By Susan M. Thigpen © 1987
Issue: April, 1987
Rooftop of Virginia (Community Action Program) was the starting point for my contact with a most remarkable woman, Mary Tidline. Rooftop is an outlet for handmade crafts for the people of Grayson and Carroll Counties, Virginia. It is one way these counties are trying to help stimulate the economy and supplement the income for its citizens. It has been a very successful program that started in 1968 and has grown steadily ever since. It has even provided classes for people to learn a quality craft in hopes of it leading to more cottage industries. At the present time, there are over 375 active producers of crafts contributing to the shop, ranging in age from teenagers to senior citizens.
Mary Tidline was among the first to contribute her crafts and is still an active participant. Mary Tidline is an active person Active in her church, active in the senior citizens group, active in crafts. Mary is 87 years old.
The day before I met Mary, she had gone with a group to the Southern Living show in Charlotte, North Carolina, yet she didn't act tired. The day before that was her senior citizens group get-together. Things were laid out in Mary's kitchen to fix dinner on Sunday for her church Missionary group. "There are only about 10 or 12 of them," Mary said, as though it wasn't much work at all. How many younger people would find it hard to keep up with that much activity?
When we got to Mary's house, she led us into her spare bedroom. There on the bed were nearly two dozen stuffed toy monkeys she had made. Some were plain; some had on little sweaters, one had on a dress, all were done to perfection. "I like to work on six at a time. I'll do one step on all six, and then move on to the next step until they're done. Stuffing them is the hardest."
These days it isn't easy to find the gray work socks with red heals and white top she needs to make her toys. Mary mail orders them from Sears. The eyes and mouth are embroidered on and a yarn bow is tied around the neck of each monkey. Many of you probably remember having just such a stuffed animal as a child. They aren't as easy to get these days. It would be a shame for a new generation of children to grow up with out the soft cuddly companionship of such a toy.
Mary also does beautiful crochet work. She makes intricate doilies, starched stiff with high ruffles. She also makes flat crocheted pieces to be placed as runners on table tops and the back of chairs. Unfortunately, Mary isn't doing as much crocheting as she used to. She has a thyroid condition that affects her eyes and makes such close work hard and painful.
Mary Tidline was born in Ashe County, North Carolina, about 2 miles from Jefferson. When she was eight years old, her family went to West Virginia. She said the mountains were so steep in West Virginia that they, "Never saw the sun til 12:00 noon." When Mary was 12 years old, her brother built a house in Jefferson, North Carolina and they moved back. Mary lived and worked there until she was married, at the age of 50.
Mary dug through a drawer and came out with a calendar to show me. It was for the year 1918 and on it were the words, "Bank of Ashe, Jefferson, N.C." There was a photograph above the dates. It was of a pretty little girl with long blond curls, riding a miniature pony. The caption beneath the photograph read, "Ruth Allen and Midget". Mary pointed to the little girl and said, "The Allens owned the bank and they were about the richest people in those parts. My mother worked for the Allens and brought all of their children into the world. Mrs. Allen gave mother her children's out grown clothes. I was the best dressed girl in school."
Mary pointed out a photograph of herself that was hanging on the wall. "I was 13 in that photograph. I made the dress I was wearing. I started sewing young. When I was 9 or 10 years old, I was making garters. I crocheted them, put elastic in them and wove ribbon through them. Women used them to hold up their stockings and men wore them for armbands. That was the first things I guess I ever made. I was making my own clothes by the time I was 13. We had a Singer Sewing Machine. I've been selling crocheted crafts since about 1945.
Mary has been living in Galax since her marriage in 1962. Mary's husband was Sam Tidline. He worked for the Felts brothers, Tom and Gordon, at their estate, "Cliftview." Their father owned the Felts Baldwin Detective Agency. Sam was chauffeur, mechanic, did maintenance and other things in the course of his job. From his photographs he was a tall dignified man, always standing straight and proud.
Sam was 21 years older than Mary. When he met Mary, his first wife had died three years before. Mary said, "I was two years old the first time Sam got married."
This is the way Sam and Mary met. Sam had traveled to Jefferson, North Carolina on business. A lawyer, Mr. Austin, told him, "Sam, I know where you can get a good wife. Reverend McMillion and his wife told Sam where he could go. I was at work and had about five minutes before I was off. Sam showed up and said he wanted to carry me home. I told him I didn't want to." [Remember, Mary had never even seen or heard of Sam before at this point.] "He said can I come back?" I said if you want to. He came back in a couple of weeks on Sunday and took me to church. After seeing me about three times he asked me to marry him. I told him he didn't know me. We married about a year later. He needed someone; he didn't know how to cook."
Mary and Sam must have had many good years together before Sam became bedridden. When he did, Mary looked after him at home.
Mary thought back saying, "I won't have a garden this year. I usually have one row of beans, one row of corn. I have a lot of strawberries. I loved to raise calves. I wish I had some. I would raise two calves on one mother cow. I would hand feed them corn and they were just like pets. They would follow me and try to butt me if I didn't give them corn. I don't understand people who don't like animals." Mary has two cats now. She did have a dog, but he was run over. She likes small long hair dogs and asked if I know where she could get one. On that, I'm afraid I wasn't any help.
After looking at Mary's crafts and photographs, she graciously invited us to have some refreshments. She made coffee and started pulling out lots of snacks. She got out cheese, crackers, a fruit mix, hard candy, and the best pound cake I have ever eaten! She offered ice cream, but I just couldn't hold it. When I came to meet her, I didn't expect a banquet. Mary was a perfect hostess.
As we were sitting at Mary's table, enjoying our refreshments, it was hard to keep in mind that this lady is 87 years old. She is so full of energy and enthusiasm. To give you an idea of just how active Mary is, as we were sitting there, Mary said, "I'm going to have to find a job." No sir, Mary Tidline is not one to sit and wait for life to come to her. She has a rich full life of her own making.
If you visit the Rooftop of Virginia Craft Shop on Main Street in Galax, ask to see Mary's crafts. Take home a stuffed monkey to a child who will adopt it with love. Share Mary's skills and creativity with another generation.