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Telling Stories

 

I love stories. There is nothing so pleasurable as hearing a great story told well. Growing up on the farm, I heard lots of tales about old characters and personalities who worked here over the years. My dad has an incredible knack for remembering the names and details from events that happened around the farm. Not only the things he lived through, but also the ones he heard his parents talk about from before his time. I love listening to him recount those tales in his precise, nostalgic manner. In a sense, stories are how we understand a thing, how we relate to it. They can be our most rudimentary method of communication or our most nuanced. To me, good stories beg to be told. They whisper in breathily in my ear until I can bring them out into the light. I’ve come across some great stories in my search for information about the history of the farm. They are most just fun little tales about living and working on a farm in Appalachia. I thought it might be fun to share some of them. I hope you enjoy!

Elizabeth McClure taking a ride with Aunt Freddie and Aunt Bessie in the Hudson while John Shorter takes the wheel.

When Jim and Elizabeth (my great grandparents) first came to Fairview, they made the drive from Asheville in their new Hudson Automobile. Unfortunately the flooding that had wracked Fairview in the spring also left the little country road impassible for some time. The newlyweds soon learned the dangers of traveling through the country in a city rig, when their shiny new Hudson got mired in heavy mud. John Shorter, an employee at Hickory Nut, and a fellow who would prove to be one of the most devoted and reliable workers for the McClures, had to come with his team of oxen to haul the young pair up the mountain. Upon learning that Mr. McClure was a minister, John Shorter informed him that the names of his animals were ‘Red’ and ‘Brown’, but only because he thought that a stoutly religious man might be offended at their real names: ‘Hell’ and ‘Fire’.

Jamie McClure, Jim and Elizabeth’s first child, was fascinated by many of the farm animals and took great interest in the tasks of the farmers. Once, when he was playing with the sheep, one of the rams butted him so hard it knocked him off his feet. While he was trying to ‘soothe’ that one with his miniature watering can, another ram came up from behind and butted him over again. He pretty quickly learned to keep a wary eye out while walking through the sheep herd and always carried some sort of protection.

Apple picking with the boys. Young Jamie McClure is the second from the left.

Jamie also became very interested in the mystery of chicken eggs. Unlike most children, he didn’t simply ask where an egg comes from, instead he decided to experiment. He ventured down to the chicken house and, finding and unusually docile rooster, he imagined he had tamed it. He snuck the bird into the house and hid it in his closet for several nights. One morning the animal started crowing at six a.m. and woke up the entire household. Jamie had tried to get his rooster to lay and egg for breakfast by prodding it with a stick. He was confused when it failed to produce anything but the loud squawking noises. Afterwards, demoralized by his failure to see scientific results, he bowed to necessity and asked his father, “why don’t roosters have egging powers?”

Direction

I graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in May with a degree in English Literature and Creative Writing, and, like so many of my classmates, I found myself weighted down by an indefinable dread at the thought of what was next. I wasn’t afraid applying for a job, or finding a place to live, or even beginning to pay my own bills. Those things were concrete. I knew that they would begin to fall into place as I moved forward. No, my real fear stemmed not from inexperience, but from indecision. For so many years my path had been clearly laid out in front of me and now, without regard for academic success or extracurricular participation, life stopped handing me my goals and said, “ok, now you decide”. It was like hiking on a narrow trail for miles with very few forks to choose from and then suddenly the path disappears in a thicket and anything further can only be accomplished by bush-whacking.

When my cousins Jamie and Amy Ager offered me a job helping out on the farm for the busy fall season, I jumped at the chance. Not only did I need direction, I was aching to get my hands dirty, to spend my days outdoors, and to acquire some skills beyond those peculiar academic qualities I’d nurtured for so long. I was a little concerned that moving back home and working on the family farm would be stifling. Unlike so many people who can’t wait to get out of their home town and away from their parents though, I feel blessed to live in a place like Fairview, surrounded by an interesting, loving, and exuberant family. This blog is my chance to give a little glimpse of what our conjunction of land, history, and family looks like—to me, at least. With all my talk of direction, this may seem like moving backwards and maybe it is. But it doesn’t feel that way. Someone told me once that history is not what just what happened, it’s who we are. In a sense, my writing here will be a journal of work on the farm, exploring the history of the land, and getting to know my family members as an adult; all things that I’m confident will help me to understand how I should move forward and where it is I want to go.  I hope that these entries are interesting not just for the stories that I will recount, but also for the learning process that is already taking place and which I will share as best I can, with you.