Memories of growing up in Catawba captured in books

Meg Hibbert Contributing writer

Photo by Meg Hibbert
Catawba native Ted Carroll signs a copy of his second book, “Granny Taylor of Possum Holler,” for Carelyn Steele Sheppard who plans to buy back her family’s Catawba home.

Mucking out the cow barn at the Morgan Farm that is now The Homeplace Restaurant, having hens for doll babies, getting water from a spring, shoveling feet of snow, and making loads of family memories – those are among the slices of Appalachian life in the 1900s which Ted Carroll captured in his first two books.

He talked about the prolific Garmans and other people who settled the Catawba Valley, their stories and his plans for more books while regaling the audience at the Salem Museum’s Speaker Series on Jan. 20.

The Catawba native is now living back in Roanoke County after years away.

His favorite Catawba relative was Granny Taylor of Possum Hollow who lived a full life to almost 109. Carroll used her photo on the front cover and the opening of his second book, “Echoes from Catawba – Granny Taylor of Possum Holler.” The first “Echoes” is “Growing up in Catawba, Valley, Appalachia.”

Carroll’s own picture as a barefoot boy with a cousin, rolling tire inner tubes, is on the front of that first book.

Granny Taylor was Winnie Earl Garman Taylor, the 13th of 19 children, and Carroll’s great-aunt. The Garmans almost single-handedly populated Catawba. Carroll’s mother, Elizabeth, was the 17th and last child in her family. Others were as prolific and long-lived. Several of the women lived to 102 and 108.

The family homeplace was near Shiloh Church. Elizabeth’s home still stands, he said, and is still used by some of the family.

Each chapter in Book Two introduces readers to people in Granny’s life, as did the first. Among them are Peggy, Carroll’s cousin, whose “Peggy’s Story” chapter is one of courage and perseverance after she had a stroke at a young age and continuing to be hard-working and inspirational.

Another story that drew “Oohs” from Carroll’s audience Monday night was about Granny and her sister, Pearl, when they were 9 and 7, respectively.

“Earl dared Pearl to cut her finger off with an axe in the wood pile. Grandma had always told them not to mess with that. Pearl swung the axe and it cut Earl’s ring finger off above the knuckle.” The family believed Pear couldn’t hang onto the heavy axe and didn’t really mean to harm her sister.

“‘Poppy,’ Granddad, who was considered quite a doctor, washed off the finger and sewed it back on but it didn’t take,” Carroll said. “They had a funeral for the finger.”

Granny talks about the experience in a video of her telling the story to Louise Garman.

That three-part YouTube video made by Louise and Frankie’s son Steve Garman in 2002 can be seen on Carroll’s website, “echoesfromcatawba.com.” Granny was 95 at the time.

For fun in those days and for courting, young people went to a church function, a skating rink in Christiansburg or went swimming.

“Earl’s sister Pearl was going swimming with a handsome young man with movie star looks, Dorsey Taylor of Craig County, and invited Earl to go with them,” Carroll said. At first she didn’t want to go but “When he pulled up in his pickup truck, Earl went over to talk with him and jumped into the truck to sit next to him.”

Even though she got Pearl’s young man, he introduced her to his brother, Paris “Whoopie” Taylor, and they married.

Granny never slowed down, and continued to live an almost primitive lifestyle, he said, because she liked it. She chopped wood, raised a garden, cooked on a wood stove, shoveled her own driveway out to the road during deep snows. Granny had running water pumped from a spring – but not a bathroom with modern fixtures, by choice, Carroll said.

And even though the family bought her a porcelain toilet, he said, that still remains in a barn on the family property.

It was after shoveling 30 inches of snow that she broke her hip when she was 103 and had to leave Possum Holler.

Carroll has “hours and hours of tape-recordings” he made while interviewing the oldest relatives and neighbors while they were living.

“I believe it’s important that everybody know where they came from. That’s what drives me to write,” he told his audience.

Even though when little he wore a homemade flour sack dress that had belonged to his sisters, people didn’t laugh at each other, Carroll pointed out. For a treat when she had to go to Roanoke “Mama would catch an Abbott Bus and take me to the Rialto Theater,” he remembered.

In his grandparents’ day, “If a sole came off a shoe, Daddy would cut off a piece of inner tube and fix them,” a woman’s voice says on the video Carroll shared Monday night. “It was a hard life, a wonderful, wonderful life.” No one ever felt like they were poor, he added.

“What I’m trying to do is get as much in my writing as I can and share that with people,” so these children today will know, Carroll said. “Now I am trying to do the fun stories people can relate to in the third book,” which he is one-third of the way through.

It will start with a history of the Catawba Sanatorium for people with tuberculosis, now the state’s Catawba Hospital which treats mental disorders.

His father was one who “took the cure” there. After his dad died at an early age, Carroll’s family went through especially tough times, he said, with no check and no car. He went to live with his grandmother in Salem and attended Academy Street School.

About a dozen Catawba residents were among the filled room in the museum for his talk. One of those who was fascinated to learn more about older times in Catawba was Karen Bedwell, who has lived in Catawba since 1985.

“I grew up in Indiana, and so much of what he described about Catawba was so similar,” Bedwell said.

Carroll graduated from Andrew Lewis High School and earned bachelor and master’s degrees from Virginia Tech. He was an Extension Agent for his first career, mayor of Orange, Va., then became an ordained minister in North Carolina.

The books are available from the Salem Museum gift shop for $20 with $2 going to the museum, on Carroll’s website and Amazon. The Homeplace Restaurant also carries his books, Carroll said.

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