I awakened on the morning of, June 4, 2019, at 3:55 a.m. after having a vision of crossing Catawba Mountain, Virginia and immediately taking in the natural grandeur of the valley that lay in the forefront of my gaze. Often during my now lengthy years, I have pondered the diverse thoughts that my Creator has inserted into my subconscious with the same response by me: What is this about Lord, what is the meaning of what I see before me? Signs and visions were commonplace in the Old and New Testament happenings that God used to direct a path of action for a chosen person or people. Those things are not commonplace now, nor have they been for two thousand years. Or do these things occur in this day and time in the form of early morning thoughts, words, and pictures (visions?)
At present, I am one year removed from diving headlong into the crowded world of writers or wannabee writers. The desire to write and specifically to do so about growing up in the Appalachian Mountain region of the Old Dominion’s Catawba Valley was, most likely, with me when I crossed over Catawba Mountain, leaving my birthplace and formative years behind as I headed into “the world” in the 1960s. Over fifty years would pass before I returned to my roots to stay, a homecoming that would now take on a mission. It would not be a new mission as such since I had over the last five decades never forgotten my “raising” and although I had flourished wherever I was planted, my roots would always be in Catawba. After several years leading up to my retirement as a fourteen-year pastor, I had what appeared to be a remaining time of longevity and the obvious question of “what now, God.” He who had planned the agenda of my life to date would, finally, set me forth on my final endeavor, to be a writer. Even though I have one book written, Echoes From Catawba Volume One, I feel, physically being back in the area has consummated my calling to write Catawba’s history in terms of the life and times of her people, one family at a time. After all, life is about the people, isn’t it?
As I replay that vision of the mountains and meadows, I see more than the natural, breathtaking beauty of Catawba Valley. I see back to the days of the Cherokees, the original inhabitants followed by the pathfinders and settlers. People named McAfee, Brand, and Spessard amongst others.
Having spent the past sixteen months visiting in Catawba to interview people who would provide the many stories that I would write about in Echoes From Catawba, one would think I had established myself back into God’s Country. The fact of the matter was that I still lived in Greensboro, and something was missing. Sunday, July 21, 2019 that changed.
Shiloh Church Homecoming
My wife Tina and I were invited to attend the 161st Homecoming of Shiloh Church, where my mother and her siblings of the 19 member family of Will and Luemma Garman had attended church. Our visit to this event would, in our minds, represent our return to being a part of Catawba in reality. Four days earlier, we had moved into our new home in Roanoke County (Salem, Virginia) as the commute from Greensboro to Catawba was over.
As we crossed Catawba Mountain and headed up Newport Road to Shiloh, I tried to envision what I was about to experience. Although it had had some upgrades both inside and out, it had not lost its character of being a country church. We parked in the back, and as we walked around to the front door, we could hear the chatter of voices that flowed through the open windows and side doors. Country churches in the Appalachian mountain range do not have air conditioning; Ceiling fans, maybe, but no a.c. We were greeted upon entry and treated, not as visitors, but as God’s children coming to share in the fellowship and worship. Before the beginning of the service, Frank Garman, Pam Garman, Steve Garman, and Linda Eaton provided instrumental music from the piano, violin, guitar, and mandolin. They expertly played hymns from the mountains that all present could recognize as heart, mind, and soul were prepared for worship to be followed by food and fellowship. The choir was made up of vocalists who upheld the tradition of gifted singers that had sung there over the decades in Shiloh church.
A former preacher, Gus Wright who served the church for one year almost forty years ago, delivered the Homecoming message in a style that was true to his style back in 1979-1980. A well-liked preacher then was well-received by all that experienced him previously. Mr. Wright stated that in all the places he had traveled and preached the word of God in two continents, Catawba Valley, Virginia was the best experience.
As we all headed to the picnic pavilion for country cooking at its best, God sent forth distant thunder to alert us that much-needed rain and cooler temperatures were on the way. The food and fellowship were typical of a country church homecoming with the raindrops not dampening any spirits. As we headed back to Salem, Tina and I shared our feelings about the Homecoming. It was a great experience spiritually and emotionally as we interacted with old friends and made some new ones. I am so blessed to have grown up in Catawba and further blessed to record in book form the stories of our heritage that so many people left. After all, life is about the people, isn’t it?
While at the Gaither Family Fest in Gatlinburg Tennessee over Memorial Day weekend, performer Kevin Williams talked with Ted about the impact the late Bobby All, John Garman’s grandson, had on his career. Kevin is the guitarist for the Gaither concerts and has been for almost 30 years.
In an upcoming Volume of Echoes From Catawba, we look forward to sharing more about this story and about the musical talents of the Garman family.
After writing A Silent Killer Comes to Appalachia, focusing on the enormous impact that tuberculosis (TB) had on my family in Catawba and many others in the mountain region, I felt a personal lack of closure. The disease and its consequences had forever altered our family destroying our opportunity for a normal life and left us in a dysfunctional state that would scar us forever. It seemed like the Silent Killer story left a fog of darkness over me with regards to that part of local history. Within days I received an e mail from a member of a family that I remembered living there during the last couple of decades of the facility that was known as Catawba (TB) Sanatorium. Carolyn Pillow Mayhew was the daughter of Robert (Bob) Pillow who was Business Manager of Catawba Sanatorium from 1946 -1973. In 1973 it would become Catawba Hospital, ending its years as the first TB sanatorium in Virginia. We shared a couple of e mails and I got a revelation that Carolyn had a valuable story that she could share that would close the door on the darkness of this iconic facility with a feel-good story of her life growing up on the historic grounds of the Catawba Sanatorium. I asked Carolyn to do a story and she agreed. A Silent killer Comes to Appalachia would have a Part 2.
INTRODUCTION by Ted Carroll
Carolyn did not have descendants from Catawba, but she was born in our valley which gave her the same roots we all have that have sprung from preceding generations. She portrays in her life story of growing up in Catawba, largely confined to the Sanatorium grounds, which would extend to the area of Keffer’s store, Catawba School and Catawba Methodist Church. Carolyn is an excellent writer who captures your attention in such a way that you relive her story as if you were there. This is a heartwarming article that you will be thankful to have read.
The Silent Killer Comes to Appalachia – The Sequel
Catawba is My Home
By Carolyn Pillow Mayhew
When someone asked me where I grew up, I used to say “Catawba Sanatorium.” They would look at me funny. For a while, I use to answer “No, I did not escape.” But now I say Catawba Valley.
“Never heard of it.”
And I think–good–, I want my home to stay as beautiful and quaint as I remember it.
My father, Robert (Bob) Pillow was business manager of Catawba Sanatorium from 1946-1972 when it was a tuberculosis hospital, built on the same land that the Roanoke Red Sulphur Springs Resort was built on in 1857. Dad grew up in Roanoke City and graduated from VPI (Virginia Tech) with a major in business. He continued to live and work in the city until World War II started and then he enlisted in the Army and fought in Europe.
Mom, Dorothy (Dottie) Penn Pillow, grew up on the State Farm in Goochland County, where her father was superintendent of the correctional center. All of the jobs on the State Farm such as outdoor grounds maintenance, painting, and including cooking, ironing and cleaning for the employees that lived there were performed by the inmates. It was quite a learning experience for my Mom and her three sisters when they got married and had their own houses to take care of.
Mom and Dad lived in a small two-bedroom house right next to the woods behind the nurses’ quarters and close to the chapel. They were no further than sixty yards away from the last standing hotel building from the Roanoke Red Sulphur Springs Resort. Just down the hill from their house was the gazebo that sheltered the hand pump for the sulfur water. They stayed in this house until I was born and then we moved to the house I grew up in. Catawba Sanatorium was further “in the country” than the State Farm was. The sanatorium had about 15 to 20 inmates that worked outside painting or cutting grass with a push mower, leaf removal in the fall, snow removal in the winter, shoveling coal for the boilers to produce steam for the sanatorium and garbage pickup. There was a dairy farm for milk and butter for the sanatorium’s dining room and the farm also had hogs for supplemental food. Fields of corn or alfalfa were planted and harvested by the inmates for the cows every year. But they did not do any cooking, cleaning or ironing. Mom had to learn how to do that on her own. One of the cooks from the dining room walked to our house two or three times a week and taught Mom how to cook when they first moved to Catawba. My brother, Rick Pillow (born 1947) and I (1951) use to tease our mother relentlessly when she was trying to be brave and cook something new that one of the valley farmers had brought to Dad. One time it was frog legs. From our classmates we had heard that the legs jumped in the pan when you fried them. Mom quietly started cooking them, but Rick and I came in to watch because we knew what was for dinner. Suddenly Rick pointed to one and said, “Look! That one jumped!”. Mom took the pan, walked outside to the garbage can and threw them away. Another time it was rabbit chops. Me, being young and not thinking, picked up the chop and “hopped” it a couple of times on the plate. Mom left the table, and Dad stared me down.
For Rick and me, the sanatorium was the best place to grow up; it was the biggest playground you could image. During our growing up years, there were five of us who played together on the grounds. Grounds meaning where the grass was cut, the woods were off limits, but we pushed that boundary –a lot! Our five were: Fabio Chomicki, who was my age, his brother Alex, who was my brother’s age and another girl, Cecelia Smith, who was the oldest by four years. Hiking, bike riding/bike rodeo trick shows, cops and robbers, cowboys and Indians (we had a ten-foot teepee in our backyard), hide and seek, and capture the flag using the entire grounds were just a few of our games. And of course, we marked off a football and baseball field. There was even a small cave in front of the nurses’ quarters that we played in or took shelter from a sudden cloud burst. Yes, that was off limits, but it was so cool to go in and look for bats; besides we could only go in about ten feet. And that’s how we rationalized that! There was a library that had a children’s book section, though children were not admitted to the sanatorium. Sometimes we would read, but mostly we played tag because that floor was the best “ice skating” floor we had ever found. Behind the library, was a three-car garage where we found a single horse-drawn fire hose carriage. If a door was unlocked on the grounds, it was fair game for us to explore and play in. But for some reason, we did not play on the carriage.
One of those unlocked doors was the door to the chapel. I would go in a lot and just sit. It was a quiet place and very cool in the summer to just relax. I attempted to play the piano or organ, but I never had lessons. Cecelia was married in that chapel and I decided then that I wanted my wedding there. By the time I got married we had moved away from the sanatorium, so my wedding was at the United Methodist Church in Salem.
The endless days of summer were filled with friendship and fun. We played baseball nearly every night after dinner. One of the doctors, Dr. José Fernandez, loved baseball and would join us. Since I was the only girl, our team got to have the third player. So it was Rick and Alex vs Dr. Fernandez, Fabio and me. Cecelia did not like playing baseball. When you could not see the pitch come across the plate, it was time to head home. I remember one summer, there was a pesky family of skunks that seemed to wait for Rick and me to ride our bikes home after baseball and just creep along to cross the road in front of us. Rick and I did have chores to do, but the anticipation of getting together and playing was all the incentive we needed to get the job done. Sometimes, we did not meet our mother’s expectations, but with no cell phones, she could not call us back home. Instead, we had to stay after lunch and try again to get it right.
Autumn was the season I loved best in the valley. The leaves were beautiful. Nowhere have I seen more color than at Catawba. It also meant back to school and that was exciting for me to see my friends again. We seldom got together in the summer because everyone had their chores to do. Catawba Elementary School was a square brick building that had four classrooms for grades first through seventh. As you look at the front of the school, the bus loading zone was on the right and the playground was on the left. There were swings, see-saws, chin up bars and a merry go round. The boys and girls usually played separately at recess. The boys played on the big baseball diamond at the back of the property. The girls played on a smaller diamond or on the playground equipment. When I started in 1957, there were two grades to a classroom except for the seventh grade. To be in the seventh grade and have that downstairs classroom and be the only grade in that room was hard to wait for. But by the time I entered the seventh grade, we were upstairs and next to the office. Mrs. Virginia Bell, our seventh-grade teacher, gave me the responsibility to answer the phone in the office. I will never forget the day President John Kennedy was assassinated. The person on the other end could not stop crying; so I ran to get Mrs. Bell. She was a little upset with me for not taking a message, but she finally left the classroom for the phone and returned in tears herself.
Autumn also meant: Halloween! Trick or Treat took place on the whole grounds! The nurses asked us to dress up in our costumes and parade around the dining room for the patients to enjoy before we went out to the houses. The patients also judged us for the best costume. We were not allowed to walk through the floors for the bedridden patients to see us.
Next came the VPI vs VMI football game on Thanksgiving Day. That meant my aunts, uncles, and cousins from Richmond would be spending four days with us. When my cousins started dating, we could have as many as sixteen people staying at our house for the weekend. And it never failed that when it came time for them to drive back to Richmond, their car would not start. Each year Dad would ask me if I wanted to go or stay with his parents in Roanoke. Not until high school did I want to go to the game, so Dad would give me five silver dollars—the price of a ticket then.
The day after Thanksgiving, Mom would pack a day’s worth of leftovers for my aunt and me to take to Mr. Joe Chapman. I am not positive if this was the F. J. Chapman who was the proprietor of the Roanoke Red Sulphur Springs Resort. We had to hike about two miles to his cabin that was behind the first house on the right after you turn onto Rt. 320 from Rt. 779. Our house was the first house on the left. Sometimes he would answer his door when we knocked, but most times we left the food on his front porch. He always had a stick of Teaberry Gum for Rick and me. Neither Dad nor Mom mentioned his passing; I just noticed one day that I never saw him walking to Clarence’s (Carroll) store on the grounds just west of the chapel.
Winter. Winter meant snow, Christmas, and more snow. The guard would take a few of the inmates up the side of North Mountain to cut Christmas trees for the employees as well as a tree for each floor of the hospital. Mom’s family tradition was to put the kids to bed on Christmas Eve and then bring in the tree, decorate it and put the presents around it. Nothing was said until Rick and I walked into the living room the next morning and saw everything. (They made Rick promise not to tell me.) That was what Mom and Dad did until I started school and figured out when Christmas was because of all the decorations we were making at school. No wonder they fell asleep after breakfast. Later on, Dad hid our presents in the basement of the sanatorium because they could not trust us not to snoop around.
“Roanoke County Schools Are Closed!!!!” Steel wool for the rust and then candle wax for the runners and the sleds were ready. There were so many hills to choose from and it also depended on the roads that had been plowed. If the road was packed right, we could start at Clarence’s store and go all the way to the pump house at the intersection of Rt. 320 and Rt. 779. But that walk back up was a killer. One of our best hills had a 6x6x4 foot cement hole that a creek poured into and then continued underground. We had a six-foot opening to skirt through because of a tree on the other side of the cement hole. Someone suggested we try to get as close to the hole as we could. Rick was first to go, but he misjudged and fell four feet into the hole. He did not get hurt, but we decided to try another hill—a wide open alfalfa field. Ever just wonder how you made it to adulthood?
There were two pink Japanese Cherry trees planted in front of the main entrance to the sanatorium that bloomed in the spring. Redbud, Mountain-Laurel, jonquils, tulips and many more that I do not know the names of flourished at Catawba. Weather permitting, the nurses organized an Easter egg hunt around the front of the sanatorium and invited any children who were visiting a loved one to join in. In those days, the Easter eggs were real eggs that we dyed. The nurses tried to keep count of the number of eggs found, but there were always a few that were lost until the lawnmowers came out a few weeks later. One of those lost eggs left a big red mark on the side of the sanatorium wall!
Our house sat on top of a hill above Catawba Hospital Road. It was a single story, three bedroom, two bath house. All of the state-run facilities at that time painted their wooden frame houses with white paint and dark green trim. In the early days of the sanatorium, the medical thinking was fresh air, good food and rest to cure a person with tuberculosis. Many of the employees were patients who decided to stay on and work for the sanatorium. The employees were given time on their lunch break to either walk outside, sit on a bench or in bad weather, sit in a sunroom.
All of the houses had a southern facing sunroom and my bedroom was on the south end. It had five large windows. I had shades on the windows, but they were always up to the top and when the weather warmed up, I would open them up and let the breeze in. There was no air conditioning, so in hot weather, we opened all windows and doors. Each door had a hook and eye on the bottom of them to lock them open. Sometimes we forgot. It was funny to hear each door slam shut in sequence down the hall from back to front. To this day, I have always had my bed facing the window so if I am in bed sick, I can see outside.
Across the road from our house, there was a low ridge that I often climbed. Starting in February, I would hike a little further down the backside to an open field where jonquils bloomed. There must have been fifty or more blubs. I have no idea how they got there. These jonquils bloomed earlier than the ones around the grounds. I loved surprising Mom with an arm full of jonquils. We both knew spring was just around the corner. And again, to this day, I have always remembered spring with jonquils: either a bouquet of jonquils while she was living or a small garden filled with bulbs at every house I have lived at.
We went to the Methodist Church right across from the elementary school until Rick was eleven and we changed to the United Methodist Church in Salem because Mom wanted Rick to meet some of the other kids his age that would be going to Andrew Lewis High School. But the county changed us to Northside after it was built. One by one we stopped going to Salem. First Dad, then Rick and I, respectively, due to going away to college and finally Mom stopped making the drive alone to Salem. But in the summer during my elementary years, I went to vacation bible school at the Methodist Church and then to the Baptist Church. It was one way I could see my school friends while on summer break.
Turning fifteen and getting my learner’s permit was a day I so looked forward to. Nothing can compare with the independent feeling of being able to get yourself from point A to point B. My first experiences were “guiding” the car up Rt. 320 to the edge of our garage. I scooted over to get under the wheel and Mom worked the gas and brakes. After I got my license, most of my driving was to the church in Salem and back. One Saturday Dad asked me if I wanted to drive him to Salem to get a haircut. This trip involved parallel parking! Took me three tries, but I got the car in the space. But the “piéce de résistance” was heading home and Dad telling me to turn left onto Bradshaw Rd and then right onto Old Catawba Road. My brave Dad was letting me drive “up”, not down, on the first road over Catawba Mountain. What a rite of passage! And every time I come home, I drive it.
High school was a different time for me. I still had my Catawba friends and new high school friends, but I felt like I was existing in two different worlds. The bus ride across the mountain took nearly an hour. We got plenty of talking in while coming and going on the bus. But when we got home, we either had chores to do or homework. We were growing up; no more time for getting together and playing. Catawba was too far for many of my friends on the other side of the mountain to visit on the weekends. And sometimes, it was too far for my parents to drive me to their house. I never felt they understood my feelings of living the country life. By my junior year, I didn’t let it bother me anymore. I loved living where I was. Who could say they climbed pine trees in March to ride out the winds, or climbed a tree to read a book on the side of a small cliff, or pick blackberries and raspberries in the wild; not berries on a berry farm? Life at Catawba was unique.
The Old Hotel
The sanatorium was built on the same grounds as the Roanoke Red Sulphur Springs Resort. The ornate gazebo that housed the hand pump still stands to this day. The pump does not work but just a few feet away from the gazebo, a small rusty pipe sticks out of the ground and a trickle of water drips. You do not need to get close to realize the trickle of water is sulfur water.
Behind the gazebo up the hill, the old hotel used to stand. It was a two-story wooden structure with a wide set of steps going up to a long front porch and another covered porch on the second level. We counted seven bedrooms, plus one room with indoor plumbing, if you could call it that. Some of the front steps were missing, some floorboards were missing, some of the big windows were broken or taken out and lying on the floor. Yes, we played in it. Yes, it was off limits. The last time we were there, we were in one of the upstairs front bedrooms looking at the many books that had been dumped there. Cecelia was with us this time. None of us realized that she was standing on a tick mattress that was over top of one of those large windows. We all suddenly stopped in our tracks when the glass cracked. The glass skinned a large piece of skin off her heel. She ended up having a skin graph from her hip and in a cast for six weeks. Our parents were livid. The hotel was behind the nurses’ quarters and they were told if they saw any of us near the gazebo, to call Dad immediately. That was enough to scare us away. And sadly, it was the last time Cecelia played with us away from her house.
The Governor Comes for a Visit
My Dad was very old fashioned: there was men’s talk, there was adults’ talk and there was women’s talk. So, I already had two strikes against me knowing what was going on around me. But. . . . This was a story Dad told about the Governor of Virginia and I don’t know which one. The Governor and two of his assistants drove from Richmond to visit the sanatorium to meet with Dad and Dr. Cecil Smith, the superintendent. After their business meeting and lunch in the dining room, the governor and his assistants walked to their car to head back to Richmond. But the Governor’s driver had accidentally locked the keys in the car. A coat hanger was found but with no success. The door remained locked. Then Dad made a phone call to the guard of the inmates and asked if he knew of anyone who could jimmy the lock. There was an inmate who was arrested for car theft and was serving his time at the sanatorium.
But he was too scared to help for fear that the Governor would sentence him to more time. Dad tried to talk him into unlocking the car, promising him that no more time would be added. The inmate finally told the guard that he would do it if the Governor would sign a piece of paper stating nothing further would happen to him. The Governor did indeed sign the piece of paper and I bet the inmate kept it forever. The door was opened in less than 30 seconds!
“How Dry I Am”
Our house was situated more toward the working end of the grounds where the mechanic’s shop and plumber’s shop were located. Right next to us, was the Boiler House that housed three large coal-fired boilers. These boilers produced steam for the sanatorium, as well as cooked the slop from the dining room for the hogs on the farm. It was a rare treat when the wind blew the other way from our house.
Every day the fireman would blow the steam whistle at noon. Between noon and 12:30, he would also open the soot blower to release the accumulated soot in the chimney. This produced a lower pitch whistle and lots and lots of black soot. Monday was wash day and Mom dried our laundry outside on a clothesline for about the first 9-10 years. The clothes were seldom dry by the noon whistle. Sometimes Mom got busy inside and forgot about the laundry until she heard the whistle blow. By the time she ran outside, it was too late. Once the soot hit the cloth, it stuck. If the clothes were dry, you might be able to save the laundry by blowing the soot off. But if things were still wet, it just smeared.
I heard Mom complaining to Dad every week about the soot and the laundry. Finally, she wore him down and we purchased a dryer. It was such a big deal in the valley that a reporter from the newspaper came out to interview Mom on the day it was delivered.
My bedroom was right above the laundry room and I would hear the dryer play “How Dry I Am” instead of a plain buzzer when the clothes were dry. If you are curious, google Westinghouse dryer that plays How Dry I Am.
“What’s that in our driveway?”
“A jeep,” was all my Dad said.
A rusty, olive green, World War II jeep was sitting in our driveway. It had a ragged canvas top, no doors, a jump seat over the back wheel wells and torn seat covers. And I later found out that it did not run. But Dad went to work on it and ordered parts. It was summer and I was around 11 or 12 and I became his “gofer”. He would tell me what tool or what fluid he needed and off I would go to get it for him. It finally cranked over only to backfire. After weeks of trying to get it to run, Dad asked one of the inmates who was a mechanic, to help him after work figure out what was wrong. After more parts came in, the inmate got the jeep up and running.
I was inside when I heard it crank over and it continued to run. I ran outside to see what Dad had planned next. He said he was ready to drive it. I begged him to let me go and he finally said yes. He first drove it to the end of our driveway and backed it up to see how the gears, brakes, and steering worked. Then we started around the grounds. Everything seemed to be in good working order so Dad decided to go further from home. We drove to the end of Rt. 320, where the inmates’ quarters were and thanked the inmate who worked with Dad on the jeep. The inmates’ quarters are still there today and the new Catawba Volunteer Fire and Rescue Station is just west of the old quarters.
We bore right at the triangle at the start of Rt. 698, Keffer Rd. The western end of Keffer Road ends in a sharp left turn, going downhill to a T intersection at Rt. 311. Dad didn’t come to a stop; instead, he did a hard left U-turn.
“DAD!” My left hand reached under the seat as my right hand grabbed the outside frame that held the windshield in place. I almost fell out of the jeep. Remember: no doors and no seatbelts.
Dad put the jeep back in first gear and chuckled, “Guess you better hold on for the rest of the ride.”
Soon that jeep had a new coat of “fire engine red” paint, a new canvas top, new seats, new doors, new SEAT BELTS, and a long antenna and radio for communicating to the fire engine and pumper truck when the valley volunteer firemen went out to fight a fire. At that time, all three vehicles were housed in the white garage by the elementary school. The emergency call would come into Keffer’s Store and to Dad and he would call the fireman at the Boiler House to blow three short whistles, wait and repeat one more time. That whistle could be heard up and down the valley and could reach the farmers in their fields. When it blasted, it would stop you in your tracks. Thankfully the fire whistle did not blow often.
The 1963 Forest Fire on North Mountain
When the fire call came in that day, we were not in the valley to hear the whistle. My mom’s sister and her husband, and the four of us were looking at camping trailers on Williamson Rd. While the adults talked about the different styles, Rick and I were running around looking inside every trailer on the lot. Rick noticed a large white cloud toward Catawba Mountain and pointed it out to Dad. All talk of trailers stopped and we piled in the car.
Dad started speeding to get home. As we left Roanoke City, it looked like the smoke was in Mason Cove, then it looked like it was Catawba Mountain. I sat between my Dad and uncle in the front seat. My uncle wrapped his arms around me so I would not lean against Dad as he took the turns. Several times he had to pass a car and my uncle would call out if it was clear or not to pass because Dad could not see on a right-hand turn.
We topped the mountain and realized that the fire was along the ridge of North Mountain. By this time, the smoke was getting dense. Dad stopped at Keffer’s Store to find out from June where the firemen were and we took off again heading west on Rt. 311. The smoke was so thick now that I had no idea where we met up with the other men. Fire was burning in the brush on both sides of the road and it was hard to breathe. Dad got out and disappeared. My uncle took his place under the steering wheel and we went home.
I ran to my room and packed some clothes in a suitcase. Rick just went to his room and sat in the middle of his bed; looking lost. My Mom and my aunt were in the kitchen pulling food out of the refrigerator. I thought they had lost their minds! The fire was in the woods on the far side of the alfalfa field behind our house and it was burning across the top of the ridge in the front.
“Mom, we need to leave, at least get to the bottom of the (Catawba) mountain.”
“Carolyn, the men will need food.”
My aunt had lost her patience with me by this time and told me to put my things back into my room and come help them with the food. I just stood there until Mom turned to face me, then I saw the fear in her tears and in the shaking of her hands. I put my suitcase back in my room and helped them wrap sandwiches. Rick and my uncle went outside to hook up all water hoses and water the grass.
When Dad and some of the other men came home to get some food, Rick and I were not allowed to hear their conversation. It was my turn now to sit in the middle of my bed and stare out of those five windows at the flames across the field. I just watched and waited all night for my home to be safe again.
Except for Cecelia and the fire, all of the stories I have written about have been happy or funny memories. Growing up at Catawba Sanatorium was wonderful. I wouldn’t want to change anything about that time in my life. My friends in the valley are special to me. And some were special; God rest your souls: Fabio, Johnny Starkey and my brother, Rick.
But the saddest thing about living on the grounds was the tapping on the hospital’s windows of the patients. Every day I was either walking or riding my bike near the hospital and a patient would tap on their window to get my attention. They would wave and tap again in hopes I would stay longer. In the summer, they would crank open their window and ask me where I was going or if the weather was nice or if I could come visit. I always stopped to wave or talk. Rick and I were never allowed to visit. We could only go on the first floor where the business offices were located at one end or into the one-room clinic where we got all our vaccinations located at the other end. A couple of times we ate in the dining room, but there was a side for patients and a side for employees. After I picked my jonquils for Mom, I would go back to that meadow and pick more for the nurses to put around the hospital floors.
After graduation, I went to Radford University and it felt a little like home. I was still in the mountains with beautiful fall leaves, snow, and flowers in the spring, but it was not “the valley”. I have been away from Catawba more years than I was there. I settled in Richmond after college and danced with the Richmond Ballet and then the Concert Ballet of Virginia. My husband, Bob, and I came back to Roanoke on the major holidays every year when our parents were alive. Now, I drive back home to tend to their graves and since I’ve come as far as Roanoke, I drive Old Catawba Road (up and down now!) and drive through the grounds of the sanatorium. I try to tell my children what it was like to grow up in the valley, but words cannot do it justice. Those who live in the valley know that feeling of calmness you get in your chest when you cross over the top of Catawba Mountain and know that you are home, even if home might still be another 10 miles away.
Imagine a marriage conducted back in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The circuit preacher pronouncing the couple Man and Wife followed by this custom: you will now “jump over this broom on the ground before you.
“Jumping the boom stick” was an old world custom most likely originating in Africa and eventually brought to America. It became popular in the frontier of Appalachia maybe as early as the late 1700s. The purpose of a married couple concluding their marriage ceremony (which was very simple in early times) with jumping together over a broom to symbolize “sweeping” away their past to begin anew as husband and wife. Not a bad idea using that meaningful process. However, I have known a few men who claimed to have “jumped the broom” more than once. It was done in Catawba with both the white folks and more so, the black community. As a minister, I have performed a number of marriages but not any that involved a broom.
It was a saying around Catawba for years even though the couple referenced did not do the act. For instance, men would be sitting around Keffer’s store in Catawba during a Friday night and just sharing information. Now with women folk, I would say gossiping, but for men it would be sharing information. But I reckon it would be gossiping either way. So, someone would say, “I hear old John got married last week?” Someone would answer, “Yeah, he and Maude finally jumped the broom stick.” I have used the expression myself throughout my lifetime, raising some eyebrows in the process.
Shivaree is definitely a “ horse of another color.” Shivaree is an old world term which we Appalachians have substituted the word “Serenade”. Before the movement of the settlers from Europe to the Appalachian mountains range, they had practiced the event of shivaree after a couple got married or jumped the broom if you will.
Custom has it that after marriage and a honeymoon a couple would be serenaded or celebrated by a group of friends and kin. They would come unannounced, to the house of the newlyweds with a great revelry of noise awakening the couple, forcing them to come outside demanding candy, sweets, and cigars. Sometimes the groom would have to push his bride around in a wheelbarrow, and the groom would be carried on a rail around the house several times while the crowd banged pots and pans, sometimes shooting guns to create an extremely loud environment. It could get to the point of the serenaders entering a house and removing the bride and groom from their bedroom. Folks, you could not make up the kind of stuff.
Back in 1958, a just married young couple in the mountains moved in with the groom’s mother and father. A week or so after the marriage all four residents had retired for the night, and all lights were off. Their sleep would be interrupted by voices yelling, the beating of spoons on pans, a cow bell ringing, two or three “cherry bombs exploding, a blast from what sounded like a 16 gauge shotgun. Unsure of whether or not this was a nightmare or reality the bridegroom looked out an upstairs window and saw a yard full of familiar faces waving and shouting, “come out here this is a serenade! His Pa and Ma were awake, so he asked them what to do. They advised him to get dressed and get outside before all of Catawba was awakened. The bride and groom quickly dressed and stepped out the door into the yard with the noise escalating as multiple voices were proclaiming; “this is a serenade, demanding cigars and candy treats. The newlyweds stated they had no such items in the house. Not the right answer as several of the young men swooped in and grabbed the bridegroom and lifted him upon an eight-foot-long chestnut rail and had him straddle it. Holding him on the rail as if he was on a horse they ran around the house with the rider hanging on for dear life, bouncing up and down on that narrow piece of wood. The noise and yelling got even louder as the rail holders completed the third trip around the house. Again, they demanded candy and cigars, candy and cigars. Someone in the crowd volunteered to go out to the nearby Keffer’s store getting the operator to open up and purchased a box of cigars and a box of Hershey bars. Finally, mercifully, after one more rail ride the groom was allowed to touch the ground. Then it ended. Another Catawba marriage and another serenade occurring. I will not name any names, but it was “painful” for me to write this story.
Three months ago we released the first Echoes From Catawba book called Volume 1 Growing up in Catawba Valley Appalachia. Each book that is published will have a “volume” number. The next book to be released later this year will be Volume 2, then Volume 3, etc.
We printed a limited number of the hardback books which are First Edition books for release three months ago for the book signing and sales following that up until now. These hardbacks are the Collectors Edition. All of the first edition printing of any worthwhile books are an investment due to it being a limited number and first printing. They will increase in value as the years go by. The Volume 1 book is available on Amazon but that book is the paperback version only. So what does this all mean to you?
If you purchased the hardback edition already, you are fine and have a first edition copy of Volume 1 and on track to build a valuable set. If you have not purchased a hardback copy yet, and you want to build a set then you may want to consider getting one now.
We held some Volume 1 books back to have for sale this year but they have continued to sell and our supply is slowly dwindling. I want you to be aware of this so you will have an opportunity to still get one.
Hardback books can be purchased in three ways: www.echoesfromcatawba.com website, The Emporium in New Castle, or the Salem Museum in Salem.
Our Blog continues to grow in popularity, spreading out to many states reaching Catawabians everywhere. After the recent article about the Catawba Sanatorium, we have had 1,174 views and 980 visitors through four days.
Without warning, that which came into the Appalachian Mountains referred to as the Silent Killer or the White Plague, would leave our family without a father and even worse, a provider. Such was the case in that year 1943 when our Dad Clarence Carroll, would be diagnosed with the dreaded Tuberculosis (TB) disease that would take away the family breadwinner for nine years. Daddy was at age thirty-one at the time and was employed by the Catawba Sanatorium as assistant store manager since the late 1930s’. The irony is not lost on the fact, that Daddy would still be going to the Sanatorium, not as an employed store-keeper but as a patient “on the cure” to reside there, indefinitely.
Our mother, Elizabeth Garman Carroll was twenty-eight when Daddy departed and had four children to care for; Jeanie, Teddy, Barbara and Nancy all age nine and younger. Jeanie was the baby at eighteen months. I cannot remember the specifics of that day when he left although I knew something was wrong in the Carroll household. Sister Barbara, age five at the time well remembers the day he left us. She said “Mama was ironing Daddy’s pajamas on an ironing board by the side of the bed. Jeanie, just a baby at the time was lying on the bed. As she continued ironing, Mama was crying, and we did not know what was wrong”. Looking back, it was obvious she was packing Daddy’s clothes for his stay at the Sanatorium, which would be measured in years.
Our situation, by any reckoning, was not a good one. First and foremost, Daddy’s battle with TB was one of a very long process, and there were no guarantees of his survival and return to his family. Secondly, we as a family, with a mother in her late twenties who had four children to feed, clothe and raise. We had just moved into a newly built house on one acre of land beside the Catawba School. We had a roof over our head, but that came with a monthly mortgage. We had no vehicle, nor anyone licensed to drive one. It was a dire situation even by Appalachia standards. The Catawba Sanatorium built in 1909 was the first built TB sanatorium in Virginia. This facility was specifically for TB patients and was within walking distance of our home.
Daddy’s only hope-The Catawba Sanatorium
The good news that existed through this situation was that we had a facility that was already in place and had been in operation for about thirty-four years when Daddy was admitted. What would be the chances that the first TB sanatorium to be built in the Commonwealth of Virginia would be in Catawba, Virginia? And to be within a ten-minute walk from our house? My answer would be “divine intervention” with regards to our family’s thinking, and there would be more “divine intervention” as you continue to read.
The Roanoke Red Sulphur Springs Resort Becomes Catawba TB Sanatorium
Catawba Valley is thought to the first settlement in what in what would become Roanoke County. James McAfee appears to be the first to receive a land grant in Catawba which records show him acquiring two tracts of 350 acres in December of 1740. James McAfee and his sons would acquire more land in Catawba in 1749. They would get wanderlust in 1771 and head off to Kentucky. The McAfees would own the land that would eventually become Catawba Sanatorium, although it would change hands and others would own parcels that totaled 700 acres in the 1850s’. The owners were businessmen from Salem and would invest in a resort that would be charted by the Commonwealth of Virginia as the Roanoke Red Sulphur Springs Company in 1858. This property contained limestone and Sulphur springs on it, and the intent of ownership was to market the resort as a “healing” and rest resort for the elite. The Catawba location at the foot of North Mountain drew many wealthy folks to enjoy the peace, tranquility, fresh air, beauty, quietness and of course the springs that would have healing qualities. At the height of its success, it would have about 300 guests present in the main hotel. This would continue until the Civil War caused the resort to close its doors. The Roanoke Red Board met in 1864 and voted to dissolve the corporation.
In 1876 it was sold to Josephus Flavius Chapman who along with his son purchased the Red. They ran it as a resort, also, marketing it as a “healing” place. Chapman bottled the water and sold it as “Catawba Iron or All Healing” water being valuable in the treatment of lung diseases. The Chapman children would, in 1901 sell it to the Commonwealth of VA. Additional land was sold to the Commonwealth by the Chapmans in 1908. The first ever TB sanatorium for TB treatment in Virginia would be the Catawba Sanatorium. That is where our daddy was going for treatment.
And our family was facing how to survive in the years ahead.
Our status was that our small wood frame home was about three years old setting on a one-acre lot beside the Catawba Elementary school. The lower half of our property faced South boarding along the old Catawba Mountain Road which would be the new Rt. 311 in the early 1950s’. That area was fenced and had a barn with a milking stall, a small feed room and a small area for hay storage. We had one milk cow and several chickens. A garden spot was in the front part of our lot below the grapevines and near the house. We had indoor plumbing but had to heat the water for dishwashing and bathing.
There was a single coal-burning furnace in the middle of the basement floor with a heat register above it to heat the house. You had to stand close to this one register to get warm. The house was usually cold, and snow would sift through the windows on occasion during a windy snowstorm. There were two small bedrooms and being the only male, I slept in a fold-up, rollaway bed. Later, plywood flooring was laid on half of the attic area where I got a bed and a small dresser. It was like sleeping in a refrigerator in the winter. I did get to sleep with a bed pig some, and the girls did too. A bed pig is a porcelain or clay hot water bottle shaped like a pig that was used as a bed warmer. The bed pig was brought over from Scotland by our ancestors. I got so used to being cold growing up that I can handle cold weather very easily now. I liked sleeping with that pig.
Food, clothing and other necessities of life.
We had a milk cow which provided milk, butter, and buttermilk. Mama milked the cow until I was seven or eight and then she let me milk once a day. I always liked to milk and squirt milk from the teat to the cat who was always there at milking time. Mama caught me one time and stopped that. We would get rid of the cow a few years later trading her for cash and a rabbit hutch and two rabbits. I did not like taking care of the rabbits, but that was one of my jobs. I assume we sold some and ate some, although I can’t remember Mama telling us we were having rabbit for supper. Talking to my cousins at times they would say that their mothers would cook up meat that they did not know where it came from. In the mountains it did not matter; food was food and eat or go hungry. Our rabbit raising lasted less than a year because they took up valuable time and the rabbit food pellets were a wasted expense. I did not cry when the rabbits left.
We had a garden that we ate out of and Mamma canned all kinds of food. We grew European Concord grapes that came from the Old Country, they were planted at most all houses in Catawba and all over Appalachia. They made great jelly. We picked berries of all kinds from the fields and mountains. We gathered walnuts, hickory nuts, chestnuts, and chinquapins. Chinquapins are like the American chestnut but much smaller and very tasty.
We raised chickens for eggs and meat. Also, at a young age, Mama taught me how to kill a chicken for frying. First, I would chase a reluctant chicken, catch it and take it to a wood chopping block. I would lay it down on the block with the head and neck on the block and with a hatchet or ax cut the head off. Then I would throw it under an overturned bushel basket and let it a flop for less than a minute and it would go limp. After that, we would put it in a container of scalding water, remove it and pick all the feathers off. If Barbara was nearby, I would chase after her with the headless chicken before picking the feathers. I believe Mama put a stop to that like she did with my squirting milk in the cat’s mouth.
Kinfolk of the Carroll and Garman families would help us out as well as other folks in the valley. Catawba people would help each other in time of need and no one was going to go hungry for sure. As hard as we had it we always had something to eat. We could buy what we needed from Keffer’s store on credit and often someone would put money towards that bill. We will never know this side of heaven, who all helped us during that very trying time. Helping others in need still goes on in Catawba today.
Our mother was the youngest of the Garman family of seventeen and as a result, spoiled rotten. But in that time of her childhood and youth, she worked and learned how to survive. She was prepared to care for us during that time. Cooking and sewing were learned growing up in Appalachia. That would come in handy after Daddy was gone. Mama had a Singer sewing machine and she was an excellent seamstress. She made dresses for the girls and I remember her making me a shirt or two. She made aprons, curtains, and other items all on that old Singer sewing machine. Almost all the time in those early years the cloth needed to make things came from feed and flour sacks. We would buy feed from Keffer’s store and use the cotton sacks to make clothes. The sacks had pretty designs on them and would make attractive clothing. Cloth would be bought at times, but the sacks were always utilized. This was true for all Catawba households.
The Long Journey of being Cured.
Dr. J.B. Nichols was the Director of the Sanatorium and had been in that position since 1917 when Daddy arrived. He would remain in the director’s position and retire in 1953, the same year Daddy was released to live at home permanently. Dr. Nichols was an excellent director and a fine man. All our family thought highly of him, and he helped us greatly to get through this difficult time. There were five resident doctors on staff at the time including a Catawba resident, Dr. Lula Woods Garst who lived near the Sanatorium. We were often guests at her home. Dr.Garst, a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond was among the first women doctors in Virginia.
When our daddy entered the Sanatorium, he was quarantined in a room so that the status of his TB infection could be observed. This is normal for newly admitted patients and was strictly enforced due to passing on the disease through coughing, etc. In the early stages of confinement, Mama had to talk to him from outside his room. We children could wave at him when he came to the window. I’m not sure how long Daddy was in quarantine, but over time he could with us interact in person.
Most patients that arrived at the sanatorium had already been infected with TB. The symptoms at the outset are coughing, fever, generally feel bad, which could have led folks back then to feel like they had a cold or flu. Regardless of the degree of infection, the process of the treatment was the same; rest, nutritious food and plenty of fresh air. The quality of the Catawba air was perfect for curing this disease. Exposure to the outdoors, both winter and summer was critical. No one could stay in a room, due to lack of ventilation. Daddy, along with others, would sleep on the long porches that were screened in. Patients did this in winter time in the cold and snow. Daddy told us that the blowing snow would “sift” through the screen and fall on their bed covers. Those top covers would be removed come morning and the snow was shaken off. This does not sound like something that would be true, but it was. The only way to cure TB then was fresh air regardless of the temperature.
During Daddy’s stay in the 1940s, streptomycin became available which helped by attacking the bacteria and hastening the overall treatment of TB. But the process of curing someone and allowing them to get strong and healthy to return to their homes was still lengthy.
By 1937, the sanatorium had 340 beds, a store, post office, school, barbershop, and a chapel. Patients who were not bedridden had the opportunity to learn basic secretarial skills, including typing. There was an excellent library which over time would have several thousand volumes. Leathercraft was also an option for patients, and our daddy learned how to make wallets. I saw some that he made and they were very professional looking.
In 1928 patients were provided with radios; each person in each building was given headphones.
Church services were conducted twice a week in the chapel. The chapel was constructed of Catawba stone at the cost of $8000. Later an amplifying system was installed in the chapel for services and other programs to be broadcast to bed patients.
Some Interesting Facts About Catawba Sanatorium.
As the Catawba Sanatorium grew in size beginning in 1909, it would employ a significant number of Catawbians (a few from Craig and Botetourt) people providing the local folks to have a better standard of living. Catawba natives have always enjoyed a reputation for being reliable, honest and hardworking employees, so it was a natural for the Sanatorium (and later on when it became Catawba Hospital) to employ them. It benefitted Catawbians in many ways, most notable to not have to cross Catawba Mountain twice a day to work in the Roanoke/Salem area. Living in the Valley near the Sanatorium/Hospital was a huge convenience. The health care and retirement benefits were welcomed.
The Sanatorium property included a fire and a weather station. The Sanatorium had its own fire company of two trucks which were skillfully manned by their own employees in case of fire. A fire threat was real with the original wooden buildings and no fire department nearby. The sanatorium also had its own weather bureau and accurate weather records were kept in the office of the business manager.
A farm was set up in the first decade of the TB Sanatorium’s existence with a barn constructed in 1918. The farm would become a source of milk products to the Sanatorium when the pasteurization and bottling of milk began. The farm had over thirty dairy cows and two bulls. Hogs were kept in a free-range environment on the wooded ridge opposite the farm feeding on mostly acorns and food scraps. No vegetables were grown for the Sanatorium because the Catawba growing season was too short and it was cheaper to buy them at the Roanoke Farmer’s Market.
My grandfather Elbert W. Carroll managed the farm in the 1930s until he was killed in an accident on the farm in 1941. Daddy worked on the farm until he took the job at the Sanatorium as assistant store manager. I worked on the farm during the summer, but not as a paid employee. I mainly worked in the haymaking time and did other odd jobs. There were three generations of Carrolls connected to the Sanatorium farm.
Life Without Daddy Continues for the Carroll Family.
I mentioned divine intervention and promised more evidence of that. As I stated earlier, being within walking distance of the sanatorium was an act of God. But there would be more. Before his being admitted for TB treatment, Daddy would drive us all to the Catawba Valley Baptist Church which was five miles from our home. One of the oldest churches around, this was the home church of Daddy’s family, and we really enjoyed going there. But his absence left us with no way to get to that church. However, there was a Catawba Methodist Church just across the road from our house, and we would attend that one for many years. When Daddy returned home for good in 1953, he would go back to Catawba Valley Baptist church and was serving there as Superintendent of Sunday School at his death in 1972. We continued at the Methodist church with Daddy going there on special occasions and us going with him to his church on special occasions.
We also had the Catawba School grades 1-7 right beside our home and Mama worked there for several years as a cook. Minor Keffer’s store and the post office was a three-minute walk away when we needed food, feed, ammunition and everything else that we needed for country living. Praise God for all those places that did not require transportation.
We had good times and experiences regardless of the struggles.
We were able to visit relatives (especially on the Garman side) quite often. There was always someone who would pick us up and take us to Grandad and Grandma Garman’s house, or to Aunts and Uncles homes to visit with our cousins. Homemade ice cream and playing games were our entertainment. Sometimes we would spend the night. Saturday night dances and music by the Garman brothers and others were held at the old mill, which is now part of the Grace Assembly of God campus. I can remember going to Lakeside, a rodeo, and a circus in the Roanoke/Salem area. Extended family and nearby neighbors treated us like their own children. Barbara and I spent summers with Wilma and Gene at the Garman homeplace. These were really fun times!
Each summer on the 4th of July all of Daddy’s family (Carroll’s) would come over to our house for a picnic. We would get our first watermelon of the summer. We children would set in the yard and watch the old, winding Catawba Mountain road for their cars to come. This was an exciting day for us, and they all would visit Daddy at the Sanatorium afterward. The Carroll family helped us financially to keep our home.
We had an old radio and listened to it a lot with some of our favorites being the Lone Ranger and Roy Rogers/Dale Evans. I liked listening to Country Music on WCKY Cincinnati 1, Ohio at nighttime especially the WCKY Jamboree. This AM station had a powerful signal at nighttime and came in very clear in the Easter U.S. including the Appalachian Mountains. I was not the only one listening as most mountain folks that had a radio were tuned in, also.
We played croquet during the summer in our front yard. My vivid remembrance of this game was when sister Barbara hit me in the forehead with her mallet. I still have the scar. She stands firm to this day that she committed this assault to punish me for cheating.
Other (non-violent) games we played included Uncle Wiggly, Rook, Monopoly and Checkers. Putting puzzles together was a fun and challenging thing to do.
Barbara recalls the time during World War II and experiencing frightening thunderstorms
“Daddy was hospitalized during World War II and I am sure that was difficult and a little scary for Mama. I can remember going to Minors (Keffer store) with ration stamps for sugar. He had a big jar on the back counter where he would put the stamps. I believe the amount I received was one pound. It was like gold at the time.”
“There were ‘blackout times’ which were drills that were taken seriously. The reason was so that if enemy planes flew over, they would not be able to see lights. Electric lights had to be turned off and lanterns had to be snuffed out. Each locality had an air raid warden who would come to your house, knock loudly on the door, and yell ‘black out, black out’. Bill Bishop was usually the person coming to our home, scaring us with the warning. We would cut all lights off and go on to bed or huddle together on the floor. Sometimes we would cut the radio on. Sometimes the president would speak.”
“Sometimes we would have bad, summertime thunderstorms which would frighten all of us and Ted’s dog Skippy. Skippy would hide under the back porch. Mama would sit in her rocker in the living room and gather us four around her as we sat on the floor. She would read to us as the thunderstorm roared outside. On one night during a storm, lightning struck a large locust tree in the back yard and ran into the house. The house did not catch fire but the floor we were sitting on got very hot. We jumped up off the floor because of the heat. The tree that was struck split down the middle. After that, Mama became very fearful of thunderstorms and from then on when one started, she took us to a nearby neighbor’s house. The Keffers, Fringers and Uncle Kermit & Aunt Virginia always welcomed us in until the storm passed. Another thunderstorm stuck the Catawba Sanatorium main barn and burned it down. That was about one-half mile from our house, and we watched it burn to the ground. The blaze was huge and scary. For years we all were frightened when a bad storm came through. The experience was one that we all would never forget and Mama would share it many times in the future.”
Daddy finally comes home to stay
Our daddy would come home for brief visits later in his confinement years. At first spending one night on a Friday, then two nights and finally the whole weekend. We would wait in the kitchen and get really excited when he came in the back door. He would always bring us a roll of Necos (thin wafer flavored candy) and a carton of six Dr. Peppers. Those were wonderful times, especially for me because I would not be the only male in the house!
After nine years our Daddy would come home to stay in 1953, almost a decade since he left. He would be cured of TB but the wear and tear of the disease would shorten his life, leading to his death by cancer in 1972 at age 60.
I reckoned I would die that night, sleeping in the back of a pickup truck parked alongside Barbours Creek in Craig County. The only question in my mind was how I would perish. There were three options: Freezing, by fire or gas fumes. I was definitely in prayer mode and focused on the apostle Paul who said in Philippians 4:11, “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.” I wondered if Paul (who dealt with many adversities) had ever slept in the back of a pickup in sub-freezing weather? Then I made a mental note to ask him since I would be in his presence soon.
You folks are wondering right now: What is Ted talking about? That’s a reasonable question and I will answer it. Tina and I had left Greensboro on a Friday morning heading north and I had Craig County on my mind. What about Catawba you may ask, as in Echoes from Catawba? Well, we are going through Catawba to visit adjacent Craig where I have many good memories. To me, Craig and Catawba have always been interchangeable due to kinship, location and having so much in common. Also, at the recent book signing of my first book, I had several folks from Craig who purchased books and at the same time asking if I wrote any about Craig County? I thought why not since the similarities were many. Thus, as we were traveling up Route 220 north, I reached into the inside pocket of the back of my mind to flush out some decade’s old Craig memories. And those memories came pouring forth like the water that was hurrying down Barbours Creek that cold November final day of deer hunting season.
A Hunting We Will Go
It all started with planning to hunt on that final Saturday of the season. I was a freshman at Virginia Tech at the time and we had Saturday classes. Choosing to play hooky that day to get some venison for the freezer, I accepted Jim Camper’s invite to go to Barbours Creek to hunt. I had hunted that area before and had always seen deer. Jim wanted to go down the night before and said we could spend the night near where we would hunt. I assumed he had found a cabin where we could stay. I did not ask questions about the sleeping arrangements. I should have asked questions about the sleeping arrangements because when we arrived at the hunting sight, he pulled off the road and parked the truck. Quickly, I found out about the sleeping arrangements. He pulled a tarp out of the truck bed and pulled it over the pickup truck frames, tying everything down. I looked inside and there were two sleeping bags on a thin mattress that smelled of mold. Also, inside the bed was a kerosene lamp. Jim said the kerosene lamp would be at the foot near the tailgate and we would sleep with our heads up behind the cab. We would sleep in the sleeping bag with our hunting clothes on but removing our boots. I chose to keep my boots on. Darkness fell quickly, and we settled down as temperatures would drop into the low twenties. I got settled in by sleeping on my back staring up at the tarp.
It was apparent that it was going to be a wintry night, but that was not the main concern. The lamp at the foot of the truck bed was brightly burning, making me wonder what if something caught fire or would the fumes put us to sleep forever. Freezing to death seemed the most likely outcome as the clock started ticking down the minutes as I shivered while trying to sleep. How I survived that night I do not know. Probably the longest night of my life.
Finally, it was time to get up and the moving around outside the truck warmed me up a bit. Into the woods we went and took up separate places to spend the day waiting for that special moment. All day I stayed on that same ground munching on a candy bar from time to time. I was hunting with my granddaddy Carroll’s 12-gauge pump shotgun that my daddy had hunted with before he got TB and had to go to the Catawba Sanatorium. About an hour before dark, I started getting thoughts that this would be a failed hunt being as I had not seen anything resembling a deer. Then out of nowhere, this buck bounded up over a bank coming face to face with me about fifty feet away. The deer stood motionless as I raised the gun and fired. Down went the deer and my day was a success. Jim and I gutted the deer and took it out of the woods to the truck. A day to remember but a night to forget.
The Swimming Hole
We did not have our own swimming hole growing up in Catawba because Catawba Creek was too narrow and too straight to ever have a place where the water would be deep. Straight down the hill at the end of the parking lot at The Homeplace Restaurant, there was a slight bend in Catawba Creek that had a 4-foot bank on one side. You could sit in the water and that was about all you could do. So, I discovered that where the water left the bend, we could build a dam. We then got rocks and logs and placed them across the narrow most section of the creek. We succeeded in getting the water to rise in the bend area to a level of 3-4 feet. It was a success——for about five minutes at which time the water pressure of a deeper pool would burst through the dam and our swimming hole was gone. Being young and hard-headed we rebuilt the dam time after time with the same result. Catawba did not have a swimming hole! But the good news was that Craig County had numerous places that had traditional swimming holes. Problem solved.
It was customary practice to go down to Craig on Sunday afternoon in the summertime to swim in the usually chilly waters of Craigs Creek. The Blue Hole was one option although it was deep and dangerous, especially when you were alone or even with just two or three. I had always heard that one side of the pool was bottomless. It was scary, and I do not remember many trips there. The most popular spot was an accessible area that had a rope tied up high in a tree that was right on the bank. You could swing out over the water and drop into the water which we would do time after time. The opposite side of that area had shallow water where the older boys who had cars could drive into the creek to wash their vehicles. That worked very well in this all-purpose swimming hole. It was a popular place to go and stop at Roe Abbotts store afterward for a treat.
I will never forget the most memorable swimming area in Craig as it was where I would learn to swim. To know how to swim was a must in the mountains because there were creeks everywhere and going into them to swim, or in many cases to bathe, was a safety measure. At an early age, I was afraid of the water, but Mama was determined that I would learn to swim and get over the fear. That was good, and later I was very thankful as I turned out to be a strong swimmer. But the process of getting there was not a smooth one.
It was a typical Sunday afternoon and we were at a good spot to swim and picnic on the creek bank. We had been there for a while and Mama had coaxed me to come into the water. I would try to be brave, but I would cut and run out of the water at the last moment. Mama did not have a lot of patience and what little she had was wearing thin. Some of the older boys and girls were playing in the creek splashing each other and having a big time. I was standing about three or four feet from the bank’s edge having a big time watching them. I remember to this day that before I knew what was happening, I was lifted up and sent flying through the air, landing in deep water going under on impact and flailing away as I came up. One of the older boys grabbed me and got me into an area where I could stand up with my head out of the water. It seemed that the fear had left me and from that day on I would quickly learn to swim. That was kind of the way it was done in the Valley. You learned by whatever means it took and the end always seemed to justify the means.
Cow Pasture Baseball
Growing up in Appalachia there was not much time for sports, and when there was time, there was no money for equipment. I guess the two sports that existed in the thirties, forties and fifties would be basketball for both men and women, baseball for men and softball for women. But baseball seemed to be the most popular with men starting out playing as young boys and playing into their forties or beyond, after that, the menfolk turned to pitching horseshoes. All things considered, baseball was big, especially in Craig County. Baseball was America’s favorite pastime back then and remains so today. There were skillful players who were just country boys without coaching or instruction but with loads of raw talent. Back in the early to mid-1900s, the biggest difference was equipment. Some had the money to buy decent equipment but most improvised. It was amazing how much mileage we got out of one baseball. Even after it was soiled and scratched we continued to use it. At some point in time the cover would come off and the inner part would unravel. The naked baseball would be taped with black tape and we would use it for our batting practice.
During a game, we started with one new ball. When it was fouled off into the brush, the game stopped while players and fans looked for the ball. The game resumed until the ball went into the brush again. The gloves that were used were small, raggedy and contained little padding. Although store-bought bats were used, some bats were made on wood lathes and heavy to swing. Home plate was made of a board and sometimes painted white. The bases consisted of a burlap feed sack with sawdust in them. Most of the time the bases were way too big, and players would trip over them. The bases stayed on the field all the time, and I can remember at the Catawba field, finding fish worms under them to use for fishing. It was always wet under those bases.
The ball field we played on at Craig was flat, it also served as a cow pasture. The field had a chicken-wire backstop and a smooth infield. However, we had to shovel cow piles off the infield before the game. The outfield was just pasture land with broom sage grass, cedar seedlings, black snakes, ticks and chiggers. Other than that, playing outfield was no problem. Sometimes the cows would wander too close and we had to run them away. We would clean our shoes off when we came into bat each inning. Regardless of the circumstances, we played each Sunday afternoon weather permitting.
As Tina and I rode along heading down the gap towards New Castle I had covered some memories. But New Castle was coming up fast and we were looking forward to getting over to the Old Brick Hotel and the Craig County Historical Society. That would be a real highlight of our trip.
We pulled into the parking area at the Old Brick Hotel at one o’clock to meet with Diane Givens. Diane, whom we would soon find out is a dedicated steward of the history of Craig County and its people and places. The Craig County Historical Society (CCHS) is an organization that has been active for many years preserving the culture and buildings of this mountain county’s great history. My interest was to find out what the CCHS was involved with and tour the Genealogy Library and the Old Brick Hotel/Museum as well.
One question I have been asked before “why we should be concerned with old buildings and go to a lot of expense and effort to restore/preserve them?” Many people state that the old days are gone, and we live in a post-modern world. There are many reasons why we need to preserve our heritage. Preservation of buildings is important because it provides a sense of identity and continuity of our towns, cities, and nation, in a fast-moving world for the benefit of present and future generations. The culture and heritage of the generation that preceded us reflect who we are today through the values, beliefs, and aspirations that they forged. We need to remember those things so that we can pass them on to the future generations. Old buildings and landmarks remind us of our locality’s culture. Once they are gone, they can not be replaced, and we have lost more than bricks and mortar. I am writing Echoes from Catawba for the sole purpose of preserving and maintaining the values, beliefs, and culture that our forefathers of Appalachia (Catawba/Craig) gave to us.
The Genealogy Library of the CCHS is in a recently built room off of Main Street and it is a gold mine of information regarding people and places throughout Craig’s vast history. It is a place where one can go to and utilize the results of a dedicated effort to assist folks in researching families. Shelves are loaded with books and documents for those doing research regarding Craig County. The Genealogy Library is attached to the historical area of the Old Hotel and Museum. Cabins and the Jeffersonian Architecture Courthouse built in 1852 when the county was founded are located nearby. It is very impressive.
From the Genealogy Library, we walked into history. Maybe over 170 years ago!
We walked out of the Genealogy Library through a hallway right into the Old Brick Hotel. The actual date of the construction of the hotel is not known because during the Civil War the Union General David Hunter’s army passed through and destroyed the county’s early court records. Evidence gathered through resident’s testimonies have served to establish a date of the 1840s as the time the first stage of the hotel was constructed. Examination of the building’s construction shows three stages of building. Records show the hotel would end up in the Looney family who would sell the hotel to the CCHS in1983 for $21,000. The intent of the CCHS was to restore the hotel for a museum, meeting place and office with a library of history/genealogy books and records, craft shop and other uses for public benefit and enjoyment. From what I saw the CCHS has met that intent and more.
The first floor of the hotel holds the Genealogy Library, the former Star Saloon and Inn Room (once the hotel office). The rooms on the first-floor are filled with paintings, photos, memorabilia of all sorts, wartime uniforms, maps, pottery, baseball items, and many, many more interesting things that would keep you spellbound gazing at them. My favorite first-floor room was the dining room and working kitchen. Restoration efforts have resulted in an oval oak table from the boardroom of the original First National Bank. Antique quilts & dishes along with other objects of interest all combine to give the room a look of elegance. Dinners are held here for special occasions. Many items have been donated by local folks.
The second floor consisted of hallways adorned with a WWII Honor Roll, antique desk, wall phone, and a unique church bench. As usual, these and other items were donated.
The Display Room caught my eye with vintage instruments, lace, inkwells, and writing instruments and an 1880’s painting of Zulu Farrier. Four front porch rooms portrayed different themes. A “Man’s Room” containing a barber chair, “sick chair,” photos, signs, and a history of the CCC Camp # 1368 in Barbours Creek. Also included were old tools. Other rooms had portraits, an old phonograph, a typewriter, plus old toys and handmade toys dating back to the 1930s and 1940s. An interesting bedroom furnished with belongings and photographs of Marshall and Virginia Lipes Reynolds along with Marshall’s desk, chair, and clothing. Another room contained antiques, including a flax wheel, doll chest, and a vintage guitar.
The third floor continued with theme-oriented hallways and a half dozen rooms. One can enjoy a self-guided tour, although we enjoyed a bonus with Diane interpreting for us.
The Little Cabin That Could and the Community That Would. – The Holstein Cabin
“The Little Engine That Could” is an American fairytale that came out in 1930. The story is used to teach the value of optimism and hard work. I cannot think of a better analogy to describe the journey of the Holstein Cabin.
This historic cabin was built in the early 1800s located on Craig’s Creek about a mile from New Castle. The cabin was the residence of the Henry Holstein family. Henry Sr. was a farmer and a road surveyor during the 1780s. His son Henry, Jr., was a minister and signed many early marriage certificates. Through the years other families would occupy the cabin.
In 1990 the cabin was dismantled and donated by the owner to Roanoke’s Explore Park. It would remain stored at the Explore site due to lack of funding to restore it for viewing. Explore Park opted to return the cabin to Craig County in 2017 subject to certain conditions. It would have to be reconstructed and made available to the public for educational purposes.
The Craig County Historical Society accepted the offer and the challenge of bringing the cabin home to stay. The new home for the “Prodigal Cabin” would be next to the Old Brick Hotel. Master builder Roger Davis would be in charge of restoration, overseeing the entire project. As of December 2018, Roger was busy cutting and shaping stone, and the cabin should be completed in 2019 and ready for viewing. The cabin inside will be furnished with Craig artifacts to reflect what life was like on the western Virginia frontier. Costs of restoration have exceeding first estimates. For anyone, not just local folks, wanting to see this exceptional building become a reality would be making a meaningful investment through a monetary contribution.
Keffer Cabin/Log House
Another interesting site to visit is the Keffer Log House located on Market Street in New Castle. This would be the first of the three cabins built on the grounds around the Old Brick Hotel. This cabin belonged to Hillary Jackson Keffer and wife, Elizabeth Mills Keffer. It was moved from Happy Hollow on Sinking Creek in March 1999 and rebuilt by Roger Davis of Montana, Master Cabin Builder, and Robert Echols (1913-2013) of Happy Hollow. Mr. Echols lived next door to the Keffers when he was young. The Craig County Historical Society sponsored the rebuild and restoration and held a dedication ceremony on October 10, 1999.
The Hawkins-Brizendine Cabin was built in 2000 of logs from the funeral home given by Buddy Boitnott and from the Hawkins homeplace on Route 614 given by Ashby & Flo Eakin. Volunteer workers on this one-story cabin included Bob Echols, Edwin and Curtis Abbott, Wes Carper, George Field, David and Shakey Boitnotte, and Lewis DeQuino, as well as useful advice and equipment from many others. It is next door to the Old Brick Hotel.
For an interesting trip back in time, visiting the Old Brick Hotel and cabins is a must see. Find more information about Craig County and the Old Brick Hotel here: http://visitcraigcountyva.com/
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.