WNC History Timeline

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www.childers-shepherd.org, 4 Jan 2009
                                    Margaret Jane Shepherd

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.

                                                                                                     -- Dwight Childers  10 Nov 2005