The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Personal Commitment

By Wm. Axley Allen © 1988

Issue: November, 1988

It was the winter of 1959–60 when tremendous snows descended on the Blue Ridge every Wednesday for what seemed like forever. The below freezing weather had resulted in an accumulation of over 24 inches at our home outside Hickory, North Carolina. Roads at higher elevations were so thoroughly blocked that food was dropped in by helicopter.

Our house sat on top of a ridge at the end of a 3/4 mile driveway, a driveway that was steep and often became impassable in wet weather and, needless to say, all "ground covering" snows. My brother Ken often parked his car at the highway and walked to the house when the driveway got bad, so he could get "in and out" to work. However, this particular series of snows were so bad they had paralyzed the construction company he worked for, so our whole family (Dad, Mom, Ken and I) was home.

Dad's health was bad, he had been disabled for almost 10 years, and all day long he had been terribly sick. We were worried about him so Ken walked out to a neighbors, just before dark, to call Dr. Boyles on their telephone. After hearing a description of Dad's symptoms from Ken, Dr. Boyles said he better come out to see Dad that night.

It had been snowing all day, adding to several weeks' accumulations. As night descended, the fury of the storm increased until finally it drove away daylight. A cold hard wind pushed walls of snow through the pitch black night, groans from the rafters and, occasionally, a puff of smoke from under the lids of our living room coal stove.

Mom, Ken and I kept a silent vigil over Dad and the fire. Each of us shared the same thought, would Dad be alright till morning 'cause surely Dr. Boyles couldn't make it out tonight.

I was twelve years old and nervous as I paced the floor and stared out the front door that terrible night. Hoping, I guess, that Dr. Boyles would somehow make it. Impossible as it appeared; we still left the porch light on, "just in case". About 10:30 I made my way to the front door for the "umpteenth" time and looked for a sign of Dr. Boyles. He had been Dad's doctor long enough for us to know that if he said he'd be there he would at least try. Our worries for Dad were compounded by our concern for Dr. Boyles.

Looking out the door, the swirling snow was so thick that the trees in our front yard were hidden. Infinity it seemed was less than a stone throw away in a mass of moving white flakes. Suddenly a light flickered and cut its way through the curtain of snow and night. Each laborious step that Dr. Boyles took was animated by the bobbing of his flashlight. He had parked at the highway and fought his way through knee–deep snow up the mountain to our house.

Entering, he stomped the snow off his boots on the rug Mom kept placed by the door for that purpose. He then went straight to Dad's bed, taking off his overcoat and gloves as he walked.

Only after attending to Dad did he take a few minutes to stand by the stove and warm himself. He was, according to Mom, "chilled to the bone" and silent shudders made their way up his frame as he finally started to get warm.

He assured us that Dad would be OK, but he would need to come into the office as soon as the roads would allow. By 11:00 pm he was out the door and on his way to another home where someone else needed help on a dreadful winter night.

His half hour visit brought physical relief to Dad and mental relief to Mom, Ken and I. In addition, it brought a lifetime of respect for a country doctor from a twelve year old boy. Looking back, with a thirty year perspective, the boy feels that night helped him to understand the true meaning and significance of the term, "personal commitment."