Hwy 18 that says WHITEHEAD. That's about what's left. Whitehead Store is gone. Ross Richardson is keeping Jr Maxwell's tractor repair shop going. The Shaw handmade wood furniture showroom is in the front that used to be the Whitehead Store. In the back is his workshop. The old Sunoco gas station that was Welter Hamm's first Whitehead Store has been a storage unit for furniture from a beautiful old house across the highway that was torn down to make a place for a double-wide. Landmark Union Baptist Church was once a Regular Baptist in the time when Tom Pruitt was growing up, his life in church. He told me he could take me inside there and show me the exact spot on the floor where he was saved, like in the old hymn, I can tell you the time, I can show you the place, where the Lord saved me in his wonderful grace. Whitehead amounts to the individual people who live here, their stories from the past.
It's not an allegiance around a flag that the people of Whitehead look to. It's each other. It's like an extended family of neighbors. Even when we don't know each other, we are neighbors of Whitehead. It's not a feeling you get an award for. It's actually no feeling at all. It's something we take as for granted as a brother or sister, aunt or uncle, 4th cousin. It's not something we think about every day, but when people of the same family are together, they don't have to put on the dog, they know each other, even when they don't know each other. Like when I meet someone who is from Whitehead, I automatically respond to like distant kin. When I see someone in town from Whitehead, even if it's only once every five years, there is still the recognition of a neighbor. My experience of Whitehead is that some of the most interesting people I've known in my life are/were from Whitehead. That's so easily said it's like saying the ocean is wet. I've heard that Henry Whitter, guitar and vocal of Grayson and Whitter, who played music in the late 1920s, married a Whitehead woman and lived in Whitehead several years. It was preacher Earl Baker's mother he married.
I think of people I have known in cemeteries in Whitehead. It gives me a creepy feeling walking into a cemetery where someone I used to know and thought very well of is in a box under the grass. I have to remind myself that is just the bones, the individual I knew lives in spirit somewhere I'm not able to see, just around the corner. I can walk through a cemetery where I know none of the names and not have that creepy feeling. I was a pallbearer for Tom Pruitt and swore to myself I'll never do it again. I declined for Jr Maxwell's funeral. My arm still feels the grief of Tom's weight in the box I and five others were holding. I hated it. Someone I don't know, I can bear the weight with no problem. But when it's somebody I look up to as the top floor on a skyscraper, I have a rough time within. People I've learned to care about by knowing them, I have a hard time when they leave this world. One of the very hardest aspects of this world to live with is losing friends and loved ones to death. That includes dogs, cats, horses and other pets, even movie and tv stars. For me, it has been one of the most difficult learnings in life how to have what it takes to be willing to accept losing a friend, even when to go on would have been impossible. It's not the body I miss. The body amounts to the pages of a book, book itself. The person I know is the story in the book that you only get by reading, the same as you only get a person's story by knowing the person in a human form. The form is mortal, the spirit lives on.
The roads I travel in Whitehead I know well. They are beautiful drives, every one of them. I love wherever I drive in Whitehead, Pine Swamp Road, Air Bellows Gap Road, Spicer Mountain Road, Rifle Range Road, Highway 18, Cleary Road, Waterfall Road, to name a few. I've learned that every township in the county has its own personality, like every county in the mountains has its own personality. I've found Whitehead people to be just the kind of people I like, straight-forward, meaning what they say, no nonsense. I feel a strong sense of neighborliness. It's not so much visible as it is a feeling. Knowing people in a community is for me better than reading about it. In all my years of knowing mountain people, I've never gone to books to learn about them. What little reading I have done of Appalachian ways doesn't come close to knowing somebody. While I was going to Elder Millard Pruitt's Regular Baptist church, some publish-or-perish professor from Boone or someplace wrote a book about the Regular Baptist churches. I tried to read it and put it aside because it wasn't anything. In relation to what a Regular Baptist church is, his writing didn't even skim the surface. It didn't even touch the surface. Yet he's held up as an authority on the subject. Thinking of the people I know who are in and of Whitehead, I feel warm in the heart, happy that God landed my parachute among the people of Whitehead township, Alleghany County.