The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

Visit us on FaceBookGenerations of Memories
from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Mountain Memories of Theodore R. (Ted) Rorrer

By Theodore R. (Ted) Rorrer © 1984

Issue: July, 1984

Editor's Note....As we were going to press with our June issue, we learned the saddening news of the death of Mr. T. R. (Ted) Rorrer. He was the author of the enlightening article on coal mining in our May issue.

We didn't know Mr. Rorrer personally, but we did recognize that he knew a lot about coal mining. What we didn't know was that it was coal mining that supported him from his humble farm life in eastern Carroll County through a formal education that equipped him for a top management position in large factory in Madison, North Carolina.

We understand that during the 1920's and 30's he was quite often cited as an example to small boys in Bankstown and Mayberry of how sobriety, persistence and hard work could lead to a rewarding life.

We wish we might have known him better and we join his many friends in Kentucky, North Carolina and Virginia in lamenting his passing.

Mr. Rorrer sent us two articles shortly before his death. We are printing one of them this month. It explains a little of his background on the farm, in coal mining and his education.

It is an honor to print the memories of such a notable person and we are grateful that Mr. Rorrer's memories are thus preserved for thousands of Mountain Laurel readers. We hope that Mr. Rorrer's reflections of his life are the inspiring example to others after his passing that his deeds and accomplishments were when he lived. While we are greatly saddened by Mr. Rorrer's passing, we appreciate the memories of mountain traditions he left to each of us.

Susan Thigpen, Editor

To my sorrow, I learned to milk a cow when I was eight years old and continued this as long as I remained at home.

My mother was ill for a year when I was about 14, and I had to do all the house work. She was in the hospital when I first attempted to make biscuits. I finally got enough in the pan for breakfast and the remainder was sticking to my hands. The more I tried to get rid of it the tighter it stuck. I tried soap and water. The soap just made it stickier. I went to the picket fence and managed to get most of it off. A neighbor later told me I could get it off with dry flour.

Washing was a major operation. I had to carry the water up hill about 40 yards. By the time I had filled two tubs I was already whipped. I put the clothes in a big iron pot swinging on a rod with a fire underneath. I added a generous amount of homemade lye soap, punched the clothes with a hoe handle and boiled them for half an hour. Then I scrubbed them over a tin washboard and boiled them some more to remove the soap. A final rinsing did the job.

I did everything there was to do on the farm. Life was pleasant in spite of the hardships. We did not have much but we did not see anything to want and got along with what we had.

I hauled lumber down the Blue Ridge Mountain with a mule team and peddled apples and cabbage from a covered wagon with my father. If we sold the load by night, we slept in the wagon. If not, we slept under the wagon. I was a youngster and enjoyed it.

Not long ago someone wrote about a trip down the Jar Gap mountain road. I enjoyed the article because that was the road which I hauled lumber down. It was the roughest road ever built for regular hauling.

School was one room and was about two miles away. We used a large heating stove in the center. If you were near the stove, you roasted and if you were near the window you froze. The school year was five or six months.

Dad bought back the store and I operated it for a couple of years. Very little money changed hands. We bought butter, eggs, chickens, meat, rabbits, chestnuts and other things from our customers and gave them a due bill to trade out for things in the store. Some of the main items were plow points, nails, horse shoes, overalls, and blue chambray shirts. Oil for the lamps was a must and kerosene was about 10 cents a gallon. In the food line, it was rather limited. We carried flour, meat, cheese, canned tomatoes, sardines, salt herring, crackers, salt, soda, sugar and coffee. Cigarette and plug tobacco was important. I don't remember selling many cigarettes as most smokers rolled their own. Green coffee was a good seller. They roasted it in the stove oven. It was only a few cents a pound.

As you can see from the above list, you did not get your food from the store. The average family had from two to three hogs which they butchered after cold weather. The dressed weight was about 250 pounds each. Much of the sausage meat was cooked and canned, also lots of the lean meat around the backbone. You cooked the meat ready to eat, then packed it tight in glass jars and poured the juice over the meat to cover the top. It kept good if you kept it in a cool place. The remainder of the meat was cured and kept to use when wanted.

Also each family had from one to three cows. They furnished all the butter we wanted to eat or cook with and some surplus to buy flour. To get the butter, the surplus milk, plus part of the cream was placed in a large earthen jar called a churn. It was allowed to coagulate which we called clabber. The top of the churn was wood with a hole in the center. A round handle was fitted in the center with a cross piece on the bottom. You lifted this up and down for about 30 minutes. This separated the butter from the milk and the butter floated on top. To get firm or yellow butter, you kept the milk cold. If you wanted white or soft butter, you added warm water while churning. The milk was washed from the butter in clear water. You then placed the butter in a wooden mold and came out with a nice pound of butter with a flower imprinted on top.

Each family kept a flock of chickens which furnished eggs and a chicken dinner on special occasions.

Now we had the basics to stay alive, cornbread, meat, milk, butter and eggs. Also plenty of dried beans, kidney, pinto and October varieties. Potatoes, apples, cabbage and beets would keep all winter. We had an underground house that stayed cool all year but you could keep apples and potatoes in the ground. Dig a square hole, line it with straw, cover the hole with boards and cover with dirt. You usually keep a corner to open easily when needed.

During the summer we canned green beans, corn, tomatoes, beets and other vegetables. We made preserves and jellies from assorted berries and fruits. We also had plenty of dried apples for fried pies. One of my favorite noon meals today is corn bread, butter, milk, and pinto beans.

The old timers were sensitive and independent. Each man protected his own home and respected the rights of others. Most of them had a shotgun in the corner and knew how to use it. There were no officers. The nearest sheriff was 20 miles away and it would have taken a half day to get there if needed. I never saw an officer when I was growing up. All neighbors were friendly and helpful. If there was a serious illness in the family, others would come and bring food and help with the house work. In case of a death, the neighbors brought in loads of food, prepared the corpse for burial while the men proceeded to dig the grave.

Doors were not locked when people were away from home. We had no locks on the building where our food and meat were stored. In the 20 years I was up there, I can't remember anyone being punished for stealing.

When I was 17, I went to West Virginia to make my fortune. The 10 cents per hour mountain wages accumulated mighty slow. My first job out there was helping to dig a basement for a house. We were down about six feet and had to throw the dirt over the top. I thought I was fairly tough due to farm work. The next day I had to roll out of bed and climb the bed post to straighten up. A cocky little guy with a derby hat was the timekeeper. I looked at him and thought I should be a timekeeper instead of a dirt shoveler. Seven years and $3,000 later, I got a job where one of my duties was figuring the payroll. During the seven years while working and going to school, I worked in a cotton mill dye house and in their company store, a powerhouse, with a road crew, made brooms, worked in a coal mine and in five mining towns in the West Virginia coal fields. I worked in the company stores, one in groceries and in charge of the meat department in the others.

While working with the road crew, they put me to carrying the dynamite down a steep side of a mountain from a storage house. I was coming down with a 40 pound case. My foot slipped and I dropped the case. There was no way I could catch it but I managed to out run it and laid down and let it roll against me. I delivered it to the crew, walked off and never went back for my pay. In thinking about the early days I have tried to decide which of the modern conveniences would have meant the most.

I guess not having to get out in the snow and rain to cut wood would be among the top. This would include a heated house and electric stove.

Education really pays. I cut meat for two years and saved $2,000. I quit a job paying $200 per month, went to Business College for two years straight through, spent all my money, and was offered a job at $80.00 per month. That was what I was paid as a grocery clerk five years earlier. However, I kept the job 47 years.