It has been a hot summer’s day here in Ballengee, as the temperatures have climbed up to the 90’s and the fan in the feed store just wasn’t enough to being full comfort from the heat. I have found myself rather busy through the morning at Livery’s Feed Store. Mostly carrying out salt block for the herd stock of the farmers in the area. Tommy Thompson needed another water tub for his lower field so the cattle could have a drink. Neil Cundiff called and said he needed some Alfalfa seed that he wanted to plant for winter feed. I loaded up the Ford pickup and took the seed on out to his place along the Greenbrier.

After delivering the seed into Neil’s barn I find myself taking comfort sitting in the Barger Springs Gazebo built around the sulfur spring not far from the banks of the Greenbrier River. I would have liked to visit with Neil for a spell but he was not home, as his sign “Gone Fishing” was hanging on the barn door.

Neil retired several years back, as our town constable, and unfortunately it was an unremarkable event in our history. Neil for over thirty years watched over our little community here and was more of an arbitrator than a crime investigator. Here in Ballengee we do not have much criminal activity, as in a town our size of about 2500 everyone knows everyone. There is not much that goes on that does not funnel down through the reliable channels of local chatter. One might say that our paper, the Ballengee Record, is not the news but a review of life in our little community. Outside of some mischievous youth or one who has had one too many at the Back Street Pub, the need for a constable is mostly to settle those disagreements that neighbors have now and then. Over the years Neil had become an expert at finding the justifiable middle ground that resolved the tensions in a peaceful resolution. If I were to give Neil title, it would not be constable but peacemaker.

After Neil retired, he and his wife, Nellie, bought a cottage along the bank of the Greenbrier River. Across from his “Cottage on the Brier”, as Neil calls it, is a parcel of cleared land with a slight upward sloop that Neil has leased to Angus Miller’s farm. On this ground alfalfa and hay are grown for winter feed, as Angus Miller Jr. is a cattle farmer like his father Angus was. Back in the 1800’s the White Sulfur Springs Lodge rested on this land. Folks would come from all over to stay there and drink the water from the Barger Spring Gazebo.

Some say the water from the spring holds a therapeutic value for medical benefits but I could never drink it for the taste and smell reminds me of eggs that have long past their prime. Yet many years ago folks gathered here in hopes of improving their health. Today the lodge is gone and what was once a large green lawn of grass became a meadow and now a field for planting winter-feed.

I have spent time at Neil’s Cottage on the Brier visiting from time to time, as it is a peaceful place to spend time and chat of times now past. From inside the cottage you can hear the sound of water rushing over the rocks in the shallow riverbed of the Greenbrier. It is a mighty sound that alerts one’s senses to the reserved power of nature while echoing throughout the trees in concert with the leaves dancing in the summer’s breeze. Inside the cottage is a large room, which Neil calls the trophy room. On one wall the large ones that did not get away are mounted. Beautiful largemouth bass, river trout, and one particularly large catfish that Neil caught by the dam on the Bluestone River hold their position proudly on the wall. On another wall is a large amount of photographs of folks who have passed this way, as Neil says. Most of the photographs were taken at the nursing home located on the upper side of Ballengee, which is called the Ballengee Atrium. Neil raised my eyebrows when he called the Atrium the fishing hole. It is here at Atrium the elders of our community who can no longer manage their independence or whose health now requires constant watch; spend the remainder of their days with their peers.

I have been to the Atrium twice over the years. Once several years ago I went with Homer Massy to visit his mother. Homer said you could tell who is new to the Atrium and who has spent some time there. The newer residence will often have visits from family and friends. But as time gains its distance so too does the expanse in between the visits. It is sad to think that a life of love and devotion is lost to the busyness of the days endeavor to move further up the ladder of life. True there are activities that the Atrium provides for its residences but as time takes its toll many become confined to their rooms. Too many times we say tomorrow we shall go visit our loved ones but tomorrow never comes and then the opportunity becomes lost. Another regret we must bare until our time comes to rest at the Atrium.

The second time I visited the Atrium was last Tuesday night. It was a gala at the Atrium held in honor of Neil and Nellie Cundiff for their faithful commitment to visit the folks at the Atrium. For more years than even his constable position in Ballengee Neil had been a steady visitor to the Atrium. At first he and Nellie came at least once a week. Then several times a week and now lately every day Neil and Nellie would great the folks at the Atrium. I have always had a deep admiration of Neil and Nellie to the point that I also felt shame for myself for my lack of involvement. I remember over the years of the report that Neil would give of his time spent at the Atrium to us each Wednesday at the Church on the Knoll. The many stories of trials and victories from the elders lodged at the Atrium along with the many prayer requests that the folks there had.

Neil once told me that a good fisherman had five essential traits. A good fisherman must be patient and wait for the fish to grab a hold of the bait. He must have perseverance and be consistent in his activity. He must have good instincts and be at the right place in the right time. A fisherman must remain out of sight as much as possible. A good fisherman cannot catch a fish unless he drops a line into the water. It is here today that I now understand what Neil was really talking about.

As I sit here at the spring looking into the water that I never intend to drink, I realize it is the same attitude we carry through most of our life. The cup of truth is one we know someday we shall have to drink of and then the moment comes when we know that time could be but just a second away. I don’t think we fear that we know as much as we fear the unknown. For the folks at the Atrium their moment of truth has come to them at their loneliest time in life. It would remain that way for them if not for Neil who is there fishing with the bait of God’s love.

Neil and Nellie spent their time at the Atrium with patients waiting on the Lord to give His call. They persevered through all the rejection until the spirit was ready to answer His call. They didn’t pester the folks but had the good instincts to know when they were ready to accept Jesus as their personal savior. Neil and Nellie knew it was the Lord’s work and gave God all glory for the salvation of their souls. Neil would say that all he and Nellie did was drop the line in the water. For the folks at the Atrium in the hour of their greatest trial, Neil and Nellie were there to help them find the way. Neil and Nellie are also the example that we all should aspire too, “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the LORD your God gives you.” (Exodus 20:12)

There are folks who grab hold of the cross of salvation with both hands and never let go. For them I find great joy in my heart. Then there are those who hold to the cross with only one hand extending the other hand to help another find their way to the saving grace of Jesus. To them I have the greatest admiration.

On the barn next to the Cottage on the Brier a sign hangs with the words, “Gone Fishing”. Beneath those words you will also see inscribed, Matt. 4:19.

Thomas N Kirkpatrick

February 4, 2012

Durant Bible College

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