When the Shepherds returned to north Buncombe County from Winston-Salem in 1925, they moved to the Will Beachboard house, on the Piney Mountain Church road (now Elkins Branch Road), just around a curve to the west from the church. They rented that place for a year while they were building their new house at the farm on Hobson Branch. (Henry Taylor Shepherd was a skilled carpenter as well as a farmer.) The new house replaced the Nelson Bradley house which had been on the property when they acquired it and which they had recently torn down.
About 1931, this new house burned and the family had to begin building yet another new house. In 1939, this address was Route #1, Box 217, Stocksville, NC. (Later the Stocksville post office would close and Hobson Branch would be served by the Weaverville post office.) This second new house is the one I visited often as a young child and later, as it was the home of my Grandmother Margaret Jane Shepherd, along with her oldest son Harold and his wife Ola Whitt Shepherd. Grandma lived there until she died in 1961, and Harold and Ola continued to live there until they retired from farming and moved to Winston-Salem several years later. (They had met in Winston-Salem, where Ola's family lived. In the mid-eighties, they moved back to north Buncombe County, but to a different house across the ridge to the west on Stockton Road.)
The H. T. Shepherd house sits (it still exists as of this writing) back from Hobson Branch Road on the side of a hill across a small stream valley. In the valley, right beside the road was the old barn (log walls below with stalls for the cows and for old Ed, the plowhorse, and, above at road level, there was a framed loft where tobacco was hung, hay was stacked, and hams were cured). Next was the bridge across the branch, and after that, to the right was a smaller newer barn containing a corn crib and more hanging space for tobacco. (According to my mother, Margaret Inez Shepherd Childers, this barn had replaced an older shed which once had been used for a commercial canning business involving her parents and older siblings.) Then, up an incline, there sat the neat white bungalow, surrounded by a green lawn and adorned by tall junipers (which were favorite places for seeking hidden eggs on Easter Sundays). A crop field spread out to the left side, and behind and around the other side was a pasture rising up to the woods. In a dip down from the shady back yard was a bold spring.
Across a foot bridge to the right of the back yard was the outhouse, still maintained, for good measure, long after an indoor toilet had been built. Also, there began a trail that snaked up the hill, past the old Buckner family cemetery on the top of the ridge, and then along the ridge and eventually down the other side to the vicinity of a cluster of Shepherd houses: the Floyd Shepherd house, the Eugenia (Jennie) Shepherd Myers house, and the John Wesley Shepherd (and son Fred Jack Shepherd) house, which by my time was occupied by others. From there it was an easy walk, for healthy folks, up the high hill to Piney Mountain Church, which sat on land which John Wesley Shepherd and Matilda Riddle Shepherd had donated many years before.
As settled adults, brothers Harold and Floyd Shepherd kept this trail well trod, going back and forth almost daily to help each other with farming tasks or just for little visits.
The Shepherd bungalow on Hobson Branch was compact and practical in arrangement. There was a front porch at the entrance. Inside, was the living room with a near door on the left to the front corner bedroom, an adjacent stairway up to a spacious attic bedroom (where Uncle Harold and Aunt Ola slept) with bright windows at both gable ends, another door further along on the left to the middle bedroom (where Grandma slept) and another straight back to the dining room. From the dining room, a door to the right led to the kitchen, and a door to the left led to another bedroom. In the kitchen a back door opened onto the back porch. Across the porch to the left was the bathroom which had been added long after the house was built.
The living room was paneled with vertical knotty pine boards, varnished to a high gloss. Centered in front of the closed fireplace was a big brown square Warm Morning coal heater. Before it sat the heavy maroon plush sofa and on either side were the two matching armchairs. On the wall above the sofa was a velvet painting of Jesus praying in Gethsemane. On another wall was a large oval-framed photograph of Grandpa Henry Taylor Shepherd posed before a shock of corn.
To me, the most striking feature of the room was the entry door and its facings. These all were varnished like the paneling, but the wood-grain had been highlighted with paint for a dramatic effect. Whenever I was admiring it, Uncle Harold would tell the story of the man he called “Frenchy”. Frenchy (whose name I now know - Joseph Octave Morin), originally from Quebec, Canada, had come to Hobson Branch from Tampa, Florida, with Uncle Stanley and Aunt Bergie Shepherd Hobson.
(In 2004, when Ben Ra and I visited Paris, France, I was surprised to see exactly this same kind of grain painting on many doors scattered around the city, and I remembered for the first time in a very long time the stories of Frenchy which I had heard some fifty years before.)
The best rooms in the house, without doubt, were the dining room and kitchen. The kitchen had attractive built-in cabinets and counters, painted white, along two adjoining walls with plenty of windows on one side. In the opposite corner was the elegant wood-burning cook stove, kept spotlessly clean and usually fired, cooking or waiting to cook the next meal under the skilled hands of Aunt Ola and Grandma Shepherd. The floor was authentic old linoleum with a pattern of white swirling randomly through a deep blue background. Because the pattern went all through from top to bottom, the floor still looked fresh and new after years of busy footsteps going from counter to cook stove to sink and back, again and again.
The dining room was the heart of the house. It seemed the most spacious room, with a row of windows on one side, a large oval claw-footed table in the center, and a matching sideboard along one wall. I remember wonderful meals at this table. I recall especially week-day dinners (at noontime, of course) when we had happened by on some errand or other and had been urged to "stay and eat with us". I marveled at the bounty of the food and the beauty of the serving dishes which Aunt Ola brought to the table in her cool, casual way, as if it was nothing special. There would be hot biscuits and corn bread, a great flowered platter of fried chicken, mashed potatoes in a rimmed bowl, soup beans, greens, a green-glass dish of peeled and sliced tomatoes and cucumbers, fresh milk and butter, and for dessert probably both cake and pie -- perhaps a coconut layer cake and, depending on the season, perfect cherry or apple pie.
This house had been home to Henry Taylor and Margaret Jane Shepherd's children and continued to be the homeplace -- the place to which they returned on special occasions -- through much of their adult lives when they lived elsewhere with families of their own. Easter Sunday would bring them back from near and far with their children as eager to hunt for dozens of Easter eggs as the adults were to hide them. Some cousins saw each other perhaps for the first time since last Easter. Brothers and sisters remembered earlier times, good and bad, and brought each other up to date on individual family news. There might be some wry teasing, often aimed at the brothers-in-law. (Courteous respect for sisters-in-law precluded any such levity involving them.) Over all of this, Grandma Shepherd reigned in her quiet and modest way. She was known for advising "If you can't say something good about somebody, don't say anything." Mostly that advice was taken, and taught, by her offspring; so on these occasions the rare moment of silence which punctuated the good-natured chatter spoke volumes.
-- Dwight Childers 26 March 2006, rev 25 Jan 2009, 2 Jun 2013