Strange Cars Bringing News from Beyond

a man and two boys standing in street

Pap, his Uncle, and cousin George in New Port News VA during WWII

“Gertie thought for an instant of a game the children played where on a signal everybody had to stop and hold himself exactly as he was. But hound dogs never played games, and now they stood, heads lifted, listening like cur dogs. She heard it then, the sound faint on some high spot on the ridge road far away. A strange car was coming in, not the grocery truck but a car. The only cars that came brought news.

It seemed like something was choking her. She stood, the spading fork gripped in both hands. She wanted to go on with her work, dig another hill, but could not. Maybe it was some coal truck the government had left by mistake out hunting a load of coal. Unless a man were lost or hurt or killed in the war, they didn’t make a special trip to bring the news. She tried to reason, but ice-cold hands, stronger than any human hands could be, were squeezing her chest and back, pushing on her throat.

It wasn’t her turn. Clovis had been gone only ten days. Her turn had come with Henley. It wouldn’t come back. Turn by turn, she old herself. Still she listened, with her whole body, as the others listened, heads lifted, nostrils faintly flared for the thin wind. It was nothing, not a thing; they’d all be scared by a wandering airplane. Then Matthew, Samuel’s oldest boy at home, and twelve years old, who stood by the fence, called to the older and those further down the field, “It’s a car—a good-runnen car that don’t make hardly no noise—a comen thisaway.”

—The Dollmalker – Harriet Simpson Arnow

Pap told me a story about a good-runnen car coming through Brasstown when he was a boy.

It was after WWII had ended, but the draft was still going on. Pap said a bunch of men and boys were standing around at the store, much like Gertie and her neighbors were.

A fancy low riding car pulled in and two sharp dressed men got out.

Seeing a car in those days was still something of a rarity in this area, and seeing one that was nicer than anything else around was big doings for sure.

The passengers were government men sent to look for a local boy who was evading the draft…or who they thought was evading the draft. Pap said the boy they were looking for hadn’t never been right. There was something about his brain that just didn’t work like most people’s.

The officials explained their mission to the circle of men. Pap said “A few of them explained about the boy’s condition and then after asking a few questions the government men got back in their car and left. We never heard anything else about it.”

I said “Well why would they take the word of a bunch of men standing around at a store? Wouldn’t they want to talk to the boy themselves?”

Pap smiled at me and said “Well, for one thing those men were telling the truth. The boy couldn’t have been a solider. And for another thing, Tip things were different in those days.”


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  • Reply
    Terry Huffaker
    November 10, 2021 at 8:27 am

    The excerpt and Pap’s story indeed reflect much about when a “good runnin’ or shiney car” was seen in the holler! We always knew “they weren’t from around here”. It was always was a bit ominous! Great story, Tipper.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    September 5, 2019 at 3:00 pm

    One time my second oldest brother, Joel went to Greenland with J. A. Jones Construction Company. He told me when he was in, and other family members that he could buy Cigarettes for a nickle a pack and a whole carton for .50 cents. (I recon they didn’t have any tax at the PC. where he went to buy things.) He told us he fed Silver Foxes out of his hands and they would bring $20.00 here.

    Everyone smoked back then, ever if you had to pick up Ducks that folks had throne out of cars. We picked up a lot of these along the highway, but Joel brought me and Harold a Carton of Kools before he left there. He knowed that Money was scarce and hard to get. He was about 16 years older than me. I was about 6 or 7 years old then. But on the way back to America, he was flying on a 707 Flying Tiger and it fell almost 2 miles before the Pilots got the Engines Restarted. Talk about some Praying, but the Lord wasn’t ready to take him and others. …Ken

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    September 5, 2019 at 12:00 pm

    For one thing, Pap was right, folks were more trustworthy than now.

    I was about 10 or 12 years old when we got our first car. We didn’t need to go nowhere much anyways. And if we did, we walked. Me and Harold was all over those mountains in Topton, but the squirrels were in our holler mostly. Harold carried a Remington single shot .22 and I followed him. He was My Hero. One time we were sitting under a bunch of Hickorys and Harold seen one running across a limb. He shot it’s tail off and it fell out. He loaded and got it on the ground. Other squirrels in that tree had heard and saw the commotion and came down for a closer look. He handed the gun to me. I sniggered at that squirrel who was sitting on a branch looking at me. I missed the first time and my brother told me to straighten-up, so I got him the next time.

    We took what we got, and cleaned ’em and took 8 to Hub and Lori’s and they gave another whole box of shells. We were ready for the next time. …Ken

  • Reply
    aw griff
    September 5, 2019 at 9:27 am

    Enjoying the excerpts. No wonder why she was scared. The officers often brought news of death and bring a chaplain along. That’s the way they do it now and not sure of the second world war. I think some people at that time may have gotten telegrams.
    I’ve thought about the suffering my Grandparents had, Moms parents, when my Uncle was a machine gunner in Korea. Through much prayer he made it home safe.
    I agree with Pap that things were different in those days. Just look at our country. Common sense is gone.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    September 5, 2019 at 8:32 am

    Yes, different in those days for sure. How that story and especially Pap’s statement tells us where we are now compared to where we were. And how sad that change is. Hurts.

    Those two were not totally hide bound by procedure and had discretion to use their own judgment. And there wasn’t the public distrust of government and the willingness to thwart it that we see now. Nor did they assume that folks would lie to them, rather -I think – they generally expected to be told the truth and especially so in rural North Carolina. That was still in the days when law enforcement would take a man’s word he would come show up in court at such and such time.

    I have never read or heard any details about the military men who had the duty of taking the word back home. I don’t understand how some got a visit and some just a telegram. But I suspect those who had to make the visits would rather have had almost any other duty, maybe even face the guns. And I think of those who accompany those being shipped home. God bless them every one.

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    September 5, 2019 at 8:02 am

    Times were different then, even though this was before my time I can remember the WWII Generation members talking about how seriously everyone took the war effort. People in earlier generations also seemed to take telling the truth much more seriously than many folks do today, I can remember when you could believe most Media Reports and reporters actually tried to just report the facts without putting their political spin on it or just outright lying or making up alleged stories.

  • Reply
    Don Byers
    September 5, 2019 at 6:53 am

    Good story…..things have changed….

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