The faithful came. There were no church houses, no steeples, no pulpits and no altars. But those who practice a secular gospel, a devotion to boys known as Luke and Bo, poured in and assembled themselves together.
It had rained pretty much regularly for the last 30 hours so the mud in the countryside of Luray, Va., was murky and deep. Traffic stretched for miles from all sides and some people sat in traffic for three hours, patiently waiting to park. Because they are devoted. They had come to see Cooter’s Last Stand, the final — probably — reunion of the “Dukes of Hazzard,” hosted by Mr. Ben Jones, known to the faithful as Cooter.
I knew it wasn’t going to be a pretty sight. As I inched through traffic, sometimes sitting for 15 minutes without moving, I remembered as a young sports writer when I covered the Atlanta Steeplechase followed a few months later by the first NASCAR race I ever attended, which was held at the old Atlanta International Raceway. For both events, the rain poured. The horses carried on but the car race was finally called off. I returned to the newspaper both times with muddied clothes so wet they weighed as much as I did.
I thought about turning around but I had driven eight hours. I came to finish what I had started. Now, I wouldn’t take nothing for the adventure. As people waited patiently in line, they rolled down their windows and talked back and forward in a friendly we-connect-on-this way.
Nearby, the almost 100 General Lee cars that had shown up — people even paint their golf carts and coolers to match the orange with O1 and a Rebel flag — there was a sign: Uncle Jesse’s Rules: No likker, no cussing, no fighting.
On the website of Cooter’s Last Stand had been a warning: “If you don’t like Rebel flags, don’t come.” But come they did. Blacks and whites. Jews and Gentiles. Protestants and Catholics. Young boys with skin the color of darken honey ran around, laughing and playing while their parents smiled as they watched their happiness. Each wore a tee shirt that paid tribute to the General Lee, Confederate flag and all.
More than 40,000 people fought the mud, the traffic and the rain to show up. Goodness only knows how many more would have been there had the weather been good. For the first time in all of my years of being around a mass audience event, I did not see one drunk or one beer. It was truly a family event. No one tried to break the rules. It was uplifting to behold.
As kids galloped through the ankle deep mud, I thought of the Civil War battle that was fought not too far away in New Market. The Field of Lost Shoes was so named for the young VMI cadets rushed into service. The mud was so deep that, as they charged into battle, their shoes were pulled from their feet, leaving them to fight in their socks. Amazed, I watched as hundreds of people stood in the deep mud to buy a T-shirt or baseball cap. I would have bought one but I couldn’t get near the merchandise tents.
“When Mr. Ben Jones called and asked us to come do this event, I thought there might be 400 or 500 people here,” said Marty Haggard, the son of country great Merle. “I wasn’t expecting anything like this!”
In addition to autograph signing by the cast and rows of General Lee vehicles, there was constant music playing from the likes of Haggard, Wilson Fairchild (the sons of Statler Brothers Don and Harold Reid), and the grandchildren of A.P. and Sara Carter.
A joyful time was had by all, proving that such happiness can most definitely happen without “likker, cussing or fighting.”
Spread the word.
This is the second installment in a three part series. Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of “Mark My Words: A Memoir of Mama.” Her column appears Tuesdays.