By Frances Stebbins
[This is a memory from the many decades the author has been privileged to write for daily and weekly newspapers circulating in Western Virginia.]
People who live on the backside of Brushy Mountain, off Wildwood Road that bounds Salem on the north, are familiar with the animals, birds and vegetation that were there long before suburban residents.
For instance, my colleague and veteran weekly newspaper writer and editor Meg Hibbert, was recently visited by a bear. Deer of all ages are no novelty either as well as a variety of smaller things.
Another well-known resident is the Rev. Richard F. Bansemer, a retired bishop of the Virginia Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). He and his musician wife, the former Mary Ann Troutman, have owned a wooded tract high on the mountainside for more than 30 years. Recently, he was visited by three bears.
Bansemer served as pastor of several congregations in Colorado and Western Virginia before being elected bishop in 1987. He held the administrative office for 12 years, but took an early retirement to do the things he has always enjoyed, namely woodworking and writing devotional prayers.
His latest volume is “Meadow and Woodlands Prayer Poems” which, like several other creative works, are inspired by his frequent walks through his land on the mountain side.
I learned of Bansemer’s latest creation from the Virginia Synod’s newsletter in an article by veteran Lutheran historian and news writer George Kegley. The news took me back to seven years ago when I spent two absorbing summer hours with the Bansemers at the mountain retreat. The interview is one of the many unforgettable encounters of my own long news writing career.
The retired bishop also worked with Aaron Garber who directs music at First United Methodist Church in Salem. Bansemer provided the libretto for three scripturally-based oratorios which were presented in Roanoke earlier in this century. They were based on stories of the Old Testament character Job as well as Mary the mother of Jesus and the Savior.
From my small home in East Salem, I can see about a mile away – as the crow flies – the railroad that crosses Virginia from the sea into our mountains. I am glad it is there, for distant railroads have long been part of my past. In my childhood, they were the major means of long-distance travel for my mother and me, for in our Piedmont Virginia small town we had no car.
My widowed mother had never learned to drive one and sometimes said she couldn’t afford wheels. Close-by neighbors occasionally gave us a ride, but mostly we walked to school, church, the two grocery stores and to friends in the residential neighborhoods.
In Orange, as in many towns, the Southern train tracks bisect Main Street, so traffic was often held up by a slow-moving freight on its way north to Washington or to Richmond and other cities to the south.
From our house in my early childhood, one could see the tracks of the Virginia Central Railway which ran to Fredericksburg to the east. The engine with two cars for passengers and freight came up from Fredericksburg at 10 a.m. and returned at 2, and we could tell time by its little horn.
The Virginia Central had played a part in the Civil War fighting of the 1863-64 battles but had long ceased usefulness. The Great Depression finished its life.
My Salem railroads used to haul coal to be exported through the port of Norfolk, but now I can distantly see mostly general freight cars. The tracks of what used to be the Virginian and the Norfolk & Western follow the Roanoke River dividing our small city as the consolidated Norfolk Southern still does.
I love to hear the horn as a train approaches one of the several grade crossings. That happens, I suppose, when the locomotive engineer does not know that years ago, objections to the sound caused an ordinance to be passed in Salem, as in many communities, to silence horns where many live. In fact, a recent news report revealed that in the suburban county of Amherst north of Lynchburg citizens were complaining that trains were too loud.
It’s all a matter of taste, I guess.