By Jack Betts
It’s a bit colder up on Belcher Mountain this fall. A little rainier, and a tad gloomy from the frequent fogs that set in.
But it isn’t the weather that makes us feel the chill and sense a great loss. It’s the migration southward of two pillars of mountain society up here in northern Patrick County, a couple who have spent more than three decades befriending their neighbors, opening their home to the hungry and the thirsty, serving the community in a variety of public posts and private ways, and quietly helping folks who had no other place to turn.
Barnie Day, regarded by many as Virginia’s Mark Twain and a voice of reason in politics, and Debbie Day, fantastic cook and hostess who made hard things look easy, cleaned out the attic of their charming farmhouse, packed up the books, hauled antique furniture into storage and headed to the warmer climes of upper coastal South Carolina. There the winters will be warmer, and there will be no firewood to haul, no sticks to pick up in the grassy front yard every time a breeze springs up.
Folks up here in the high hills know the Days for their many contributions for the good of the community. Barnie, a talented writer whose novels vividly reflect the raw truth of life, wrote grants for what would become a successful three-clinic health care system in rural southwest counties, and Debbie became one of the first employees of the initial clinic in the basement of a little church just off U.S. 58.
Debbie took care of neighbors and friends, volunteering to drive those who needed a ride to town and seeing to it that they got to appointments on time. Barnie often awoke in the early winter to find someone had hoisted a deer on the big hook in his shed; the unwritten understanding was that Barnie would find someone in the community who needed meat that winter, and make sure it got to the right folks.
Between the two of them, they saw to it that older folks in their vicinity got their gardens tilled, or firewood split, or their driveways cleared of snow. Barnie cooked up the idea of holding an annual oyster roast, asking folks to bring a food donation or a cash contribution for a local food bank. So far that effort, soon to be in its seventh year, has raised more than $10,000 in cash and food for those in our area who sometimes go to bed hungry.
Almost everyone knows the Days, and remember when Barnie was Patrick County Administrator, or County Supervisor, or member of the House of Representatives. And they remember that Debbie was always there when someone needed a helping hand or a quart of homemade soup or a pound cake or a jar of Brunswick stew. Not everyone knows about the health issues they have faced over the years; one reason is that they never complained. They just went about living their lives to the maximum every day.
They were, and are, the sort of neighbors and friends who have made this country a wonderful place to live — folks who never sought to take a bow or any credit for their examples or their accomplishments. Instead, they preferred to see that things got done, whether it was a phone call to someone in Richmond, or a piece of advice for a newcomer, or a gentle nudge, or a little encouragement.
When moving day came last week, friends came over from different parts of the mountain to help out, lugging boxes and packing a truck with a lump in their throats, and four of their closest friends drove the truck and another pickup full of household goods to their new home in South Carolina. We shall miss them in more ways than we can tell you, but we are happy that they will be in new quarters easier to keep and far less demanding of their attention. We hope they will continue to enjoy life, and bask in the love and admiration the folks of Patrick County and southwest Virginia have for them.
(Betts is a retired journalist who lives on Belcher Mountain.)