• A visit to Union 2013. If you grew up in Union, West Virginia and you have not been able to return to Monroe County recently, chances are you will enjoy a little tour of Union and the area.

    View a Picture Tour of Union & Monroe County.


“A Serenade” by Willis P. Simmons

The pioneers called it a shivaree, and the French called it a charivari. Both are pronounced the same, but it’s a mystery to me how it came to be called a serenade…or “sirnade”, as we would say in West Virginia. A serenade evokes thoughts of serene evenings of musical courtship, while a shivaree is correctly defined as a noisy mock serenade to newlyweds.

When I was growing up we often held a shivaree for a newly married couple…when we could find them. Unlike the pioneers, no attempt was made to roust them from their bed in the middle of the night. The idea was to surprise them at their home shortly after dark, and to make as much noise as possible with pots and pans and cow bells, and whatever else might suffice. This was intended to announce our presence, and to induce the couple to come on to the porch and kiss. (Most did so willingly, and some did so reluctantly, and some did so to our embarrassment, and some would do nothing at all.)

The entire affair often took only a few minutes, but there was always a social gathering afterwards. Although the couple would usually express surprise at the arrival of the serenaders, refreshments, and sometimes cigars, were waiting. We never wondered at that; we just ate the food and smoked the cigars.

Jeanie and I were given such a serenade a few days after we were married. We had planned a honeymoon trip to Virginia Beach, but changed our minds before we got across the Blue Ridge Mountains. We returned to the farm, where there was a private… and free… room waiting for us. We had less than two weeks before my return to Texas, and we didn’t want to travel, and we didn’t want to think about tomorrow.

I knew the serenaders would be coming, but since they had been caught off guard by our early return, it would take them a day or so to gather their forces. Jeanie knew little about this custom, and I explained it to her when we stopped at Alderson for a box of cigars. She wanted to know when it would happen, and I didn’t yet know, but I would; I knew Carlis, and George Lively, and Jim Allen. Carlis was my brother, and he would do anything for me then, and he will do so now. George always claimed to have introduced Jeanie and me… perhaps he did…and Jim had been my best man at our wedding. In my absence, they all cared for Jeanie and watched over her as though she were a sister.

I would know when they were coming, and no one need tell me; and on the evening of the serenade, Jeanie helped Mom prepare refreshments, still wondering how it could be a surprise if food and cigars were ready.

Sheltered by an ancient wisteria vine, we nestled in the front porch swing and watched the sun drop behind Gwinn’s Mountain. The last rays struck the high ridges above Otter Holler and framed its coal black depths in shades of deep purple. Chattering chimney sweepers dived into the tall soapstone chimney; the night air belonged to the bats, and we watched their erratic flight across the darkening sky. The call of a whippoorwill rose out of a deep holler, and was answered by another high up in the new ground. The fireflies resumed their eternal search for a mate, and the leaves and the air sparkled with gold. The soft night enveloped us, and we were the only two people on earth.

Then I remembered the serenaders; they would soon arrive and shatter the peaceful evening with raucous revelry. I knew that a serenade was not given to every married couple, and noisy though they might be, the serenaders were honoring us; but still, I couldn’t keep from hoping they wouldn’t stay long.

When the first lights appeared at the top of Poplar Holler Hill, Jeanie and I slipped away to the nearby orchard. We sat on a flat rock and watched. Carlis and Sonny Mann pulled their cars into the lot and turned off the lights. They probably knew where we were, but they wouldn’t give the game away… not yet. Jim and George were with them, and the four began to build a bonfire with slabs from the wood pile. By vehicle and by foot, others arrived, until house and yard were full of friends and well-wishers.

Led by Earnest Huffman, who carried a discarded saw blade from his lumber mill, the serenaders began their march around the house. When he struck the tempered steel disc, the ear splitting noise echoed among the deep hollers and silenced the whippoorwills. Had no other noise making devices been on hand, that alone would have been sufficient. Nevertheless cow bells and loud voices, and perhaps a few firecrackers, added to the din. If serenades could be judged by the amount of noise, we were getting one of the best.

We listened and watched. As the fire blazed up, the light brightened the nearby trees and we moved farther back and hid in the clover. Soon the revelers began to tire, and each circuit around the house saw fewer, until they were all waiting impatiently in the front yard.

Spotlights from Carlis’s and Sonny’s cars swept across the orchard, and we pressed closer into the sweet-smelling clover. The night was soft, and the fireflies were everywhere, and a pale moon was rising over Wolf Creek Mountain, and my young wife lay close beside me. She was wearing my shirt and she was softer than the June night and sweeter smelling than the clover; she looked at me, and the distant firelight sparkled in her brown eyes, and I would have stayed there forever.

But we rose up, and the spotlights found us, and we went to greet our well-wishers. We entered the back door, endured and enjoyed the smiles and comments of the older folks, and stepped out on to the front porch. There was one final burst of noise, a gentle kiss, and the serenade was over… except for the food.

The younger folks gathered around the bonfire. There were perhaps twenty… some older than us, and some younger… and half again as many in the house. The fire had burned down to bright coals, and we all roasted marshmallows and cooked hot dogs and took photographs, and I gave a cigar to whoever wanted one…young or old, boy or girl.

When everyone had eaten their fill, and had their fun, and smoked the cigars, they began to leave. Some walked in twos and threes, and some rode in cars; and we were glad when they came, and we were glad when they left. Then the yard was empty, except for Jeanie and me; and the night was dark, except for the glowing coals and the pale moon and the fireflies.

We had waited three long years for nights such as these, and neither of us were thinking about tomorrow.

Willis P Simmons    2000

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