By Eula Golding Walters © 2015
Online: January, 2015
We were children of the mountains, of the Blue Ridge, born and raised on a poor dirt farm in Carroll County, Virginia, nestled in the valley, underneath the shadow of Fisher's Peak.
I'm not sure of the reason, perhaps just the fact that as I grow older, I also grow more sentimental, and the place of my raising runs deep in my mind and heart; but I seem to have my mother and dad on my mind much more than in days gone by. They've been gone now for quite some time. Mother died in 2002 from complications of Alzheimer disease. Daddy died 18 months later of a broken heart. First his mind failed him, and then his body, as he grieved his bride who had stood by his side for 64 years. He was 89 years old, determined to make it to 90, and he almost did.
These words I write are fragments of memories of our life on the farm, growing up with four, and eventually eight kids, born to my parents, John Woodrow and Lavada (Creed) Golding. I feel the need to write my random thoughts down, lest they be forgotten or buried with me.
I loved to hear my parents tell the story of how they met. Mother had her eye on him back in grade school when she chased him around the playground when she was in second grade. Years later, when Mother had grown into a beauty of 18, they met again. Daddy was on his way to meet his girl friend, intending to ask her to marry him. As he came out of the house, Mother was standing in the road talking to his mother. He took a good look at her, and then began walking down the road. He looked back over his shoulder, and sure enough Mother was looking back at him. He turned around and walked back to her, forgetting all else except her beautiful blue eyes and lovely smile.
They pretty much courted exclusively by mail. Daddy worked for his uncle in a greenery packing plant in Marion, North Carolina. He rode his bicycle back and forth from Carroll County, on the Blue Ridge Parkway, to Marion, 138 miles one way. Right away he asked Mother to marry him, and advised her not to tell her parents, because they would disapprove. His only stipulation to their getting married was that she would need to quit 'dipping snuff', which she did. We still have the letter in which he told her that he wanted to buy her a new dress for their wedding, and for her to meet him in the edge of the woods near her home, so she could change. She did exactly that, and Daddy talked an uncle into driving them to Independence Court House to be married. At that time, the legal age to marry was 21. When the clerk of the court asked Mother how old she was, she got flustered and blurted out, "I'm 18....I mean 21!" They were turned down and shown to the door. They then talked their driver into taking them to the Hillsville Court House. Mother practiced all the way there, repeating over and over, 'I'm 21...I'm 21...I'm 21'. And it worked. They were married on July 30, 1938.
I don't know nearly enough about the early days of their marriage. I do know that Shirley was born the following July, followed by Janet 13 months later. John came along in 1942 and I was born in 1944.
During those years, Daddy helped to build the section of the Blue Ridge Parkway that came thru our place. Mother boarded some of the workers for extra money. Up till the time I was born, they owned two farms, one in the area of End of the Lane, just off the Blue Ridge Parkway, and the other on what is now Foot Hills Rd, on the Carroll/Grayson County line. The Blue Ridge Parkway (we called it the Scenic, I guess because it was also called a Scenic Drive), straddled the farm. I'm sure that is why I have always considered the Parkway as belonging exclusively to me.
When I was nine months old, Daddy was called into the Army. He ended up in Germany at the end of the war, leaving Mother behind to care for the four of us, all less than five years old. Out of necessity she would leave us to tend to the cows, the garden, and in the winter, to chop wood. She was so thankful when neighbors came and cut her a large load of wood. How we little ones survived being alone in a small room with a tin wood burning heater setting in the middle of the room, glowing red from the heat, is nothing short of a miracle. Daddy was granted a hardship discharge in 1945, and came home to a baby who had no clue who he was and screamed when he came near me.
Pasture was scarce on the farm on End of the Lane, so we herded the cows back and forth from one farm to the other. Mother and Daddy would load up their necessities onto a dog sled, and plop which ever kid was too young to walk, on top of it all and pull it the mile or so from house to house. Not long after I was born, they sold the farm on End of the Lane; thus the farm on the Parkway is the only home I ever knew.
Poor dirt farm was an apt title for our place. The dirt certainly wasn't poor though; it was so rich and loose that you could rake it away with your hands to find potatoes and carrots. And it wasn't poor in beauty either. I always knew that I lived in a Utopia. Our meadows were rich and green, with a clear, cold stream running thru each one. The woods were full of huge pines, oaks, maples, poplar, service berry and wild cherry trees. The wild flowers grew everywhere...lady slipper and trillium, as well as wild iris, ginger and dozens of other beautiful specimens grew everywhere, especially in the rich ground along side the streams that ran thru the cool woods, thick with Mountain Laurel, Azaleas and Rhododendron. Even the rocks were beautiful...huge white quartz was everywhere, as well as flat reddish rocks full of fool's gold. Creeks ran on both sides of the farm, giving us access to great fishing as well as wading and even taking a Saturday bath. Daddy worked hard keeping the place looking good...constantly mowing, building fences, and more out buildings. But the house and yard didn't seem to concern him. The house was in need of constant repairs, and the grass sometimes grew shoulder high around the house, until Daddy would mow it for hay.
If all that beauty wasn't enough to satisfy our souls, the wildlife was amazing. On a daily basis we saw Eastern Blue Birds, Scarlet Tanagers, Pileated Woodpeckers, as well as the true Red Headed Woodpecker. We learned that the beautiful little Gold Finch didn't nest till the thistles bloomed, so they could use it in their nest building, as well as feed it to their young. The Bob Whites called back and forth to each other, and it was such a treat to watch them wander out with their brood of a dozen or more. We took great delight in watching them scatter and hide as their mother would go flopping off in the opposite direction in order to distract the enemy away from her chicks. We watched hawks as they watched the chicken lot, waiting for the chance to pounce. But the most fascinating bird to us was the Whippoorwill. We loved to hear him call his name over and over just at dusk. Once, when John and I went to fasten the chickens, one flew out of the chicken house and almost hit my head. He had roosted there during the day. This was quite a treat as we had never seen one before.
I was once chased by a bobcat as I walked from our house to my Grandma's. I'll never know how I out ran it, but the worst part was walking back home, alone and in the dark. Another night, I heard crunching noises outside my bedroom window, raised up to come face to face with a huge black bear looking in at me! I covered up my head and prayed that he would think I had disappeared. It worked!
All this beauty in nature would make one think they were in Heaven on earth, and it would have been if we had had more time to enjoy it. But to survive on a farm, everyone must work, and work hard. We had milk cows and sold our milk to the Carnation Milk Plant in Galax. I was taught to milk and assigned my own cow at the age of 6. From then until I graduated high school and left home, I milked that cow twice a day. I still shiver when I think of getting out of bed at 5:00 am on cold winter mornings, grabbing the milk bucket, and going to the field to find my cow in the dark. This was a job for all four of us, as each was assigned a cow. It seemed to take forever to get the cow to stand up, and then we had to clean off the mess from their teats before we began milking by hand. Then we took the milk back to the house to strain and pour into large milk cans in the spring house, and set them in the cold branch that ran thru the spring house, to wait for the milk truck to pick them up.
After milking, we ate, by now, cold oatmeal or grease gravy on a biscuit, (I have never eaten either since!) made a bologna sandwich for lunch or a jar of corn bread and milk, got dressed and set out for the bus stop, two miles up the road. Sometimes we wouldn't be a fourth of the way when we heard Mr. Glen Sizemore, the very rotund bus driver, laying on the horn. We would begin running, taking a short cut thru Grandpa Billy's mill pond place, getting soaking wet with the dew from the grass, weeds and bushes. Mr. Sizemore hated to leave us, and would wait as long as possible, but sometimes he was forced to go on; we wouldn't have turned around and gone back home for anything. Walking the four more miles to the school was much more desirable than going home and weeding the garden, picking up rocks, or hauling wood for the stoves, which is what we would have had to do if we had gone home.
For the first three years of school, we went to Coleman School on Coleman Rd. It was a two room school, but only had one teacher, who taught first thru fourth grades in one room. Daddy saw to it that we each knew how to read, write and do simple math before we started school, so by the time we got to first grade, we had already gone thru all the first grade books. For some reason, Mother and Daddy held Shirley back until Janet was old enough to go to school, so they began first grade together and graduated together. Very early in their first year, Miss Ila Branscomb, the teacher, promoted them to second grade. Thus Janet graduated when she was 16 and Shirley was 17. By the time I got in school, I too had gone thru all the first grade books, but by then the school superintendent wouldn't allow the schools to let anyone skip a grade. So I was quickly bored, and Miss Ila made me her 'assistant teacher'. I spent most of the school day helping those who were struggling with their work.
Just after I began 4th grade at Coleman, they closed the school and sent us all to Coal Creek. I loved my fourth grade teacher, Miss Mabe, who later became Mrs. Cooley. She was strict, but so loving and such a good teacher. I never have learned to keep my mouth shut, and even then I was caught talking in class just about every day. I would hold my 11x14 inch Geography book up to my face to hide the fact that I was talking to my neighbor. I didn't fool Miss Mabe though. She would say, "Eula Mae, just because you can't see me, doesn't mean that I can't see you. Now you sit in at recess and write 100 times, 'I must not talk'." I quickly learned to hold two pencils so I could write two lines at a time. In my spare time I would fill up pages of 'I must not talk' so I could just pull it out and turn it in when I got caught talking. I invariably got caught though, and was made to write 400 times.
I think I was in fourth or fifth grade when I got my one and only school paddling. On the way home from the bus stop, Esteline White began tossing small rocks at me. I got tired of it and got a hold of her arms from the back and began showing her how Grandma walks up stair steps. Too bad I didn't see her Mother coming up the road. The next day Mrs. Jenkins called Janet into her office and told her that she was going to have to spank me, and Janet threw me under the bus and told her to go ahead. She then called both me and Estiline in the office & gave us 10 whacks with that huge paddle with holes in it. I was stubborn enough not to even give out a grunt, much less cry. Estiline cried like a big baby, so I felt as though I had the victory. That didn't last long though, as Mother met me at the door with a switch when I got home and gave me an even harder one. I did cry from that one.
Almost every day, Mr. Sizemore stopped the bus at Grover Jennings' country store. The kids who had money got off and bought candy, ice cream and soda pop. Since I never had any money, I never once went into the store. Oh, how my mouth watered as I watched the others pour their peanuts into their icy Coke or Dr. Pepper bottle, turn it up to their mouths and guzzle it down! I don't mind admitting that I never turned down the rare offer of a drink or a bite of Baby Ruth, even though the sweetness of it caused my teeth unbearable pain.
Milking the cows wasn't the only chore expected of us. No matter the season, there were jobs to be done. From early Spring thru Fall, we worked the gardens, the corn field, and according to Daddy's whim that particular year, we helped with the growing and harvesting of sugar cane, buck wheat, and for several years, the tobacco fields. I vaguely remember starting the tobacco seedlings in hot beds, then transplanting them to the field where they grew. We were required to go thru the sticky rows, plucking off the huge green tobacco worms and plopping them in an empty syrup can with oil in it. We then picked the tobacco and threaded it with long needles onto tobacco sticks & put it in the attic of the barn to cure. The summer I was five, for some reason, my legs quit working for me. I woke up one morning and simply could not stand on my legs. It was at the height of the Polio outbreak, and I wonder now if I had a mild case. Even though I couldn't walk, I still was expected to do my share. Daddy would carry me under a tree for shade and I would spend the day threading the tobacco leaves onto the long needle and transfer it to the stick.
I think I hated working in the corn field most of all. It was a never ending job. I believe the main reason it bothered me so much was that the rows were so long you couldn't see from one end to the other, and you knew that when you got thru with that one, you just turned around and began another, knowing that there were hundreds more to go. We would go out early in the morning and go thru each row, suckering the young stalks, then go thru the rows again, with a hoe, digging out the weeds and pulling dirt up to the stalk. This was done at least three times. Then came harvest and we went thru the rows again pulling off the fat ears of ripe corn; then again, cutting the stalks with the corn cutter and shocking it. Or did we shock it and then pull off the ears? I've forgotten.
One morning I complained that I was sick, so was able to stay in the house while everyone else went to the corn field. I was feeling right proud of myself, when after about half an hour I saw everyone coming back from the field. Daddy announced that it was just too hot to hoe corn and they were all going to the creek to cool off. Boy, did I ever recover from what ever I'd dreamed up. 'I'm all better' I declared. "Oh, in that case, we won't go swimming. We'll just go back to the corn field", Daddy said. It took me a life time to learn that he was always a step ahead of me.
When we weren't weeding the garden, helping to pick beans or whatever crop was ripe, working in the corn field, feeding the pigs, carrying in wood for the stove, or helping put up hay, we were in the fields picking up rocks and loading them on the wagon. When the wagon was full, Daddy would pull it to the lane that led from the house to the Parkway, and we would throw them out as he slowly drove forward. He then used a sledge hammer to bust up the rocks, thus maintaining a drivable road. I never forgot the black/orange fuzzy worm that John threw at me while picking up rocks. It landed in my mouth and immediately my lips and tongue became swollen and numb. I couldn't have tattled on him if I'd wanted to, I couldn't talk!
The hardest job of all was cutting wood. I remember going into the woods with Daddy pulling the wagon with Great Grandpa Billy Goodson's mule team. John would help Daddy saw the trees down with the double saw and we would load them on the wagon. This was usually in the winter, during Christmas break. We never had proper clothes to wear and we would come out of those woods covered in hoary frost, looking much like the Abominable Snowman. But the job still wasn't done. Once we got the wood home, Daddy hooked the tractor up to a huge saw. We formed a brigade, one person off-bearing, one catching the cut pieces, and handing them to another, who carried it to the wood shed, handed it off to another, and went back for another load, while the person in the shed stacked the wood in a straight pile. I don't think I ever actually looked forward to Christmas break because I knew we'd be spending it out in the woods, cutting wood in the bitter cold.
On at least one Sunday every month, we had friend chicken for dinner. John and I were usually given the task of catching and cutting their heads off. I'd hold the flopping bird on the chopping block and John would swing that axe down on its neck. One day we chopped off the head of the ole red rooster, and I flung him away from me so I wouldn't get blood all over me. Lo and behold, instead of flopping a bit and then dying, that rooster started running around the yard, chasing after us with no head. What a sight we must have made, running round and round, John swinging a bloody axe, screaming like wild Indians, and a headless rooster chasing us all over the yard!
Our Mother was without a doubt the hardest working woman I have ever known. She weighed less than two pounds when she was born and was kept in a shoe box, wrapped in a tea towel, and put on top of the stove warmer. It's hard to believe that such a small beginning resulted into a woman who birthed 8, and lost 5 others, worked 10 hours in the furniture factories and mills, came home, picked and canned a bushel of green beans, got dinner, went to bed in the wee hours of the morning, only to get up again at 5:00 am to walk two miles to catch her ride to work. In addition to working in the factories, in the winter time she broke pine and made roping for the factory in Low Gap, NC. I can close my eyes still today and recall that wonderful pine smell that filled the house in those days. I treasure the spools of wire that she used on the machines that I have.
Mother was not an educated woman, having dropped out of school in the 7th grade because other kids made fun of her very long hair; but she taught her children well. At her hand we learned to appreciate and grow beautiful flower beds, to enjoy and identify the birds and wildflowers so abundant on the farm, or at least her own version of their names. She taught us how to sew, embroider and quilt and so many other skills that we cherish today. Thru her example, we all have a wicked sense of humor, love to pull a good prank, have a great sense of family history, and love to carry on the traditions that she passed down to us.
Daddy, on the other hand, was a hard taskmaster. We got no endearing words from him, and no outward show of love. He was a product of his own raising, and didn't break away from it until grandchildren came along to soften him up. Still though, we learned good lessons from him; self preservation, a hard work ethic, stubbornness, how to handle a hammer and saw, and how to survive adversity. I'm so thankful that the Lord softened his heart, even though it was late coming. One thing that we learned from both of them was honesty and integrity. After their deaths, the remark I heard others say most was that they were two of the most honest people they had ever known.
Mother lived a hard life. But she always stood by her man. I well remember when I was a teenager and was mad as spit at Daddy, and so was she. I figured I could be bold since she was mad at him too. I made the huge mistake of saying to Mother that I hated him. The next thing I knew I was picking myself up off the floor from a slap across the face, and her warning to never bad mouth my daddy again.
She always worked in the fields with him, cutting hay, building fences, hauling wood; whatever he was doing, she did it with him. A memory comes back to me time after time of an incident when they were in their 80's and well past the time they should be tending a large garden. Even though Daddy had almost died from infection after gall bladder surgery at 80, he still insisted on putting in a huge garden that they shared with all their children and neighbors. On that day when I went to visit them they were in the garden. Daddy was working the rows with the hand plow and Mother was walking behind him, holding him up by the straps of his overalls, so that he wouldn't fall over. She told me that he often did fall, and she would help him crawl to the nearest fence post so that she could use it to help pull him up, and on they would go, continuing down the rows of the garden.
We had no close neighbors, so we learned to have fun with whatever we could find, playing 'Antie over' until the ball invariable went down the chimney. We loved it when our cousins came to play. They lived where the Blue Ridge Music Center now sits. We would play Red Rover, hide and seek and freeze tag till time for them to go home. Once when playing hide and seek, Shirley hid in the meat box in the spring house. No one found her, and as she was coming out to be home free, a water moccasin was coiled up on the shelf just above her head. It's a wonder that she's still alive to tell the tale, not by being bitten, but from sheer fright. I have a cherished painting by Gayle Davis Cooley of our farm, painted on one of the boards that covered that meat box.
I had the distinction of being the 'baby' for nine years. Then they again became motivated and they produced four more during a 10 year span, while losing at least five during that time. My brother John and I were the closest in age, and we were best buddies, and still are today. We did most everything together, whether it be work or play. We dared each other to jump off the top of the house, to see who could climb the tallest pine tree, to whack at each others' hands to see who could come the closest without actually cutting the other; and the same with the BB gun. One day Mother sent us to Eula Davis' to borrow something she needed for canning and warned us to go straight there and back. Well, we detoured around the top of the quarry, and because of another dare, I fell off the cliff. I caught with one hand onto a tiny pine twig growing out of the rock; otherwise I would have fallen at least 200 feet onto rocks and water. John grabbed my other hand and pulled me up and out. I don't think either of us dared the other for a long while after that incident. I also remember getting in trouble when we got home because we spent the day playing with Eula's daughter Gayle, fascinated with all the toys she had, and forgetting Mother's admonition to get back home. I am so thankful to be able to say that John and I are still very close, and that I am able to have all seven of my siblings to love and visit with.
Those growing up years seemed to go on forever, but looking back today, it was just a blink in the eye of time. We each grew up and made our own way out into the world. I left the farm as soon as I graduated high school in 1962, and went to Washington, DC to work for the FBI. Again, John was there, driving me with my 'paper poke' full of my belongings, with no clue of how to get there. But we did it. He dropped me off at a boarding house near Capitol Hill, gave me a hug, turned around and drove the 12 hours back home. The homesickness that soon consumed me is a story for another day. All five of us girls left the area upon graduation, eager to get away from all the hard work, but the three boys stayed close to home and still are today.
For all practical purposes, the farm has disappeared except for in our memories. It now belongs to the Department of Interior. I watched this past summer as the house and all the buildings, except the barn, were dozed down, taking it back to just the dirt of that poor dirt farm. But I still own that place of my raising in my heart.
Throughout the years, we've each made our own mark on the world, and I am sure that our upbringing, both the negative and the positive, made us the strong, caring and useful people we are today. There was a time when I was very much ashamed of being so poor, of not living in a bigger house, not having a telephone, running water, or indoor bathroom. I'm thankful that the last four were able to enjoy those luxuries. But now, looking back on those days, even though I would loved to have changed some things, I know that they made me the person I am today, and I am now proud to have been part of that big family on that poor dirt farm. I have learned that if we want to live a satisfying life, we need to take what life hands us and then make the most of it. I hope that at the end of the day that is what I have done. I am proud of and thankful for the legacy that my parents left me. We may be scattered among four states, but in our hearts, we remain children of John and Lavada Golding, as well as the children of the mountains.