The Man Who Moved a Mountain
My friends at church were talking about a book—a person really, who they were sure I would love reading about. The man was a mountain pastor named Bob Childress and the book is called The Man Who Moved a Mountain, by Richard C. Davids, (Fortress Press, 1970).
The book is staggering in its opening chapters as it describes the bloody life on and around Buffalo Mountain in southern Virginia, not far from 1-81 and I-77 which my husband and I travel frequently to visit our family in North Carolina. If you think the old West was wild as portrayed in movies and on TV, Buffalo Mountain was just as wild or worse: men fighting and drawing guns slick and quick, just because they didn’t have anything any better to do. “The Waltons” or “Andy Griffith” it was not.
Usually we stop near Hillsville, Va., for a quick bathroom break or cheap gas, about 12-15 miles from the mountain and five miles west of the Blue Ridge Parkway. The book quickly hooked me, as powerfully as the moonshine that a few still spread through the hollows surrounding the Buffalo.
Writer Richard Davids uses shorthand like that to refer to Buffalo, sometimes treating it like a place, a lifestyle, a culture—much more than a single mountain.
Reverend Bob Childress was a young fellow who grew up tough and fighting and drinking like his family and neighbors until God got a hold of him. The good Lord used Bob to charismatically bring many to the kind of faith Jesus talked about in Matthew 17:20, a faith that can move mountains.
The religion that these folks practiced seemed to teach them (falsely) that if someone died in a gun fight or brawl, well, it was his time to go and nothing could be done about it. That’s just the way it was. God’s timing. Their fatalism contributed to the defeatist spirit of those who knew no other way of life.
But something stirred young tough Bob to return to the education he abandoned after a young teacher dearly loved moved away. Something egged him to want to be a preacher—get a seminary degree no less, after he was already married and supporting five children. He faced tremendous odds just getting into seminary without a high school diploma. The Presbytery (a higher ruling body than the local congregation) discouraged him but eventually through their support and years down the road, Childress was a star pastor preaching throughout the southeast sharing tales of God’s movement in and around the Buffalo. Everyone loved him.
Again I was struck with how some stories are hard to swallow: if it were fiction, it would be critiqued for not being realistic.
One paragraph was especially telling—and chilling. “Killing served as more than a final act of justice or safety, however. Killings provided the excitement—almost the entertainment—that lent savor to the dreary struggle of existence. Tales of gunfights were told and retold wherever men met” (p. 7). Writer Davids goes on to tell the details of some of the gorier stories he heard from the older mountaineers as he lived among them to gather stories for this partial biography. I’ll spare you the imagery, it’s as R-rated for violence as it comes. Another line says the people of Buffalo Mountan lived at war with one another: “Killing was a habit of generations. To argue was womanish. A buffalo boy didn’t become a man until he came to discard words for action,” (p.8).
The earliest memory of Bob Childress himself was getting drunk at not quite three. .. “It was brandy that made life bearable,” (p. 11) Davids writes. You can read most of the book right on Google Books.
But the book became alive for me when I was talking to a fellow Lion club member, Mary Beth. I had vaguely recalled from earlier conversation that she hailed originally from the Hillsville area. So I asked her if she’d read the book about her home area. Her face lit up and I couldn’t finish saying the title before she filled in, “Oh, The Man Who Moved a Mountain? and I responded, “yes, I’m reading it!”
Mary Beth quickly added, “Bob Childress was one of the pastors who married my parents!” Suddenly the book became very real. “They had two pastors for the ceremony because my Dad said he had to have Bob Childress do his wedding.”
That told me how truly magnetic, loved and effective pastor Childress was in his ministry. Over the years of following God’s call, and up until he had to cut back for health reasons from his speaking and preaching travels, Childress spurred improvement and change. Some of the changes came partially just because of the revolutionary betterments of the 20th century, but also undeniably how he embraced and egged the people on to education (building the area’s first school), and working at infrastructure like roads and bridges to end the extreme isolation. He was known also for building up churches (both the people and lovely stone edifices), and bravely pushing mountain men to come to those churches, giving up moonshine (in spite of it being their livelihood and the drink as common as orange juice for breakfast).
It is truly an amazing story or God’s leading and a man’s following—supported, as usual, by a strong faithful wife and loving family.
What mentor, pastor, or even a dear friend would you place in the category of Pastor Childress? Who not only changed your life or life of faith–but also brought signficant change to a community? I’d love to add to this honor roll of great change agents for God.
This book reminded me of those written by southern Virginia Radford professor emeritus Peggy Shifflett, reviewed earlier on my blog:
I have not yet managed to snag an image of Buffalo Mountain but you can easily google “Buffalo Mountain Images” to get an idea of why they called the massave sloping shape of the mountain, “Buffalo.” Or look at one of several YouTube amatuer videos: https://youtu.be/72YdGmJtwVo
My memoir of living in the nearby hills of Eastern Kentucky for one year can be found as a used book on Amazon, On Troublesome Creek, Herald Press, 1983.
Quantity cooking – Sausage gravy
In the years since I began working with a team of people at MennoMedia to help syndicate Lovina Eicher’s Amish Kitchen newspaper column, I’ve become not only a faithful reader but a star struck fan in wonderment of how does she do it—especially when it comes to cooking for a wedding crowd? How does any woman manage to pull together a menu, stock the supplies (to say nothing of paying for it all), to feed upwards of 1000 meals all in one day: the day your daughter or son gets married, no less? Most of it is all homemade from scratch. How do they handle the last minute panics of “oh no, someone bought this kind of flour or sugar rather than that, or the order list said this rather than that?”
I got my own dip into quantity cooking the other week helping with the Lions Club Pancake Days that have been a tradition in the little town of Broadway, Va. for at least 30 or more years. My husband talked me—no, volunteered me into—making the homemade sausage gravy (no mix for this Lions Club, no sireee). Our faithful normal gravy maker had to be out of town at a Lions state convention for the second half of our planned Pancake Days so my husband sweetly said he thought I could do it.
Thus I got to learn the ropes first hand from John Knepper, our seasoned sausage gravy maker—always the best way to learn to cook a new dish.
In this case it wasn’t a matter of me learning to cook a new dish: ever since we began our involvement with the Lions and I learned to love sausage gravy on pancakes (the topic of my very first post for this blog back in 2013!), and make it regularly particularly in the fall and winter. The quantity aspect was what was new—and daunting. Would I run out of gravy at a critical time and there would be folks in line yammering for their gravy—an abundance of pancakes and sausages cooling all the while? Would I scorch a batch? Would it turn lumpy and be ruined?
The answers are no, no, and no, thank the sausage gravy angels of the universe. The gravy by all accounts was delicious; we had people wondering what was the name of the mix we used, and when we told them it was homemade, not a mix, one woman looked triumphantly at her table mates declaring, “I’ll have to tell the team at our church!” Score, score.
Here, shared with permission from the true gravy maker, John Knepper, is how to feed the multitude delicious homemade gravy (and if you count the milk, this gravy is more like a creamed sausage soup than a greasy gravy).
And if you’re going eeewww, “Pancakes are eaten with syrup, not gravy!” you can do the way many Broadway Lions Club Pancake Days fans do: eat your first course of pancakes as a meal with gravy, and your second course with syrup, for dessert. Viola! At home I serve fresh fruit after these two courses for a more nutritious dessert.
The answer about how Lovina or any Amish woman or man who helps cook for a wedding feeding 400-500 people for lunch, and then feeding another 400-500 for an evening meals is: You. Are. Exhausted. Period. And you need help from others cleaning up the very large mess made by quantity cooking. But the adrenaline rush from successfully managing to cook and feed a large number of people in a short amount of time is not only rewarding, but addicting, and you know you’ll enjoy doing it again. Next year.
You might enjoy Jennifer Murch’s account of how she masterminded the making of 12,000 homemade yeast raised donuts for our local Virginia Mennonite Relief Sale recently!
P.S. Since I was focused on making gravy and not taking pictures, I don’t have many pictures. But here’s how I serve it at home.
Sausage Gravy – large quantity – recipe from John Knepper
Makes one large kettle serving 40-50 people, depending on how much gravy they want dolloped onto their pancakes. See size of kettle John is using.
1 – 1 ¼ pound high quality sausage (not a lot of fatty content. I use Gunnoes. For this pancake sale, we buy from a local meat warehouser called Gore’s.)
1 cup vegetable oil
2 cups flour
1 ½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ teaspoon pepper
Brown 1- 1 ¼ pound sausage in one cup vegetable oil in skillet. Mix in flour and mix and heat well, stirring and mashing down with spatula to keep out lumps. Add salt and pepper to taste. Once flour/sausage mixture is well mixed and browned, stir in 1 gallon whole milk. Stir continuously allowing it to heat until bubbly and thickened over medium heat. Do not to let it scorch. Completed gravy usually stays very hot once removed from fire, although we use a warming commercial buffet line to keep pancakes, sausages and gravy hot as people come through the lines.
(To reheat gravy that has been refrigerated reheat in small batches, stirring very frequently or continuously. Add small amounts of boiling water as needed to help thin it down, which also helps reheat it more quickly.)
And here is my much smaller quantity recipe from an early blog post.
Sausage Gravy – small quantity
1/3 lb. Gunnoes whole hog sausage, mild (or the highest quality favorite sausage you can buy)
1 Tb. shortening – Crisco as needed, or fat remaining from frying sausage
1/3 c. regular flour
1-1/2 c. water or milk
1/4. tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
My mother always hated to work in crowded church kitchens to prepare meals.
Do you enjoy quantity cooking? Why or why not?
If you know of newspapers who might be interested in carrying Lovina’s Amish Kitchen newspaper column, here is contact info.
The Mennonite Community Cookbook is known for its section on cooking enough food for a barn raising. You might want to check it out!
Last weekend my husband and I were both exhausted so went out for dinner (well, just pizza, but at a homey Italian place we enjoy in the town where the kids all went to high school).
The small restaurant was filled with high schoolers all decked out for their homecoming dance later that evening. We enjoyed checking out what was in, what was out in terms of boutonniere, wrist corsages, lacy short short dresses, and cute bow ties and suspenders. I was thrown back to my Senior Homecoming weekend in 1969 in Blountstown, Florida. Oh my.
You may recall my history of moving with my family to north Florida which was my senior year of high school. I didn’t mind the move because I had always wanted to be “the new girl in school.” Well I got my chance, and with it, was nominated to be on the homecoming court. I know that happened only because I was a new girl and some of the other girls were being snubbed by classmate votes because of … who knows … but somehow I lived the dream of many young teens–to ride through town on the back trunk of a convertible, waving. To walk on the field at a homecoming game, smiling. To walk up to be on stage in the old gym, heart beating out-the-kazoo over who would win. Along with most others in the school, I expected the queen to be the drum majorette who dated the star of the football team, but you never know.
My dress (above) was the dress I wore for my oldest sister’s wedding earlier that year, before we moved. My mother hurriedly sewed me a beautiful green corduroy suit to wear to the game. And for the parade, she remade another formal dress we had on hand. More-with-less.
But the reason I’m sharing this is my delight in this past year at being able to reconnect with two of the girls who I got to know much better by being on the homecoming court, Suzanne Knight and Sandra Stokes. I first stumbled on to Sandy through a mutual friend on Facebook, and then Sandy got me connected with Suzanne (not knowing who either married prevented me from doing searches before.)
The three of us got dressed for the homecoming ceremony together at Suzanne’s house. And while I was not allowed to go to the dance (Mennonites did not dance in those days!) I loved going to the homecoming football game, which was actually the very first football game I ever attended. Imagine my chagrin in telling the shy but handsome young football player I asked to be my escort that I couldn’t attend the dance, but would he be my escort for the other festivities anyway? (We were allowed to go to football games, but at my small Mennonite high school in Indiana, the fall sport was soccer, not football.)
Going to a public school that year ended up being a hard, lonely year; I’m thankful for the few friends I made, Suzanne, Sandy, Delilah, and Becky among them, and for the experience of being lonely. Moving into a town and then leaving a year later for a church voluntary service program and then after that college meant I never put roots down there. But I treasure the girls who did reach out to me that year and am overjoyed to follow their lives a bit through the technological homecoming “dance” that is Facebook.
Did you ever have to sit out some activity everyone else got to do?
What difference did your church or faith make in your activities as you were growing up?
For the full scoop on what I did the year after high school, read a copy of my old “memoir” of a year spent in Voluntary Service in Kentucky, titled On Troublesome Creek. Published by Herald Press.
Happiness is not perfect until it is shared.
I was pleasantly surprised to be included in this Amish Wisdom giveaway–but happy because the timing ties wonderfully to the yearly “Family Dinner Day” emphasized in my book, Whatever Happened to Dinner? which encourages families to keep regular family meal times, even when it isn’t always easy or everyone is glued to their “devices.”
Suzanne Woods Fisher and the Amish Wisdom contributors want to celebrate the changing of seasons with a special Harvest Bounty giveaway! Enter the giveaway widget below for the chance to win to a set of 14 books, plus autumn-inspired goodies handpicked by some of the contributors. See below for a list of participating authors and prizes. One entrant will win, and he or she will be announced next Friday, September 30th, on the Amish Wisdom blog.
The Devoted and an Amish potholder set
Signed copy of Leaving Lancaster and folding tote-bag
Winner’s choice of book, a dishtowel, potholders, a prayer journal and an adult coloring book
Honeybee Sisters Cookbook and mini beeswax candle
Signed copy of Snowfall and an Amish-made potholder
The Amish Bride and a fall-themed item
The Longest Road and an Amish-made pot holder from Lancaster county
Signed copy of A Dream of Miracles and a Starbucks giftcard
The Amish Clockmaker, an autumn table runner and fall-themed decorative container
Grace’s Forgiveness and potholders
Mattie’s Pledge and a fruit of the Spirit coffee mug
*Only U.S. addresses are eligible to win.
Earlier this year, we went solar. My husband called it his “retirement gift” to himself. Some men get sporty red convertibles or take a month long cruise: we spent the money on 24 panels on top of my husband’s shop, which is wired up to our house. This has resulted in electric bills of only $15.30 for the entire household each of the last 3 months. Those bills rock! So our bills have fallen to the bare minimum (basic fees and local taxes) we pay our electric company, Shenandoah Valley Electric, while still “on the grid.”
So yes, we are still on the grid and also feeding back power into the grid for other users. That’s the part that feels really really weird, and good! We, or rather God’s creation up there called the sun, makes possible electrical power that we are able to use ourselves, and when we (plus the sun) “manufacture” extra, the literal power is “banked” and used by others.
We have learned a lot and that is perhaps the best part of this whole endeavor: learning how it works and also learning to know some new people in the process. Last fall we began exploring the options through a local branch, Massanutten Regional Solar Co-op of a larger cooperative, Virginia Solar United Neighborhoods (VA Sun), which provided numerous educational opportunities (and lobbying at the state level, we learned). Any and all interested parties who wanted could go the next step to sign on to this cooperative in seeking competitive bids for our individual solar projects. My husband and I could have done the same thing on our own (researching and shopping), but it was helpful to go to informational meetings and then be part of an actual meeting where we reviewed bids from about five nearby solar companies, including voting on which company we would go with as a cooperative. The numbers (bids) they gave us are proprietary to the companies and not for public information.
Some of the niftier electronic aspects of the project were how the cooperative was able to do a roof review, using GPS and Google Maps of our property regarding where we wanted to put our “solar array” (as a set up is called), whether it was at a good slant for the sun, and whether trees or other obstacles would cast too much shadow.
If you’re interested in the technicalities, we got a 6.84 kW solar system with these specs:
- 22 x 285w Solarworld
- 22 x P 300w Optimizer
- 6kW SolarEdge Inverter
The installation company we worked was Independent Solar Solutions LLC out of Bluemont, Va. and they were wonderful to work with, even though it took longer than expected due to winter weather and the total number of customers they were working with from the cooperative at the same time. We signed on in January and were functional by the end of April. We paid an initial 10% deposit down, another 20% when they ordered materials, another 30% when materials were delivered to the job site, another 30 upon completion of installation, and 20% after they got the inspection completed with the local building folks. Something we overlooked going into this was the need to add additional homeowners insurance on our house and property. It was not a big increase, but just saying.
Money wise, we hope to take advantage of the U.S. energy tax credit of 30% and at this time, we have no battery storage with the system—battery storage being pretty expensive. In Virginia, we are eligible for the net-metering program.
The bonus for us was being able to have electricity in our building, (including them digging a trench for the conduit to the building) which we’d been hoping to do for five years. So we can plug things in out there! My husband plans to finish wiring the rest of the building for his shop.
After the array was installed and we were up and running, the company also provided our own webpage or monitoring platform (you can see a sample, although this doesn’t take you to our personal platform which of course is password protected) to keep up with our daily status. My husband loves this and is as regular with checking our usage as I check status updates on Facebook.
We are happy we made the system as big as we did (adding 2 panels at the last minute when the installers discovered there was room for 2 more on that roof). Husband is already saying he’d have been kicking himself the rest of his life if he hadn’t added that additional capacity. A really good day is when we generate 40 kilowatts of electricity. A mediocre cloudy day results in production of 10-15 kws.
Payback: Where electricity rates rise 3% a year, payback is considered complete in about 12-13 years, according to notes I have from one installer (not the one we went with).
As my husband also says, “This is more for future generations than for us. It’s just something we wanted to do for a long time.”
Since May 1 this is what our little system has done for the environment:
Here’s someone else’s great list on “Why go solar.”
Postlude to a post: after a long hiatus ….
I have been away too long—not posted anything on this blog for almost 2 months. The reasons are myriad (which will be obvious as I hope to resume posting regularly or if you read my Another Way column where things will leak out too), but I have missed this part of my life so much. It is here where I pause and try to make sense of both the routine, and the game changing. When I look back over notes about things I want to write about, and scroll through photos I have taken but not written about yet, it is like snippets of life have escaped me without true pondering and processing—and remembering.
I dreaded looking at my blog stats; surely they had dwindled to almost nothing. But no! They are driven by a few bellwether posts that somehow show up when people search for “Rise N Roll Amish Donuts,” or “How to plan a different 60th birthday party,” or this time of year, “Sweet Midget Pickles.” My stats are only down by about half. An amazing number of people each month are still reading what I write and connecting and even signing up to receive new posts. So I’ve been able to have a blog vacation without loosing too much ground.
So here’s back at it: sporadic, eclectic: partly for me and partly for friends/relatives/fans and sometimes complete strangers that I haven’t met yet who nevertheless seem to find something here worthwhile. I’m also celebrating a regular gig for Amish Wisdom, supplying a recipe and food photos every other month which began Sept. 1. A big thank you to loyal fans and welcome to new ones.