“The Childers Family of Western North Carolina: Their Roots and Memories,” 1986
Can anyone ever express their true feelings about their parents’ part in bringing them into the world, and in caring for them, training them and sending them out into the world to be novice adults? It brings tears of love and gratitude to my eyes and my heart overflows with appreciation every time I think of all they did for us seven children. They didn’t have much, but what they had, they shared with us and with their neighbors.
Yes, we were indeed blessed with good and devoted parents. They had a good reputation everywhere we lived. I was always proud to let people know that I was one of Joe’s boys. It seemed that everybody in town knew Mom and Dad. Whenever I told my name to a merchant, banker, doctor, or most anyone, they would ask if I was one of Joe’s boys, and I felt good and secure in answering, yes. This fact, alone, gave us kids a good image of ourselves and promoted a feeling of self-worth which we could carry all of our lives. Thank you, Dad and Mom!!!
Our parents were pretty tough and self-reliant. They practiced the golden rule and obeyed the ten commandments as best as I could tell. They minded their own business and didn’t meddle in other people’s business. They were helpful to the neighbors. Some instances come to mind:
When we lived with Grandad Penland at Clyde, Mom was helpful to the Conard family, Hassie Mackie and others who were struggling to make ends meet. She gave of our meager food and clothing so that they could fare better.
When we lived in Phillipsvllle, Mom was visited a lot by a female hunchback by the name of Donnie Arington and by a deaf and dumb lady by the name of “Dummy” Clark. She must have ministered dearly to these outcasts, because they came often. She had a marvelous gift for communicating with such people. They dearly loved her.
When we lived on the Asheville road In Canton she helped her neighbors and friends as well as hobos who came along the railroad track. She always had a hand-out ready and would sometimes let the hobos chop wood for a meal. We had so many hobos that I’m sure they had a hidden signal near our home that told each other that this was a friendly house. (They were known to do that in those days).
Mom helped to raise a lot of kids, because hardly a weekend passed in which someone’s children were not staying the night with one of us kids. They loved to come to our home because of Mom’s caring attitude and the good times they had at our house. Dad snorted his nose a lot about it, but at least put up with the noise and confusion.
Mom and Dad helped Emma Long and other wives of alcoholic husbands; sheltering them and listening to their troubles whenever they needed someone. Being involved in this as a young boy certainly made an impression on me and led me to affirm early in life not to drink alcoholic drinks, and I have stuck to that decision all of my life. Dad set a good example for us. I remember only one time when he came home with too much to drink. He had been to a Knights of Pythious meeting, and his buddies had let him get too much, I think. I remember that Mom hit him with a skillet or something. That must have cured him of drinking. We never saw any evidence that he ever took another drink of alcohol.
While we lived in Buncombe County, Mom helped her neighbors any way she could. She visited the sick and the shut-ins nearby. She always took something in a basket or bag for them. She was kindly referred to as the “bag lady”. Everyone loved her and were glad to see her coming. Dad was always giving his neighbors and family members things from his garden. He had a green thumb and knew how to raise prize tomatoes, potatoes, candy roasters and pumpkins. Dad almost had the gift of “decernment” when it came to picking out apples and molasses. He hardly ever failed on honey, either. Usually he would taste the items before he paid for them. He always carried a pocket knife for just such tasks.
Dad was a man of his word, and he taught us that a man’s word was as good as his bond and that if a job was worth doing, it was worth doing right. He didn’t have to discipline us kids much, because Mom was a “quick-reaction” disciplinarian. When we needed a whipping or a smack in the face, she was quick to mete it out and didn’t hold punishment over until Dad got home. I remember only one time that she waited on Dad to decide the punishment for brother Ray and I. We were at a neighbor’s house while she was chopping wood and through some interaction in his helping chop her wood, Ray cut her finger off. Dad whipped both of us, himself. That’s the only time I remember him giving me a whipping.
Growing up at our home was a fun thing. I remember only good times. Mom and Dad were proud of us children most of the time. They bragged on us when we deserved it, and they withheld privileges when we deserved that, too. Some of the lessons I learned at home were as follows:
When you are sent for switch to be whipped with, always get a good one. For if it broke, you had to go back and get another one.
Money isn’t eveything: One payday, Dad gave Mom $300.00 to put away. She must have laid it down a minute on some old newspapers — because the next thing she knew, she had picked up the newspapers and kindled a fire with them. That was a big loss at our house, but they laughed about it later as they would recall it.
Pay your debts and keep your word: Dad always paid his debts. and kept his word. He was a good example for us to follow in this respect. We had charge accounts at the grocery stores in which he got behind on, but he always caught them up when he could. All the business men in Canton who knew him, trusted him.
Survival: When food was scarce, there was always a way to survive. We got down to cornbread and molasses once in a while, but we never went hungry like some folks we knew. Mom taught me how to gather greens from the fields. She would gather tender polk shoots, creases, dandelion leaves, grapevine leaves, plantain leaves, dock, raspberry leaves, beet leaves, turnip greens, radish tops, chicken and turkey mustard, regular mustard greens, lamb’s quarter, and wild buckwheat. She trusted me not to pick something that was poisonous. Dad taught me how to build and set rabbit traps. He called them “rabbit gums”. The traps had a door trigger on which I placed a piece of apple - when the rabbit crawled in and tried to nibble the piece of apple, the door trigger would come loose and let the door fall, trapping the rabbit. I caught lots of wild rabbits like that and Mom taught me how to kill them with a stick to the back of the neck. She also taught me how to skin them and dress them for cooking. Rabbits were a good protein source and a change from eating chicken and pork all the time.
Canning and preserving: Canning and preserving were necessities in those days. Blackberries, apples, grapes, strawberries, raspberries, huckleberries, blueberries, etc. had to be picked, washed and prepared in the proper manner. Children took up a lot of time in the Spring and early Summer picking berries and working in the gardens. Gardening was a necessity also. We owe a lot of our good health to this type of natural food. Jellies and jams, apple butter and peach butter were good things for families to have. All the women seemed to know how to do these things in those days, but the processes may be a lost art now for most families.
Sauer’kraut and Smoked Fruit: In those days we also learned how to make sauerkraut and smoked fruit. In preparing the cabbage for the kraut, Mom always saved the cabbage stalks. The stalk was always a treat for Dad and us kids. It took an extra measure of love for Mom to go to the extra trouble to trim the stalk down to the eatable portion for us. In smoking the apples; the apples had to be peeled, sliced and spread on a special screened tray which was placed in a wooden box with a cover and vent. Powdered sulfur was set on fire and in the burning process the sulfur fumes would permeate the sliced apples and do its job of bleaching and preserving. The smoked fruit was washed and placed in a crocker pot or in jars until needed at meals. The fruit was always firm and good. Excellent pies were made from the smoked fruit. Also, sun-dried apples were a favorite, and you haven’t lived until you have tasted “leather-britches beans”. These were green beans that were strung on strings and dried in the sun.
Hog Killing Time: Dad always prided himself on raising and fattening a hog or two each year. He usually had good luck, and in this way saved a lot of money for store-bought meat. Hog killing time was a busy time. I remember what a busy time it was. All the meat had to be taken care of right away since there was no refrigeration in those days. Every piece of the hog was used in one way or another. Hog jowl and backbone and ribs were favorite dishes. The heart and liver was made into something called livermush or liver loaf. Eggs, milk, bread and spices were used in preparing this dish. It was pretty good and was usually served as a cold dish. Another dish, sausemeat, was pre pared from the head, ears, and feet of the hog. This was prepared and baked in the form of a loaf and was used like cold cuts for sandwiches. The lean scraps from all areas of the hog were ground up into pork sausage and cooked in patties and canned in glass jars. The cooling glass jars were inverted so that the residual lard would congeal at the lid and help seal the jar. All left over skin of the hog was rendered into lard. This was done by baking the skin portions in large pans in an oven. The liquid lard was poured off and allowed to solidify in containers for storage. The lard was used in cooking. The pork rinds were called “cracklings”. The cracklings were eaten as a “between meal” snack. Some of the cracklings found their way into the cornbread. Crackling bread was a favorite of Dad’s at meal time and we kids learned to like it also.
Preserving Pork: The hams and shoulders were trimmed and salted with Morton’s Smoked Salt. The side meat was also salted and made the best “fatback” and bacon, ever. Mom’s breaded and fried fatback was a king’s delight, good and crisp with a taste you cannot forget. Every home, just about, had a small smokehouse for curing and storing the meat, potatoes, apples, onions and other items produced on the land. Canned items were kept in a basement or can house partially built under the ground.
Note: I remember that I was ashamed to take sausage and biscuits for my school lunch. I wanted light bread for my sandwiches. Now, all of us go out of our way to find sausages and biscuits to snack on. How times and values change.
Milk and butter: Dad always had a good milk cow and all of us learned how to feed and milk the cows, how to strain the milk through a clean cloth, and how to churn the rich cream into buttermilk and butter. We didn’t always have an ice box to keep the milk products in, so we had to put them in a spring-box or hang them down in a well on a rope. This kept the milk and butter real cool in the summer time. I loved the homemade buttermilk with small chunks of real butter floating around on top of the milk.
Going to Mill: I remember having to shell corn, put it in a feed sack or flour sack and take it to a corn grist mill at Clyde, N.C. over my small shoulder. The mill always kept a portion of the ground corn meal for the grinding service. This was called “shares”. I especially remember the old mill there in Clyde by the bridge over the Pigeon River. I always felt intimidated by the old men who hung around the mill and the general store that was associated with it. They always seemed to be commenting and making fun of how we young boys behaved or carried ourselves. Some of them sat around all day telling lies and swapping knives, I suppose. They should have been home tending garden and the livestock, I thought.
Learning to Receive as Well as to Give: Aunt Flora and Uncle John Stamey came to our family’s rescue during times when our cow was dry. We kids had to hike about three miles over to their house for extra milk and butter. They were awfully good to us and to Aunt Lydia’s family who lived closer to them. What would we have done without their help? Aunt Lydia always had milk on hand, but it tasted like wild onions, of which their pasture was filled. That kind of milk, I could do without. Aunt Flora gave us garden produce, canned vegetables, jams and jellies, cookies and other goodies each time we went for milk. She helped make and patch our clothes and was a good example of a “Saint of God” for us young children. During this time of the depression in the country, we certainly learned to receive as well as to give. This time in our lives probably put “backbone” into us when it is all said and done, but we would not want to go through it again, nor to have our children suffer though times like that.
Cleanliness: Early in our family life, hot water for bathing was at a premium. It had to be heated on a cook stove. Our bathtub was a washing tub or a metal wash pan. I think our family invented “sponge” baths. Mom insisted on us being clean most of the time. She washed our clothes until they were worn out, and she put patches on top of patches. Hand-me-downs were the order of the day, too.
There was no waste around our home. The outdoor boiling pot and the scrub board were widely used by the mothers and older children to keep clothes clean. Fathers did not usually do this kind of work around the house. Ironing was a requirement also, since the materials were not permanent pressed like they are today.
There were two things that Mom could not stand -- dirty children and stray dogs. She delighted in cleaning up the children and running the dogs away with a shot gun which she could use well. She would cleanup the extra children of the neighborhood who came around and needed a bath or clean clothes. This included looking for the itch and for lice in their hair. I can remember that wicked fine toothed comb she used on all of us kids, scraping the scalp until the tears would come to our eyes, but we can thank her for looking out for our health that way.
Thrift: Lessons in thrift were there with us each day as we children grew up....raising a garden, canning and preserving garden produce, picking berries, picking up coal along the railroad tracks, picking up scrap metal (brass, copper, zinc, and aluminum) for selling to the junkman, paper routes, one bicycle to share, usually no car for transportation, no daily newspaper, and no throw-a-way items. The fifty cents Dad gave us on Labor day was a lot of money. Yes we had some important lessons on thrift.
Love and Faith: Mom and Dad loved each other. We saw their love and respect expressed in other than physical ways, though I remember Mom sitting on Dads lap many times and their kidding and laughing together about all kinds of situations, the many extra things Mom did for Dad such as preparing his breakfast each morning, the many lunches she packed for him, (including hundreds of fried pies), her hard work outside the house so that he wouldn’t have to come home from work and do so much himself. The bond between them was strong as evidenced by Dad’s life ending only three months after Mom died. He just didn’t want to live without her. We children could write a lot more about the love they had for each other and for us.
They met in Canton where Mom was teaching school and Dad had just returned from the first World War in France. He had a job at the paper mill in Canton and was staying with his Aunt Cindy Clark. We don’t know all the details of their meeting and courtship, but we do know their marriage was founded on strong love for each other and on faith in God.
Dad was baptized in the Baptist faith and Mom came from a long line of Methodists there in Clyde. Our brother Ralph’s research into Dad’s Christian witness as a young man, showed that he was indeed a fine young man, versed in the scriptures and following God in his life. Dad had served in the trenches in France during World War I. He told us he was wounded in the back and was ending his recuperation in the Army field hospital when the armistice was signed. In one more day he would have been sent back to the front lines. If the hand of God hadn’t been in these events none of us would have been born, because casualties were running high there in the trenches in France during the last months of the battle. I’m sure those experiences had a great influence on Dad’s relationship with Christ. He believed in God and wanted us children to attend Sunday School and Church. He didn’ t preach to us or insist that we go, but we knew he was probably proud of us when we went. In his retirement years he joined the Methodist Church at Snow Hill and attended regularly. Dad never took the Lord’s name in vain and he never allowed us to. The strongest swear word I ever heard him utter was “damn it”. He only said that when he mashed his finger or something like that. He didn’t like for us kids to curse, either.
Mom was raised In the Methodist Church in Clyde and could trace her family ties in the Methodist Church directly back to Francis Asbury. She was named for her great grandmother Emily Shook, one of the girls in Shook family at Clyde where Francis Asbury would stay when he came to western North Carolina.
Mom started us older children to Sunday School at her Church in Clyde. My first suit was of the knicker type with long socks, etc. I was very self-conscious of the outfit, but I dressed in it and went along with it. Mom knew all the Bible stories for children and shared them with us. She also knew some children’s songs which she sang to us. I wish I could remember the one about the “Babes in the Woods”. Little stories and songs helped to establish a faith in our parents and ir God as we grew up. It helped us to know that God cared for us. She prayed for each of us, too. She could never just turn us over to God for His care, she kept taking us back and worrying a lot over each of us. All during the Second World War, when I was away, I never had a moment in which I didn’t feel prayed for. That surely was a good feeling, especially when I was being shelled, bombed of invading some Pacific island.
Mom was not very emotional with her love for us kids, but she demonstrated it in other ways. She was tough. We never saw her cry or withdraw. She didn’t even weep at her mother’s funeral. I did hear her crying when we lost our little brother, Wilburn Ellis at three months old. The next time I saw tears in her eyes was when she and Dad put me on the train in Asheville to go to war. That just made me love her that much more. It was a sad time for all of us when we departed the family during World War II. Raymond went to Washington, D.C. to work, I went to the South Pacific with the Army Air Corps, Ralph went to the European theatre, and Harold went into the Navy. I’m sure all of us were prayed for while we were away. That knowledge sustained us till we came home.
Homecoming was a loving time, too. I remember my long trip across the Pacific Ocean, the long trip by train from the west coast, my call to home when I got to Asheville, and my bus trip to Canton. I remember I got off the bus on the Canton hill near the house where sisters Martha and Rubena saw me and ran to meet me at the railroad crossing above the house. This was a dear time in my life. I don’t remember how Mom greeted me, but I remember that Dad was napping on the bed when I got there. When I awakened him he grabbed me and pulled me down into his arms there on the bed. It was the only time I remember him hugging me, but it has been an everlasting hug for me. That act showed me a good vision of our Heavenly Father. It showed me that Dad loved all of his children even though he didn’t demonstrate about it much.
Mom and Dad also showed great love as they helped Brother Raymond and his family through all their ups and downs. I think that was a good lesson for all of us as they never let these kinds of troubles and worries reduce their love and caring for us. Another way they showed love and concern was the way they helped get the newly married couples off to a good start by fixing up a small garage apartment at home for those that lived and worked locally. Mom was also concerned and present, I believe at each birth of her grandchildren. That was a big help and she had lots of experience on child care to pass along to the young mothers.
Every week, all year long, there was wash day. A huge pot of boiling water would be suspended outside over a roaring fire, and nearby were three large zinc tubs and usually a dishpan. Mom would scrub the clothes on a washboard with a cake of octogan soap at the first of the zinc tubs. Then she would wring out each piece of clothing with her hands and put them in the big pot of boiling water. She would try to get the rest of the dirt out by “punching” the clothes in the pot -- standing over the boiling pot for five or ten minutes, using a broom stick (punching stick) to stir the clothes through the water and press them against the bottom or sides in a human imitation of the later-to-be-invented washing machine agitator. Then the clothes were lifted out of the big pot on the end of the punching stick, held up for a few seconds while the dirty water dripped out, and dropped into a rinse tub. She rinsed each piece by swishing it through the rinse water. Then she would wring out each item and place it in the third tub which contained “bluing”. Then those items that required a starch mixture were transferred to the dishpan which had already been prepared with the starch mixture which was required for wrinkle-free ironing.
Mom was well acquainted with the old heavy irons that had to be heated on the wood burning cook stove we had to use for many years. They were an iron wedge-shaped implement weighing up to seven pounds. It took several irons for a large ironing task because they would retain heat for only a short time. Others were heating while one was being used.
The family clothes line was present at all homes that could afford them. Some families who lived near by had to use bushes and fences to hang their clothes on to dry. You might say that a good clothes line was a sign of prosperity.
Note: The soapy water was never wasted. It was always used to wash the porch and the steps of the house. Also we kids had to sweep and clean up the yard on wash day. This included cleaning up the chicken and cow droppings in the yard areas.
Dad was fortunate enough to keep his job with the Champion Paper and Fibre Company in Canton during the depression years (1930’s-40’s). He usually had some kind of an old car. First a T-Model Ford, a Whippet, an A-Model Ford, etc. When we children got old enough to drive, he sold the one he had so that he would not have problems with us new drivers. Each of us had to learn to drive on our own, which was probably a good idea.
His job progressed from a Switchman/Brakeman on up the ladder to Engineer of the company’s diesel engine. He was a faithful employee all his forty-five years and took pride in his work and in his personal appearance on the job.