I believe the mountains that surrounded Catawba Valley, my birthplace, were talking to me long before they started calling me back after I had left in 1962. Like the Cherokees who called Catawba their home before the McAfees and other first settlers, I felt a special connection to this beautiful land that was a part of me and me a part of it. After one’s birth in the Appalachians, one goes from being a baby boy to a man in short order. I cannot say at what age that happened to me, but the mountains adopted me early in my life. As I look back now, I can understand I spent more time in the mountains along Catawba Creek and on farms than I did most any other place. It was in my blood, probably in the very marrow of my bones. The heartfelt feelings that a person has are sometimes hard to communicate, but maybe that is the way it is meant to be. After I had left Catawba, life itself would have its demands and those experiences growing up in Appalachia Catawba would be set aside, but always a part of me.
Over the years, in my physical absence from the Valley, I could hear the mountains calling to me. It seemed to always occur at times when I needed it the most, reminding me of my life growing up and the lessons learned. My Daddy used to tell me when a country boy leaves the farm he will always get homesick every time he hears a donkey bray. Back then in the nineteen thirties and forties we experienced a culture handed down to us from then Scot-Irish ancestors who forged a way of life that gave to the sons and daughters of Catawba, an identity, values, and strength that we could call upon throughout our lifetime. The following generations would have the opportunity to inherit that. This culture has been grossly misunderstood by non-Appalachians right from the beginning. And it has been that way for over a hundred years.
I had been away from the mountains for five decades and had been unaware of the absence of anyone preserving our heritage. A wave of guilt and shame came over me as I reflected on those five decades that the mountains were calling to me to come home and fulfill what had most likely been my responsibility all along. My first-grade teacher, Lucille Brillhart Garman had told me in the 1980s that someone needed to be writing about Catawba, and its people, places and times. “Teddy, you are the one to do that,” she said. I failed to take the initiative on that. In the 1990s a mentor of mine challenged me to write two books: One of a nonfiction subject and the other of my Appalachian mountain heritage. Again, I failed to respond, and the mountains kept calling me. I remained silent until the third and final calling came. This one would be from God. I would finally start listening to the call of the mountains, but it would happen in an unusual way. But according to Scripture, that is the way God lays out a servant’s path. It is a pleasure to share this time in my life. Read on, folks.
As a teenager in Catawba I felt that God was calling me to be a minister and although that did not happen back then, it would many years later. I would feel, strongly, that call again in the 1990s and move from Roanoke to Greensboro to pursue the necessary training through the Baptist Seminary Extension (off-campus) program. Ordained in 2004 and called to pastor a church in 2005 I began my ministry.
Jesus, in his walk here on earth, used symbols and metaphors referencing agriculture terms that people, in those times would relate to, since most lived off the land. I would incorporate some of my Catawba Valley, rural experiences to emphasize sermon points, using agriculture terms. People started asking me about my upbringing in the mountains during fellowship gatherings. That led to them asking me, “Why don’t you write a book about those times and places.” I would hear that at times over the next few years. People seemed to be genuinely interested in my life and times in the Catawba Valley area of the Appalachian Mountains.
Early in 2018, I realized that my mother Elizabeth, who was the last living member of the Will and Luemma Garman family of seventeen, was in physical decline. She passed away April 24, 2018 and begin her eternal life with her family in Heaven. About thirty days prior to Mama’s passing, my wife Tina and a couple of folks from my church were encouraging me again to write. As we always do, Tina and I discuss every meaningful decision. When I ask her what she thought I should do, she stated very plainly, “just write.” That was it, I got it and realized those echoes from Catawba needed to be recorded, not just for me, but for many. Finally, I responded, feeling this was what God wanted me to do.
The Journey Begins
Most everything Tina and I do, we do as a team, and this would be no different. In April 2018 we set up a simple website to post articles and photos about the life and times in Catawba Valley in the 1900s. We laid out a plan of people and places within Catawba that would be subjects for our articles. I decided to honor the Garman family, William and Luemma and the seventeen children (which includes my mother) through article coverage. Echoes from Catawba was born.
Within a couple of months, we had the idea to compile these posts into a book and publish it in November. The upstairs of our townhome became Echoes Central! We purchased a couple of desks and comfy office chairs for our loft. We upgraded our simple website to be able to include a store, photo albums and other bells and whistles. We set up a work table in our all-purpose room where we store books and supplies and put together packages to mail.
After selecting a family to write about, we gather information from the living descendants. For instance, when we wrote about Carra Garman Shepherd, we talked with her four children, ages 85-91. We traveled from our home in Greensboro, North Carolina to homes where we would talk, laugh and cry our way through conversations of reminiscing and viewing pictures, traveling back in time. These visits were highlights for us and the time and expense we put into the effort made us feel blessed in a way money could never buy.
Once we gather our information, Tina transcribes the tape-recorded interviews and I begin to write. At times during writing, the interviews continue, sometimes over the phone to answer specific questions. We go to extremes to get our facts right, and if we find a mistake, we correct it. After I put the first draft together, Tina proofreads it, checks spelling, grammar and formats it. The final process involves Tina picking out the pictures that will be used and placing them in the story. Then it comes back to me for final proofreading. We then post the story to the website, and it is announced to Echoes From Catawba followers through email notification and Facebook.
Today, we own the trademark for Echoes From Catawba and we’ve sold almost 200 books in less than 60 days after we published on November 18. Our website began in April, 2018 and to date it has had almost 7,000 visitors and 15,000 views.
The book Echoes From Catawba Volume 1 covers a variety of people and places, which worked out great in 2018. We have decided to duplicate this format and publish a volume each year, forming a collection of books, each different but all with the similar theme of growing up in Appalachia.
Click here to order Echoes From Catawba Volume 1 hardcover, collector’s edition: $27.99, includes shipping.
Also available on Amazon. Paperback: $18.99 and Kindle: $5.99