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

For all of my life--a considerable length of time--this majestic oak has stood in the middle of the elliptical drive beside of Granny's house at High Rock.
I'm not sure what type of oak it is, but I suspect White Oak. The life span of this oak can be 200-300 years. So this tree may have been mature already when the High Rock house was built in the late 1800's.   
It likely watched the walls of the house go up and oversaw the coming and goings and life changes at High Rock from Granddaddy Cole's generation (b. 1895) and into the summer of 2019.

On July 6, my family and I visited the High Rock house about 3:00 in the afternoon. As we pulled up to park next to the old oak, it was clear she was wounded. A split ran down her trunk and she leaned slightly. 
"Be careful, and move your car," one of our party,who felt a strange nudging, warned.
Another of us, less concerned, moved under the old oak to take pictures of the peacocks wandering there. 
After exploring for a while around the place that we held so close in our hearts, we drove away. It was about 4:00 in the afternoon.
Some time between 4:00 and 6:00, the old tree finally gave up its watch over High Rock. It crashed with a mighty thunder that only the peacocks and Thea, the dog, were there to hear. 

Gone, along with it, were the car shed and the wheat house. 
Due to the mercy of God, the old tree held off it's demise until we had left--whether by five minutes or two hours, we may never know. We consider that one of the modern miracles we have been privileged to experience. My family was safe.

Though I walk in the midst of trouble,
you preserve my life
(Psalm 138:7a)

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]

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Granny's Pantry# 7: Finding Polly Mahaley

According to High Rock family legend, ever so often Polly Mahaley would catch a ride with the rural mail carrier and then walk up the dirt lane between the twin rows of cedars leading to my granny’s house in the High Rock Community of Davidson County, NC. Polly had come to visit with her few belongings in a little bag, her long dresses and strings of beads around her neck. As soon as Polly arrived, she would busy herself doing something helpful, like peeling vegetables.            
[I know of no picture of Polly Mahaley]
Carrying “news” from house to house in this rural area was an important part of what Polly did. Her visits might last a few days or a week, and she might not reappear for months. My granny always welcomed her as company. When it was time for Polly to go, she would move on to spend time with other families in the community.

My mother, who’s now ninty, remembers going outside of her home as a child and knocking on the door, pretending to be Polly Mahaley come to visit.

No one knows where Polly Mahaley came from. I’m not sure why Polly Mahaley’s story so captivated me. What was life like for this thin, pale woman who belonged to everyone and no one?  I always heard that Polly went to live in the Davidson County Home. County homes were often the refuge of folks who had no family or means to take care of themselves.  

Where was she buried? Could I find her grave? I searched for her online unsuccessfully. And then a summer ago, while driving home one weekend through Lexington, NC, I noticed a street sign for County Home Road. The time to look for Polly had come.

Former County Home, Davidson County, NC
We found the big old gray rambling structure that was once the County Home for Davidson County,NC. It’s now owned by Davidson County Schools and part of the property is fenced off. It was Sunday, and we searched where we could...but no cemetery was visible.

Back home, while searching online again, I found a wonderful helper in Linda Davis, Cemetery Coordinator of the Salisbury Parks and Recreation Department. She took the very minimal information mixed with guesses I had about Polly Mahaley and within hours, Polly was found:      

                          Birth: unknown
North Carolina, USA
                          Death: Jul. 11, 1941
Davidson County
North Carolina, USA

Polly Mahaley was a single white female who was born about 1866.
(There are no stones [in the cemetery] but depressions are visible...around a giant oak tree.)

Polly Mahaley was one of 74 persons listed as buried in the Davidson County Home Cemetery (NC) from 1913 through 1960 ( Registrants on Find a Gravemay go to the individual site entry for each person listed to post virtual flowers and a tribute, which I have done for Polly. There’s still a lot I don’t know (who was Elvira Mahaley who was buried there in 1915--her mother/sister/or a stranger)?  I'll likely never know more about Polly, but I can’t explain what finding her has meant.

Although she was not real "kin," Polly Mahaley is part of the collective memory of High Rock and a real life story from Granny's Pantry. 

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in…‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

(Matthew 25:35;40)