By Susan M. Thigpen © 1983-2012
Issue: October, 1983
"Memories of an Extraordinary Mountain Lady"
This is a collection of memories of many people about one remarkable woman, Flora DeHart. The memories are from relatives, old friends who lived near and people who were from as far away as Kansas. Part of these memories are Miss Flora’s own recollections, in her own words, thanks to a tape made and loaned to us by Artis Caudle of High Point, North Carolina. She made the tape in 1969 on a visit to Miss Flora’s home.
Miss Flora Camana DeHart was born in 1889 to Jeff and Malinda Graham DeHart. She had four sisters - Lizzie (who was wife to Ed Mabry of Mabry Mill), Sis, Orie, Addie and one brother, Green DeHart. She grew up in a hollow across what is now the Blue Ridge Parkway, from what is now Mabry Mill, in a log cabin. Her father, Jeff DeHart, was a Civil War veteran.
When a school building was abandoned near their cabin because a new school had been built, the family moved to the school house. (There is a photograph of this school-home before it was torn down accompanying this article.)
The following is a direct quote taken from the tape made in 1969, it tells of an accident which happened in her youth.
“Well, my baby sister was five years old and we had a big chestnut orchard. The chestnut trees are died out now. Addie and my other sister, Sis, Dale Hall, mother’s niece and I were all picking up chestnuts, picked way after twelve and they all decided to sit down and rest. My sister sat there awhile. She had her a little bucket too, picking up chestnuts. She got up and went and laid down and asked Addie or Sis to come and drive a stake at where her head and foot were. I think Addie did. Gracie and she wanted to know what this was for and she said that she wanted to be buried there. They laughed at her (the five year old sister Ella) and told her that there was no danger in her dying and she was just fooling and five weeks from that day, she died! When she got up off the ground, where the stobs were drawn at her head and feet, there were a maple above where she laid and a pine below. She laid her hand on the maple and she said the maple would die and the pine would live and the maple lived one month. The pine lived. She was buried there.”
Her parents didn’t think it right for their little girl to be buried anywhere else and it became the family cemetery where both the mother and father are buried. Miss Flora didn’t like it and chose to be buried at Meadows of Dan Baptist Church Cemetery.
Life was hard and people had to make do on little in Miss Flora’s day. She remained at home after the other children married or left and took care of her father in his last years when he had become bedridden and had to be spoon fed. At the time the Blue Ridge Parkway was built, caring for her father required so much time that it wasn’t until after his death, nearly two years after the completion of the Parkway, that she first saw it, even though it was less than a half a mile from her home.
Miss Flora’s nieces and nephews from Roanoke, the Cliftons, were very good to her and her sister Addie, who moved back in with Miss Flora in her later years. They brought food and things because they knew it was hard for the sisters to get out and they had such a small budget to live on. The sisters didn’t want to be presumptuous enough to tell them what food they would like, so the Cliftons just showed up with what they thought Miss Addie and Miss Flora would like. The two sisters never had the heart to tell them that they didn’t like pinto beans, probably for fear of seeming ungrateful, but after Addie’s death, while cleaning out the house, they found enough pinto beans stored away to feed all of Meadows of Dan!
After Miss Addie’s death, the Cliftons bought a house out on the road for Miss Flora. It was the first time she had such conveniences as indoor plumbing, electricity and even a telephone. It took Miss Flora a little time to become adjusted to using a telephone, although she undoubtedly enjoyed it. At first, if she got the wrong number, she thought the wrong person had just picked up the phone. Jack Wilson was one of her neighbors at that time and said he was on a party line with her. She enjoyed picking up the phone and listening to conversations, innocently, and he didn’t mind but she wanted to join in the conversation at times.
She still used her kerosene lamps for light and only used the electric lights when company came. She had two pet black snakes that sunned themselves on her back steps. I’ve been told by her niece, Mrs. Turman, of Meadows of Dan, that the snakes didn’t bother Aunt Flora. She said if they got in her way, she just kicked them aside.
Miss Flora was a miracle worker of sorts. She was well known in this area for being able to stop blood and take the fire out of burns. This was something her sister, Addie first knew how to do but couldn’t tell anyone or she would lose the power. Addie wrote it down and placed it in the Family Bible so after her death Miss Flora could learn how.
Miss Flora’s niece, Kelly Turman told me she once spilled boiling water on both her feet and called Miss Flora over the phone. She said Miss Flora half whispered, half mumbled and she couldn’t tell what she said but in ten minutes time, although her feet were badly burned and blistered, the pain went away completely and stayed away until her feet had healed.
Mr. and Mrs. Matt Burnett said also that their small grandson got burned and they too called Miss Flora. She asked the child’s name, his age, and his parent’s names and in less than a half hour, the child wasn’t in pain any longer.
I’m afraid these secrets died with Miss Flora because no one knows of her passing them on to anyone else and no one in the community today knows how to do such things.
Everyone remembered Miss Flora’s good nature and how she loved company. Everyone I interviewed remembered what a joy it was to be at “Miss Flora’s.”
Miss Flora might have been too tied down with family responsibilities in her youth to travel far from home but she sure made up for it in her later years. When all alone in her 70’s, Mr. and Mrs. Clifton, relatives from Thomasville, North Carolina, came one day and got Miss Flora to spend a few days with them. She had never been to Mt. Airy, North Carolina (only about 30 miles away) so they first took her there where they introduced her to the sight of her first train. Miss Flora didn’t want to get on the train but was finally persuaded to give it a look see, escorted by the conductor himself. Quoting Miss Flora from the tape, she said:
“So that conductor told me to take a seat and for Mr. Clifton to sit down beside me. I said I ain’t going to sit down on that train. I’m going to get off. The conductor started to lead me through the train, but the coaches were all so full, we couldn’t go a little piece, and we came on back and I took a seat and he went down the steps and the conductor came back with a ticket and handed it to me and said here was a free ticket to ride to Thomasville. I’m taking you on a train and I said how would I get back to Mr. Clifton and he said he was going to meet me there with a car and told Mrs. Clifton she could go.”
So Miss Flora had her first train ride. She spent a few days with the Cliftons in Thomasville and they took her to the Greensboro Regional Airport. Again I quote the tape in Miss Flora’s own words about what she thought of the airport:
“So we went over to the airport and saw the airplane. When Mr. Clifton told the pilots that I haven’t never seen an airplane inside, they came and got a hold of me. So the pilot took me in the plane and I looked through it and came on back down and they asked me if I wanted to go to Washington, DC and I said NO! As we went on up to see the airplane, we walked up to these two doors and they came open. I run back and said this place is haunted and I wasn’t going any further. They killed themselves laughing and they finally got me through the doors and went on up to the airplane. I had never seen a door that opened when you stepped on the mat. It scared me. The plane was nice, it looked like a school bus inside.”
Miss Flora spent one night in Winston-Salem, North Carolina with Mr. and Mrs. Willard Wilson. In the middle of the night she heard her first siren, thought it was a woman screaming, and was so scared she got up, put on her clothes and sat up the rest of the night.
Miss Flora was taken on an even bigger trip with Mr. W.A. Gilfry of Quinter, Kansas and his sister and brother-in-law, the Newsomes, of Winston-Salem. They took her, in the Gilfry’s words, “On the grand tour up the Shenandoah Valley, past Gettysburg, where her father had fought (in the Civil War), then up the Pennsylvania Turnpike to New York area, then through New England, down the Jersey Turnpike to an hour and half ferry ride across Norfolk before the seven mile bridge was opened just a week or so later. So she saw the ocean, had dinner at Atlantic City, New Jersey, etc. We even had her in the UN Building in New York City.”
Miss Flora commented on this trip on the tape and here are her impressions:
“We went to Philadelphia and rode in a subway train, went to New York and went upon, I forget how many stories, 16 or 17, and walked out upon top a house and viewed New York. We put up in Philadelphia 3 or 4 nights and then on to New Jersey, and then on to the Pacific and went out on the water in a ship for 20 miles, didn’t see nothing but water, never have seen the ocean before. Put up in a cabin at Ocean City, Maryland for one week. The ocean was up to the back of the cabin and we went to the ocean everyday for 8 days. I liked there right well but I wouldn’t want to live there because of the water, all those cabins were on high posts. At the back of the cabin there was all kinds of pieces of furniture washed up there.”
Miss Flora was a colorful character and I doubt seriously if there was a person she met who she didn’t make a lasting impression on. The following are some of Mr. W.A. Gilfry’s impressions:
“We got acquainted with Flora DeHart through a Mrs. Clifton, of High Point, NC who had a mountain place near her. She lived up on a high hill, past Laurel Fork Creek, with a lane lined with large white pines. It was not their original farm. It was just a two room affair, as well as I can remember, with outhouse, spring about 100 yards away, small stove in one room - which was seldom lit even during mid-winter. She just had a coat on at these times and seemed perfectly comfortable! When we would visit, she would throw on a log, but it seldom amounted to much heat.
Flora was short, stocky but not fat, and very strong - at least in her youth. She said she had often carried a bushel of corn on her back for grinding, to Mabry Mill, which I judge to be not less than 1½ miles across often rough terrain. I understand her father plowed with oxen but not sure if she ever did. (I’ve heard there were times her sister guided a plow while Miss Flora pulled it.) But she often said that no one could “lay a worm,” I think that is the expression for one of those zigzag (rail) fences, better than she. And she often said that the DeHarts could “live on a rock” if they had to. She meant survive, of course. I think that they never had prosperous times in her early days. A Mr. Hubbard once said that after the father got laid up latter in life, Flora and her sister would often have gone hungry without help from them.
She got a $15.00 Civil War pension per month from Virginia, I think, and that’s about all except help from a nephew and niece, both married and living in Roanoke. I think they would mostly bring groceries, etc.
She (Miss Flora) was the completely down to earth, pioneer type, always honest, straightforward and if she trusted you, she trusted you implicitly. Her father, by the way, was laid up helpless in his last ten years and Flora cared for him all that time in that cabin, a thing of which she was proud, and rightly so. Her sister, once a nurse in Roanoke also had to return in later years and Flora cared for her. As things can often be in this wild world, this sister, Addie, finally had to die in almost a blizzard up there. Flora fought her way partly out her road in about 17 inches of snow. I think I remember correctly, calling out loudly (as many mountain people do when needing help) and finally someone heard her and came to help. Flora got some frost bitten toes from it and you would think it would have affected her mind; but, not Flora. She was strong and healthy, body and mind.”
I have heard from Miss Ada Agee that a snow plow had to be brought in to clear the way to remove Addie DeHart’s body.
Mr. Gilfry also said, “There were so many other things of her sayings and her ways but I will just mention a couple I now remember, to show how she was a really colorful character and probably the most interesting person we or anyone else had ever known. She would often say, ‘Why is he so scary, you could put a lightening bug on a corn cob and run him to Roanoke.’ I guess you get the picture, he would think it a flashlight and someone after him or “you could eat your dinner on his coat tails he was running so fast.’ And many expressions possibly even going back to the Elizabethan days, which I understand is not uncommon in our southern mountains.”
I’m afraid that I, like many of you, never had the chance to meet Miss Flora or talk with her, which I consider to be a great personal loss. I am so grateful to the many relatives and friends of Miss Flora for sharing their memories with us so the rest of us can get to know her through their memories.
The last incident I know of Miss Flora’s life was told to me by Artis Caudle of High Point, NC. She visited Miss Flora in the hospital in Roanoke shortly before her death. When Artis had to leave, she told Miss Flora she wouldn’t get to come back to see her for a couple of weeks. She said Miss Flora looked straight at her, pointed her finger at her and said, “I’ll see you on Tuesday.” On Tuesday, Miss Flora died.