Cucumber Mountain and Plumbing Parts

Appalachian MountainsThe following is a true story . . .

My friend screamed. Opening my eyes–I screamed!  My friend yanked the steering wheel to put our truck back on the road as we narrowly missed a telephone pole. We’d left late in the evening from Columbus, Ohio, in a small truck packed with used clothes for a mission in Cucumber Mountain, West Virginia.  It was 3 AM in the dark winding woods, and I’d fallen asleep at the wheel; my sleeping friend awoke just in the nick of time!  We were shaken, but thanked the Lord for keeping us safe!

Cucumber Mountain is a tiny hamlet buried in the bottom of the West Virginia mountains in McDowell County.  At that time, McDowell County was the poorest county in the country.  Most of the coal mines had shut down and there was little industry in the area.  Families that had been coal miners for several generations were now struggling on government support.  It was an isolated area where one had to drive down into Virginia and back up into West Virginia to get to the mission.

We finally arrived and slept in the truck till morning when the old mountain missionary came and beat on our truck to wake us.  “Take the clothes up to that small shed and pile them beside the other clothes on the racks, and then we’ll have breakfast.”  She sold the used clothes to the local folks for ten cents or a quarter.  While eating breakfast, I asked her, “Why do you sell the clothes when the folks are so poor?”  “Well, I used to give the clothes away, but folks didn’t take care of the clothes, and I’d see them lying in the yards or being used for rags, but I discovered if I sell the clothes to them, then the clothes become their property that they value, and they take care of them!”   She smiled and shoveled another fork of corn mush in her mouth.

This old mountain missionary had been a gentle, single woman who had moved to these mountains and had been helping folks in the name of Jesus for the last thirty laborious years.  Those years had turned her into a tough, no-nonsense-in-your-face, mountain woman with a great sense of humor who loved Jesus and the people she served.

On a later trip down to her mission, three of us brought another load of clothes.  She decided to take the three of us for a ride in her old four-wheel-drive Land Rover back into a “hollow,” an isolated section of the valley.  “I’m taking you boys to see a family I work with, and they just got electricity for the first time and are real proud of it!  They are touchy about strangers, though, because of the amount of “moonshine” made in these mountains, so stay with me and don’t go wandering off, or you might get shot!”  We learned later that there was no real law enforcement down there, and folks took care of things themselves.  The week before, a man was caught with another man’s wife and was chained to the back of a truck and drug around the mountains.

After driving over pitted mud roads and up a dry creek bed, we reach the house.  The first thing we noticed was their electricity.  They had one light bulb hanging from a wire over the front porch.  Nothing else in the home was powered by electricity–only the porch!  While she visited with the family, my friends and I stood out in the dirt-covered yard by the car.  Sitting on a pile of rocks, we saw two grimy little boys about five and eight years old.  Both had big wads of chewing tobacco bulging from their left cheeks and were spitting “tobaccie juice” on the rocks.  I walked over and whispered in the older boy’s ear, “You see my skinny friend over there; if you can spit some juice on his shoe, I’ll give you a quarter!”  With a grin, he went after my friend.  Five minutes later after chasing my friend around the yard, I paid up–the kid was a good shot!

That evening back at the mission, after washing my hands in the brown and black mineral stained sink, I asked the old mountain missionary why there was hardly any water pressure and barely enough water to wash my hands.  She said, “The well is at the bottom of the mountain, so by the time it gets up here, there isn’t much pressure.  Years back, a group of Mennonite men stopped in and built me a water storage tank.  The pump at the well would send a low volume of water up during the night and fill my storage tank; then all day long I had plenty of water and water pressure, but the plumbing went bad about six months ago, and what I have now is what I have–a trickle of water.”  Having done some plumbing in the past, I asked her if I could look at the problem.

Upon exposing the pipes, I saw the problem right off.  It would take a one-half inch cast iron tee, a union, an end cap, two ninety-degree elbows, and two six-inch pipes threaded on each end.  But we had a problem.  The three of us would be leaving early the next morning back to Columbus, Ohio.  The nearest town was War, and with the rugged roads, it would be impossible to get there before it closed.  So we were stuck.  But the old mountain missionary lady closed her eyes and prayed, “Lord!  You brought a man here to fix my plumbing, and he needs some parts.  Can you do something about that?  Thank you!”  She opened her eyes and smiled.

She said, “You know the little shed up the hill where you put them clothes you brought?  Well, years ago, a lady stopped by and made me some nice sturdy clothes racks out of plumbing parts.  Go up and see if there is anything you can use.”  I climbed up the hill, entered the shed, pulled back the tightly packed clothes on the rack and stared dumb-founded.  At the end of the half-inch cast iron pipe clothes rack was a tee, a union, an end cap, two ninety-degree elbows, and two six-inch short pipes threaded on each end!

I disassembled the clothes rack for the parts and a few hours later, this faithful old mountain missionary was thrilled because her water was working again.  And through her simple prayer, the three of us were blessed and humbled by the no-nonsense-in-your-face love of God.

“Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?” — James 2:5 NIV

Copyright © 2010 by William D. (Nick) Nichols

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