I have fond memories of visiting Aunt Bergie and Uncle Stanley during a few summers in the late
1950’s, when they were living at their summer home in a mountain cove near Barnardsville, NC. (It
would be many years before age and Uncle Stanley’s declining health would prevent their annual winter
migration to Tampa, Florida.) The arrangements were simple. A few days before the visit, I would hear
from my mother that I could go if I wanted to. Did I want to go? Yes, always. Then, a few days later,
perhaps on a Sunday afternoon, they would drive up to our place in their 1958 aqua and white Chevy
wagon, I would grab my little bag of toothbrush and pajamas, and off we would go.
Their house was high up at the end of Burleson Branch Road, which turned off NC-197 (North Fork
Road) a few miles northwest of the village of Barnardsville. The setting was as nice as could be. The
old bungalow, which they had spruced up with dark brown stain on the wall shingles and a crisp white
ranch-style porch railing, sat back high above Burleson Branch with a wide porch all across the front,
providing views down in front across the sloping lawn to the branch and to the south out over the cove
and to the mountains beyond North Fork valley. The house nestled against some huge boulders and
the up-hill side sat close to ground level with steps providing access to the end of the porch, while the
downhill side stood high above the stone-walled basement.
The last occupied homestead at the end of the road, the house had woods above and steep fields
around the back and side. Further uphill, hidden in the woods, was an old abandoned farm house.
Near their own house, all around, was a varying band of neatly manicured rolling lawn, inter-spaced
with Aunt Bergie’s flower beds and the boulders. In the back yard, which leveled out more than the
front, was a bold spring and an old smoke house. Beyond was the huge, lush vegetable garden and
corn field, wrapping around the hillside.
Soon after we arrived, we would settle into their usual routine. Uncle Stanley worked hours daily in the
vegetable garden. Aunt Bergie cooked our meals, took care of the house, and tended the flower beds.
At mid-morning, there was a break from work to enjoy some refreshing watermelon on the back porch.
Once or twice during the week, there would be an excursion. Aunt Bergie might take me with her to walk
down the valley and visit Mrs. Brigman, for butter and eggs, at her farm beside the North Fork road.
Mrs. Brigman was a jolly and lively older woman who still did her big vegetable canning operation every
summer, just as if she were still feeding her large family, even though by then they had all scattered
elsewhere and she lived alone. The reduced demand for her jars of canned goods required her to
empty out many of the full jars waiting in her can house every summer before refilling them with fresh
produce from her garden and fruit trees. Besides a cow and chickens, she had geese and guinea hens
as well. As we approached via the back-door path which led through the goose pen, there was some
danger of being chased and bitten by the cranky squawking geese. Mrs. Brigman was a great talker
and was happy to bring Aunt Bergie up to date on all the local doings. Afterward, she would load us
down with things from her garden to take back up the mountain, never mind the huge garden up there.
Once during the week, we might drive into Asheville to buy staples and take care of other necessary
errands. These drives always felt a little dangerous because Uncle Stanley had a reputation for being a
fast and somewhat careless driver. (A favorite family story told of one of his earlier careers, as a milk-
truck driver. When he rounded a curve much too fast, he flipped the truck on its side, and spilled a lot
of milk.) On the way, we would usually stop in Barnardsville for a few minutes to say hello to Uncle
Stanley’s sister Ollie and her husband Nick McElroy and to see if they needed anything from Asheville.
Nick was a tall and fit gentleman of late middle age and Mrs. McElroy was likewise slender and elegant,
with silver hair. They could not have been warmer or more welcoming to me. Beside their neat white
cottage was a large field of bright gladiolas, in all colors, which they raised to supply the flower shop
kept by their nephews Harry and Orville Brown in Weaverville.
In Asheville, there would be a round of stops at various supermarkets and hardware stores to buy the
best bargains for the weeks needs. Although the Hobsons lived very well and were generous to
neighbors and to more than one church, they were frugal in their daily personal habits.
Lunch would be in the Chevy stationwagon, parked beside a feed and seed store on Lexington
Avenue: very tasty sandwiches made at home earlier that morning -- slices of fried livermush with
mayonnaise on some of the morning’s biscuits, with leaves of fresh, raw spinach for an accent. (Until
then, I had not known that spinach could be eaten raw!)
Aunt Bergie was a wonderful cook, so meals were always a highlight of my visit. Every morning we
would have a full country breakfast, including freshly made biscuits. (Immediately after breakfast, we
would gather in the living room for a brief period of Christian devotion, including some Bible reading
and a modest prayer.) Then mid-morning, there would be the watermelon snack mentioned earlier. The
noon meal was the largest of the day, with all manner of treats Aunt Bergie had prepared during the
morning (including extra things for my visit, no doubt). I remember especially being introduced to
eggplant, from the garden -- thick slices, battered and crisply fried -- along with a bounty of more
familiar fare: cornbread, green beans, fried chicken, sliced tomatoes and cucumbers. Dessert might be
fresh fruit pie, cherry or peach, with ice cream on top. Evening supper was a lighter meal consisting of
things leftover from the noon dinner, and happily revisited.
One food tradition was Uncle Stanley’s alone. Before going to bed at night, he would fill a large tin cup
with corn flakes and milk and set it on the kitchen counter to soak. Then he would wake up around
midnight, go quietly to the kitchen, and savor his strange treat alone before returning to bed.
He was original in other ways, too. His vegetable garden was always a showplace, partly due to
diligence and partly to creative pest control, using homemade nicotine tea to ward off the bugs. The
nicotine tea was the end result of his tobacco snuff habit. While working he would indulge in a lip full of
snuff, which, of course, required spitting occasionally to dispose of excess tobacco juice. For this, he
kept an old coffee can by his side as he worked. Later on, the contents of the can would be spread on
a board to dry. Then, when he needed a batch of insecticide, he would simply stir some of the dried
tobacco powder into water to make the nicotine tea.
Aunt Bergie had a special touch with the flower borders which billowed out from every possible nook
and cranny among the boulders which surrounded the house. Among the ordinary marigolds, zinnias,
petunias, geraniums, and dahlias (always planted with a perfect eye for complementary colors and
shapes) the unusual might spring up to surprise – tall stately stalks of castor bean in intense maroon
hues, for example. While Aunt Bergie was plain and unimposing in her personal appearance, she
spread glorious beauty around her in the plantings she arranged to please her own eyes and those of
visitors as well. But modest as she was, she would only chuckle heartily and change the subject if
anyone paid too extravagant compliments.
Years later, when age and Uncle Stanley’s failing health prevented the annual winter migration to
Florida, they moved to a small duplex house in Barnardsville at the intersection of North Fork Road and
Dillingham Road. They lived in the lower apartment with a small lawn in front and a big level garden
beside the house, looking out across the village toward the school. (The upstairs apartment, with an
entrance close against Dillingham Road, was rented to tenants.) At this small stone house, just as at
the larger Burleson Cove house, Aunt Bergie kept up her tradition of hospitality for many more years,
even after Uncle Stanley’s death. Though I lived away from the area mostly after growing up, I would
always try to visit her when I returned to visit my parents, and she would never fail to excuse herself
from the conversation, over my protests that I had already had lunch, to find something good to eat and
serve it nicely on a tray in the living room -- maybe a slice of homemade cherry pie, with ice cream on
top. It was here, on such a visit on January 1, 1974, that Aunt Bergie agreed to tell me what she knew
about our ancestors.
--Dwight Childers, 10 October 2008