Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Granny's Pantry # 11: Christmases at High Rock

Granny's Pantry # 11

Certain holidays were especially memorable at High Rock—hunting Easter eggs with the Aunts, the Thanksgiving table groaning under the weight of its offerings, and Christmas—most especially Christmas. Of all, it was my favorite ... my memories of those times color Christmas in my home now.  

The family gathered for the dinner meal, my parents and siblings, Aunt Ruthie, Uncle Brooks and his family, sometimes Great Aunt Mayme, Great Uncle Mose, and later more family as we grew and multiplied. I remember a dark green table cloth and salt cellars instead of shakers. Having dinner first was hard, but made “the wait to open presents” more exciting. Granny’s cooking is legend and Christmas dinner was a shining example. Meats and vegetables in the multiples, compotes of ambrosia, and desserts to make a baker cry…coconut cake, pecan pie, persimmon pudding…how anyone could work through that and come back for leftovers a few hours later is a mystery.    

The fireplace mantle in the dining room held delicate white plastic deer—now vintage—and six like them sit on my mantle as I write this. A red paper beehive fold out Christmas bell hung in the front hall from the chandelier. It’s now fragile and faded, and resting quietly in the chest upstairs…I may hang it in my house this year.

Granny’s Christmas trees were cedars…native to the area and difficult to decorate. I didn’t know that then. I just remember her feathered birds that always managed to hang upside down. I started collecting feathered birds as soon as I got married.
Granny presided over the living room from her wing back chair to the left of the fire place.  The presents covered almost half of the floor. Opening gifts was a wild free for all. If my sister opened hers from Aunt Lorene first, I knew without opening mine what I was getting. Aunt Mayme sometimes gave strange gifts we thought were strange. In reality I would recognize them today as vintage keepers.  She, the proverbial “old maid school teacher,” handed out envelopes of money to all “mothers of sons” –much to the offense of certain members of the gathering.    

Granny made our stockings from red corduroy or velveteen, decorated and monogrammed in her funny, chicken-scratch embroidery. They are an intimate part of Christmas to me, and I’ll use two of them this Christmas. At High Rock, our stockings held pecans and Brazil nuts, oranges, toothpaste and soap.  

When the last package was opened and the discarded paper and ribbon stuffed into bags bound for disposal, Granny would always say, “Just leave it; I’ll go through it.” I think she was making sure no one threw away something valuable by mistake.

Christmas at High Rock gradually changed after Granny left us. Uncle Brooks, Aunt Lorene, Aunt Mayme, Cousin Mose have all gone now, as has my sister, Janie. Aunt Ruthie is with us but she struggles to find the home she lives in every day. We usually take food and small gifts to have a quiet celebration with Ruthie and Mother, Granny’s daughters. We’re finding new ways, too, to bring Christmas back to High Rock. This year, we plan to gather across the Yadkin at Granny’s home place we call The Cow Palace. My brother and a friend will decorate the old house…his children will come, my sister’s family, my husband, children and grandchildren, Mother, Aunt Ruthie, and whatever other family and friends can be persuaded. We will eat, visit, pass out small gifts for the children and renew Christmas tradition in the new High Rock fashion.                   

 “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:”

Ecclesiastes 3:1
 "...when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son..." Galatians 4:4

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Granny's Pantry # 10: A New Memory--The Country Christmas Train

Granny's Pantry #10                          

My newest, most favorite family Christmas tradition---High Rock style—is a visit to the Denton Farm Park’s Country Christmas Train on Handy Road near mini-politan Denton, North Carolina. This place is maybe 5 or 6 miles from Granny’s front door. Don’t think about the glitz and glamour of Times Square, forget the fast-paced and highly polished holiday entertainment of Myrtle Beach (love that, too) or Branson. Think more about going back 50 years—maybe more--and wandering through a rural farm park that is sometimes home to the Southeast Old Threshers Reunion and other times the annual Bluegrass festivals--but at Christmas is transformed into a “down home, homemade, over-the-river-and-through-the-woods unexpectedly wondrous wonderland.”  (I’ve been 4 times in the past two years--those are my credentials for inviting you—and it’s made Our State magazine at least twice!).         

The Farm Park elves have fashioned lighted candy canes to mark the trail from the parking lot to the Christmas village. I’m hoping that for Christmas, they’ll come here and make some for me.     

The main attraction is the Country Christmas Train itself. A vintage engine from the High Point, Thomasville and Denton railroad (HPT&D) is outlined in lights and pulls a multiple car train around the perimeter of the park in a ride the passes beautiful displays of Christmas lights and scenarios that make it hard to ignore the tears slipping down your face. Live shepherds and wise men go about their yuletide duties, as do Santa’s elves and his workshop in the woods. A soldier kneels to remember the season and his lost comrades. The train pauses for a brief but stirring movie of the Nativity viewed from its windows (and how many times have your watched a movie outside from the inside of a train)?

When the train pulls back into small log station, you’ll see that it has been occupied by Santa and his helper who, for a modest fee, will take “with Santa” pictures of your children/grandchildren and email them efficiently to your home. (They are fast and good at what they do.)     

A short walk down the hill takes you to a little bakery serving up tasty gingerbread men, jack pies like Granny used to make and old fashioned candy.     

A campfire burns outside of the old Jackson Hill general store, moved to the park from a few miles away. Inside, you can spend forever just looking at the displays of the way shopping in rural America used to be. (You can also buy small bags of marshmallows for roasting at the fire just outside. Sticks are provided—what a great idea!)
Up the hill a little way is the beautiful, old Jackson Hill church. This alone is worth the trip. The church is moving in its history and simplicity. The short program of story and song inside of the church by the Stuart-Hill family is the best. No one does “Beautiful Star” better than Eddie Hill, his daughter, Stacey, and son-in-law, Doug.           

A free trolley ride takes you down to the old plantation house, moved with most of its out buildings from its home on Cabin Creek about 5 miles away.   
Its vintage decorations and simple charm made me want to stay…live…have Christmas every day there.   

inside Reid Plantation
the old kitchen

blacksmith's shop
prophet's chamber
off the back porch

There’s more to discover for yourself…animals, incredible flavored cotton candy (great party idea)…a mill that grinds its own cornmeal…and more. By now, you will be tired…but before you go, visit the craft building. This place has crafts…yes… but more importantly…it has homemade, church-lady-delicious food. It’s s delectable and relaxing way to end the evening—or begin it, whatever suits.

Go early
. Take your time. Savor the memories.

"And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at His birth." Luke 1:14

 If you want to know the details, see:

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Granny's Pantry #9--Outside at High Rock

Granny's Pantry #9

High Rock, like most farms of its day, was a community of outbuildings with specific and useful purposes that grew as the needs of the people expanded. I counted the buildings surrounding the house and found that there are 21 standing ---in various stages of fitness or disrepair. I remembered 4 that are no longer in evidence—such as the old outhouse (there’s a newer one standing) and the gear house that held Dan and Ada’s plowing gear until a tree fell and ended its usefulness. That number doesn’t count the underground pit with a wooden cover where Granny stored her plants in the winter. I can show you where it used to be.       
out the back door

I love the names of the old buildings—the well house---creamery---log smoke house—corn cribs-- potato house--chicken houses—bottle house—wheat houses—machine shed—pump house—log barn. 


They hold memories that only a few of us now understand:  

--Like the rule “Never stand on the top of the well cover or too close to the windless”

--Like the legend (urban or otherwise) of something very dangerous still stored in the old wheat house

--Like the time the baby (a long time ago) wandered into Ada’s stable and Ada followed her in, nearly scaring her Mama to death

--Like when the shed at the end of the barn was the site of corn shuckings

--Like the time (not so long ago) I crawled into the little fowl cage after a guinea and I can show you the scar to this day      

Even the places around Granny’s house are ripe with reminiscences…the calf pasture, the old dumping ground down in the pig pasture where we could find blue bottles and discarded granite ware…the yard where the aunts hid our Easter eggs.

As long as Aunt Ruthie is there, nothing dramatic will change. But when she is gone…?

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. Matthew 7:24

The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. Acts 17:24


Saturday, October 5, 2013

Granny's Pantry # 8: Finding Buren Skeen

Granny’s Pantry # 8
It was about half way through the season in 1992 when NASCAR caught my interest again---something I hadn’t thought about in years. 1993 was a hard year with the off track deaths of two of the circuit’s biggest stars. but by then I was hooked. For the next eight years, NASCAR became a minor (?) obsession. I listened on the radio and audio taped races I couldn’t catch live. I visited tracks, gathered autographs for my girls and we even got DISH so I could watch the races on Sunday afternoons.

My granny, who would not be one-upped by anybody, heard my incessant ramblings about all things NASCAR.  Her response was, “Denton had a young man who drove a race car and was killed. He was a Skeen.” (Denton is the very small nearest town to where Granny lived at High Rock, and that last name is a common one in those parts.)

Who was this driver and what were the details of his story?  Because the Internet, even back in the nineties, was my portal to all things unknown, it didn’t take long to discover that the young man from Denton was Buren Skeen.

*from: R.Miller-below

Buren Skeen graduated from the local race track at Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem to compete on the NASCAR circuit in 1965.



He drove the #23 Hill Motor Co. Ford in eight races that year, the last of which was on Sept. 6. On the second lap of the Southern 500 at Darlington, SC, Skeen was involved in a wreck that left him with injuries that took his life a week later. He was a few days short of 29. He left a wife and two young sons. One of his sons, who was 4 at the time of the wreck, paid a great tribute to his dad and mom in 2005 when he stated:
“My father died doing what he loved and our mother put us first in raising my brother and me. Dad would be proud of her.”


Buren Skeen is buried at the Lineberry United Methodist Church outside of Denton, NC. I just recently found his grave with its uniquely engraved headstone—an old-style race car with his name and the number 71 on the door. A little more research revealed that was his old Bowman Gray car.   
*from: R.Miller-below

I’ll continue to love the sport, but the obsession ended with the death of Dale Earnhardt in 2000---that was one sacrifice too far. As proud as the Skeen family must have been of their husband and father that day at Darlington in 1965 when the race began, I’m sure by the end of the 2nd lap, they would agree with my conclusion.

May they both rest in peace, and I hope to get the chance to meet these two drivers in eternity.

But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. Philippians 3:20-21

*[R. Miller, (2013). Bowman Gray Stadium, Arcadia Publishing, p. 39 (pic BGRA) p.43]