A visit to Walters

Published 10:44 am Saturday, December 31, 2011

We’re visiting my aunt and uncle. They live in Walters, a small, shrinking community on the Windsor road from Franklin. My mother and father were born close to here and many of our relatives still live in the area.

Today we came via Joyner’s bridge. We call it the back way, considering most of our trips are through Franklin. There’s another back way through Burdette, but it seems to be longer; so we go through Franklin or by the Joyner’s Bridge route.

After Joyner’s Bridge we turn left at the Walters Road intersection. If we went straight ahead, we would be visiting another aunt and uncle on their farm. Today it’s Walters.

We pass Ben Volpe’s store, round the curve, slow down at the village limit, and cross the railroad tracks.

The railroad tracks are special. My mother tells me she was one of the first people to ride on the Virginian Railroad. She rode on the flatcars that carried crossties to the construction site when the railroad was being built. Many of my relatives, including the uncle that we’re visiting today, worked for the railroad.

We pass a couple of stores, the post office, and the icehouse.

I’ve been to the icehouse before. It’s a small wooden building with thick walls (about two feet), and a heavy hinged door made like a plug to fit the shaped doorframe. I’m told the walls are filled with sawdust for insulation. Sawdust is abundant inside. It’s used to cover (and further insulate) ice blocks; the ice stays frozen longer that way. I think the blocks are delivered by truck from Franklin. Folks buy the ice for use in their home iceboxes.

My aunt and uncle live in the bank building. I don’t know how they came to live there.

We enter by the side street back door.

Internally the building still has the dividing wall of the original use, complete with teller’s windows, and ornate iron panels topping the wall. Their bedroom and daily living space is behind the wall (from the front entry), where the business of the bank was carried out when it was active.

I don’t see a safe.

I suppose the small community bank went the way of others during the Great Depression, a not distant memory. Somehow, my aunt and uncle came to live here, and they seem to be OK with it. My aunt suffers from what my mother calls “the TB”. She’s been treated in sanitariums, but is now suffering along in the bank building. A cough is ever-present during our visit, and my uncle is attentive to her needs while he smokes his pipe. The pipe smoke disguises other not-pleasant smells in the building.

The floor is solid tile; sounds and voices echo in the open space. The building does have electricity and indoor plumbing. They, of all the relatives that we visit, are the only ones with both electricity and indoor plumbing. The small restroom is a novelty to me; the small kitchen and sink area fit their needs. Electric lights—as with my other relatives that have electricity—are a single wire and bulb suspended from the ceiling.

While my parents are visiting, I get to walk around outside. I have another relative that lives around the corner, but we don’t visit her as a family. Sometimes when our visit at the bank is over, my father will drive around the corner and just run in for a minute or so.

On the main road, toward Windsor from the bank is a stark, two-story, plain front building, built atop piers. It has lettering on the front, time worn but quite legible, that says, at the bottom, “W-O-W”. I don’t know who or what they are, and of the many times we’ve been to Walters, I’ve never seen anyone coming or going, and the parking area out front doesn’t seem to be used. It’s a puzzle.

When the visiting is done, and we say our goodbyes, we take a short drive through the village to Mt Carmel Church and turn around. This is the church of my family’s heritage. I have many relatives buried in the cemetery both in the back and across the road from the church itself. It’s just a quiet drive-by of respect and remembrance for my parents.

We return home via the Franklin route. It’s been a long Sunday afternoon.

Sunday afternoon visiting with relatives is a part of my heritage.

I stand and listen carefully at the old railroad bed in Walters. I hear the huff and chuff of a working steam engine, the chink of pickaxes, and the voices of men working. I hear the busy sounds of a thriving village.

This is my family. I am home.

JAMES D. “ARCHIE” HOWELL is a Southampton County native and 1955 graduate of Franklin High School. He can be reached at archiepix@kingwoodcable.com.