The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Derby, Virginia - A Community Comes Home

By Howard Moore © 1987

Issue: June, 1987

We are all familiar with family reunions, but we recently learned of a reunion that is going to involve a whole town, the coal mining town that was Derby, Virginia.

The reunion is being coordinated by Howard Moore, a one time resident. He told a little about how the idea got started:

"We were just trying to get together some people we knew used to live here, people we grew up with, and it sort of mushroomed. It's for everyone that lived in Derby that wants to come back and get together. We have had people respond that are in their 40's and 50's as well as people in their 70's and 80's. There are people from California, Florida, Texas, Nevada, Connecticut and one in Colorado that are planning on coming.

Most of the kids we grew up with and their mothers and fathers lived in this area and of course, they have roots very deeply planted here. A lot of them have a lot of just plain old memories of the area and would like to come home. The community had such closeness to it. Everybody knew everybody. I can remember that you didn't go to anyone's house in the mountains without staying to have something to eat. You actually hurt people's feelings by refusing to eat.

There was only one road in and the same road going out of Derby. Every time you heard something that was alarming, such as an ambulance, or the coal company whistle blowing, then you knew there was an emergency at the mine. The whistle blew at noon and then again at getting off time, but if the whistle blew any other time; you knew there was an emergency. Everybody always stood at the gates or on the porch waiting. This was one thing that terrified all of us. I can still feel the agony of thinking, "Was it my dad?" When you found out who it was and it wasn't a member of your family, what a relief. But, then sadness went out to the other individual that was involved. Because of being so close, I think just about every family in the area felt like a brother or sister. They were very prone to help another individual in need. If someone was sick or laid off, you might go to the door and find a sack of groceries on the porch, not knowing where they came from. People didn't really care to be known for their giving. It was just left.

Life was centered around church, the movie theater and the mines. We used to visit an awful lot.

Yes, we are really looking forward to this reunion for the fellowship and renewing friendships. We want to share this with our children who don't know what that kind of community is and means. We put together a newsletter and hope to keep it going after the reunion, and perhaps have more reunions in the future. In working with the newsletter there have been tears of joy and sadness as incidents were recalled. The sentiments and nostalgia run deep."

The Derby, Virginia Reunion is going to be held at the Ramada Inn in Duffield, Virginia, phone 703–431–4300. For those of you who may wish to attend, it will be held June 19–21, 1987. You may also contact Howard Moore, PO Box 32, Sumter, SC 29150.