A local woman wrote her debut novel “Childress Cousins: From the Hills and Hollows of Southern Virginia” to honor her family.
Released last July, author Katherine Vestal said the book is about the 19 children of Bob Childress, and one line of Bill Osborne Childress, his brother’s children.
“From my perspective it’s a book about my grandmother and her siblings, and one line of her first cousins,” she said.
Vestal said Bob Childress is best known as a circuit riding preacher in Patrick, Floyd, and Carroll counties.
“The rock churches along the Blue Ridge Parkway and scattered throughout the Blue Ridge are credited to him. So, people talk about the ‘Bob Childress Rock Churches,’” she said.
Vestal’s book is comprised of 15 chapters, or stories.
“It’s sort of 19 biographies. Every one of the stories is a standalone chapter. So, you could just read chapter 6 or chapter 3 without having to read the rest of the book,” she said.
Some of the stories were written by some of the 19 children. Others are stories Vestal was told by their children and grandchildren.
“Even though it may be a chapter that I wrote, it’s not my stories. It’s stories that come from the people that knew them,” she said.
Vestal was inspired to write the book after her great aunt Nell passed away in 2020. She was the last of the 19 to pass.
Vestal said before she died, her aunt Nell and her first cousin Marie had corresponded by mail with each other for decades.
“I had said to Aunt Nell ‘I want this stuff.’ So, before she died, she turned over a mountain of mementos of mailings and cards and letters and photos and all kinds of stuff to me,” she said.
As she looked through the correspondences, Vestal said she felt like she had to share it with others as it was “too valuable to hold onto.”
“This started developing into a book,” in mid-2021, “and as I started communicating with other cousins that I had never known before, I started collecting their stories and the book just kind of took its own shape,” she said.
Two chapters Vestal didn’t write are military memoirs, written by two of the 19, and one chapter, written by Marie and published in a newspaper.
Vestal said another chapter includes poetry written by Bob Childress’s daughter Hattie, who was born with Hydrocephalus and lived to be 23.
“The last chapter is an unfinished autobiography written by Bob Childress. It was never published because he never finished it,” she said.
While Vestal’s favorite chapter is the one about her grandmother, she believes the readers’ favorite will be the autobiography and the travel log discussing “all the churches traveling through the area.”
Vestal said there is also a companion YouTube video about 90 minutes along that goes with her book.
Created by Darlene Schneck, the video, “Childress Cousins | The Hills & Hollows of Southwest Virginia | Floyd, Patrick, and Carroll Counties,” looks at all the rock churches and the places talked about in the book.
Vestal’s book can be purchased on Amazon and Barnes & Noble as a paperback. It is also available at Mabry’s Mill, Poppy’s in Meadows of Dan, and other retailers in Patrick County.