C A R O L I N A
C O U N T R Y
Looking at the way we were
Contents 07 Introduction 11
At Home in Carolina Country
Working in Carolina Country
79 Having Fun in Carolina Country 109 Gatherings in Carolina Country 127 Familiar and Forgotten Carolina Country 159 About the Staff
Introduction These days we say that we use our cameras to “take” pictures or we might say we “shoot” photographs. But an earlier term we still use in rural North Carolina is to “make” pictures. Maybe the term comes from a time when photography involved much more than simply pressing a button on a camera that automatically sets the exposure and focuses the subject, a time when photographs were rare and when making them took skill, thought and compassion. It must be kinder to make a photograph than to take one. It seems to me that skillful, affectionate, thoughtful people made the pictures in this book. In January 2005 we began asking the readers of Carolina Country magazine to donate pictures for a book depicting life in rural North Carolina before 1970. As we collected the pictures, it became clear that we were making a family album. Virtually everyone who sent us photographs is a member of the Carolina Country family, the family of North Carolina’s Touchstone Energy cooperatives. They are people who welcome Carolina Country magazine into their homes each month, and we at the magazine and the cooperatives’ office staff feel a part of their lives. By May 2005 we received nearly one thousand of their photographs, each carrying a story and each carrying the love and joy of the person who donated them. Some are pictures that men kept with them as they served in the armed forces. Some have been passed from generation to generation so that new family members can learn something about their old relatives or their own personalities. Some record once-in-a-lifetime events that will not be forgotten. Some show activities and places once considered routine and familiar but practically forgotten now. It may be true that our long-term memory stays sharp, even as our short-term memory grows fuzzier, but an old photograph really improves our ability to remember our lives as they were years ago. The people who cared enough to bring the camera along made memories that last and we can thank them for that. Herbert Williamson sent pictures of his family’s cane syrup mill in Moore County in the 1940s. He and his siblings (there were twelve of them at one point) would get up early in the morning and “head out to the cane patch and start cutting and pulling the fodder.” They made molasses for the whole community by moving the mill from one neighbor’s place to another until they decided to keep the mill at home and let the neighbors come there. “Seems like a lot of hard work for such little profit,” Mr. Williamson wrote. “But we made many great memories at that old mill. My youngest brother still operates the mill, making syrup and, I’m sure, lots of memories.” Think of all the rural North Carolina people and scenes that were never photographed, because no one in the family could afford a camera. Until Eastman Kodak Company introduced the Brownie box camera in the early 1900s, cameras were not common household possessions, especially in rural North Carolina. Those Brownies really didn’t become affordable to most people until the 1950s. Some of the earlier pictures we received were made with an Ansco roll film camera. Even earlier ones might have come from roving photographers who tried to earn a living making pictures of families and their homesteads. Feed and fertilizer agents also photographed farm families at work, then sent a print to the family and used the pictures for advertising. Some amusement parks offered a photo service, too. But most likely, a relative was known as the one who was always taking pictures. Mrs. J. D. Chrisco of Stanfield, Stanly County, who is 80 years old, told us she has made pictures most of her life and has a collection of thousands. Many show everyday activities, and the people come alive right there in the prints. Frances Mendaloff of Statesville told us that many of her pictures came from her father, Ralph E. Miller, “who, thankfully, always seemed to have a camera in his hands. Thanks, Dad, for preserving all the wonderful memories.” Alice Fuller in Elm City sent 1940s pictures of Wilson County and said, “I realize now that
8 CAROLINA COUNTRY REFLECTIONS
letting me get a camera at such an early age was a big sacrifice for my parents, who worked long and hard and had very little.” Her parents probably knew the rich, long-lasting memories their daughter would make. What do the pictures and stories in this book reveal about country life here before 1970? You may find a different answer each time you page through. But some things are obvious. Tobacco farming was a very big deal statewide. We have more pictures and stories about growing, harvesting, and preparing it for auction than of any other single activity. Stories tell of how important it was to families, and even though the work was hard and the days were long and hot, people got along with one another and really appreciated the cold drinks under the shade of a barn roof. Cars were a big deal, too. The second-highest number of pictures shows people smiling proudly while standing outside their cars or sitting in them. Farm animals made for fun pictures: mules, the milk cow, hogs, chickens, turkeys. Hunting was a big deal, and snapshots usually showed a few impatient hound dogs in the party. Children seemed to have a single, favorite toy that they simply adored. When the family dressed for church, it was a good time to make a photograph. Hog-killing was a big deal, and was a fun-filled social occasion that resulted in lots of good food. No one cared whether the picture might look gruesome in later years. For some activities, people dressed much more formally than we do today. At a family reunion or birthday party or church dinner on the grounds, men wore pressed trousers and shined shoes, women wore full dresses and hats, girls wore white ankle socks and dresses with bows at the waist, and boys wearing tucked-in shirts seemed to be behaving, although maybe just for the photographer. At the same time, clothing could be remarkably similar and stark. Pictures of schoolchildren posing with classmates at a country schoolhouse show all the boys wearing overalls, and pictures of families on porches show all the grandfathers wearing overalls. We truly regret that we could not publish more photographs. Choosing not to publish some pictures was a very, very difficult and sad thing for us to do. Maybe we can publish another book some day. We just did not have the space this time. And some pictures would not have reproduced well. One such photo was Nolah Dail’s 1950s picture of the Farmer’s Day Float sponsored by Pitt and Greene Electric Membership Corporation, the Touchstone Energy cooperative in Farmville. Ms. Dail said, “These are the lovely girls, all from homes served by your cooperative, who rode on our float in the Farmville Farmer’s Day parade on April 20th. They made the float much prettier: Patsy Corbett, Donna Faye Griffin, Nolah Ann Murphrey, Jean Davis, Peggy Oakley.” (You’ll just have to imagine how it looks.) One reason we decided to look for pictures of life and times before 1970 is that our Carolina Country family has a truly endless supply of stories from those days. Since the magazine’s beginning in 1946, it’s likely that not a month has gone by without a dozen or more stories coming in about the good, old days. I know that’s been true in the thirteen years I’ve been with Carolina Country. As we’ve grown to more than 540,000 households and more than 1.6 million readers, these stories have become an important and popular part of the magazine.
The stories consistently say that life on North Carolina farms and in small country communities moved along at a manageable pace before 1970. Change came very gradually before 1970. People knew their neighbors, knew their place and understood one another, for better or worse. “Life was hard and we were poor,” wrote Phyllis Mason of Statesville. “But we all remember a lot of happy times, too. We only got one pair of shoes a year and one coat. Now we laugh about how many shoes and coats we buy.” The pace of life today has quickened to the point of becoming unmanageable at times, at least for those of us who remember the slower pace. We don’t fully know our neighbors and our communities, and we don’t always understand one another and sometimes we don’t even try. While we appreciate the progress we’ve made— greater variety, racial tolerance, personal freedom and opportunities—we occasionally find ourselves looking desperately for some place that’s slow, quiet and natural. With her picture of a 1948 funeral, showing pallbearers and mourners accompanying a casket down the steps, Lois Bell of Louisburg said, “Life was much slower then and all regular activities would seem to stop for this period. Family members would gather together and neighbors would bring in large amounts of food. Each night, the family would retire, but several people would sit up all night with the body, drinking coffee, and talking in low tones. I was 11 years old at the time, and I have vivid memories of how comfortable this was at that stressful time.” Reflecting on the way we were helps us apply lessons to our lives today. It enriches the lives that our children and their children will go on to lead. Hardly anyone today would wish to return to life as it was before electricity came to rural North Carolina in the 1940s, but we can emulate the vision and integrity of those neighbors who formed their own cooperative back then and built a delivery system so that everyone could enjoy electric power. Wanda Barefoot Westbrook of Newton Grove, Johnston County, sent a picture made by her mother, Altha Barefoot, showing Wanda and her sister Sonka as young girls working tobacco with their grandmother, Letha Hinson, in the summer of 1955. Wanda said she realizes how much she learned from her grandmother and parents by working alongside them. “We learned a lot about family values, and we treasure those special summers of long ago when life was simple and we thought it would always remain that way.” We also knew, deep in our hearts, it would not always remain that way. Michael E. C. Gery Editor
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Cooley Woods and me (left) at an upholstery shop in Cherryville. This picture was taken about 1948 by a traveling man who took pictures and gave pony rides to kids. Calvin Hoyle, Lincolnton
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A book of more than 200 photographs showing life in rural North Carolina before 1970. Scenes of family life, farms, working, special gatheri...