Charles Roscoe Collins was a student at the Blairsville Collegiate Institute. The year was 1926. The mountain school had been opened in 1904, sponsored by the Notla River Baptist Association. Later, the Home Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention also began support of the school, adding it as one of the Board's mountain schools. Students could board there and go to school, or else live in cabins or rooms in town, do their own cooking and laundry, and go to classes at the Collegiate Institute. To be able to go to this school was a privilege, indeed, as education beyond the seventh or eighth grade of one- and two-teacher country schools was about the extent of educational offerings then in Union County.
Mr. W. P. Lunsford, a man of deep piety and well-qualified as a school administrator and teacher, was headmaster at the Blairsville Collegiate Institute in 1926. Mr. Lunsford, wanting the students to have opportunities in drama, had cast a play with several boys and girls as actors. The play was well-received in its debut at the school when performed there. Mr. Lunsford got the idea that the drama should go "on the road."
In his recollections, Mr. Charles Roscoe Collins did not remember the title of the play, but he did remember the names of all the male characters. He said there were roles for the girls, too, and several of them starred in the play. The male actors were Joe Brackett, Tom Conley, Walter Hyatt, and Roscoe Collins.
With their hometown's hearty reception of the play fresh in their minds, the cast eagerly loaded into the two Model T-Fords that would transport the actors to the Lumpkin County High School in Dahlonega, Georgia where they were scheduled for a performance. One of the cars in which they traveled was Mr. Lunsford's Model-T. Another was rented from the Ford Dealership in town owned and operated by Mr. Pete Henson. This vehicle was to be driven by one of the students, Walter Hyatt, an actor in the drama.
The entourage arrived in Dahlonega on time and without incident. They performed the play to a responsive audience. By the time the play was over, it was night time, and snow had begun to fall.
The two cars loaded with the cast carefully made their way over the mountainous road from Dahlonega. As the Wyatt-driven, rented car, loaded with the male cast members, arrived at Cain Creek, the slippery condition of the road (and perhaps the inexperience of the student driver) caused the rented Model-T to go out of the road. Wyatt lost control and the car turned over. Fortunately, none of the riders or the driver were injured—just badly shaken up.
Mr. Lunsford and the girls were traveling behind the rented car. They stopped to lend aid to the overturned vehicle and the shaken-up passengers. They turned the car upright and got it back onto the road. The wreck took the top and windshield from the car. Mr. Lunsford went to town to get gas and oil, for the wreck had spilled those necessary items from the Model-T. They refilled the radiator with water from Cain Creek.
Mr. Lunsford told the boys it was their job to get the car back to Blairsville, and to be more careful. He proceeded ahead of them with his car loaded with the female cast members. The boys got to Quillian's Corner, but not without more car trouble. The motor would die, and with each incidence of the car stopping, one of the boys would take turns turning the crank in front of the car to get the motor going again.
They finally saw Neal Gap looming ahead. At the sharp curve south of the Gap, the car ran out of gasoline. Wyatt and the other boys thought it best to leave the car and walk the rest of the distance. Snow was building up on the ground. It was not an easy journey, climbing up the mountain, crossing it on foot at night, and starting the descent on the north side.
North of Vogel State Park, at Goose Creek, they saw ahead a welcome sight. A light in the window. It was coming from the home of Juan and Emma Lance Reece.
Tired from a long day before, the performance of the past evening, the misadventures of an automobile accident, and the walk over a rugged mountain at night, the four boys were exhausted. Dared they make their presence known to the Reece family and seek a little respite from their problems?
Emma Reece was cooking breakfast. Roscoe, who knew the Reece family, was appointed the one to knock on the Reece door and explain the boys' plight. Mr. Juan Reece answered the door, and invited the cold, tired cast inside.
By then Mrs. Emma Reece had come from the kitchen to welcome the unexpected guests. She assured them she could easily add to the Reece breakfast fare and would soon have them food that would squelch their hunger and last them until they got back to the dormitory at Blairsville Collegiate Institute.
Four boys sat down to a hot breakfast: hoecake bread made from flour milled from the Reece's home-grown wheat, fatback bacon fried to a crisp, thick sawmill gravy and scrambled eggs. "Four boys had never had a better breakfast," wrote Collins in his memoirs 65 years later.
At the time of the intrusion at the Reece family's breakfast, Byron Herbert Reece, who would grow up to be a noted poet, was nine years of age, a shy boy looking on as the ravenous high school lads ate the breakfast his mother prepared. His little sister, Jean, was about three at the time. Sister Eva Mae and brother T. J. were older.
In recalling the welcome of the Reece family, Roscoe Collins wrote, 65 years later: "There was the warmth of the open fire and shadows on the walls from the flickering oil-burning lamps. I am sure the mother and father gathered the children around these scenes and read from the Treasured Volume stories that helped to shape the life and thoughts of Byron Herbert Reece."
A collegiate institute, a drama to share, a rugged trip over mountains, and, finally, a light in the window welcoming weary travelers. Is it any wonder Charles Roscoe Collins remembered this story vividly 65 years after it happened?
c 2008 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published August 14, 2008 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.