Episode 19: More Storytellers

Last summer, I talked with Pat Allison Arrowood whose Daves family homeplace was behind the old Dysartsville Baptist Church. “My Mom would go out to the ‘farm’ to visit.”Pat was born in Marion, but lived in Morganton for a few years. “My Dad’s folks were from Old Fort, Marion and Morganton. Daddy worked for Great Lakes Carbon Company (in Morganton), and in 1944, we moved to Winston Salem because they were working on the carbon tips of the bombs, and so he had to go…Claude Benjamin Allison was in management so he had to be relocated to Winston-Salem. When we moved back to Morganton, we had telephones, electricity, appliances, electric washing machines; we lived down Hiway 70 right by the Great Lakes plant. There was a railroad between our house and the highway, so we had to come off the highway, and cross the railroad tracks to get to our house. We could hear the trains when they stopped for water at Glen Alpine up the mountain. You could hear them, but you couldn’t see them until they got to the straight. Well, my sister was about two or three, and one day Mama missed Judy, and told me, “Go check the railroad track.” I went flying to the tracks, and I saw her settin’ down, playing in the gravel right in the middle of the tracks.” Then Pat heard the train. “I was lookin’ like 1000 yards, so far away from her, no way in the world I could get there fast enough to get her before the train went by. I just stopped. I just stood there and Mama caught up to me. When Mama stopped, she didn’t see her and the train rolled past.  “Judy was on the railroad track, Mama.” After the train went by, there was a man standing with Judy in his arms. He had been driving down the highway, had seen the train comin’, had seen her on the tracks and stopped to grab her. Mama was pregnant with my brother Steve, and she said, ‘I can’t take it, I can’t raise a family in this town. I’ve got to get out of here.’

“We were already working on the house in Dysartsville. It was all torn up, but Mama said, ‘I’m moving, we’re getting out of here.’ There was no power whatsoever out there, no water source except a spring and a branch, but we moved out of our house that had telephones and electricity. I was the oldest of six children, but at the time there was only three of us. Me, Mike and Judy.

I was in the fourth grade, going into fifth, and I had scarlet fever which turned into rheumatic fever and St. Vivessses Dance. It’s called Chorea, a mixture. The rheumatic fever works on the heart, and the St. Vivesses Dance works on the nerves. We were right in the Korean War, and the doctor would say, ‘You’ve won the battle. You beat Chorea.’ I couldn’t do anything for about a month and a half. I was just layin’ there. I missed three months of school, but my teacher told my mama and daddy, ‘If you would let her live with me, I will keep her and tutor her in the evening.’ She was single. So she did that for three months. I didn’t move to Dysartsville until summer (1950) when school was out. After that, me and my brother went to the Dysartsville school.”

Pat’s brother Mike Allison told me about their father working second shift at the National Carbon defense plant “where graphite was made secretly for the centrifugal reactor used to enrich uranium at the facility in Oak Ridge. There were a dozen women lined up on stools in front of meters, and all they did for their part was to stare at these gauges.”

(Asheville writer Denise Kierman wrote an excellent book about this: The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win WWII).

I will digress again because this thread reminds me of a story told by a feisty 97-year old, Ruth Brown of the Gilkey community. She was very proud of being one of those girls at Oak Ridge. Although she had no idea what the plant did or why the secrecy, she knew it was part of the war effort, and she knew how to follow orders. Her job was to keep any man from sneaking into the women’s dormitory at night. Once, and only once, her mettle was tested. She saw somebody in the morning shadows, and confronted him. His answers did not satisfy her, and she said “I’m gonna call security.” She ran back to her desk, the fellow in hot pursuit. When she picked up the receiver (some of you might have to look up a photo of a telephone), and turned to face him, this stranger pulled a gun on her. “I’m gonna shoot you if you don’t hang up.” The intimidation made Ruth really angry. Of all the nerve! She said, “Fire away. I’m callin’ the cops.” The man fled the building. After the war, Ruth taught school for 46 years in Rutherford County. Before her 99th birthday, she told me that the longer she lived, the more she realized that the most important thing was the people she knew. She said, “The other things made no difference. They don’t have meaning.” When I attended her funeral, I heard many stories from devoted students who came from all over to pay their respects to the tough lady who challenged them to do their best.

Now, returning to Mike Allison’s story in medias res: when his father wore a badge with his photo at the Carbon defense plant. Claude Allison said that no knives or even nail clippers were allowed at work. One night, security called him over and pretended a casual conversation. Embedded in the friendly chatter was a trick question. One of the guards asked to borrow his nail clippers. He didn’t have one. Later on, the other guard asked if he had a knife. Dad said no, he followed the rules. He found out later that somebody else did not; a gauge had been tampered with. There were reasons for strict security.

The Allisons moved into the Daves homeplace which had been built by Forest Brackett around 1890. (See Brackett Town Saga) Brackett sold the house and surrounding acreage to Mike’s grandfather Benjamin Taylor Daves. When Mike was a youngster, the house was owned by a cousin. There were many Daves aunts and uncles because Grandfather married three times. The last time was when he was very old. He married a young woman, Cordia Diademma (Demer) Suttles, born about 1895, one of nine kids, who left him with their baby Zonia Virginia Daves when she went to town and never returned. Little is known or told about her, unless I learn something this weekend at the Daves reunion. (According to ancestry.com, Zonia  was born a hundred years ago on May 14, 1918, died March 23, 1995, and was buried in the Dysartsville Baptist Church cemetery.) Mike’s grandfather took care of Zonia and willed the homeplace to her. Zonia worked at the Marion hosiery mill and took care of her father until he died. She raised six children there after she married Claude Benjamin Allison of Old Fort.

Today, Mike and Brenda Allison are happily retired in the old homeplace that he has remodeled. Their living room has the original stone fireplace on one wall.


Copyright@2018 Georgia Wilson

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