By Lisa Whaley
Sometimes the smallest object can hold within it the most remarkable stories.
At a recent meeting of the Unicoi County Historical Society, members took turns bringing up special family heirlooms and sharing the memories associated with them.
Some went back to Civil War times; others decades earlier.
There was even a treasured gneiss metamorphic rock that predated all the contributions by billions of years.
Whether pre-war, post-war, antique or collectible, each piece told something about our history. And it also revealed a bit about the presenters, their families, their interests and even their playfulness, as illustrated by the period-specific contraband Gorbachev nesting doll from Russia — definitely one of the most colorful and unusual items of the evening.
Perhaps more importantly, however, these items all seemed to tell a story of Unicoi County, its people and the importance of its communities.
As I sat in the audience that Monday night, you can imagine my delight as each page was turned and I learned a little bit more about my new neighbors..
During a sharing of hospital memorabilia, for example, the present disappeared and we were all soon gazing in our minds to the at-that-time, brand-new, state-of-the-art Erwin Memorial Hospital, which first opened its doors in 1953.
True, recent conversation of late has been much more focused on the upcoming newest Unicoi County Memorial Hospital, with its recent groundbreaking and projected date of completion in fall of 2018, but Monday night’s story turned our minds instead to the former facility — a facility that predated its healthcare neighbors with modern in-room intercoms and ground-breaking nasal cannula devices to take the place of the more cumbersome oxygen tents.
As I sat listening, something else stood out even more clearly.
Unicoi County’s strength is its people — a collection of individuals with deep ties who love their community with a passion that refuses to dim.
It was illustrated over and over again as each member of this historical group shared memories — whether of the building of the hospital and the family members who played such crucial parts in its construction or the almost-fond remembrances of when it became a short-term home due to pneumonia, tonsillitis or family illness.
A display of kitchen collectibles conjured stories of old-timey food prep and kitchens circa 1930 and up, wrapped in memories of favorite family recipes and exclamations of “Oh, I haven’t seen one of those in years!”
Family papers of indentured servitude and family portraits of patriarchs were just as likely to be peppered by shared tales of common kin and old home places as specific details about the ancestor.
Perhaps, the meeting could best be summed up by newest member Cheryl White-White and the sharing of her new “Revisiting Our Valley Beautiful” book — a book that features a collection of old Erwin photos and whose proceeds will be used to support the Unicoi County High School band program.
In a way, the book and the evening, are all about snapshots of the past woven with pride in the present and accentuated with a confidence for the future — and it’s just the type of community for which today’s generation continues to long.
It’s the magic of Uncoi County. Thank you, Angela Miller, for your invitation and allowing me to share in it.