Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Figuratively speaking it should have been a pretty good year. I was a junior in high school, and I could see light at the end of the tunnel. Graduation — and that long-awaited step into adulthood — was just a little over a year away.
I enjoyed high school, but the long school bus ride each morning from Anawalt to Welch was particularly grueling. Mom had me up by 5 a.m. each morning in order to promptly catch a school bus at 6:30 a.m. If I wasn’t at the bottom of the gravel road waiting in advance of 6:30 a.m., I would risk missing the school bus. And I seem to remember that our school bus driver back in the day didn’t spend a lot of time waiting on tardy students. He would honk the horn at least once to remind those of us who were late running down the at times snow-covered gravel and dirt roadway that he was waiting on us. I don’t think I ever missed the bus — but not getting to the bottom of the hill in time to catch my morning ride was still always a great concern.
Once on board we could expect plenty of stops — a couple in Anawalt, down at Spencer Curve, a stop or two in Pageton as well as Gary. We normally wouldn’t get to the top of the mountain until 7:30 a.m. or so, and the school day itself didn’t start until 8 a.m. The first thing you would see was the big water tower with the flashing red light on top emerging from the clouds. I guess there was a reason why they called it Mount View — short I suppose for mountainous view. And the long ride up the mountain was a spectacular sight to see at times, particularly during periods of heavy fog. When it snowed, the trip was even more interesting. I often wondered if our school bus would slide off one of the narrow, mountainous curves. Thankfully it never did.
Although we were very young at the time, the early morning hours were still kind of difficult on the students. By the time the bus ride home was underway many of us were taking a well deserved nap. But I realized at the time that I was nearing the end of my high school journey. Mount View High School was great and all, but the thought of college and adulthood was even more enticing. But there would be a few difficult bumps along the road before reaching my senior year in high school.
The year was 1987, and it was not a particularly good year for me or my family. My father passed away of a heart attack while shoveling a large amount of snow at his mother’s house up in the Ashland area of McDowell County during a big snowstorm. And my beloved uncle Raymond also died the same year — also of an apparent heart attack. I also caught the chicken pox — a terrible experience at that — and ended up missing almost an entire week of school as a result. The same year also was my first accident. I was just a passenger, but I busted a windshield with my head after Mom and I skidded on ice along U.S. Route 52. It was a year of bad luck, and family tragedies.
When 1988 finally arrived, it was certainly welcomed and long overdue. The senior year came and went seemingly in a flash. Before long I was taking the long march down the aisle at the National Guard Armory in Welch in order to accept my high school diploma. The big night ended with a great meal at the Sterling Drive-In. Back in the day there was no such thing as a project graduation. We didn’t have a McDonald’s or a Walmart for that matter either. But that was fine. The Sterling Drive-In was the place to go back then — as it still is today. Yet my educational journey would continue. I never doubted that I would go to college, and that was Mom’s plan all along. The interest I had developed in journalism while working for the high school newspaper made a degree in communications an obvious choice to pursue when it came time to relocate from Anawalt to Athens.
Concord College — now Concord University — was an exciting new beginning. But I was still a McDowell County boy at heart. And while the temptation to spend my weekends on campus were great, I still normally found myself traveling back home on weekends to McDowell County. Those were among the greatest of days — despite the challenges of 1987.
Charles Owens is the Daily Telegraph’s assistant managing editor. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him @BDTOwens.