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Tag Archives: ” Hendersonville

Family Roots and “Christy”

My mother’s parents and great grands were all four born in Hendersonville, NC. This small, mountain town, only twenty-two miles from Asheville, still has a simple and nostalgic atmosphere about it. Everywhere benches and tables invite its visitors to “set a spell.”

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When we would visit my grands, there always seemed to be time for an excursion downtown. There was never an agenda; it was only a stroll. But somewhere in the roaming was a stop by McFarlan Bakery.

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No one can walk by the open doors to McFarlan Bakery. The smells will drag you in the door. All items are made from scratch daily; this family-owned bakery uses the same recipes from their past sixty years ago. Their salt rising bread, toasted with butter, is one of the best ways to start any day; it doesn’t require preserves or jelly.  A piece of  lemon meringue pie is the perfect conclusion to any meal. Decorated or undecorated cookies, cakes, donuts, and special orders are always available. As a child, I always chose a sugar cookie. Now as an adult, it is hard to make only one decision.

Besides sharing with me a love for her birthplace, Nanna, my grandmother, loved historical novels of all eras. She introduced me to famous women authors like Inglis Fletcher, Gwen Bristow, and Catherine Marshall. All three wrote about strong women who faced life with gumption and faced its challenges with passion.

Christy was one of her favorites when it was published in 1968, and it soon became mine. This was my first read about Appalachia and the struggles with daily life in this region. There is drama a-plenty in this novel that would be categorized with a coming-of-age theme. Catherine Marshall retold the story of her mother, Leonora Whitaker, and her time in Cutter’s Gap.

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In 1912, and against the wishes of her parents, nineteen-year-old Christy Huddleston leaves her life of privilege and ease in Asheville to become a missionary teacher in an impoverished and isolated valley in the Smoky Mountains. Cutter Gap is the fictional community. The job turns out to be more difficult than she had anticipated, as she comes to know and care for the wild mountain people with their fierce pride, terrible poverty, dark superstitions, and their yearning for beauty and truth.

The villagers have old-fashioned ways. For example, they maintain rules and vengeances similar to the Highland clans of old Scotland. They also have a strong belief in folk medicine. Sprinkled with Appalachian sayings, like “twitter-witted,” as a husband calls his wife and son, realism takes a front seat. Teaching in one-room with 70+ children made me grateful for the class sizes in my profession.

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Christy never took her eyes off her goal of teaching. Daily choices like how to get new books for the children or how to buy a black hat on her salary line up beside feuds, moonshine whiskey, rape, and the death of a baby. Her faith is severely tested—by her students and by the suffering of the people she comes to love. When her dearest friend dies during a typhoid epidemic, Christy questions the sovereignty and power of God.

The story line pulled me into this unique sense of place, people, and culture, and I fell in love with Appalachia for the first time. It’s time to read Christy once again.

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“I’ll Fly Away”

I can picture my Granny (great grandmother Justus) singing when she was snapping beans in her back yard.

She sat in a white iron chair. She held a white, porcelain bowl in her lap and threw the bean snips on the ground. Another bent tin bowl held the beans from her garden was beside the chair. Her apron kept her dress clean, because there was plenty of dirt on the beans from the garden patch.

Her foot would keep rhythm to any song she was singing. “I’ll Fly Away” was one of her favorites, and I learned to clap, as she sang. Granny would smile, as she sang, and those smiles reached her eyes.

Born and raised in Hendersonville, North Carolina, she loved keeping house. There was a sense of welcome and love that I can’t explain that came to greet her and Pop’s guests. They lost so much during the Depression. Even taking in boarders to their house at Laurel Cliff could not stay the selling of the land and house for taxes. They rented that five-room house.

Granny and Pop had eight children that lived to adulthood, and most of them lived in Hendersonville. Almost every Sunday afternoon, they all showed up at their parents’ home, as well as grandchildren and great grands. Granny always had cake, cookies, and coffee ready to serve. As the talking died down, often singing would begin. The hymns they sang at church were the hymns they sang at home. This was another favorite.

There was trust, faith, and hope on their faces and in their singing. This mountain family worked hard with their manual labor and never had much in the way of money. But they loved Jesus, their family, and other people.

Granny spent her last years in the local nursing home. She seldom knew her family members-not even her own children. She held a doll most of the time and talked to it, like it was one of her babies. But any time the home had someone come in to play the piano she’d sit right there and sing every word of every old gospel song they played. She didn’t know her children-but those songs of faith that guided her through her long long life were still there for her to call upon. It was amazing to me as a child to watch the transformation.

As I did the research about John’s Appalachian family, I heard stories of similar trust. They made-do with little, as they worked in upstate cotton mills. Another trait I found that was similar was their choice to not be beholden to anyone, but their hands were always out to help others. They all lived generous lives.

In May, Tales of a Cosmic Possum will be released, and you can read the short stories of eight of the women in John’s family. Yes, there are lyrics to their favorite songs and Appalachian sayings and recipes. It is chock full of life descriptions of living in a mill village or in the mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina.

One of my granny’s sayings was “Don’t git too big for your britches.” It took me a long time to understand what on earth this meant, but it is still good advice today. As we tell our family’s stories, they won’t be forgotten, and we won’t get too big for our britches.

Labor Day – a Holiday

Happy Labor Day 2015!

It’s a day to celebrate American workers who have in the past and still do work with their hands.

Did you know that Labor Day was recognized as a federal holiday in 1894, but some states had already started celebrating it? It’s held on the first Monday in September.

For many, it marks the unofficial end of summer. When I was in elementary school, we didn’t start the school year until the day after Labor Day.

My family would make a trip to Hendersonville, NC in the 1950’s to see my Granny and go to the Apple Festival down town. I can remember Critt and I sitting on the curb with our knees resting on our chins. We waved small flags. There were bands, floats, old cars, clowns, and lots of people to keep us entertained; this parade hasn’t changed much, but I am not sure I could get up off the curb if I was able to get down there.

Many hawkers walked Main Street with their wares, including my favorite candy apples. We always ended the day at my great grandmother’s house with a picnic. Since several of her eight children lived in the town, the yard was cluttered with chairs and a groaning table of fried chicken with all the trimmings. (Mother never had to persuade my dad to go visiting on this day; he knew it would be good eating.)

Today we celebrate this three day weekend with cook outs, road trips, sales, and just enjoying an extra day off. Workers in the 1880’s fought for this holiday.


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Laborers in the 1800’s often worked twelve hours a day, every day of the week. In 1882, Pittsburgh was the place for one of the first Labor Day parades. Most men worked 84 hours a week for $10 in the steel mills. Andrew Carnegie owned those mills.

Tennessee Ernie Ford recorded the plight of mill workers in “Sixteen Tons.”

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In 1894, President Grover Cleveland made Labor Day a federal holiday after a failed attempt to break up a railroad strike.

Typically clad in a black dress, her face framed by a lace collar and black hat, the barely five-foot tall Mother Jones was a fearless fighter for workers’ rights—once labeled “the most dangerous woman in America” by a U.S. district attorney.


Mary Harris Jones was an activist and radical who helped win the end to child labor in America. In 1897, Jones addressed a union convention where the workers began to affectionately call her “Mother Jones.”

Called the “Children’s Crusade,” Jones lead children on a march to Teddy Roosevelt’s hometown to show the millionaires in New York the faces of child labor. Their banner said  “we want to go to school, not mines.“This march paved the way to the end of child labor.

Famous for writing “This Land is Your Land, This Land Is My Land” and numerous other radical songs, Guthrie’s songs captured the history of the movement.

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The Industrial Revolution changed our country from an agrarian society, where products were crafted as needed by hand, to machine-aided factories in the cities. For protection against the industrial giants who owned the factories and the company stores, the workers protested low wages and long hours. They weren’t afraid of hard work, but the schedules were back-breaking.

Samuel Gompers, founder and longtime president of the American Federation of Labor said, “All other holidays are in a more or less degree connected with conflicts and battles of man’s prowess over man, of strife and discord for greed and power, of glories achieved by one nation over another. Labor Day…is devoted to no man, living or dead, to no sect, race, or nation.”

I have enjoyed researching this holiday today. Labor Day isn’t about putting up my white shoes and white linen or recognizing that summer is officially over.  It is a day to remember the contributions workers have made to the strength and growth of our country. There is much to be grateful for.

“The reward of a thing well done, is to have done it.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

 

“Shall We Gather at the River?”

My husband John was baptized in a lake in Union when he was 13. After he was baptized, he struck off across the lake to the other side.

His mother stood on the bank hollering “John William, get back here.” Finally deciding that this was not swim time, John turned and swam back to the shore where he started. Mom’s hissy fit subsided, and all was well.

I have a picture in my mind of this adventure that always causes me to laugh. Mother and son had a word of prayer later, and the other adults in the congregation must have had a good laugh, too. They were also probably quite content that their children had not chosen to swim after their baptism.

Robert Lowry (1826-1899) was a professor of literature, a Baptist pastor of several large churches, and a music editor at Bigelow Publishing Company.

One hot afternoon in July, 1864, as he was resting on his sofa, visions of heaven pervaded his senses. There was an epidemic in the city causing many deaths. In his imagination, he saw the bright golden throne room and a multitude of saints gathered around the beautiful, cool, crystal, river of life. He began to wonder why there seemed to be many hymns that referenced the river of death, but very few that mentioned the river of life. As he mused, the words and music to “Shall We Gather at the River” came to his heart and mind.

“Shall We Gather at the River” became a favorite song of camp meetings, water baptismal services and funerals.

We used to drive to Hendersonville to visit my great-grandmother. Sitting out under the trees beside her house, her sons, daughters, grands, and great grands would gather for visiting on those Sunday afternoons. There was a lot of storytelling and singing; that family loved to sing. We, children, would often march around to those old gospel songs; “Shall We Gather at the River” was one of them.

Shall We Gather at the River

Shall we gather at the river,
Where bright angel feet have trod,
With its crystal tide forever
Flowing by the throne of God?M

Refrain:
Yes, we’ll gather at the river,
The beautiful, the beautiful river;
Gather with the saints at the river
That flows by the throne of God.

On the margin of the river,
Washing up its silver spray,
We will talk and worship ever,
All the happy golden day.

Ere we reach the shining river,
Lay we every burden down;
Grace our spirits will deliver,
And provide a robe and crown.

At the smiling of the river,
Mirror of the Savior’s face,
Saints, whom death will never sever,
Lift their songs of saving grace.

Soon we’ll reach the silver river,
Soon our pilgrimage will cease;
Soon our happy hearts will quiver
With the melody of peace.

This song brings smiles to both singers’ and listeners’ faces. The rhythm is catchy, and I know it can easily sweep children into a march.

Victor Hugo said, “Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.”

Whether singing in the shower, loading the dishwasher, or with a group, singing is a good thing.