My Early Years: The mountain experience!

I was born in the western part of the Old North State. When I opened my eyes the first time in the new world, it was between two wars. World War II had ended by 1946, and the Korean War was waiting to happen. On January 29th of that year, I was born, unattended by a physician, in a simple, unpainted, frame shack, beside Highway 19 in Macon County, just before you get to the small settlement of Topton. My birth place is in the mountains of western North Carolina. The first few months of my life were spent in a little house that stood on the banks of Rowland’s Creek, just up the road from an old school house, where my dad attended school when he was a boy, and, which was then being used to house the Rowland’s Creek Baptist Church. The property and the old house in which I was born were owned by Mrs. Roxie Cole. I never asked, but I assume that the creek was named after someone who lived on the creek many years earlier. This part of the country was a rural mountain area located a short distance up the highway from the mouth of the Nantahala river, in the beautiful but rugged Great Smokey Mountains. The river flows down the gorge from the higher elevated Lake Aquone and about twenty or so miles down the valley, it empties into the Fontana Lake. The Nantahala Mountains were named by the Cherokee Indians and means: ”the land of the noon-day sun.”
My parents, Calvin Eugene Mason and Edna Modena DeHart, were also born in these mountains. Their parents, George and Ola Mason; and Harvey and Polly DeHart, had their roots in the same rocky soil of the Appalachians. These two families, whose off-spring are now scattered across this country, can trace their lineage back to England and Holland.
George Harrison Mason, was born in 1899.He was the second of four children; two brothers and a sister, born to James Albert and Nancy Wilson Mason. Great grandpa died in 1955. My only memory of him is that as a kid dad took me to visit him when he was on his death bed. Their other children, Henry and Flora both married, had families, and lived and died in the mountains. Arthur went west and raised his family in California.
Grandpa Mason married Ola Haney. They had fourteen children. My dad was next to the oldest. He had four brothers: Charles, Jack, Cecil and Howard. Howard died as an infant. There were nine sisters: Olene, Helen, Mary Lou, Gertrude, Naomi, Della Mae, Barbara, Bessie, and Ann. At this writing, Olene and Helen are dead. Both my paternal and maternal grandparents are now deceased.
Grandpa Mason was a good man, mostly serious, but able to laugh. He had a unique laugh which I will never forget! When something struck him as funny, he would throw his head back and let her rip: uh uh, huh—uh uh, huh,–uh uh, huh! Early on, he was not very religious. He was probably in his mid to late thirties when he came to know Old Time Religion. When he got saved, he immediately became a student of the scriptures. He learned to read, with help from buddies, by reading the letters on railroad boxcars and by reading his Bible. He enjoyed nothing better than conversing with others about Bible subjects. Years later, I would graduate from Bible College having been taught by some of the best Bible teachers in the land. Grandpa Mason’s Bible knowledge surpassed many of these educated professors, especially in the area of Bible prophecy! He had no formal education, but he became well- educated in the Scriptures. He was not a perfect man, but he was a spiritual man! I remember hearing him tell about one of his encounters with God: He was hoeing corn in the middle of the corn field one day, meditating on spiritual things, when all of a sudden he heard a voice saying, “ George—,” “GEORGE—.” He said it startled him at first but he just passed it off as being the wind blowing in the corn. He continued working. But suddenly he heard it again: “George—,” “GEO—RGE!” This time he decided it was indeed the Lord speaking to him, calling him to prayer. So, he left the corn field and went up on the mountain to pray! Grandpa also took his family to church and read the Bible and prayed with them. He was a good man and he was also a very stern disciplinarian. He ruled his children the old fashioned way, with a fist full of hickory switches! Some of the kids, even to this day, think he was too harsh. But, I suppose all children resent discipline administered by their parents. Most of us come to appreciate it later on!

Grandma Mason, whose maiden name is Ola Angeline Haney, was part Cherokee. She was a small woman compared to her grown daughters and a bit on the frail side probably because of giving birth to fourteen children and all the hard work she had endured over the years. But, what she lacked in physical stature she made up in physical and spiritual stamina. She was an old fashioned Christian who at church would rejoice in the Lord, weeping, shouting, and waving her handkerchief over her head! As you can imagine, Grandma had her hands full taking care of all her kids, washing clothes, taking care of a garden, canning and cooking for everyone.
She even raised chickens! One of my pre-teen memories of her is that of her wringing a chicken’s neck, throwing it to the ground, and the poor chicken flopping around in the yard. She did what had to be done! I can still see her plucking its feathers, getting it ready for the frying pan. And, can hear her calling everyone to supper! “Sup—per, sup—per”, she would call! I will never forget her calling us to breakfast. She would call, “brak–fust, brak–fust “! She cooked for an army, especially during the holidays. Thank God for her sweet memory. It was her perseverance, meek spirit, and her quite demeanor that endears her to my heart to this day!
My maternal grandfather, Harvey Timuel Dehart was born December 15, 1890 and was the second of three children born to John A. and Lavada Forrester DeHart. Great Grandpa was a widower three times over. Out of three marriages he had a total of ten children. Grandpa DeHart was next to the oldest of the ten. I have no memory at all of Great Grandpa DeHart. He died in 1947, the year after I was born. My mother had three sisters: Christine, Kathleen, and Nannie. There were four brothers: Norman, Herman, Loyal, and John. All four boys served in the military, Norman only briefly. Herman and Loyal were in combat during World War II. Loyal served under General Patton in the 3rd Army. And John, being the youngest, served during the Allied occupation.

I have very few memories of Grandpa and Grandma DeHart in the mountains or later on in High Point. I believe they had already moved to High Point when I was born and, unfortunately, when we moved to High Point I did not see them a whole lot. My only memory of them is when they lived in High Point. They lived in an unpainted house on Ennis Street. I remember that Christine their daughter, and her husband Henry Case, lived just down the dirt street from them. Grandpa worked hard in the hosiery mill. They were poor folks, partly because Grandpa spent a lot of money on alcohol. I remember visiting him on Sundays, watching baseball on his old black and white television and smelling the booze on his breath. He died from a stroke in 1964, and from complications related to cirrhosis of the liver.
Grandma Dehart, whose maiden name is Polly Ann Holden, was born June 12, 1895. I remember her being a sweet, quiet-mannered woman, who like Grandma Mason was small, and somewhat frail. Both women kept a pinch of snuff in their lower lip most of the time. She was a hard working homemaker; skimping on what little money she could get her hands on, trying to make ends meet. She must have been very frugal. It is my understanding that she loaned Uncle John money to buy his first car. She had a stroke soon after Grandpa died and spent the last few months of her life being cared for by my mom and dad. She was confined to a wheel chair until she too died in 1964.

My parents were barely adults when I was born, and were already struggling to take care of my older brother Calvin and themselves. Mom and Dad had lived through the Great Depression and World War II. The nation was beginning to get back on its feet but the recovery had not yet made its way into the mountains. Times were hard. Dad’s income consisted of money he earned cutting chestnut trees which were then sold for acid wood. He also worked at odd-jobs which were temporary at best and which provided only the bare essentials for his young family. He also worked clearing land for the Fontana lake reservoir. My dad was a hard worker, but there were very few good paying jobs to be had in that area and especially not for a young man with only a fourth grade education. I have heard him relate how he would help cut trees in the mountains above the river during the coldest part of the winter, snake them down the mountain to the river, then wade the icy water to get the logs to the other side for transport. All the hard work provided very little money for his struggling family! But it was enough. Somehow mom and dad managed and soon we were able to move up…..up the mountain and off the main road!

My mother, who was born and raised on the banks of the Nantahala river, in a little community called Hewitts, was glad to get her kids into a “better” house even if it meant doing without things for herself. We moved when I was about two years old and lived there on the mountain until I was about five. The mountain was called “Guffey” Mountain” years later. I have a few memories of those early years on the mountain, but most of what I remember about that period, I learned years later from mom and dad. I do remember the old, unpainted, clapboard house on the hill. It was not much better than the house I was born in. It was very small and, I think, had a small porch in front. It did not have a toilet when we moved there but Dad got tired of running to the bushes so he dug a hole and built an out house. According to Mom, there were cracks in the floors and walls of the house wide enough to let the snakes in during the summer and to let the snow blow through during the winter. My younger brother Tim was born in that old house. Thankfully we didn’t live there but two or three years.

From the house on the hill there was a narrow road, not much more than a wide path that made its way for about half a mile across and down the mountain and came out behind Rowland’s Creek Church. Along this road, to the right of the house there grew wild black berries that could be enjoyed by all. In front of and below the house was an acre and a half of land owned and farmed by my uncle Rube Guffey. In the summer time it was usually planted in corn. Straight down the mountain, thru the corn-field was a path that led down to the Guffy’s house and the main road. It was on this path that my brother, Calvin, stepped on a rattle snake. Uncle Rube was hoeing the corn close by, saw what was happening, and saved my brother from a deadly snake bite! This would not be the last time he would be saved from danger. I will have more to say about that later.
Up the mountain to the right of the old house, there was a big yellow-apple tree that provided fresh fruit in late summer. Above the apple tree there was a spring. Of course mom and dad carried a lot of water. But it was “convenient” for them because this ever-running water was piped down the mountain to the upper side of the house, where it ran into a foot-tub, which was forever over-flowing. There they caught their water and carried it into the house. I have the faint memory of almost drowning in that tub! As a small child I had no fear of water, until I learned the hard way that water and breathing do not go together! The ground was slippery from the overflow of water. Playing on the slippery bank, I lost my footing and fell head first into the foot tub! Luckily, I was rescued by an equally frightened adult!

My fear of the water in the foot tub was only equaled by my fear of the rooster! This rooster, I don’t know if it was owned by my dad or by the Guffeys who lived just down from us, was king of the hill, and mean! Literally, he ruled the roost— and, my older brother and me! We played in the yard only when mama was present to rescue us! He delighted in chasing us around the yard! But, as the old saying goes: “One chicken in the pot is better than one chicken in the yard chasing two frightened boys!!” I think I remember mama saying that he was the toughest old gizzard she ever tried to cook!!

On the mountain, we Masons were surrounded by Guffeys. Down the hill to our right lived Robert and Maude Guffey. They had, I believe four or five kids. My memory of them is very slight! Down the hill and to our left lived Mary Guffey Gregory and her brood. Mary and her husband, Sheridan, had a house full of kids as well. Both these families knew tragedy and death early on. Sheridan died at a relatively young age, leaving a widow and orphans. A son later would die in a hunting accident and if I remember correctly, another daughter was killed in an automobile accident along with two of Roberts and Maude’s’ children. Many years later, when visiting the mountains, my wife and I would sit on the front porch of their house. I would tune Mary’s guitar and we would sing for her. Straight down the hill from us was their brother, Rube and his family. I do remember that Robert and Rube, although they were brothers, did not get along very well, and had very little to do with one another.
Uncle Rube married my Dad’s older sister, Olene. They eventually had five children: Bobby, Mary Alice, James, Fred and Rowena. Some years later, as adolescents, we would get together at Christmas-time and the 4th of July when our parents brought us to visit. I remember spending the night with them at Christmas-time. There was no room at Grandma Masons because there were so many kin-folks visiting. So, being boys and wanting to get out from under Dad and Moms watchful eyes, we would beg to stay with the cousins. We would sleep two and three boys together, awakening the next morning frozen nearly to death because the wood fire had died down during the night and because there was not enough cover; but smelling Aunt Olene’s breakfast cooking on the wood-burning cook stove. Aw those smells! As I write, I can still smell and taste her hot, home-made biscuits and gravy, and taste the canned apple sauce and black berries. I would lay there in bed, waiting to be called to breakfast, wondering what new adventure the day would hold!

My cousins, James and Fred, kept hunting dogs, so, in the winter-time we hunted squirrel during the day and raccoon at night. In the summer-time we fished for trout in the river and creek, and enjoyed swimming at the “forks” of the river. The fork in the river is just below the power-house and is where the big river begins. The water from the power-house and the little river feeds the Nantahala. The water from the power-house is piped through the mountains from Lake Aquone and is very, very cold, but the water from the little river which also comes from the lake is warm in comparison. For us boys, it was a ritual to always jump into the cold side of the river before swimming on the warm side! Our “swimming hole” was also used by the church for a baptistry. What wonderful times we had fishing and swimming and baptizing in that old river!
Speaking of swimming, reminds me of a 4th of July vacation when Calvin and I were teen-agers. We went on a picnic-fishing trip up to the “little’ Queen’s Creek lake below Lake Aquone. Mom, Dad, we kids, Grandma Mason, and some of my aunts, uncles and cousins, made up this rather large entourage that gathered there on the dam for a day of relaxation and fun. Dad of course gave all of us boys our marching orders: don’t pester the girls, stay close, no running, don’t get to close to the water, don’t get in the water, it’s deep, and absolutely no swimming! Well, Calvin, Cecil and some of my cousins got tired of fishing after a while, and since they had fished their way out of the adult’s range of attention and threats, decided they were going swimming. They were enjoying themselves in the water when Calvin got tired and decided he would rest for a moment. Only problem was, the sandy, beach-like roadbed they were playing on dropped off abruptly and rather than finding rest for his feet, he stepped off the edge of the roadbed into water well over his head. He panicked and immediately began to take in water. He had gone under twice before uncle Cecil (who at that time was maybe 14-15 years old) saw that he was in trouble and went to help him. By this time the adults had become aware of what was going on but they were too far away to do anything but panic themselves. The entire time Cecil was rescuing Calvin, Dad was up on the dam screaming,” I told you! I told you that you were gonna get drowned! I told you! I told you!” What now seems a bit funny, was then, deadly serious. If it had not been for Uncle Cecil’s quick response, my big brother would have drowned.

The George Mason family lived for several years on the Old Cole Place, down below the forks of the river. This area was then a small settlement with a winery and railroad head. Grandpa Mason rented a two story house and land there while working for the Nantahala Power and Light Company. It was a good sized house with a stone chimney at each end. The stones of these old chimneys are still there. One of the chimneys is still standing. My older aunts and uncles were raised at the Old Cole Place and helped farm the land there. Dad plowed the land there as a young man, using an old mule. After getting married in Blairsville, Georgia, my dad and his young bride temporarily lived in the upstairs of this house.

During this time, while Grandpa was working for the power company, he accidently had one of his eyes put out. It is my understanding that because of the loss of his eye the company offered to give Grandpa the land and the house he was renting, fearing a law suit I guess; but for whatever reason he wouldn’t take it. Grandpa and his family lived mostly off the land, barely surviving from one harvest to the next. Dad, and the older brothers, got to do most of the plowing, planting and harvesting. Any money Grandpa could earn would be used to buy staple goods in Topton or Andrews.

Before getting settled down on Rowland’s Creek, which by the way flows into the Nantahala River, Grandpa would move his family to Georgia for a short time, where he share-cropped a parcel of land.After a few years he then moved back to the mountains of North Carolina. It was around this time that dad rode a mule all the way from their home in Georgia to what would be their new home place in North Carolina. Here, Grandpa built the new house about a quarter mile up the main road from where the Guffeys lived. Grandpa, along with some other men, had pooled their money and bought the property on both sides of Highway 19 above Roxie Cole’s place. It was then sub-divided. So, he owned a large piece of the property on the creek side of the highway where he built their first home place. Their younger children would be born and raised in this house.

Updated: January 12, 2014 — 12:43 am

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I remember the days of old; I meditate on all thy works; I muse on the work of thy hands. Psalm 143:5 Frontier Theme