It was a full house Saturday at the Grandin Theatre in Roanoke for the screening of “Rock Castle Home,” and based on the audience’s response, the hands-down star of the documentary was Matt Hubbard of Horsepasture.
“Rock Castle Home” is a film by Duke University professor Charles D. Thompson Jr., about the Appalachian community of Rock Castle, which was displaced by the creation of the Blue Ridge Parkway. The community of about 30 farms where Patrick and Franklin counties meet exists now only as some still-standing rock chimneys and a cemetery in the woods of Rock Castle Gorge, which has a marked hiking trail as part of the park system.
The first showing of the film was at the Floyd Country Store the week before. The film will be shown on Virginia public television stations in July, and before the screening, Thompson announced that it will be shown nationally on PBS.
Hubbard was born in Rock Castle and spent the early years of his life there. In the film, he talked about growing up there, and about a massive fallen chestnut tree he used to play around. He said he wanted to see that tree one last time, and hiked up to it.
He found it, and sat down on part of it and reminisced.
Many people talked on the film, but it was several of Hubbard’s comments, delivered with humor and keen punchlines, that had the audience laughing throughout.
Before and after the film, the Hazy Mountain String Band, a family band that included three children and, a couple of times, dancing marionettes, performed traditional bluegrass music.
After the documentary was shown, Hubbard and Thompson sat on stage and talked with the audience.
Hubbard said, “If it hadn’t been for Beverly [Belcher Woody, who helps coordinate a reunion of Rock Castle descendants]” and others … the community would be forgotten, he said, “and I admire and adore every one of them because of the work – they didn’t live there, it’s obvious, because they’re not old enough, but I do admire and adore the work they have done to research and come up with a lot of Charlie’s work here that helped put out this film. They have helped them tremendously.”
Thompson said, “I have said before the film started about how to tell stories from the ground up, and a lot of times we in the United States have become enamored with the idea of top-down history to tell the stories of the rich and the famous,” but it is important to tell the stories of regular people and their lives and communities.
Hubbard said when he was growing up there he did not appreciate it and thought it was a boring place to be. After all, he said, there wasn’t even a cash economy – it was all subsistence farming, and to get things they couldn’t produce on the land, such as coffee, families would trade chestnuts or eggs.
It was “a rough time. It wasn’t any money in Rock Castle. We used eggs, we used dried apples, we used anything that we could barter at the store with to keep something on our table,” Hubbard said.
“But after I got a little older I realized what a playground I had. I had from mountaintop to mountaintop, all the way up to that gorge.
“I could go fishing anytime. It wasn’t too cold to go fishing. After I got old enough that my folks let me carry a gun, I could go squirrel-hunting, and I’d get out and enjoy myself.
“It’s a shame that people today don’t really realize what they have around them, and they are afraid to get out and search for it. If they’d just get out and search for it, they’d be like I was when I was a teenager. I didn’t know what I had around, but I found it out a little later.
“So I would encourage you people to go to places like Rock Castle. Just go on out and drive down to the Parkway and relax and live life a little bit. Don’t get caught up in the hustle that most of us get caught up in today,” Hubbard said, to a standing ovation from the crowd.
Holly Kozelsky reports for the Martinsville Bulletin. She can be reached at email@example.com and 276-638-8801 ext. 243.