Tag Archives: Danville

Chapter 56: Integration-Part 2: Negroes, Lesbians and Yankees, Oh My! | My Southern Gothic Life

New Post up on my other Blog…

Here is a brief excerpt and a link to the full post:

Once integration happened, it was really no big deal to most of us.  Some of our parents, however, never recovered.

The South in those days, at least in small towns like ours, was built a lot of unbendable, undefinable, unpublished, unspoken but completely understood rules.  The two biggest one were as follows:

Thou shalt only consort with people just like you.

Never offend the neighbors.

My parents swore by those rules.  My father’s main concern was not pissing off anybody for business reasons.  He really didn’t give a damn about anything else.

My Mother lived for The Rules and to judge others by them.  In her mind, if she had not known someone and their entire family for her entire life- and preferably their family background for several preceding generations-they really weren’t worth knowing.

She also assumed everyone else played by the same rules.  Therefore, she assumed all Black people knew each other and later, all Gay people knew each other.  I’ll never forget the time she said to me:  ”I hope you are running around in public with that Harvey Fierstein person.  I saw him on television and he’s just awful.  I really don’t want to have to try to explain that to my friends.”  It took me a while to figure that out, but then I realized she assumed, just because we were both Gay, we had to know each other and be fast friends.  I wish…I have been in the same New York bar as Harvey, but that was many years later and does not prove her point…


MORE:  Chapter 56: Integration-Part 2: Negroes, Lesbians and Yankees, Oh My! | My Southern Gothic Life.

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Danville Downtowner Motor Inn to be Demolished

Ah, another part of my  misspent youth is going to be gone shortly…

We had some damn good parties at that place and I used to eat lunch in their Restaurant when I worked in Downtown Danville at a Bank right after college.

Had some fun times at their “disco”, the Black Horse Cellar…

We also spent most of our Senior Prom in a Suite there having cocktails before and after making our token appearance at the Dance…

See my previous blog post on my other blog for details:  http://mysoutherngothiclife.com/2011/02/12/chapter-50-party-at-the-hot-sheet-hotel/

From GoDanRiver.Com:

The Danville Industrial Development Authority has bought the former Downtowner Motel at the corner of Main and Union streets with the help of a Danville Regional Foundation grant.

“Without the financial support of the Danville Regional Foundation, we would not have been able to make this very significant purchase at this time to advance the Master Plan being developed for the River District,” said Richard Turner, chairman of the Industrial Development Authority. “Because of its high visibility, the removal of this structure will begin what we all think will be a major transformation of the district.”

The Downtowner building has been empty for more than a decade but has “become the focal point of blight eradication and redevelopment in the newly designated River District,” the release said.

via Danville IDA buys the former Downtowner Motel | GoDanRiver.com.

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Danville Workers’ Complaints Surround IKEA’s U.S. Factory

Extremely interesting article about the IKEA factory in Danville, VA, the city I escaped from, I mean I was born in…

Thanks to Tim Flowers for making me aware of this article in the Los Angeles Times…

Funny….I don’t recall seeing it mentioned in the Danville Register and Bee…

“It’s ironic that Ikea looks on the U.S. and Danville the way that most people in the U.S. look at Mexico,” Street said.

The Swedwood factory is situated on the outskirts of Danville, in the midst of rolling tobacco country, just north of the North Carolina border.

For most of the last century the town of 45,000 relied on textiles and tobacco for jobs. Today the riverfront is lined with empty red brick warehouses and crumbling mills. With the unemployment rate high — currently at 10.1% — the city has put muscle behind attracting new companies, including Ikea.

“They’ve definitely given jobs to people that desperately needed them here,” city manager Joe King said.

Swedwood says it chose Danville to cut shipping costs to its U.S. stores. The plant has been run mostly by American managers, along with some from Sweden.

via Ikea: Workers’ complaints surround Ikea’s U.S. factory – latimes.com.

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Chapter 52: Sex in the South: Part 2- The Queen of the South | My Southern Gothic Life

New post up on my other blog, MySouthernGothicLife.com….

Here’s a brief excerpt and a link to the full post…

Like fashion, new movies, ethnic food and just about everything else, the Sexual Revolution came late to Danville, Virginia.

However, given the sexually repressive atmosphere, it should be no surprise it led the way in one area:  Outdoor Porn Drive In Theaters.

via Chapter 52: Sex in the South: Part 2- The Queen of the South | My Southern Gothic Life.

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Chapter 51: Sex in the South: Part 1- Setting the Stage | My Southern Gothic Life

There is a new post up on my other blog:  My SouthernGothicLife.com

Here is the intro and a link to the full post:

To put it bluntly, when we were growing up, we knew sex was everywhere in the South.  It was poorly hidden, but not a topic of socially approved conversations.   Or at least it once wasn’t…

We came from, perhaps, the last generation to be fed totally screwed up information about sex.  At least, I hope so…

MORE:   Chapter 51: Sex in the South: Part 1- Setting the Stage | My Southern Gothic Life.

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One in four U.S. counties “dying”: Census Bureau – International Business Times

Danville/Pittsylvania County, VA is included in this list.

I checked…

Emphasis/Italics are mine…

One in four counties in the U.S. are ”dying” – meaning, they are recording more deaths than births – according to findings by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Demographers call this phenomenon a “natural decrease.”

The data shows that 760 of the nation’s 3,142 counties are in this category – exacerbated, analysts say, by an aging population the mortgage crisis, record high unemployment in many states and the ever-fragile economy.

These counties exist in all parts of the country, from the old Rust Belt areas of Pennsylvania and Ohio, to rural East Texas and even in the wine country of northern California.

West Virginia is the first state to experience this “natural decrease” statewide over the last decade. Maine, Pennsylvania and Vermont may soon be next, the Census data suggested.

“Natural decrease is an important but not widely appreciated demographic phenomenon that is reshaping our communities in both rural and urban cores of large metro areas,” said Kenneth Johnson, a sociology professor and demographer at the University of New Hampshire’s Carsey Institute.

Such areas typically have aging white people who are not having children, as well as grim job prospects that drive younger adults away. These locales also tend to have few Hispanic immigrants, who, on the whole, are younger and have more children.

Indeed, the population of the entire U.S. grew by only 9.7 percent since 2000, the lowest such decade-rate since the Great Depression.

via One in four U.S. counties “dying”: Census Bureau – International Business Times.

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Chapter 45: The Help | My Southern Gothic Life

Yet another new post is up on my other blog.

Here is the beginning and a link to the full post:

I can’t encourage you enough to read the book “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett.  If you haven’t read it, put it on your Christmas Wish List.  If you have read it, give it to your friends.

I’ve never read a truer book about the interaction between black women who worked as Maids in the early 1960′s and their “white ladies.”

Although the book is set in Mississippi, it could very well have been set in Danville, Virginia.  I remember those days too well.

People seem to already be forgetting that the South in those days, from Richmond to Mobile, was like South Africa under Apartheid.  I was in South Africa in 1997 and felt just like I did in Virginia in 1965.

Everyone had a place and stayed in it.  But the times were beginning to change…

In the 1960′s, the bus line ran near our house.  The corner of Brook Drive and Lansbury Drive was a major stop for the Maids.  Six or seven women would get off the bus around 7:30 or 8:00 a.m. and walk back down there to go home around 6:00 or so.  Some of them wore their bedroom shoes to work as their feet were so tired and broken down from standing all day, all they could wear were scuffs.

Most of the White Ladies in Temple Terrace had maids.  They didn’t have jobs, but they had Maids.  I remember our “car pool” for Miss Touchstone’s Kindergarten, our Mothers would throw a London Fog all-weather coat over their pajamas to take us to “school” and only get dressed and made up around 4:30 before our Fathers came home from work.  I don’t know what they did in the meantime…

MORE:   Chapter 45: The Help | My Southern Gothic Life.

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My Southern Gothic Life | Trying to Stay Sane in a Crazy Southern World…

New post up on my other blog:


When I was growing up in Danville, Virginia, decorating for Christmas was always a very big deal.

My Mother’s goal in life, for several years, was to win the Temple Terrace Women’s Club Home Decorating Contest.   Even though she was President of the Club, for several years, she still never won.  And she was not above “putting in the fix” if she could have figured out how to do so.

I was never quite sure what the Temple Terrace Woman’s Club did.  All I know is my Mother was inordinately proud of the fact that they once voted on something by placing their ballots in one of her bronze trash cans and everyone commented on how clean it was.  Thanks to the maid, I might add.

They also had a dish towel sale one year.  I don’t know what it was supposed to benefit, but we had several cases of dish towels in our basement for several years.  Some are still there even after 45 years…

Anyway, the whole production always began with her moving the previously mentioned cardboard fireplace into it’s place of honor in the basement.  After she meaningfully told my Father that she hoped one day she would have a real fireplace, she would make him haul out all the other stuff.

MORE:   My Southern Gothic Life | Trying to Stay Sane in a Crazy Southern World….

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My Southern Gothic Background

There is a big difference between “Southern Gothic” and “The Jerry Springer Show.”  I should know.  I’m Southern.  And I’m a Virginian.

I’m just back from another day in my hometown, so I’m thinking about all this again…

Since I’m writing this blog, I feel this need to disclose the factors that color my perceptions.  Things a lot of people who know me know,  but that may surprise others.  In recent terminology, I’m “putting all my business in the Street.”

Discretion is so passe, so  what the hell?  So here we go…

“The Jerry Springer Show” is/was based on sensationalism and trashy revelations.  With our “Southern Gothic” tradition, we all know each other’s secrets and no one cares…It’s the inverse to the New England reticence.  We may choose not to acknowledge or mention certain details, but in the South, we all know each other’s business.  We put our crazy relatives out with the “sane” ones.  It never really occurs to us they are different.  For us, it’s just normal to have crazy relatives and to accept differences within the Family.   No locking them in the attic for us!  Well, most of the time…

I grew up dealing with this situation.

The first thing my Mother did after marrying my Father was to have his Mother committed.

Like all good Southern stories, there are multiple versions of the tale.  The one I prefer is that my Grandmother, Susan Catherine Rush Michaels, called up my parents one evening and told them she had just ground up a Coca Cola bottle in her Waring blender and drank it in a drink to try to kill herself because she was tired and depressed.

My Mother had no sympathy for quitters.  And she wanted her furniture.  So, off Susie went to the State Hospital at Staunton.

Unfortunately, for my Mother, my Grandmother’s maiden sisters, who lived with her, sold all the furniture during the Commitment Trip for cash because they were afraid my Mother would put them on the street penniless.  My Mother never got over this betrayal.

It’s also important to note the differences between my Mother’s family and my Father’s family.

My Father liked to think he came from a background beyond reproach.  He was descended from  a Signer of the Declaration of Independence, Dr Benjamin Rush of Philadelphia, and his relatives were allegedly inter-married with the Virginia Randolph family.  This means two things:  My Father could claim undisputed FFV status (First Family of Virginia, for the uninitiated-and no one ever disputes anyone’s claim) and that I was genetically predetermined to go to Washington and Lee University.

My Mother’s family was from the mountains and coal fields of West Virginia.  They literally walked down to Virginia to work in the cotton mills.  This may be why I had such a violent reaction to “Providence Gap” at Triad Stage.  I know these people and they there not the ones I saw on stage at that show, but I digress….

In any event, my Mother ultimately became a Cheerleader, which we all know means a woman determined to better her station in life by jumping and screaming in front of hundreds of strangers in 30 degree weather.  I hear she was beautiful and a classic Southern Belle.  My Father never had a chance…They married in 1950.

What my Mother apparently didn’t know was that my Father was from the most respected category of Southern lineages:  Old Family, No Money.   This is another thing she never got over…She always thought a woman had one card to play- her virginity- and that it went to the man best positioned to enable her to retire early.  She never recovered from, in her mind, misplaying her card.

Growing up, I always thought my Mother’s first name was “Goddammit”.  As in, “Goddammit Lou, what were you thinking?” or “Goddammit Lou, how much is this going to cost me?”  I’ll never forget her coming downstairs to the den one night when I was about 12, all dressed up in a new negligee’ and trying to look fetching, and my father just looking at her and saying:  “You still aren’t getting new furniture” and pouring another glass of bourbon.  Cheerleaders don’t have a long shelf life.

But it was her family that grounded me.  My Grandmother Sigmon could barely read and write, but I was much closer to her than the fancier Rush relatives.  I’m not quite sure how she produced my Mother.  She was non-judgemental, accepting of all people and infinitely curious about life.  She also thought my Mother was a pretentious fool.  My Father adored her.  She proved a Great Lady was made by an open heart and not by an open checkbook or family lineage.  She practically raised me, as a small child,  as my Mother was too busy with other things…

I found my Mother’s family infinitely interesting.  When she dumped me off at my Grandmother’s house in the Mill Village, I was in a different world.  Her instruction were not to play with anyone there or leave my Grandmother’s house.  She did not want me “mixing”.  But I did…

One of her brothers, my uncle, Wiseman Lafayette Sigmon, lived with my Grandmother and had not left the house since about 1945.  Today, we would call him crazy or agoraphobic.  Then, he was just different.  He would stay up late watching whatever would be on late night TV.  Back then, it wasn’t much.  But a lot of it was about history.  He loved history and learned it from TV.  I’m convinced he gave me my love of History that led me to major in it at Washington and Lee University so many years later.  He was crazy as a could be, but to me, he was just a normal part of my life.  I loved him.

My Mother’s Sister Goldie, was a working single woman.  Rare in that era.  She moved to Charlotte, NC, alone, in about 1965 and was the first one in her family to go out on her own.  She was a brilliant woman.  Valedictorian of her class in High School.  She took some college course, but never finished.  She knew her options were limited, but still made the best of it.  She was like my Auntie Mame.  She would sweep into Danville and give me a taste of the outside world.  She actually saw Carol Channing in “Hello Dolly” on Broadway, the first time she played it.  I never got over this revelation.  She let me know there was a life outside of Danville and  you could get out to a much more interesting place.  She also taught me not to forget your roots…She never did.  I’ve tried not to….I loved her very much.

My Uncle Sammy was a mystery to me.  He was younger than the others and just kind of a laid back, occasional presence.  He’s still an enigma to me.  I really don’t know him…

My other uncle, Daniel, was a cautionary tale.  I won’t speak of him too much as that was how I was raised-to not speak of or to him.  Let’s just say, I know White Trash when I see it.

This is where I come from…So, what can I say?

I learned to keep my eyes and ears open at an early age.  I come from a complicated background and from complicated people.  This all  taught me to watch people and question everyone and everything.  Not to accept anything at face value.  I have no regrets and many thanks for these lessons….

You know me a little better now, but none of this-and all of this- defines me.  That’s what it’s like to be Southern.  We like the Gothic side as much as the classy white bread side.  We invent ourselves and are a product of our past.

We all have secrets and we all usually know each other’s.  We just try to pretend otherwise.  We are raised to accept the perceptions one choses to offer at the expense of reality.  It’s much more pleasant.

We are all a mix of different energies.  That’s what makes us all unique and never boring…

I just choose to talk about the secrets and to explore them.  I’m getting older, but no less curious.

I want to keep all of this information forefront in my mind as I continue my journey.  It all colors who I am and will be…

It all means/meant different things at different stages in life.

And if Jerry Springer can put it all in the street to entertain people, I can put it out there to try to learn from it….


Filed under Danville, My Journey, Social Commentary, Virginia

You Can’t Go Home Again

I’ve spent more time in my hometown of Danville, Virginia over the last few weeks than I have spent there in the last 20 years.

Normally, I would go up there for Christmas Eve and maybe once more during the year.  I had a  four hour limit on how much time I spent there.  That was to preserve my mental health.  After about three and a half hours, I had to head for the border to be sure I could get across to North Carolina before they closed it.  I lived in fear of being trapped there.  I always did…

But times have changed.  We have been in the process of moving my Mother to an Assisted Living facility, so I have had to spend a fair amount of time up there and I’ve learned a few things:

  1. You can’t go home again because home changes.  Home is now our house in Greensboro where I live with my partner of almost 14 years and our furry children.
  2. Houses shrink.  The house I grew up in seems so much smaller than it used to.  It’s smaller than the house just the two of us live in now.  It’s certainly not the McMansions most people expect now.  But we survived growing up there.  More or less…
  3. I don’t know anyone anymore.  I went to banks and other places I used to go to and foolishly expected to find people there I knew.  It never occurred to me they would have moved on.  I guess I thought Danville was frozen in time as it was when I left it.
  4. Danville has changed for the worse.  I know I keep harping on this, but I am shocked by how run down the town now seems.  The shopping center where Value City and Harris Teeter was is empty.  Piney Forest Road is the ugliest strip of real estate I have ever seen.  And it takes forever to go across town on it because of all the bloody stop lights!
  5. There are so many old people there.  Not just at my Mother’s Assisted Living place.  There is no sense of youth and vibrancy.  I like to think there once was…
  6. Neighborhoods change.  Our neighborhood was one of the new post World War Two developments full of ranch houses and hope.  The shopping center nearby had two grocery stores, a Woolworth’s, a Drugstore and a Belk Leggetts.  Now the neighborhood is going rental and the shopping center is a joke.
  7. All the good restaurants seem to be gone.  Except Short Sugars, the Dan View and Mama Possum’s.  Only kidding.  There used to be some good local restaurants and now they are all gone.  All I see is chain restaurants.  I don’t do chains.  I would starve to death if I had to live there now.
  8. Dan River Mills is being torn down.  I think this is what is killing the town.  At one point, over 20% of the population worked there. Now it’s closed dead and gone.  Taking the town with it.  You can almost feel a tangible atmosphere that is a mixture of anger, resignation and defeat.
  9. Bitterness and isolation thrive when hope leaves.  When I read the comments in the Danville paper on–line, I see so much bitterness and closed-mindedness.  They seem to want to wall off the town and keep what little is left for themselves.  How tight they hold the ties that bind.
  10. They don’t like outsiders- and now I am one.  Unless you have pledged to stay there and suffer, you seem to abdicate your place as a Danvillian.  They almost seem to view some of us who leave as traitors.  So be it.  I can’t count the times I’ve heard “you don’t live here now” as if it is a dismissal.

This makes me know I made the right- the only- choice to leave.  But it also makes me sad.  I never planned to stay there, but I always thought there would be something I recognized there to go back to.  There isn’t.  I don’t recognize the town or it’s people anymore…

Thomas Wolfe was right…you can’t go home again.

But when you look back, you have to remember the good friends, good times and family you once had there.  Some of us are lucky enough to have to have taken some of that with us-if only on FaceBook.

And we have to be very grateful for the good times we did have there and how they made us the people we are.

We can not allow those memories to be colored by how time has ravaged what was once a pretty nice little town.  We can’t be petty and bitter.  We have to fight those Danville genes.

We have to create our own homes and our own families  We have to look forward while still trying to honor the past.

And we have to wish Danville the best for the future.

It’s going to be a long journey out of the darkness for that little town….

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