During her later years, Grandma Shepherd lived mainly at the family home on Hobson Branch Road with her oldest son Harold and his wife Ola. More or less regularly, however, she would circulate to her other sons and daughters for a week or so at a time. Most of my memories of her are from these periodic visits to us, especially during the years after we moved from Swannanoa to the old Taylor Bell farm near Piney Mountain Baptist Church, around 1951, when I was about seven.
Grandma was very sweet-tempered and rather quiet, taking care, I'm sure, not to intrude into our family in any way that caused any disruption. Very neat, she had very long straight gray hair, which every morning she carefully combed out, braided, and then wound into a bun at the back of her head. Usually she wore some kind of colorful cotton print dress in good condition, perhaps a maroon cardigan sweater, heavy tan stockings, and plain brown oxford shoes, always very clean and polished.
As was the custom of many ladies of her generation and place, she "dipped" tobacco snuff. If sitting, she would have nearby her little tin can of the snuff powder along with a "brush" made from a small straight twig (perhaps birch or beech wood) with one end frayed a fraction of an inch from the end. This she occasionally dipped into the snuff powder in the tin and then placed the brush end in her mouth to deposit the snuff inside her lip. This was all done very gracefully so that one didn't especially notice the process. Conversation could proceed after the brush was brought back to rest in the tin.
Sometimes, on a summer morning after breakfast was finished and put away, Grandma and I would sit in the porch swing and she would tell me stories. My favorite was about a woman far back in her family -- perhaps it was her Great Aunt Lizzie -- who was on her way home by horse one evening about dusk. Suddenly she heard the scream of a panther -- too close for comfort. Fearfully, she urged the mare on as fast as she could go, but she was still hearing the panther staying near in the woods beside the trail, screaming now and then like a woman in despair. At last, she reached the homestead clearing, raced into the barnyard, dismounted, quickly closed the horse in its stall, and then ran as fast as she could to the cabin. She made it inside, and was just bolting the door behind her when she heard the panther scream again -- right there beside the cabin.
Another time, Grandma introduced me to the subject of growing flax and explained that the flax fibers were used to make linen cloth. I had only the vaguest notion of what these were, but as she described flax, it seemed as real and immediate and important as if it had been growing in the field we could see from our porch swing and as if we at that moment had been wearing clothes handmade of linen. (Decades later, I learned that the growing and processing of flax was the principal occupation of many of the Ulster folk in northern Ireland before they migrated to our area of the colonies during the 1700's.)
Often, when Grandma visited us at our old house, Mrs. Leona Chambers, who lived with her daughter Pearl Allman at the next house down the back valley, would come to see us for an overnight visit. She and Grandma were about the same age and had been great friends for a long time as they raised their respective large families near each other. Mrs. Chambers would walk up the valley through the pasture, always wearing a good dress and her stocky black pumps and carrying her umbrella, unimpeded by the barbed-wire fence at the boundary. Mrs. Chambers was a great talker, so the two of them would spend hours reminiscing, and then at night, comb out their long hair, dress for sleeping, and climb into the big bed in our large front room, to talk and talk more before falling asleep.
One Sunday night, during such a visit from Mrs. Chambers, my father and I were returning from church. When we opened the screen door and then the main door to enter the house, we saw a dark movement at our feet. It was a long black snake fleeing before us -- directly into the front room where the two ladies were sleeping. Daddy, of course, had the job of chasing and capturing the intruder. With apologies to the ladies, he turned on the bright ceiling light, explaining the necessary mission. Grandma and Mrs. Chambers sat bolt upright in bed and watched silently as Daddy fished under the sofa with a broom handle and extracted the invader. When the snake was banished, the barely perturbed ladies -- who had seen so much in their long lives -- settled back down to resume their sleep.
Grandma had some food preferences which I found fascinating. In the morning, with breakfast, she did not take coffee. Instead she drank only hot water. For her evening supper, regardless of what else was offered, she preferred only a glass of milk into which she crumbled corn bread to make a sort of mush which she ate with a spoon. This looked good enough that others of us sometimes had it, too.
Grandma Shepherd died on a sunny day in late spring, sitting in a yard chair beside the house on Hobson Branch, where she had reared her family and lived out her days. Her grave is beside that of our grandfather, Henry Taylor Shepherd, in Piney Mountain Baptist Church cemetery.