When the Sprouse children were living at home, their parents encouraged them to work hard, to study diligently, and to share with others.
Larry remembered one year at Macedonia Baptist Church they had a pastor with ten children, and he brought them all to church. Afterward, the family could count on being invited to someone’s home for dinner before heading back to church for the night service. “Daddy told him, ‘Preacher, you wanna go home with us?’ And he’d say, ‘Well, I was over there last Sunday.’ Daddy told him, ‘Anytime you don’t have nowhere to go, you’re welcome at our house.’ Sometimes we’d come on home and set down to eat, and the preacher’d pull up with them ten kids.”
And Lela Sprouse would put another potato in the soup, as my mother-in-law would say. And lay out more china or melmac plates, because most people weren’t going to have piles of paper plates in the cupboard like today’s fast-food devotees.
Nora said, “Mama knew that Daddy had made that invitation, and she prepared on Saturday. I wasn’t old enough to help, but she always said, ‘Preacher may come home with us for dinner so I’ve got to be ready.’ They were at our house a lot. The daughter was Ann’s age, and the rest of them were boys. So there were at least five or six boys that came.”
Along with their own seven children? I call teenage boys eating machines, and I admire the Sprouse’s generosity. Surely there is a special reward in heaven for this kind of unlimited hospitality. It was certainly a powerful lesson for their children. And the preacher’s kids.
Nora recalled how her older sister Ann also became a role model for her. “Ann took care of all of us. When she graduated (high school) at fifteen, Ann went to Mitchell College for one year. So she was working at Marion at 17, and boarded up there. She gave Mama and Daddy a lot of her money, and she bought them furniture. First time we ever had a living room, she bought all the tables and chairs.”
There were a number of boarding houses in Marion, mostly for the men working on the railroad. Ann boarded with one lady for a few weeks but it didn’t work out. Then she moved to a boarding house on South Madison Street operated by Eula Smith Reel. And there she met Hoyt Reel who was home on leave from the Army.
Larry “heard the story that Hoyt was down in the crawl space of the house, and he come out around the side, and Ann happened to see him. He was all dirty, and she said, ‘That’s the man for me’.”
“Or maybe it was the other way around,” said little sister Nora. “Ann lived there a number of years and worked as a secretary for Paul Story, an attorney in Marion. When Ann started dating Hoyt, she moved to rent a room from Mr. Story’s mother.”
Proudly, Larry shared the anecdote of Ann’s big career opportunity. Her boss was scheduled to present a case before a superior court judge whose court reporter called in sick. “They would have had to call off court, and the judge didn’t want to do that. Paul Story said, ‘Well, I gotta secretary who can do this for you,’ and the judge said to bring her on in.”
Of course our Ann Sprouse was so brilliant the judge wanted to hire her!
Here Nora continued the narration. “Ann finished out the week, and on Friday, the judge said ‘You be in Hendersonville, Henderson County, Monday morning.’ And she went back to the office and told Mr. Story she didn’t want to do that kind of work. Mr. Story said, ‘You have to do this. If you don’t, I will never ever be able to win another case before him. You must do this because he’s ordered it.’ So that was her introduction into court reporting. It wouldn’t happen today, but at that time they didn’t have a court administrator’s office. You have to go through a process now. I’m sure he called Raleigh and told them he was hiring this girl, and she’s going to make this much money, and they put her on the payroll.”
Ann worked all over the state. Nora said, “When she married Hoyt, after dating seven years, they went to Raleigh for awhile.” Hoyt attended NC State and got his BS degree in mechanical engineering. “Ann would go to her house on the weekends, and sometimes she’d come up here to work (and stay in Bracket Town). She carried her little portable typewriter and come in telling all these stories, all these interesting things that went on in court. She’d talk to Mama and Daddy about it, and I heard. I liked to play with her typewriter. I remember she started out making $100 a week, and she got to travel, and all her travel was paid for, and her room and board was paid, and she got to hear stories. I thought that was the greatest thing in the world. So by the time I was 8 or 9 years old, I wanted to be a court reporter.” Like her big sister.
And this was a dream that came true for Nora when she graduated from high school and moved to Utah. Before she came home to Brackett Town, NC, she had been a court reporter for many years.
“I still dream about it. Sometimes I dream about being in a situation, and I can’t hear. Everybody’s talking at the same time. When I’m stressed, my machine is sitting on the tripod in front of me, and it starts going down, and I’m trying to hold it up with my knees. Or there’s a wall, and I can’t see. Or my paper comes out and there’s no ink on it, and I can’t read what’s being said. Frustrating dreams about court reporting.”
When Nora moved back to NC, she de-stressed by tapping into latent creative skills. She spent hours in quilting, enjoying the historical connection to her past and sharing with others around the county. And she put a quilt block on her husband’s woodworking shop. http://mcdowellquilttrail.org. Presently, Nora is learning to make handmade bobbin lace, a revived art form. She uses the world class lace bobbins that come from a renowned talent, her husband, Richard Worthen. His website has bobbins for lacemaking, “knitting needles, shawl pins, ballpoint pens, letter openers and other miscellaneous items that can be used for gifts.” www.etsy.com/shop/richardsbobbins. Check out the rave reviews.
Brother-in-law Hoyt Reel also reinvented himself when he retired. He was a prolific painter, and created Possum Point Productions of Dumfries, Virginia, where he and Ann moved after Hoyt received his degree. Hoyt passed on last year, and Ann moved back to the home place on Brackett Town Road, along the driveway shared by the homes of her sister Nora and brother Brice.
When Larry Sprouse graduated high school in 1950, he also went to college.”I went to state college in Raleigh, and I graduated about two weeks after I got there. What happened was Mama wrote to tell me I had gotten an induction letter for the service. So I come home and went to Charlotte with a busload from Marion.” But Larry was designated 4F and escaped the experiences of the Korean War. A couple years later his brother Wayne made the tour to represent the family on foreign soil. He was a radio man, and I don’t know what that is, but I’m picturing Radar like on MASH.
Larry remembered, “I stayed around home for awhile. We didn’t have a tractor at that time, we had mules, and we’s plowing out behind my house, and Mr. J.D. Blanton came back one Wednesday afternoon and got out of his car and come walking up. He said ‘My friend, you just keep plowin’, and I’ll walk along side of you and talk to you. I don’t want to hold you up from your work.’ I laughed, and told him I had more time than I had money anyway, so I stopped to talk. And he wanted to hire me, and I told him, “Well, I hadn’t even thought of getting a job. I was helping my Dad there on the farm. But I asked him how much would he pay, and he said, ‘I’ll give you $75 a month. Well, I was makin’ $20 a month when I was drivin’ the school bus, but I said I couldn’t work for no $75. And he said he’d give me $80, and then after awhile, he said $90. He kept uppin’ it. When he got to $110 he said, ‘My friend, that’s all I’m gonna offer you.’ And I told him I’d think about it. ‘By the way, Mr. Blanton, I don’t have no way to get to town. I can’t walk to Marion. When he said he’d buy me a car, I thought, ‘Now you’re talkin’ my way’.”
“So I went up a few days later and told him I’d go to work for him. I looked around for maybe three weeks and found me a car. I told the guys that I was working for Mr. Blanton, and he would be buying it and paying cash. The dealership gave me a price of $1500, so I went and told him. It was a Mercury, and he wanted to see it. I took the car up and showed it to Mr. Blanton and his son David. Mr. Blanton said, ‘That’s a good lookin’ car, Larry.’ He encouraged me to negotiate for a better price, but David said, ‘Dad, they won’t take no less than that for it. That’s a good price.’ Mr. Blanton counted out $1500, and I went back. Before I got there, I put $50 in my left pocket and $1450 in my right pocket. When they asked what Mr. Blanton said, I told them, ‘He said he’d give you $1450 for that car. Take it or leave it.’ Well, they stood around there and talked, and I turned to leave. But then they said, ‘We’re gonna sell it.’ I took out the $1450, and counted it out to them. Then I went back up to Mr. Blanton’s store and give him back $50. David couldn’t believe it. I was nineteen then, and Mr. Blanton told me, ‘You can pay me however you want to. And I paid him a little bit every month, and he’d write it on the back of the note he fixed up. He charged me a little bit of interest, and I paid the man every dime I owed. Mr. Blanton was a fine man. David was the same way, a fine man.”
J.D. Blanton wasn’t taking a chance on a stranger. He owned property in Dysartsville on Vein Mountain Road (Sold to the Boy Scouts of America sometime after 1961.) He knew the Sprouse family’s reputation in the community.