Generations of Memories
Heart of the Blue Ridge
By Imogene Turman © 1984
Issue: July, 1984
Floyd Hawks is truly a mountain man. Born on the side of the mountain across from the Puckett cabin on the Blue Ridge Parkway, Floyd Hawks was the 17th child born to Will Hawks. His mother, Serena Pruitt Hawks was Will Hawks second wife and Floyd was her third child.
Not all of Will Hawks first set of children lived. Floyd can recall these half brothers and sisters. They were Riby, Erby, George, Bill, Posie, Bob, Gilly (a girl), Sis, Maud and Tiny. He heard talk of a boy named Johnny that died as a child. His sister Gilly, he never saw. She moved to West Virginia at a young age, married and had ten children. His mother had six children - Early, Elsie, Floyd, Victor, Elic, and Arnold. Will Hawks' third wife, Mary Bowman, had seven children, but only two lived.
The older set of children were away making a living as the second family came along. Each child had their jobs to do and they knew to do them. Floyd was plowing the rough mountain sides at the age of 12.
Floyd's father grew tobacco and apples to sell. Corn was grown for their two mules, two cows, hogs and chickens. They grew what they ate and ate what they grew.
Will Hawks bought a mule from Lum Puckett when he settled in the mountain. The mule's name was Jack. He could pull and outwork any mule around, but he could out-kick any too. He kicked boards off the barn wall and even kicked the loft out. The boys would take him to water to drink, but stayed away from his hind parts because when his head went down, his rear legs went up! This mule lived to be 36. The other mule was named Rhoda. She didn't pull as good as Jack but didn't kick either. It took a special language to work mules.
For money, Will hitched up Jack and Rhoda, loaded what he had to sell on the wagon, and headed towards Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
The kids picked up chestnuts all over the mountain sides. They sold for 10 cents a pint. They sold dried apples as well as fresh apples. The trip to Winston-Salem took three days. They had to take food for man and beasts. They baked up bread and took eggs, cabbage, potatoes - just whatever was on hand. It was easy to fry a pan of cabbage to go with cornbread and fat back. A little coffee and their meal was complete.
Floyd remembers one trip especially. He was 12 years old. When their wagon was loaded for Winston and they got as far as Mount Airy, North Carolina, a man had a cow to send to market. Since the nearest market was in Winston, he offered Floyd two whole dollars to drive the cow to Winston. Floyd took it. Sometimes he could ride in the wagon and lead the cow but mostly he walked. He was so proud of the two dollars, he kept it a long time. He could buy two pair of overalls with it at that time.
When World War I was raging, lots of folks took the bad flu. Floyd's mother had it and then she took pneumonia. Her sixth baby was less than a year old. She died and the children took care of the baby plus all the other work.
The school the Hawks children went to was two miles straight down the mountain and straight up coming home. Pretty days they had to work and bad days, it was hard to go, so they missed a lot of school. They lived in a small house, three rooms down and a loft which they climbed up into by a ladder nailed on the wall.
Floyd's dad married for the third time when Floyd was 13. She had three children, so their house was full. Floyd went to his half brother's and stayed with him a year, helping him farm. Then he went to Reed Quesinberry's. He lived there fifteen years, helping the Quesinberrys with the farming and working for other farmers around. When Floyd did a day's work, it was well-cornered. He usually got a dollar a day.
Floyd Hawks real achievement in life became grain cradling. He is a master of the art. One day he cradled six whole acres of oats, singlehanded. There was a farmer nearby that had four acres of buck wheat. It was full of running briars and no one wanted to cradle that. The briars could cut like barb wire if they got caught around your leg. Floyd took the job. He let the buckwheat slide off the cradle just so, not touching it. He did the field in half a day but it took two days to get it tied and shocked.
Floyd went to West Virginia for a spell to work on electric power lines. He kept thinking of a girl back in these mountains he had gone with before he left. Soon he came back and married her. She was Despent Melton's daughter, Mary. They settled near Mary's homeplace and had one child. Floyd worked for other people while trying to improve his place. It was, "po'land", he said. "It was growed up in bushes. Now it's pretty land." Today Floyd Hawks rents out that land for pasture. All he has is a "horse and sled and a dog".
Floyd Hawks has made a life and a living with his own two hands. He is the master of the nearly forgotten art of grain cradling. I imagine there are few men who have ever kept up with the likes of Floyd Hawks.