The story below is an excerpt from our May/June 2016 issue. For the rest of this story and more like it subscribe today, log in to read our digital edition or download our FREE iOS app. Thank you!
From my grandparents’ house at the corner of Fourth and Harvey streets in Radford, Virginia those many decades ago, a boy could go outside and walk the little rise before then taking on the impossibly steep hill down Harvey to the West End business district.
I loved that walk, both because it took me past big houses and yards and stone walls that, for some reason I do not know, I was interested in looking at; and more so because the walk delivered me to the little cluster of stores at that end of town—the one away from then-tiny Radford College.
I remember three of the string of businesses on the river side of West Main Street as well as I remember anything from childhood. Lyle’s Drug, where my grandfather stood and joked with the men behind the counter; the Bear Store, where my grandmother bought groceries until the big new Kroger’s came to town, and the general store, the name of which I can’t remember.
My sister and I walked down there, each laden with some change from my grandfather, to shop. The store, darkish and narrow-but-long, had bins of all kinds of stuff; I was interested in just two of them—candy and 45 rpm records.
I do not remember the candy specifics, but I remember the two best records I bought: Fats Domino’s “Blueberry Hill,” and Jim Lowe’s “The Green Door.” For the sake of not revealing my full geezerhood, I won’t talk about the year, but I was 10 years old that summer when those two songs were hits.
The appearance of West End Radford today is not so terribly different from those many decades ago, though the businesses in those buildings are all completely different. And The Day Hiker and I still enjoy going to Radford, not only to walk by the house where my mother grew up, but also to watch a grandson play traveling baseball, to walk the Riverway and Wildwood Park, to look at the baseball field where I played in those summers long ago, and to visit a downtown restaurant for lunch in the midst of those explorations.
Point being: The small town you loved as a boy can be the same small town you love as someone older than your grandfather was when you used to visit it. In fact, at said older age, you can enjoy it a lot more thoroughly and in many more contexts than you could as a child.
Which is one of the themes of this issue. The Day Hiker and I have spent time and over-nights in all nine of our Happiest Towns in the Mountains (see page 32), and are here to testify to our readers’ immense good taste in voting them as winners.
Many of our visits have been built around our favorite combination of things to do: A hike, a fine evening meal, live music and a cozy place to sleep. And nearly all of the towns have excelled at all three. Our fandom for Fred Eaglesmith and his traveling band has taken us to four of the nine, and we have made trips to others in our region built around seeing Jackson Browne, Randy Newman, Allison Moorer, Chris Smither, John Gorka, Todd Snider and others.
And even absent the music lure, all of our winners have a strong appeal to us, perhaps illustrated most poignantly by the fact that The Day Hiker has espoused doing at least some of our Christmas shopping not only in Asheville, but also in tiny tiny Lewisburg.