This past summer I complained that we had to fence our garden of three raised vegetable beds to keep out the critters. I asked Brice for his husbandry advice. He told me about their gigantic truck farm. “Instead of havin’ a garden the size of this room, we had ten acres. The wildlife couldn’t eat all that, but they got their share. The folks in town have to share, and the chicken farmer has to share. And you have a few groundhogs that step in
and help themselves, coon, rabbits, deer. Everything has to have a portion.”
Now I feel selfish. I don’t want to share with a woodchuck that eats through my fence.
“Generally on Saturday morning, Daddy took a whole truckload of vegetables to Marion. He’d go around and peddle all that off, and what he didn’t get sold by Saturday evening, he’d take to J.D. Blanton’s store, a country store in town. Blanton would take it to sell in his store on Monday. And he’d trade us merchandise for that. Flour, corn, salt, pepper, whatever we needed.” They already had cows and chickens, and deer.
In 1951 the weather was dry, another challenge for the farmers. According to a newspaper, the city people in Marion could not chlorinate their pools because of a low water supply. I can’t imagine that affected more than two people. Most of the kids swam in the Catawba, especially at the headwaters, and out near Carson Chapel in Buck Creek. And the mill pond in Dysartsville. However, there was a warning to boil all drinking water. That was an inconvenience for those on city water. Even today country folks have well water or collect their water in cisterns, but if the rainfall is minimal, the biggest danger is fire in the large wooded areas like Pisgah and South Mountain. Not a problem this year. Our average for the country is 51″. As of August 1, we had 57″, and it has rained a lot since then. And crops were ruined. The life of a farmer is hard.
Nora remembered that in the early 1950’s, her mother got her first “dibbies.” Chickens promoted by the Home Extension Service. Their shelter was the wooden shed that had been built for curing sweet potatoes, formerly their cash crop. Granddaddy had taught them to be self sufficient.
In Brice’s grandfather’s day, it took a lot longer to get the produce to town. Especially if you lived up towards Linville. Jolly Duncan whom I know from Trinity Church recalls his father’s trek down the mountain from Spruce Pine in the past. Having recently driven down the winding Highway 80, I can readily believe the turns in the road helped put the brakes on a wagon of produce coming down the mountain. Now we have a paved road. History of McDowell County mentions four mules had to haul the wagons over roads that were rutted or washed out or covered with sliding rocks. “The travel took almost an entire day, and the farmer would spend the night behind J.D. Blanton’s store.” If mules kept diaries, I doubt they would get involved a second time. Strike conditions would prevail.
Nora believes her father might have borrowed money through Mr. Blanton at a time when the banks were not as generous. Blanton was a native of Dysartsville, born in 1870, moved to Marion where his father owned a retail store. Either his experiences at Bingham Military Academy or working for his father must have been inspirational, because J.D. became very successful. Besides several large farm tracts he held in Dysartsville and Greenlee, he was a supervisor at the Blue Ridge Furniture factory for at least 12 years. Then he went into business for himself and opened his own general store in 1900. It was open for 58 years. He also bought several buildings on Main Street and leased them to various businesses. He was the president of two financial institutions. And then he entered politics. He was a NC State Senator and a State Representative in the House. Short terms both times but I don’t know why. (Personally, I think two terms are enough for anyone. The delegate and the public.) He died in 1960. The house he built still stands on South Main.
Brice filled me in on Blanton’s “hardware store, a clothing store, a food store. He sold it all. If you needed it, he had it, and my brother Larry worked there awhile. Larry went after school. He had his own transportation, and he drove up there in his school clothes to work in the store. One day Blanton come in and said, ‘Larry, I want you to run down to my home and clean out the chicken house.’ He had the big white two-story house down Main Street. On the left with big columns. The chicken houses were behind. Larry came back, filthy dirty. Some guy wanted a suit, and Larry said, ‘Mr. Blanton, I need to go clean up.’ He said, ‘Sell the man that suit because he’s needin’ clothes. He’s not waitin’ on you.’ So Larry said all he could do was take hold of the rack and get it out. If he touched it he got chicken manure all over it. Larry didn’t like that idea at all. After a couple days, Larry said, ‘Look, Mr. Blanton, I’ll work for you. Be happy to work for you. But I can’t work in the chicken house and work in the clothing department and the food department. If you want me to work in the hardware department and the chicken house, I can sell nails and bolts.’ Mr. Blanton said, ‘You’ll work anywhere I want you to work.’
“So a couple weeks passed. Larry said every time a load of concrete would come in, someone would quit. The concrete came in fifty pound bags, and they stored it in the basement. A truck would back in there and the employees would unload it. And when it left, you’d be white as a ghost with all that concrete all over you. The driver generally came late in the afternoon. One day Blanton had him clean the chicken house and when he come back to the store, there was the Ready Mix truck. And Blanton said, ‘Get up on that truck and help that driver haul that stuff to the back.’ The driver loaded it on the dolly, and the boys would roll it in. Larry said he rolled back six or seven loads. Mr. Blanton said, ‘Larry, hop up on the truck and help stack.’ And there were four or five Blanton employees on the ground carrying it back into the building. So when Larry got eight or nine bags stacked, he took a break while these boys were moving it. A few minutes later it was ‘Larry, help bring those bags into the store.’ Blanton wanted him to do both.
Larry said, ‘Wait a minute, Mr Blanton, let’s get something straight here. If I’m gonna work up here, I’ll work up here. If I’m gonna work down there, I’ll work down there, but I’m not gonna work both of them.’ Mr. Blanton said, ‘You’ll work where I tell you to work.’ Larry said, ‘No, I won’t neither. I’ll go to the house.’ Then the truck driver said ‘If you want a job, stay here.’ Larry hopped up there and helped him. Mr. Blanton said, ‘Larry, get down here and help.’ Larry said, ‘I ain’t workin’ for you no more. I’m workin’ for this man.’ They finished unloading. He went in, shed his clothes and come home. Next morning bright and early, Blanton was down here before breakfast. ‘Larry, you can’t quit. I gotta have you.’ Larry said, ‘Naw, I’m not workin’ under those circumstances. If you want me to work in the dry good department, I can’t clean chicken houses.’ So Blanton said, ‘You’re done.’ And Larry never went back.
While Larry was busy at this store, Brice had found another store closer to home. “From Dysartsville, I went down 226 on to 64 and around a curve. Right there used to be a big ol’ building on the right. It was a store, restaurant and a bunch of crap in there. That’s where Iva worked. And I stopped there one day and fueled the truck up and went in to pay, saw her. ‘Who’s this?’ The next day I stopped again, and I thought, ‘I’m gonna take that ol’ gal home with me’.”
Now I understand Brice’s young focus, but a paper in Raleigh years earlier had an article about this store and its owner, E.F. Kirksey. According to a “government official”, upstairs in Kirksey’s private quarters was an outstanding collection of American Indian artifacts.
The reporter, Robert Menzies, wrote “in addition to black arrowheads inlaid with ceremonial bats in gold, Kirksey pointed out moonstones, diamonds cut by Tiffany, a tray of white sapphires, pyradote (now spelled peridot, I think), NC opals and so on.” Revealing a perfectly-formed, blood-red spearhead, Kirksey said,“This is made of ruby. And here’s another beauty. This spearhead is over ten inches long and is made of black obsidium.” He quoted Kirksey as saying “nine-tenths of all the things in my collection were found in this area.”
This might confirm the continued interest in gold and gemstones around here, mostly from recreational miners who spend the summer or their vacations setting up a campsite and digging around. Here there is a chance to recoup the money paid for entertainment, kinda like Las Vegas? Different strokes, indeed.