Nonfiction Memoir

In response to Phenix Being Named to the 10 Small Towns In Virginia Where You’d Never Want To Live

A dude who grew up in Phenix, Virginia, responds to a dude who has never been there.

There’s a story blowing up my Facebook feed this afternoon. It’s called 10 Small Towns In Virginia Where You’d Never Want To Live, by Bud Tapman. On that list is my hometown of Phenix, Virginia. And since everyone I know in Phenix has yet to drive and park their car at the municipal building in an effort to pick up wifi internet from the library, I’ll have to step in and defend Phenix until they are able to read this shameful article.

I see your click bait Bud Tapman and raise you some real science and data¹ about Phenix, Virginia, which you, sir, who sits in a shadow on a rock overlooking an ocean at sunset, know nothing about. We’ve got sunsets in Phenix, too, and rocks. No ocean though.

Five Reasons and/or Clarifications Why Phenix Is Not One of the Worst Small Towns to Live in Virginia

1 / This dude ain’t never played a game of Tennis Ball on a Friday night

And what’s Tennis Ball you ask? For starters, I’m not talking about a lowercase tennis ball like you hit with a tennis racquet while playing tennis. No sir. I’m talking about the titlecased Tennis Ball, the official sport of Phenix, Virginia, which is a lowercase tennis ball you hit with a baseball bat at a basketball court where the lights go out at 10:16 PM like clockwork. If you hit it in the church yard, it’s an automatic homer, but if you hit Jeff and Anne Lipscomb’s house, you better truck it around the bases before you get beaned upside the head by your friend and second cousin.

Baseball may be America’s pastime, but Tennis Ball is Phenix’s pastime.

2 / Two post offices and two banks? Mama, you didn’t tell me we had moved on up like the Jeffersons

I thought we still had one post office—which was only open until noon—and only the Bank of Charlotte County. Who did this guy’s research for him — James Frey?

Oh, and by the way: if you ever try to rob the Phenix branch of the Bank of Charlotte County, every citizen in town (yeah, we call each other citizens), shop owners and all, will break out their shotguns and rifles on your thieving ass.

And, ANDthe Phenix bank was the only bank in Charlotte County to survive the Great Depression. Sure, we don’t have any money in the bank, but that’s not always a negative. It depends on whether your glass is half empty or half full. In Phenix, our glass is half full — sometimes with alcohol on a Sunday. I’m just kidding. We don’t have any stores open on Sunday that sell alcohol. Our glasses are half full with alcohol on a Saturday, but only if you get to the store before 5 PM. Or is it 6 PM now? Mike sold the store, so I don’t know how long Robbie keeps it open these days.

3 / Does Bud Tapman know what it’s like to be entertained on a Saturday morning at the Livestock Market with the sweet aroma of pig and cow manure as cattle are auctioned off to the highest bidder? I’m betting he doesn’t

And so what if the stock market (as we called it growing up) doesn’t exist anymore. The building collapsed. Bud Tapman don’t know about that rich history or that sweet aroma. And yes, I do realize it’s “Bud Tapman doesn’t know about that rich history,” but you’re talking smack about Phenix, and my Phenix dialect can’t withhold itself. It must be freed of correct grammar.

4 / This dude ain’t never been to the Blue Hole

And no, the Blue Hole is not a reference to something explicit. It’s a hole with quicksand around it that goes straight through the core of the earth from Phenix to China. True story. Jay Taylor once threw a cat in it, and the cat never returned.

5 / This dude can’t count. Population 281 — the hell it is

I know what the U.S. census says, and I know that the census also includes neighboring mini-towns in that figure like Bethel, Old Well, and Aspen. We’ve got a solid 120 people in Phenix, four of which might actually be dead, rocking back and forth in a rocking chair on their front porch, and nobody knows.

With all due respect to Bethel, Old Well, and Aspen, you’re not from Phenix. (I mean no harm by this. I’m just saying: you’re not really from Phenix so you’re bloating our population figure. Save for the bloating our population figure, I love you. I really do. I have family in those places. But you’ve never held up the P-Town gang sign, have you? I didn’t think so)

Do you hear me federal census taker? Correct our population in Phenix. You’re making us look all heavily populated and shit — like some sort of city.

In conclusion, Phenix is definitely not one of the worst places to live in Virginia

Look, I don’t live there anymore, and most everyone I was friends with got the hell out of Dodge, too, but that doesn’t mean we don’t love it. It’s where our childhoods were birthed and our lifelong friendships were made.

And I’m proud to say I’m from Phenix without the -o. Do you know what it’s like, Bud Tapman, to tell someone you’re from Phenix, and they respond: Arizona? And you’re like, “No, Phenix without the -o. It’s a small town in Virginia”? No, you don’t Bud Tapman. No, you don’t.

And if you come to Phenix talking smack, we’ll kick you out. Actually, we’ll probably be really nice to you and give you directions. But if you run out of gas on a weekend as you’re passing through, you’re screwed until Monday. Scratch that. I know a guy who can siphon tanks. He can hook you up.

But for real people from Phenix reading this: you guys have got to get some high speed internet that doesn’t suck. You’re killing me when I visit my mom. Killing me.

P.S. Bud Tapman

Also, I have relatives from Drakes Branch, which is #6 on your list, and you obviously didn’t do much research there either because you didn’t even call it Duck’s Puddle at any point in your measly little paragraph. The f—k outta here.

Works cited and other science and data and stuff:
¹I grew up in Phenix, Bud Tapman — if that’s your real name. And yes, Jeffrey Pillow is my real name, last name and all. I know, Pillow. Crazy, right? I even had a relative by the name of Jasper Pillow who lived in Old Well a few hundred years ago. No kidding. Jasper.

What’s your experience or advice? Share it in the comments below.

Thanks for reading.

Photo: Alan Levine. “Phenix, Virginia” Licensed under CC BY 2.0

53 replies on “In response to Phenix Being Named to the 10 Small Towns In Virginia Where You’d Never Want To Live”

Jeff if you keep making this poverty stricken , waste land out to Utopia more holes like Bud will come in and tell us how we’re not doing things right

Thanks for reading. I had tears (of laughter) coming from my eyes as I wrote this response. Wish I had only included something my sister mentioned below. Totally forgot about Billy Mann’s truck backfiring. It’d make you drop to the ground faster than anything.

Hello All.
I was raised in Drakes Branch ,Va. . I love this little dead town. One of my best friends in high school lived in Phenix, Va. . I so hate to see our once booming little towns reduced to dried up nothing through bypasses, byways and speed traps. ( Thanks Wal-mart and other giant chain stores) ! I love the mom and pop stores of older days .. You can put us down, but we still love our home town values !!! ( You got any ?)
Don’t judge us by businesses ! Judge us by values and love of our home towns !!

Amen, maybe our small town of Drakes Branch will continue to stay small. That’s not a bad thing. Oh they forgot to mention the new Dollar General. We are moving on up.

Is Drakes getting a Dollar General too? High rollers.

I remember it back in the 1980s when it had everything you needed on Main Street. You could grab some breakfast, get a car, pick up a prescription, a pair of blue jeans, and a country ham all within 100 yards.

My mom was born and raised in Drakes. That’s where my grandparents lived. I spent many, many days there at my grandparents’ house. And many nights as a teenager partying at my cousin’s house 🙂

I was raised and still live in Pamplin, VA *talk about DEAD town/ex-city. There’s a lot to be said about living in a small town.. GOOD NEWS.. everybody knows your business… BAD NEWS.. EVERYBODY knows your business.

But good or bad, I wouldn’t trade it for a city, ever. This is family.. this is home.

I’ve always found it interesting to drive through Pamplin. I’m sure it exists somewhere, but it’d be interesting to see photographs of all those buildings from 70-80 years ago when there were people in and out of them, and the railroad was the boon of the town.

Good job Jeff! Just because they can’t afford an “o” doesn’t make it a bad town or to be made fun of!!

Too bad it’s only available in certain areas throughout Charlotte county!!! Lol

My mom attempted Shentel recently for a few months, and it may work well in certain locations in Charlotte County, but it performed very poorly where she lives in Phenix. I wish the opposite were true, but that just wasn’t the case.

Thanks for reading. It’s a little tongue-in-cheek to say the least, as was the RoadSnacks piece. I got a kick out of writing the response. It brought back some memories I had long forgotten about.

Freaking hilarious! I do think you should have paid a tribute to Billy Mann and how we used to duck thinking it was a shotgun but really it was Billy rounding the corner when he headed home! Hahah

Oh, man. I totally forgot about that one. Might have to amend this, or write an entirely new post as I told someone else called 100 Things You Didn’t Know About Phenix, Virginia. Billy’s truck backfiring is a classic.

It’s about the closest thing to a drive-by shooting Phenix ever experienced, save for the bank robbery that time.

Jeff thanks for the blog. I really enjoyed it!!! Nothing like being raised in a small country town. Some of the best people with values, dignity, and respect comes from small towns where we grew up !!! Even though there’s not much to do compared to me living in New Jersey I always enjoy coming home. Home is definitely where the heart is!

Small towns definitely have their pros and cons, but for me, like you, home is where the heart is. I’m a product of my environment in many ways, and I’m totally fine with that.

This is hilarious!! I was raised in Phenix and worked in the Bank of Phenix after school and on Saturdays. I enjoyed living there and have some great memories of Phenix. Sure beats living in a city. I now have a farm in Isle of Wight County Virginia but my memories remain….

Well said Jeff. I grew up in Red Oak, A true rural area. When you leave there “town” is in every direction. Phenix is one of those towns.
The very things that land places like these on this list are the things that give them charm. The things I hold dear. Alexandria is a great place, but Phenix, Drakes Branch and the like are more my style.
Also, I would really like to give Tennis ball a try. Somebody let me know if there is a open spot on a team sometime.

Phenix is a lot less expensive to live in than Alexandria too. But only by a little. Haha.

As for Tennis Ball: I’m not sure if anyone has played that game since me, Robbie, Kevin, and Jeremiah moved away. Possibly. But I have yet to witness it on my trips home to visit my mom.

In September of 1962, 53 years ago, I drug my husband kickin’ and screamin’ away from his beloved hometown of Phenix (without the o) Virginia. It was the place he grew up, where he rode the train to Cullen and back for a dime (and his Mama didn’t know where he was); where he swam (and took his bath) in Cub Creek ( and his Mama didn’t know where he was); where he rode his bike wherever he wanted to, climbed whatever trees he wanted to, and walked on the train trestle (and his Mama surely didn’t know where he was then!)
Later he grew up and made black marks on the road with his Daddy’s car, worked at his Daddy’s flour mill, and fought on a regular basis. The boys from Brookneal and the ones from Phenix were on fightin’ terms and they took turns coming to town–one night at Phenix, the next in Brookneal–where they truly punched and fought to their hearts content. And his Mama, nor his Daddy, knew where he was. He got into trouble, made good friends for the rest of his life, learned many skills, and grew up in a family that had lived in Phenix for sixty or seventy years. His brother still lives in a quiet spot on what was the original family property. The rest of the family are gone now, either to another place or to their final places.
Phenix is not high tech. It is not prosperous in modern day terms. It won’t normally make the national news (although they did have one amazing bank robbery a few years back). But for those who grew up there in another time, they will always love it and tell hundreds of stories…like the one about the kid who drove a truck to elementary school every day (yes he did!), smoked cigarettes in the classroom and stuck them in the fork of a tree outside the window, and many other stories that can’t be told here. Not the biggest. Not the fastest moving. Not the most happenin’ place. But for many it was home and they remember only the good things about Phenix, VA. And yes, his name was Spider.

I always wondered this about Spider. Did he get his nickname as a kid or did it come from him playing bass — because that’s how the fingers look walking up and down the fretboard of a bass guitar, like a spider?

I lived in Drakes Branch for 18 years and enjoyed every minute that I lived there. People did call it duck puddle and I would always feel ashame, but that where I was raised. Surely is a small town.

I used to go to the big city of Drakes when I was a kid all the time. As I mentioned in a comment above, it used to have everything you needed from a car to medicine to a country ham and blue jeans all in a 100 yard span on Main Street. It was sad to see all of that disappear over the course of a generation.

I was an inbetweener but I was in Phenix more than anywhere else! I love Phenix! So many wonderful memories were made. How dare they put it down like that. Your response was spot on and had me literally lol!

Because of your mom’s hair cuttery, you were an adopted Phenixian; and that is an honor not bestowed on many. You were no in-betweener no matter where your house stood.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this! I grew up in Madisonville and I loved going to Phenix! Ice cream cones from Reid Berkley’s was the high light for me! 🙂

We used to rent movies from Madisonville before my dad opened a video store in Phenix. And Reid Berkley, that’s a name I haven’t heard in a long time 🙂

I’m a native Marylander but I married a guy from Phenix, Virginia (right there on Highway 40) so I had the pleasure of living there for 6 years. My son began his early years of school at Phenix Elementary and I would choose the laid-back life there over the Washington DC suburbs any day. No one mentioned Mrs. Brinkly’s store as I am sure that store has been owned by several people but that was the highlight of my Sunday afternoon (mid-late 90’s) leaving church, stopping by there to get ice cream and other treats. I remember during the 2008 or 2012 election campaign when ABC News was following the campaign trail and became lost in Drakes Branch ,Virginia yes Drakes branch and one of the newscasters made the remark that it’s a very small town and they were lost and trying to find Interstate 95 North ( how they ended up on highway 47 -I will never know). He marveled at the night sky . And said he has never seen a starry sky like that in New York … I would never want to live anywhere that doesn’t have a night sky. Maybe he should have looked for the North Star before he got lost in our neck of the woods. Lol. I ♡ Phenix.

I told my sister I need to write a 100 Things You Didn’t Know or Had Forgotten About Phenix, Virginia post. That would most certainly include many references to B&D Mart (aka Brenda and Donna Mart).

I lived at the picnic table back at that store in the mid-to-late 90s, so we likely crossed paths in some form or another. I was the guy with the green hair, blue hair, blonde and black hair, and/or a mohawk.

That’s a pretty funny story about ABC News. It reminds me of when MTV’s Road Rules came through, probably back in 1997 I guess it was. They got lost and kept driving back and forth down 40. They kept missing 727. I was sitting on the park bench in front of the municipal building when they finally stopped in their van and said, “Which way is Lynchburg?”

Jeff you nailed everything spot on… i have a ton of memories in Phenix and i thoroughly enjoyed reading this article with my wife and laughing.. it brought back a rush of memories from playing hide and seek throughout the whole town to our own homemade skate park on the basketball court where we all gathered during the week after school and never left on weekends until we were made to come home… i also enjoyed reading in the comments alot of memories of dads old truck and the backfire it made as it turned the corner at the basketball court, you always knew dad was coming when you heard the

Glad you got a laugh out of it. I need to write a longer article about Phenix. I had to stop myself on this one. Otherwise, I’d still be sitting here today writing it.

I was telling Jennifer I think I got PTSD from your dad’s truck backfiring. My mom would jump out of her skin when that thing backfired. Haha. She’d have a knife in her hand cutting chicken or some other meat for dinner and that bad boy would backfire right as he turned down Church St. She almost lost a couple of fingers over the life of Chilly Willy’s blue truck.

Excellent response Jeff. My husband Barry was born and raised in Phenix and his stories are some of the best I have ever heard from the area with the exception of Spider’s from above. We live in Phenix part time, but the hope is to be full timer’s in the future. Why, you ask? Because of small town values and the sense of always being home. Forget Walmart and other conveniences, give me quiet nights, friendly and caring people, and an appreciation of the little things any day! Phenix is a simple town for those who just want a simple life. It’s my home now and I am proud of it!!!

Thanks Jeff, I grew up in Phenix and wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else. Still can’t figure out the 2 post office or 2 banks he said we have? Maybe that second bank has all the money I’ve been looking for.

Phenix might not have an ocean but they got Cub creek…swam in it when I was a kid..i grew up in Old Well.

I was raised in Red Oak, but I had friends in Phenix. Remember skipping school at Randolph Henry and going to pool hall in Phenix. Also the guys from Red Oak would get together a team and go to Phenix to play football against the guys there in the elementrey school yard.

Great response. As a naturalized Drakes Branch citizen ( I married a Duck’s Puddler ) I want to commend you on your response. And by the way, there are no bad places to live in Virginia!

Oh my goodness Jeff. You surely gave me a good laugh. Thanks for standing up for your hometown and one of my neighboring hometowns. Phenix may not have a lot there to attract visitors but that surely isn’t a bad thing 🙂 . Phenix is a nice, quiet and peaceful place. Great response and again thanks .

I live in Phenix on a 3 mile dirt road with no neighbors to speak of and I always say the only way I’m leaving this ridge is if a volcano blows me off of it. This is heaven and if anyone says different they are just plain WRONG. The article says 2 banks and 2 post offices….where did THAT come from??? Robbie ‘ s store closes at noon on Saturday as do all the stores in neighboring what …get there before noon. I LOVE my town.

Amen Jeffrey Pillow! I’ve traveled all over the country but when I take camera in hand and drive down some of the back roads of Charlotte County the countryside, historical homes and sunsets will take your breathe away. I was born and raised beside the John Randolph Plantation in Randolph and then we moved to the old Towler Plantation in Drakes Branch. I’ve taken over 30,000 pictures of Charlotte County and always find another photo I must take. There is something to be said about small towns. Neighbors knowing someone is sick and will bring food and take care of your daily chores for you. If you need a lift to town, to church or your vehicle breaks down someone will stop and help you. You won’t get that in a big city. I know I’ve lived there. Obviously they haven’t been to Old Well store, seen the view from Midway Church or stood at the John Randolph Plantation and seen the view over the low grounds into Halifax County when the sun is setting. Maybe if they had stopped and talked to the people they would have found out how wonderful it is to live in a small town and actually know your neighbors. I lived in the big city for 15 years and where do I keep going back to. Drakes Branch.

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