Couches Creek Proud: Roy Arthur Childers 1905 - 1996
Roy was born as a younger son in the large family of Thomas Clingman Childers, Jr., and Bertha Lambert/Franklin Childers in a cove of the Great Smoky Mountains called Couches Creek, near Smokemont and the Cherokee reservation. (Whenever, he spoke about his family, he would often say, with a sly twinkle in his eyes, “We might have a little Indian blood in us.”)
Though the family had left Couches Creek for work in the cotton mills of Greenville, South Carolina, and later the homeplace land was taken into the national park, Roy was always proud of that birthplace and took his sons, and anyone else who would go, back there as often as he could arrange a trip.
After decades of encroaching forest and undergrowth, the trip was never easy, as it involved picking a way through or under laurel thickets where once there had been a wagon road and crossing the creek on moss-covered stepping stones, again and again back and forth up the valley to the site of the old house. Nothing much remained except the imprint of an old foundation, a little hollow where there had once been a root cellar, and some yellow-flowering shrubs suggesting a former homestead and the hand of someone wishing to add a pretty touch. However, his enthusiasm for that spot was remarkable and soon infected whoever was with him on the trip as he related his memories of boyhood exploits and family happenings there and tales of the few other families up and down the valley. Once he remembered seeing mysterious blue lights, moving down the valley, of which it was said to mean that someone had died.
Due to the difficulties of life on Couches Creek, Roy had been unable to continue in school beyond the early part of the fourth grade. When he was in his early teens he left home to join the huge workforce required for the logging industry further back in the Smoky Mountains, so remote that the workers had to live in high-elevation camps during the week. Later, he reported being fed so much macaroni there in the camps that he could never stomach it thereafter.
Then, during his several bachelor years, living in the rooming houses which were the usual housing for single people, he worked for a time in Akron, Ohio, and then back in North Carolina at the rubber plant in Waynesville. During this time he bought his first car, a new early-model Ford and later a motorcycle. Eventually he settled into a job at the Beacon Blanket factory in Swannanoa. There he soon learned the job of weaver, operating a large power Jacquard loom that, as he later loved to explain, derived its pattern from holes punched on a card.
During this period he met Inez Shepherd and in due course they married, setting up house in a rented apartment in Black Mountain. During World War II, he had to leave Inez with baby Gerald and go to Newport News, Virginia, where he worked building war ships.
After the war, as soon as they could save enough money (in keeping with his firm belief that one should own rather than rent), they bought a small one-bedroom house and a few acres, including a little cherry orchard, on Bee Tree Road a few miles north of Swannanoa. Soon, with the arrival of a second son, he expanded the small house by building on an extra bedroom behind for the boys with a screened back porch alongside where family meals were eaten in summer, and then he built a rental house for additional income across the road near the creek. Likewise, he expanded the seating capacity of the 1937 Chevrolet coupe by cutting out the shelf behind the seats and building, in borrowed trunk space, a small bench seat which he neatly upholstered in brown naugahyde. Thus, he provided ample room behind for small boys.
At work, Roy continued to learn and, aided by his natural gift for all things mechanical, soon became the loom-fixer which he would proudly remain until retirement many years later.
Then, shortly after Hoyt was born in 1950, Roy and Inez decided that they needed a bigger house and more land. They proceeded to buy the old Taylor Bell farm near Inez’s birthplace in north Buncombe County. Even though it would be much further for Roy to drive to work, they were enthusiastic about having the larger place and living nearer to Inez’s relatives. It offered Roy a larger scope for all the outdoor projects he loved, including within a few years, the big project of building a new house on the ridge closer to the public road. Mr. Woodson Emory was hired as the mason and carpenter, and Roy served as the general contractor. During those days he worked the “graveyard” shift at Beacon Blanket so that he could be present during the daytime to confer with Mr. Emory and make other arrangements for supplies and subcontractors.
As the boys grew up and went off into their own lives, Roy revealed a large and open mind. Perhaps because his own formal education had been unfortunately too limited for his talents, he gladly supported his sons in getting as much education as possible of whatever kind they chose. And, while he was a reserved person who did not automatically like everyone he met, he always found it in his heart to welcome his sons’ friends and spouses with a warm handshake, sometimes a hug, and always genuine interest. He did believe his mountains were the best place in the world, so he was always eager to know what visitors from other places thought about the locale.
Roy continued his busy life of growing a big garden and building, making, and fixing things long after retirement. When he was in his mid-eighties, he surprised a visitor by taking out his chain saw and going to the woods to cut a poplar pole for use in repairing a foot bridge.
By his modest example (he abhorred a braggart) throughout his long life, Roy taught his sons innumerable valuable lessons. Among them were the pleasure of working with ones hands, the importance of doing a task thoroughly and well, the wisdom of not telling all to a too-inquisitive stranger (or even some acquaintances), and the precaution of not paying a bill in full until delivery is complete. And, of course, buy rather than renting.
Roy is buried beside Inez in the hilltop cemetery of Piney Mountain Baptist Church, between the towns of Weaverville and Barnardsville, NC.
- Dwight Childers, Sep 2005, revised 17 Dec 2006, 16 Nov 2011, 7 Aug 2017.