The Murray and Pearl Allman family were our neighbors when we moved to the Oliver Taylor Bell house near Stocksville in north Buncombe County around 1950; our pastures met along our back boundaries. As my mother, Margaret Inez Shepherd, had grown up in that community, knowing them from early childhood, she and Mrs. Pearl Chambers Allman quickly became close friends, visiting back and forth frequently by walking through the back pastures and crawling under the fence at the boundary.
Sometimes I, at the age of seven or eight, would be sent to the Allman place if Pearl wanted to give away extra plums or apples from their several fruit trees, or if a thunderstorm was expected and she was alone. (Due to a lighting strike at her childhood home, she was terrified of such storms.) For me, these visits were delightful occasions because Pearl, even though past middle age, was such wonderful company for me. She was small and tidy, with her dark, graying hair done up in a roll around the back of her head, and she had merry dark eyes. She seemed always to be dressed up, with a nice dress and neat shoes, as if she were going out. She had a droll, amusing manner (with the occasional giggle) which I liked very much, and she kept a charming house. Once, during a thunderstorm, she fed me lunch in the dining room, introducing me to broccoli which she prepared from a frozen package and made into a sort of soup. I still have a vivid memory of this interesting new food, which is still a favorite vegetable for me.
The Allman’s house, which was always perfectly painted, white and tidy, had a large porch all across the front, the floor painted gleaming grey, and an interesting massive stone fireplace which jutted at a diagonal angle into both the living room and an adjoining bedroom. Sitting atop the table-like mantel were a brass clock inside a clear glass dome, with the bright moving parts visible, and various family pictures, including dignified portraits of Pearl’s oldest and youngest brothers, Walter and William, both of whom were attorneys. In front of the sofa was a mahogany coffee table bearing magazines and a china box in which there were always delicious candies of one kind or another. The Allmans’ daughter Emma, who, not yet married, still lived at home while working in Asheville at Woolworth’s Variety Store, somehow seemed responsible for that candy supply.
Behind the house, up the hill near the garage, was a large chicken coop where I sometimes helped Pearl gather eggs. Down the hill, somewhat below the backporch, was a small white cabin – also perfectly neat -- with an extra single bed and space for storage. Across the field, beside the path which led through their pasture to meet ours, was a bold spring flowing from a tall concrete niche.
Murray Allman was employed at the Veterans Administration Hospital at Oteen as a “night watchman” (as we said in those days, before security guards were common). He wore a very official looking uniform. That, along with the new Ford sedan he always had (he traded for a new one every second year, whereas we bought used cars and drove them as long as possible) commanded the respect of us small neighbor boys.
Often, Pearl’s mother, Mrs. Leona Brigman Chambers, would be present, as she made the circuit of her various children’s homes. In the summer, she would enjoy occasional naps in the little cabin out back. Sometimes she would hike through the back pasture, parasol in hand, to visit us, especially if my grandmother Margaret Jane Shepherd was with us. Mrs. Chambers, like her daughter Pearl, had the knack for always looking perfectly tidy and dressed up, even if she had to crawl under the barbed-wire fence at our boundary (before my father eventually opened a turn-about stile in the fence).