Diane Blanks, Blue Ridge Mountain Views #20: Old Boone

Published Thursday, June 16, 2016 at 11:48 am

Blue Ridge Mountain Views

“Old Boone”

By DIANE WARMAN BLANKS

Main Street Looking North. Watauga Memory Postcards. Photo courtesy of Watauga County Library. Photo from (digitized) Images of North Carolina, Historic Boone exhibit. For more photos of Old Boone and Watauga County, go to www.digitalnc.org/exhibits/historic-boone or to http://digitalwatauga.omeka.net

Main Street Looking North. Watauga Memory Postcards. Photo courtesy of Watauga County Library. Photo from (digitized) Images of North Carolina, Historic Boone exhibit. For more photos of Old Boone and Watauga County, go to www.digitalnc.org/exhibits/historic-boone or to http://digitalwatauga.omeka.net

When I was young, Saturdays in Boone had a slight, exciting flavor of medieval market days. Oh, there weren’t jugglers and tumblers, but there was everything else. The man who came to town with a full “beard” composed of live, working bees. He liked to show off his bees and always had a friendly smile in amongst the crawling yellow-striped bodies. The blind man singing and playing his guitar on the corner in front of the bank, a guitar case at his feet. They called him “Doc” Watson and later, when he was discovered, named one of the world’s greatest acoustic guitar virtuosos. I liked to put a quarter in his case, and Granny always made sure I had one. We’d stop and listen to the music and chat with him after he finished the song. There were a number of street musicians downtown, but we two thought he was the best of the lot.

The small farmers came to town from back in the mountain coves and hollows, with various friends and relatives seated in straight wooden chairs in the backs of their ancient pickup trucks. They came to trade at Smithey’s, a farm/dry goods store that sold patterned oilcloth, groceries, denim work jackets and overalls, dipping snuff, barn boots and ladies’ house dresses, among many other things.

Some of the farmers would set up produce stands next door to the store. There were heaping baskets of shiny mountaineer white half runners (heirloom beans from seeds originally brought over from Germany), glowing German Pink tomatoes, little pickling cucumbers so fresh they snapped when you bit them and piles of tiny new potatoes they’d dug out from the potato hills in their gardens.

My favorite, though, was the man who had the homemade “maple” candy. It was brown sugar and water and flavoring, boiled down and molded in muffin tins. He always had a big jar, and you could reach in and get one for a nickel. It was enough candy to see me up the steep hill home and have some left over.

There’s still a slight flavor of the medieval about downtown Boone, but now it comes from the retro-hippies, who are definitely colorful. There’s also the occasional guitar or banjo player on the street, some of whom are really good. Smithey’s is gone now, replaced by a thrift store, so I guess the folks from back in the hollows now shop at WalMart. You don’t see the pickups with the straight chairs in the back any more, either.

There are, here and there, hints of Old Boone left around town, but they’re rapidly vanishing, replaced by bland commercial student housing complexes for the college students here. I’m afraid we’re losing the memory of where we came from.

 

News at eleven,

Diane

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