Episode 18: One Oldtimer’s Story

In the last Dysartsville episode, I introduced you to Romulus Jolley Duncan, age 96, who moved from Spruce Pine to Dysartsville to Mocksville, NC, and back to Dysartsville. Not a lot of travel for someone who had served in WWII. In 2017, I visited Jolley at his room in a NC nursing home and asked when he bought the property that made him a Dysartsville neighbor. “That’s been too long ago; my poor old brain.”

(Since couldn’t remember, I looked it up later.)

Romulus Jolley Duncan

He did remember serving in Europe. “I went to England, and from there on to the Continent. I wasn’t in on the invasion, and we sweated out going into Japan. Thank goodness they ended over there before I got out. I was head of field artillery. They had to have a little room to maneuver it around. We had 240 ml Howitzers; the barrel is about so big (12″). It was on a palletzer. Yeah, goodness, I’ve had quite a life, I’m tellin’ you.” (FYI: Wikipedia.org described this weapon as the most powerful weapon deployed by US field artillery in WWII. Nicknamed the “Black Dragon,” it was able to fire a 360# high explosive projectile 25,225 yards for destructive effectiveness against bridges, German tanks, and heavy concrete fortifications. They remained in US service until ammo stocks were depleted in the 1950s. Still used by Taiwan’s army.)

Jolley’s son, Ronnie, said, “We were both lucky. He got in about the time the war was ending, and I got in after high school, right as Vietnam ended a year or two later. I was in six years, but Dad was only in a couple. He got out in, what, (Dad) ’46?”

“About,” Jolley said. “Well I went to see my sister Margaret when I got out. She was graduating from Berea College (in Kentucky). First thing I knew I was enrolled. There was no good way to get to Berea. If you took the train, you’d get into Berea at 3 o’clock in the morning. I’d go into the men’s dormitory, the sittin’ room, and stretch out on the couch there until breakfast time. When things opened up, you’d do your business then.” Jolley studied Agriculture, Dairy Science. “I’d have loved to have a Grade A Dairy, but that takes money, and that was the one thing I didn’t have.”

“We had a class of veterans up there to come down. We saw those bottoms there (in the southeast corner of McDowell Co.) That’s more flat land than in all of Mitchell County. When I got out (of Berea) I worked for the dairy in Morganton, near the Deaf School.” Jolley remembers “the dairy on the top of the hill, where Western Piedmont is now.”

His son Ronnie said, “You can still see the big barn. Dysartsville used to have four or five dairies. Now they got one.” (Harold McKinney on 221 has the only dairy today, started in 1966.) “That and apple trees used to be around Dysartsville.” (E.L. Christy planted an apple orchard in 1965.)

Genevieve Tate Duncan
Died 12-8-93

Jolley’s future wife Genevieve went to college at Western NC, and so did Jolley until “they took all us boys into service.” She was from Grover, NC, south of Shelby, right on the state line in Cleveland County. “My sister Margaret taught piano at Belmont College, and Gen taught down there in the school, too.”

“I had a car after I finished Berea and had a job so I could pay for it. I bought me a brand new Plymouth Club Coupe. That’s what I had in my courting days. That was long distance courting. I was in Russell Springs, KY, and Gen was in Belmont, NC.” And they soon located to Dysartsville and became involved with the community.

Genevieve wrote articles for the local newspaper in 1955 reporting the goings on in the community: “Scout Troop Formed: A group of interested people met at the Dysartsville School Monday night to organize a Boy Scout Troop. Several men from other troops from the county met with the group and a number of scouts met with them. Claude Allison was elected scoutmaster; Jolley Duncan, assistant; and Clay McIntosh, committee chairman. Twenty-two boys from Dysartsville were present. Refreshments were served.”

Other notices recorded visits from relatives: “Mr. and Mrs. Jolley Duncan spent Sunday with Mr. and Mrs. Rom Duncan of Spruce Pine.”

“Dysartsville PTA held its final meeting Thursday night in the school auditorium. There was a record attendance at the meeting. The first grade gave a play, “The Couple in the Shoe,” under the direction of Mrs. Jolley Duncan. After the play, the group elected officers for the coming year. They are: President, Mrs. Cecil Hicks; Vice President, Mrs. Glenn Shepherd; Secretary, Mrs. John Huskins; Treasurer, Mrs. Claude Allison.”

In a later clipping: “Mrs. Lona Laughridge, Miss Maude Cowan, and Mrs. R.J. Duncan attended the annual Western North Carolina Conference of the WSCS at Lake Junaluska last Thursday. The WSCS of the Trinity Methodist Church held its June meeting last Monday night at the home of Mrs. Glenn Shepherd with nine members present. Mrs. R.J. Duncan, president, presided over the business section. The program, “Lasting Peace and Security for All” was presented by Mrs. Lona Laughridge. Refreshments were served.”

Later on that year: “The members of the Trinity Methodist Church voted Sunday to build a new church. Serving on the building committee are Mrs. Lona Laughridge, Ernest Christy, R.J. Duncan, Fred Guffey, Cecil Hicks, and W.S. Greene.”

And there were numerous tidbits like: “Mr. and Mrs. Robert Laughridge of Old Fort and daughter Louise of Long Island, N.Y., visited last week with Mr. and Mrs. W.N. Laughridge.” “Pvt. Paul Toney of Camp Brook, AL, and Walter Toney of Baltimore, spent the weekend with Mr. and Mrs. Garney Toney.” “Mr. and Mrs. C.B. Allison and family visited Mr. and Mrs. Rilie Allison of Old Fort on Sunday.”

I told Jolley that one of the neighbors I had interviewed last summer remembered his wife as “a most wonderful person.” Pat Allison Arrowood walked from home to the Duncan house (about 2 miles) to take piano lessons. Pat also mentioned that Genevieve Duncan was a Betty Crocker Cake Mix tester.

Ronnie said, “She taught lessons to me, and I wisht I had kept it up, but back then when you’re this tall, you say ‘that’s sissy stuff’.”

Jolly said, “Yeah, law, she taught piano lessons and made a good pound cake.”

His son enthusiastically added to that accolade. “And German chocolate, Good Lord! She was an excellent cook.”

Jolley remembered it differently. “She became a good cook. She couldn’t boil water when we got married. Her mother would rather she practiced her piano than help in the kitchen so she joined a club that talked about cookin’.”

When they first got married, Jolley and Genevieve lived in Russell Springs, KY, where he worked in a Veterans program of farm training. They spent “Saturday afternoons watching those big old ukes moving dirt,” north of Wolf Creek dam, near Jamestown. (Ukes were like big dump trucks.)

When Jolley and Genevieve moved to Mocksville in the early 60s, they adopted three children. Ronnie, adopted at age eight, was in the first grade when his dad shot his mom. His sister was four.  Another daughter, Carol, was adopted as a baby. They stayed in Mocksville until after the kids graduated high school.

Jolley’s dad moved to Dysartsville when he retired from the Post Office in Spruce Pine in the early 60s. Neighbor Mike Allison remembers Rom purchased a shell back behind the church cemetery. “The wood frame was set on blocks with sturdy corner posts and walls, and a roof, but no wiring or plumbing. Rom had to finish it out, like the Jim Walters homes.” Mike helped him build a septic tank. That’s what they were doing November 22, 1963, when President Kennedy was shot. “His hobby was showing beagles for which he had several trophies. He also had a silver coin collection from the 40s-50s back when coins had more precious metal (silver), like the Liberty half dollars.” After Rom died, the church bought the property for expansion and tore down the house.

Jolley Duncan at home in Dysartsville

Behind Rom, parallel to 221 and on the Dysartsville road, which may have been called Bridgewater at one time, the Duncans had 250 acres. Jolley said, “But now there’s about 180.” Rom ran about eighty head of cattle on it. Mike Allison remembers that Jolley pasteurized his own milk and would sell one to two cans a week. Jolley’s specialty was sweet potatoes, grown in his field across the road from his house. “I grew a crop and took ’em up to the cafeteria in the school at Spruce Pine and sold them.”

Hopper’s Creek 1960
Unknown photographer

When I looked up records at the Register of Deeds office, I noticed the decidedly ambivalent property description on a transfer of property in 1983 from Rom to Jolley. “Beginning on three pines and runs North 33 poles to a black gum; then North 88 1/2 West 51 poles to a post oak, thence North 9 1/4 East 12 poles to a buckeye; then North 25 East, etc …and I have no idea what a horn beam is…then North 79 East 216 poles to a pine (now down) then South 14 poles to a bunch of oaks (now down) then South 76 West 134 poles to a rock, formerly a post oak, then west crossing Hoppers Creek 180 poles to the beginning.” “Except about ten acres sold by W.L. Owens and wife to Ben Epley.” There were deeds for three more tracts, one of which had the exception “one acre sold to Hubert Barrier,” who built a house next door to the old farmhouse.

Aerial of 2000 farmhouse on Dysartsville Rd before restoration (Drive on right to Barriers’ house)

I was not surprised to see a document made in 2006 clarifying the boundary between the Duncans and one of their neighbors.

Jolley was happy to have visitors, but a good visitor knows when to leave. And it was lunch time in the home dining room. Before we said goodbye, I asked about a photo of Babe Ruth on the wall. Jolley said, “I became interested in ballgames his last few years. I just barely remember him. He was Mr. Baseball, and not another one like him.” His son describes Jolley as a baseball fan, and now he cheers for the Washington Nationals. “He doesn’t miss a game.”

And he reads a lot of books.


Copyright @ 2018 Georgia Wilson




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