Life Down Southside Way
by Tyler Scott
If someone had told me years ago, I would buy a Victorian house in Blackstone, Virginia, I would have given that person a very strange look. I’d only been here once during a political event, and I wasn’t even sure where the town was exactly. Anyway, my husband Granville and I were empty nesters, so our plan was to move someplace quaint in the Shenandoah Valley.
One Sunday in 2018, I was bored so I suggested we drive Southside to meet a distant cousin of Granville’s for the first time. My mother-in-law had grown up in Blackstone, moving to Farmville when her father accepted a job at Hampden-Sydney College as a Latin professor.
Needless to say, we hit it off immediately with Cousin Tuckie Kile, Granville’s double third cousin—their great grandfathers married sisters. When we mentioned we were looking for a place to move to, she responded, “Why don’t you move here?” I remember thinking “I don’t even know where I am.” We drove around looking at property and when we pulled up in front of an 1896 Queen Anne Revival house: clapboard, fishscale shingles, old timey spindled railings, stained glass, all surrounded by live oaks and magnolias; we looked up the price and stared at our phone screens. Within a week, we had signed a contract.
When we announced to friends and family we were moving, some people asked if we were getting a divorce.
While the contractor did the renovations, we rented a small brick house on 4th Street here in town. Cousin Tuckie told me to be sure I told people I lived in BoBo Jones’s Mama’s house because locals didn’t identify houses by numbers. And we still laugh when we remember I kept telling everyone we had moved to Southwest Virginia until Cousin Tuckie corrected me and said, “Tyler, you’ve moved to Southside Virginia.”
During the first weeks I lived in Blackstone, which dates to Revolutionary War times, I got a speeding ticket on Main Street for not going 25 miles per hour. When the fire department tested the town siren, I ran to the window thinking we were under attack. One time I read in our newspaper, The Courier- Record, that on a February night a naked man had run down a nearby street; the person who called the police only saw a tattoo, mustache, and dark hair. (I don’t think he’s been caught yet.) One morning, coffee mug in hand, I watched a police chase in front of my house.
I laugh now when I remember colleagues telling me I’d be bored in this small town, population 3,352 and home to Fort Pickett.
Seems I’ve changed a bit since moving here. My daughter says my accent has gotten thicker. I spend more time studying the folks and places around me and I have started living on Blackstone Time. I used to always be in a hurry. I remember waiting in line at a mini mart a few years ago, and I was getting aggravated because everyone in front of me had to catch up on family news before they paid. There I stood, irritated, tapping my big city foot impatiently. When I drove home, I realized I would have to slow down if I were going to live here happily. I am pleased to announce I have made the transition. Now I set aside 15 minutes for errands and a half hour to talk to people.
And I’ve learned to watch the chittychat because word travels fast. One of our contractors told me soon after we moved here, “We’ll know what you’re doing before you do.”
I stay busy with volunteer work, writing, and enjoying the treasures of rural life. I find myself driving the sixty miles to Richmond less and less. During these trips, I used to think about my To Do list or catastrophize, however, I muse differently these days. I gaze at the dappled light of the green and gold fields; the grazing horses and cows and goats; the old farmhouses, some alive with families, some empty with their ghostly memories, church steeples sparkling in the distance. Sometimes I half expect a unicorn to run by. For me the scenery is a painting titled Life Down Southside Way.
When I moved here, I always assumed I would be an outsider—after all I was Richmond born and bred. But now Blackstonians treat me as if I am a local and for this, I offer heartfelt thanks.
Tyler Scott is a writer who lives in Blackstone, Virginia.
This is one of our “Slowing Down” accepted submissions. Read the rest from this theme here.