“A Nightmare,” by D. Kemper Wood [R550] [S074]. The best part of this piece is its description of a classic Virginia country meal.

“Nature has in store many delightful surprises for those who go out into the open country. Unexpected bursts of beauty meet the eyes - a sunrise or a sunset, the moon popping up from behind the mountain, or a sudden formation of a rainbow after a shower of rain.

“Several years ago my son Charles, a boy of fourteen years of age, and I enjoyed a day on the river fishing. We had been invited to spend the following night at a farmhouse. The stretch of water covered by us zigzagged between two mountains for a distance of four miles. The last long lap of this section of the river ran from west to east directly toward a high part of the mountain. The reflection in the water gave the appearance of another mountain upsidedown. Our admiration of this startling picture was interrupted by the rumbling of thunder which indicated that a storm was approaching. The wind began to blow until our small boat tossed on the water like an eggshell. The storm came on us quickly, and for a few moments the rain fell in torrents. Soaking wet, we were chilled through and through. The fury of the storm soon abated and after the last peals of thunder had subsided, rays of the sun shot through the clouds at our backs. Directly in front of us a magnificent rainbow formed over against the mountain. Its variegated colors were in sharp contrast with the green and black of the forests. The upper arc of the bow looped above the mountain with the passing clouds as background while the two ends plunged down to the lowest foothills blending their colors with the foliage of the trees. Probably the most striking feature of the bow was how the arc over the mountain reflected its beauty on the river below. Its colors danced and played on the clear, rippling water like millions of sparkling jewels. During these moments of magnificent grandeur we forgot about being wet, cold and chilly. Wet clothes were quickly dried by the hot sun, and we reached our destination in good spirits.

“It was supper time when we arrived at the farmhouse. Whiffs of fried ham and the aroma of hot coffee whetted our appetites to keen edges. The string of fish was put on ice to be cooked for breakfast. Given hot water, we washed the fishy slime and odor from our hands, and changed to other clothes. The hospitality of those country folk, in looking after our comfort, was superb.

“Invited to the dining room, we sat down to a feast. Never before nor since have I seen so much tasty food on one family table. After grace was said, our host and hostess insisted that we eat heartily of everything. For meat, there was country-cured fried ham and fried chicken floating in its own brown gravy. On the table were mashed potatoes, snap beans, butter beans, squash, corn on the cob, sliced tomatoes and cucumbers, spiced peaches, spiced cherries and sour pickles. There were peach, damson, pear and quince preserves and honey, hot biscuits and cream. There were other items of food which I cannot recall. Old fashioned country people feel offended if visitors do not eat at least some of all food on the table. The food was good and we were hungry; perhaps we ate too much.

“Supper over, we went into the living room and sat conversing with the head of the house. After food had been put away and dishes washed, the women joined us. Chatting awhile, time for bed arrived. The old proverb ‘early to bed, early to rise’, applied to this family. We were shown the guest chamber, where specially invited guests slept. This room was on the ground-floor, in an ell adjoining the main house. The bed consisted of a feather tick on top of a straw mattress supported on wooden slats. On the walls were portraits of some ancient ancestors. The night being warm we left the door open. The moon had risen above the mountain and its beam of light crept into the room and drove out the darkness.
“Charles soon fell asleep, but I tossed and rolled on the feathers. Too much ham and chicken were not conducive to quick slumber. I got out of bed, walked to the door and stood in the moonlight. The night was gorgeous. Shadows from the trees fell across the yard like night-dragons. Honeybees in several hives near the fence were droning like some far-off waterfall. A fox was barking on the mountainside, making a harsh, rasping noise, and just below, an owl was hooting. Other weird sounds broke the stillness of the night. Returning to bed, I once more tried to sleep, but with little success. Grandfather frowned at me from his picture frame. I was weary, restless and ill. Occasionally I would fall into a doze, but quickly awakened again.

“As the night wore on it occurred to me that a walk in the moonlight might be helpful. I put on my clothes and shoes and started walking across the field. Presently, I found myself in a thick clump of trees. The moonlight filtered down through the leaves and branches causing flickering shadows to appear about me. Peering ahead, I saw some dark form approaching me. Or was it just a shadow appearing to move? I stopped and tried to make out what it was. I tried to walk again but could not. I tried to call for help but could not. As the thing came nearer it rose, stood on its hind feet and stretched out great shaggy arms. When it began to growl I realized that it was a ferocious black bear. As it came closer to me I trembled like a leaf. I could neither run, nor call for help. I was helpless as a cow on ice, and could do nothing to save myself. The bear’s black head was waving backward and forward, its teeth were shining in the moonlight, and those awful arms were reaching for me with a vengeance. The terrible thought of being torn to pieces by such a beast filled me with frenzied horror. I could think and feel, but I could not yell. Desperately I tried to kick at the creature, but effort was useless. The bear made a lunge, threw its terrible paws around my body and sank its claws into my ribs. An overwhelming sense of pain enabled me to yell with all my lung power. The sound must have raised the roof. It certainly aroused Charles from his slumber, for his fingers were in my ribs and he shouted ‘Dad, what in the world is the matter with you?’ ‘It was an awful nightmare,’ I said. I cannot express the sense of relief that came over me. I had been rescued from imminent death. It was fortunate that we slept in a separate part of the house, or the whole family would have thought murder was being committed.

“The next morning we sensed the odor of frying fish, but I was not very hungry.”

[From Charles Wood’s age, this happened in the summer of 1925. Four miles down the river from Nimrod Hall would put you at the James O. Wood [R451] farm, or the Jasper Crizer farm (the “Crizer Place”).]