Archive for the ‘Quebec NC’ Category

A Painting of Grandpa Johnny’s Mill

I was five years old when I learned to shell corn. It was in the fall. Grandpa Henry had harvested his corn crop and the crib was stuffed to bursting with corn in the shuck. Grandpa retrieved a fair number of ears from the crib, shucked them, and put them in a sack which he carried up the hill to the house. We had a long bench made of wood slats under a poplar tree in the front yard, and there we parked our sack of corn. Grandpa went to fetch a bucket and when he returned I watched in amazement as he very skillfully removed the dried corn from the cob. The white grains dropped into the bucket like a summer rain. Right away I knew it was an art I was destined to master, and begged him to show me how.

Grandpa Henry was a patient man, and he consented. He taught me to single out one grain at the very tip and to use the force of my tiny thumb to dislodge that one grain. After that it was easier to dislodge the next. I found that after I shelled all the uneven grains at the tip it was smooth sailing to shell one row at a time in the straight body of the ear. My little five year old hands had not much strength. I was not able to shell more than one grain at a time. But I had inherited Grandpa’s patience, and besides that he had promised when I got the bucket full we would take it to Grandpa Johnny’s mill and grind it into corn meal. I had watched Grandma make corn bread from meal and I very much wanted to see the process of changing hard grains of corn into soft powdery meal.

The dogwood tree in the foreground replaced the poplar tree.

For three days whenever Grandma would let me I’d be hard at work under the poplar tree, dropping corn into the bucket. By the third day I was wondering if I would ever get to go to Grandpa Johnny’s mill. Hard as I had worked, the bucket was just not getting full. And to make matters worse I had developed a blister on my right thumb which forced me to work left handed, which was not so bad except that my left thumb was also getting pretty sore. Looking back, I realize what was happening to my corn. Grandpa Henry was taking a daily ration of it to feed his chickens!

Not to worry. All ended well. On the morning of the fourth day Grandpa helped me and we shelled lots of corn. That is Grandpa shelled lots of corn. I was not able to shell much with two ruined thumbs. Grandpa poured corn from the bucket into the sack until he had sacked up fifteen or twenty pounds of shelled corn. Then he slung the sack over his shoulder and we walked all the way to the mill. It seemed like a very long way, but it was actually about a quarter of a mile, more or less. It was the first time I had ever been there, at least the first time I remember being there.

Newspaper photo of the mill from the rear. A flying rock from road construction put a hole in the roof.

The mill house stood to the west of the narrow road, at the foot of the waterfall. It was a small building, made of stout notched poles and clad with milled lumber. There was a tall little room downstairs with a fireplace to the right. It was cold that morning and I was glad Grandpa built a fire. On the left side of the room was a chute where the freshly ground meal dropped down into a box. A stairway led up to the hopper where the corn was fed to the grindstones. There were windows upstairs, open to the creek, to let in some light to the one who was working at the hopper. Above the mill house, at the top of the falls was a little dam that could be opened and shut with a pole, operated from the mill house. When the dam was opened the creek could flow unhindered, but when the dam was shut part of the creek waters were diverted into a shallow trough or ‘race’ where they ran downhill and turned the wheel. The wheel attached to a shaft that rotated one stone against another and ground the corn. Grandpa Johnny’s mill was a ‘tub’ mill, or turbine mill. The mill wheel turned horizontally, and did look like a round tub, with spokes radiating from the center to the rim.

Grandpa Henry busied himself filling the hopper with corn and getting all things in readiness. Then, with a loud ‘CLACK’ the dam at the top of the falls shut; and the mill race opened. Suddenly it seemed like nearly all the water in Flat Creek was rushing down the mill race toward the waterwheel. I will never forget when that great wheel began to turn. That little mill house began to growl. It shook and rumbled like a great cat purring; and then — a miracle! White and beautiful, fluffy as snow, the ground corn began at first to sift and then to pour. Grandpa held a cloth bag under the chute, gathering up the fine meal as it fell. When all the corn was ground, Grandpa closed the mill race. The purring and rumbling died away as the mill wheel slowly ground to a halt.

Who could forget so great an adventure! It was one I was fortunate to repeat a few more times before Grandma began to buy meal at the grocery. But that ‘bought’ meal was never the same as Grandpa Henry’s. Now that I am old, I am privileged again to have fresh ground meal, and wonderful memories of an earlier time.

For genealogy buffs, Grandpa Johnny was John McCall, Jr. and Grandpa Henry his grandson.

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Appalachian hill cane

Liberally sprinkled on the slopes of many of our Southern mountains, short, tough little shoots of native bamboo have heretofore been growing, unrecognized, unidentified, unclassified and mostly unknown by the botanical community.

And no wonder. When I was growing up in the Blue Ridge mountains I often saw these small nondescript plants on dry slopes in the woods. To us they were so ordinary they didn’t even have a name. For many years I didn’t even know what they were. They weren’t intrusive, nor were they useful in any way we knew. They weren’t especially attractive either, spindly looking, jointed tall grasses. The stems were so tough you couldn’t break them with your hand. Finally a friend identified them to me as “little canes.”

Later in life when I had returned to my ancestral home I found a dense stand of these small canes on a section of bottomland, in full sun, near the creek. The stalks were erect, a little less than half an inch in diameter, and about five feet tall. They were robust plants, growing in profusion alongside an old pasture fence at an elevation of about 2500 feet. About six to eight inches apart, they were practically impenetrable, forming a miniature canebrake.

Worldwide, there are more than a thousand recognized species of bamboo. Of these, only three are natives of North America. Two indigenous species of North American cane, river cane and switch cane, were classified as early as 1788. But the little Appalachian hill cane, our most unique species, was not “discovered” and recognized as a distinctively different plant until 2007.

Hill cane, Arundinaria appalachiana, usually stands at two feet or less, but under optimum conditions it can grow six feet tall. Apart from its diminutive size, this smallish species differs from other canes in one important way. It is deciduous, dropping its leaves in the fall. Common in the southern Appalachians and well known by local residents, Appalachian hill cane had been previously categorized by the scientific community as a deciduous variant of switch cane. Finally Alan Weakley, a botanist with the University of North Carolina, introduced it at Iowa State University where Dr. Lynn Clark, who had already identified 74 new species of cane, immediately recognized it as a new and distinctively different species. (www.public.iastate.edu/-nscentral/news/2007/mar/bamboo.shtml)

My little patch of hill cane was growing right where I didn’t want it, so one winter I cut those leafless stalks all down. The next spring it was right back, vigorous as ever. But in time I had my way with it. Discouraged, it retreated to the edge of the field, where it hid in the shade of a maple tree. Later on, when I found out what it was, I was sorry I had been so bent on its destruction. But not to worry. Cane of any species is not easily eradicated. That was a long time ago, and today there’s still plenty of it, growing tall along the creek bank.





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Wikimedia Commons/Gerbil

In memory I see them now, dozens of little flames licking upward, casting their warmth and light upon the green needles of a tall but shabby Christmas tree. I was very young, barely five years old I suppose. It was Christmas and we were visiting my grandmother. We didn’t go there very much. It was 20 miles, and back then not many people had cars. I don’t remember how we got there: Daddy didn’t have a car. He walked to work at a mill in town. But it was Christmas Eve, and somehow we managed to make it up the mountain from Brevard to Quebec, North Carolina. It was well for me that we did, for that day yielded one of my brightest memories.

Early that morning Grandpa had been out to the woods to cut a tree. He’d returned with the fluffiest white pine he could find, its trunk nailed to a wooden crosspiece.  Back then nobody bought a Christmas tree. You made do with what you could find in the fields and forests. It was scrawny by today’s standards, but it reached nearly to the ceiling. Grandma said it suited her just fine.

Mama and Grandma set about decorating that spindly tree. They hung pretty glass balls on it, and ropes of shiny tinsel; and at the top they fastened a cardboard star covered with tinfoil salvaged from a cigarette wrapper. Somebody had bought something called angel hair at the five-and-ten-cent store in town. It was white and looked like hair sure enough. They were about to put that on the tree but Mama said no, it might catch fire. I didn’t see any fire. There wasn’t any fire except in the pot bellied stove there in the living room. And, it was still daytime. The kerosene lamp wasn’t even burning. But I didn’t say anything. When you are five you are pretty much a spectator.

They put the angel hair away and Grandma got out lots of funny looking little things which they fastened to the limbs of the Christmas tree. Now that I am all grown up I know those funny looking things were old fashioned clip candle holders, made to go on Christmas trees. After that they put lots of little white wax candles on the tree.

What happened next became an indelible memory for me. With wooden matches Mama and Grandma lit those dozens of little wax candles, and as they did that homely Christmas tree took on an ethereal luster. It glimmered! It glowed! The candles sputtered and flickered; their golden flames danced, lighting up every corner of the room. It was the most breathtaking scene I’d ever witnessed. Maybe it still is.

But it was short lived. In a little while the candles had burned down and they blew them out. After that they put the angel hair on the tree, and it was all over. I don’t remember what I got that year. But I will never forget Grandma’s Christmas tree. 


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Quebec Home

Quebec Home

This time of year I can not help remembering Christmas Past. There was a time when I was younger when I felt that life began after Christmas. The hard part of the year was the end, and once I got past that I could manage. I am not the only one for whom Christmas was (is) a wincing pain, to be endured until friends or family have had their little deal. Untold numbers of people today are only too glad for Christmas to be over.

I thank God that the pain of those years is now only a memory. And it’s not because I’m married now, and life is good.  It is because the Lord led me step by step, by little and by little, away from pain into peace, until finally the pain was gone. Today I can remember that pain, but I can not feel it any more.

It happened during the years I lived at Quebec, fifteen in all. I am brimful of stories from that time. So many astounding things took place. One of them was a real White Christmas.

In North Carolina, unless you live at the crest of the Smokies, it is rare to consistently experience snow at Christmastime. Here in the mountains we have snow fairly often, but not necessarily when we want it, such as December 24th after we have finished our shopping.

I don’t remember what year it was — some time in the late 90’s. Nor do I remember the exact day the snow began falling — maybe Christmas Eve, maybe the day before. I was off from my job for a few days, which was good, for I was never one to drive in new snow. It was beautiful, and I didn’t have to go anywhere so I sat beside the stove and watched it from the living room. It snowed and snowed and snowed until there were ten or twelve inches I guess.

Not enough to keep the four wheel drive trucks from rolling. My house was somewhat hidden, but near the road. I could always hear the traffic going by, and Christmas Eve was no exception, snow or not. But gradually their rumblings became farther and farther apart, and as night drew near an unusual stillness began to settle over the valley.  What was it?  Why had the vehicles stopped passing? And then I realized: It was Christmas Eve — the one night when all self respecting coon hunters, road runners, good old boys and girls, and their kids, stayed home and waited for Santa.

I eventually had to go out to get some firewood to feed my stove. The snow had stopped falling. A pale moon lit up the whole valley. There was no noise, no sound at all except the far away rushing of the creek. The stillness was almost tangible.

I took my wood back inside, chunked it into the stove, and went for my coat and cap. I stood in the snow for a long time that night, under the bare limbs of the big dogwood tree, looking at the white fields below me, and listening to the silence of Christmas Eve, savoring what I knew was a once in a lifetime experience.

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Built 1939

I am going to share with you some pictures of my ancestral home, a place where as a child I was privileged to come many times. I loved it with a passion, as did my brothers and some of my cousins. It was home to us, fixed, unmovable, unlike the rental houses we hopped into and out of like little frogs.

Replacement porch posts of painted locust poles

I lived there most of the time from 1984 to 1999 when I married Jack and moved to Toxaway. It was truly a lovely place, and a big place, as you will see.

After 1999 I was unable to maintain it. Soon the house  burned, and the fields grew up in weeds and saplings. For a long time a friend kept horses and a mule in the far field, but after that it became a very  expensive proposition to keep the mowing done, so every other year or so it was not done, unless someone wanted the hay, which by then was barely hay and mostly weeds. You get the picture.

Now we are working toward a division of the property. It is my hope that sooner or later my beautiful home will look better than it does today.

These pictures were taken from time to time during the years I lived there.

I will never forget the time I looked down to this field near the barn and there stood the grandest white stallion I ever saw. I said to myself, “I know my prince has come, for I see his horse.” I don’t have a picture of the white horse. He was a beauty, though.

The barn and a feed shed are the only structures remaining on the property now. The feed shed is recent, from the time of the horses. The barn was built when I was a child, and replaced an earlier barn.

There was a woodshed behind the house which grandpa built too close to the bank and which threatened to drop off into the spring branch for many years. You can see from the picture how it is leaning backwards. Finally I got my cousin to cut some stout poles and prop up the woodshed from behind. It worked.  The woodshed stayed until it was torn away after the house burned. The sweet dog in this picture was my daughter’s. I kept it for several months. At first I did not want it and tried to give it away (with her permission) but nobody wanted it. I was surprised that my heart broke when she finally took my dog back!

There is a lovely creek running through my old home place, the North Fork of Flat Creek. Flat Creek runs through some flat places, but there are at least three waterfalls on it. When we were little, Grandpa had a bridge over it. High water washed it away and it never was replaced. Today there are several trees along the creek, but back when we were growing up Grandpa kept the edges clear.

Back in those days a haircut was meant to last a long time, as you can see. My younger brothers are on the bridge fishing. The milk cow is beyond them, cooling her heels in the water.

The charming interior of the house was never modernized; this photo shows the little wood cookstove Grandma ordered from Sears and Roebuck. There was, however, an electric stove not showing in the photo. There had been an oil heater in the living room, but I thought it was unsafe and replaced it with a wood stove, which was more like I remembered, and a lot warmer than the oil heater. Nothing can beat a wood stove for coziness!

How dear to my heart was this place, in the Quebec community, a few miles from Lake Toxaway. It is on the North Carolina registry of Century Farms, under the name: The Henry McCall Family Farm.

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When I was a kid Whetstone Gap was at Quebec. And that, friends, is pronounced Kwee (long e) bec, with the emphasis on Kwee. Same name for the mountain and the settlement. You wouldn’t expect us mountain people to pronounce it like the Canadians, now would you? So, if Whetstone Gap is at Quebec, why is Whetstone Gap Road at Lake Toxaway?

Good question. I don’t know the entire answer, but I learned a little about Whetstone Gap from an old timer, Virgil Owen. It was something I should have realized but didn’t. After all, I lived a year or two on Quebec Mountain. I knew about those little long rocks with the squared off edges….

Here is a map that shows the location of Whetstone Gap. This is from the USGS topo map for the Rosman quadrangle.  Note the Whetstone Ridge runs south-west and north-east. Along the Whetstone Ridge you will see Quebec Mountain near the West Fork of the French Broad River. Crossing the south side of Quebec Mountain is Highway 64.  Whetstone Gap is marked there. It is  located nearly at the top of the ridge, about a mile from where Highway 64 crosses the West Fork of the French Broad River.Whetstone Gap at Quebec Mountain

Whetstone Gap at Quebec Mountain

I asked Virgil Owen, my old timer friend, why there was a Whetstone Gap Road at Lake Toxaway. Virgil told me he didn’t know, that somebody had made a big mistake, for the road at Lake Toxaway they were calling the Whetstone Gap Road was really the Head Gap Road.  Well, I had heard the coon hunters talking about Head Gap, but I didn’t know where it was. Now I knew.

Virgil went on to tell me that the gap just up the road from Head Gap, where Highway 281 North turns off Highway 64 was the Pole Cat Gap. I knew that because I had plotted the calls on an old deed for the Toxaway Falls property. One of the points mentioned in that deed was the Pole Cat Gap. Incidentally, at the time of that deed, Toxaway Falls was called the Bagwell Shoals, reflecting the name of Bagwell, the owner of the falls and the “improvement” above them.

Virgil didn’t explain why the pole cat’s name got attached to the gap at the “junction,” but he said Head Gap got its name by virtue of having five spring heads nearby. “You could throw a rock,” he said, “and hit five spring heads from Head Gap.” He told me where they were. The best I remember there were three on the north side of Highway 64. If you look carefully, you can spot at least two of these even today. You can not see those on the other side of the road.

When I asked Virgil how Whetstone Gap got its name, he looked at me like I was a dunce and said, “You ought to know. You lived down there. It’s the rocks, the little whet rocks. They cover the ground down there.” Well yes, I remembered the  little rocks, many of them perfect little rectangles. Most of them were smooth, as if they had once been in a river. And yes, they were scattered everywhere. I had not thought of them as whetstones, but that is what they looked like.

Christine Owen

Christine Owen

Years later Christine Owen whose father Spurgeon Owen once owned most of the west side of Quebec Mountain hurriedly hunted me some examples of the rocks  I remembered. When I talked to her that day she said her father had carried one of these stones in his pocket and actually used it to sharpen his pocket knife. In the photo she holds a medium sized example and a large one. The large stone is not the best example, being imperfect, but it does show the parallel sides of these stones. The other photo of the hand holding a smaller stone is more representative of the size and shape of the Quebec Mountain whetstones, though it came from another location, and is not as smooth as the Quebec stones.

I always thought Virgil’s explanation about the names of the gaps was interesting and am glad to finally share it now.

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