Memories of Hidden Valley

Memory, the unique, inherent ability of man to store and later recall events in their lives.

We have fond memories of our home in Florida, and with good reason: Howard was born in Orlando, September 21, 1924 and spent most of his early life in the Central Florida area. His dad was a builder in the “boom days,” and helped build and plaster the Orlando Public Library [which was] located, at that time, near Lake Eola. Howard and one of his older brothers worked with their dad caring for orange groves, theirs and other peoples’. Howard left Orlando for a few years in the early ’40s to work in a shipyard in Jacksonville, Florida and then on to serve in the Merchant Marines during World War II. Howard and I met in 1945 and were married in Orlando [on] July 24, 1945. He, with the help of his dad, built a house for us on the south side of Lake Howell.

Weather changes influenced the citrus business in Central Florida during the ’50s and ’60s. Freezing weather ruined many groves and ours was no exception. I remember one freeze in particular when smudge pots, burning tires, and wind machines had no beneficial effect and the ground froze solid just a few feet from large citrus trees. Since the citrus business was our livelihood, it became necessary to seek other employment. The opportunity came for Howard to become a clerk at the Maitland Post Office and he started to work there in 1956. I supplemented our income by working as lunchroom manager at Maitland Hill Elementary School.

A few years later, we sold our house on the lake and moved to the east end of Lake Howell where Howard’s dad and brother owned 160 acres, some of it orange grove. Howell Creek ran through the property and so we still had access to the lake. We could put our boat into the creek and go to the lake and fish. By that time we had three daughters, and in 1962, our first son was born. In 1966, another son came along, and our family was complete. We enjoyed the peace and quiet of living in the country, and the children had plenty of space to roam free. At night we could hear the whippoorwills and owls, and when we would walk along the creek bank, we could see otters and sometimes alligators. We built many good memories there, but changes were coming soon.

Change came in the form of Disney World. Land was being bought for speculation, and when the opportunity came for us to sell, we did. Even as early as 1970, traffic was increasing, and we knew the area as we knew it was changing and would change even more in the next few years. Howard and I decided to look for property in North Carolina. We had visited the state before and liked it very much. With the help of an Orlando [real estate agent] and after looking at several parcels of land in Eastern North Carolina, settled for 160 acres in Madison County, north of Mars Hill. The property was in a hidden cove; one way in and one way out, hence the name we gave it, HIDDEN VALLEY FARM. On the farm was a two-story house in need of repair, three barns and two mountain cabins also in need of repair. There were numerous springs, timber of fair size and a creek.

By that time, our two older daughters had married and were living in other states. We had a college-age daughter and two sons still at home. We felt farm life would be ideal to raise our children and fully intended to live off the land as much as possible. Little did we know how things would turn out.

It took us several trips back to Florida to get all of our possessions moved, [including] furniture, pets, farm equipment and vehicles. At last the move was completed, and we were ready to settle in and become Tar Heel farmers. I was very hesitant to move to North Carolina, and I certainly did not know much about farm life. The house on the farm reminded me of the one I lived in West Virginia when I was a little girl, so that made it easier.

We set about making the house more comfortable. The first thing we did was to buy a cow. Howard knew how to milk, so that wasn’t a problem; the problem was getting the cow down off the mountain to milk her. Her favorite place was at the top, and Howard would have to fetch her. Only when he got within a few feet of her would she head for the barn. After all this aggravation, the children did not like the taste of raw milk and so we decided to abandon this idea and just raise calves.

Disaster number two: We wondered why calves from the local dairy were so cheap. We soon learned going to the barn to feed the calves from a bottle, no matter what the weather, was work. We had a good, sturdy barn made of hand-hewn logs. We would fill the stalls with fresh hay and put plastic around the walls to keep out the wind and snow, but in spite of our efforts we had bad luck with raising the calves and lost many of them. We learned [that] winter was no time to raise calves.

Finally, we did build a herd of fair size. We kept the heifer calves and either sold the bull calves or butchered them for our own use. One year, though, we lost twelve cows, either from difficulty in calving or from some poison weed they ate. Howard took one of the carcasses to the Diagnostic Center in Hendersonville to find out the cause but never got a firm answer.

Disaster number three: chickens. First, the children did not like the country eggs [with] dark yellow yolks, not like the ones bought at the store. Then there was the task of feeding them. One old rooster would jump on Howard, Jr., every time he went near. Finally, Howard had had enough, so one day he hit the old rooster across the neck with a big stick. It didn’t kill him but he couldn’t crow for weeks, and he didn’t jump on Howard any more. We gave up the poultry business too.

One year, we raised cane to make molasses. The crop was ready to cut when a terrific wind laid the stalks on the ground like pick-up sticks. We salvaged some and took it to a molasses “party.” Neighbors would gather at one house to grind the cane and boil the juice in a big stainless steel vat. It took a lot of juice to make 5 gallons of molasses, but it was fun to sit around the fire and listen to stories and eat the goodies that people had brought. Molasses making is certainly an art. The fire must be just right and stirring constantly is imperative. The reward is golden brown molasses to put on hot biscuits in the winter, or any time.

Speaking of winters, our first few were so enjoyable. Probably because snow was new to us and the children looked forward to the first snowfall. It meant no school and a whole day, sometimes more, could be spent sledding, [having] snowball fights and [making] snow cream. Of course it also meant wet clothes, muddy shoes or boots and nearly frostbitten fingers and toes. But there was nothing more beautiful than snow on the evergreen trees and drifted against the fence rows. We took a lot of pictures those first few years but after filling one album we stopped.

Spring and summer brought more memory-making events. Our house had a porch on two sides and on that porch was a swing. Relatives from the south would come to visit and to enjoy the North Carolina summer weather. That porch [was] complete with rocking chairs, and the swing was the focal point for many get-togethers. In the evenings, we would sit and rock and talk and watch the wildlife pass by. Many evenings we would see foxes and hear the grouse and bobwhites. Later we had the Forestry Service plant pine seedlings to prevent erosion and in time to become saw timber.

Little did we know, in a few years there would be another change, a drastic one and these things would only be memories.

Then we planted a garden. There is something so very rewarding about planting a tiny seed, watching it grow, pushing its tiny head up through the soil, growing to maturity and bearing fruit of its own kind. However, we could not grow potatoes of any size. Howard said the rocks were so plentiful the potatoes were ashamed. Then, too, we had an overabundance of groundhogs. They seemed to know just when the green beans and corn were ready for harvest, and they would get there first and harvest for us.

We planted tobacco several years. We were not too keen on this, but most years it managed to bring enough money to pay our taxes. Someone has rightly said, “tobacco is a 13-month job.” We learned how to ride a tobacco setter, care for the crop until it was ready to cut, spud and hang it in the barn to dry. Then when it was a golden brown, we would pull off the leaves, press it into bundles and send it to market.

After several years of growing tobacco and finding how hard it was, we decided to plant apple trees. We consulted a Starke Nursery representative and after selecting several varieties, ordered 700 trees. One cold, snowy December, we planted the whips and about five years we had our first harvest. The crop was bountiful and at least what we couldn’t sell, we could eat or make apple butter and freeze or can for pies during the winter. There again, weather played an important part in the success or failure of the crop. Late freezes would all but destroy the blooms or young apples. Farming is not an easy occupation, but it is rewarding.

Our daughter married a neighbor’s son and moved away soon after we moved to Mars Hill, but the boys were much younger and they enjoyed the freedom of country life. They might have their own thoughts about this, but I think on the whole, they wouldn’t trade their memories for city life. They had a tree house, plenty of places to camp, trout ponds for fishing and some game for hunting. Howard, Jr. built a little log cabin high on the mountain and enjoyed hiking.

A typical Sunday afternoon was spent walking the winding road to the top of the mountain, stopping by the trout pond to feed the fish, then coming back to the famous porch for either grilling hamburgers and hotdogs or churning ice cream.

We have ridden the tractor to the top of the mountain by the light of a full moon to destroy a wild cherry tree that had been cut and we had been told would poison the cattle if they ate the wilted leaves. We have pulled a full-grown steer out of the creek and nursed it back to health. We have picked wild strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries for pies, jams, and jellies. When I look back, those were the good times and the memory making times. Memories to be stored and recalled later when certain sights and smells stir the mind.

After a number of years, and after changing our ideas of farming, Howard and I decided to seek employment outside the home. He went to work at the Mars Hill Post Office and I at Mars Hill College as a secretary. These jobs contributed to our getting acquainted with the area and the people. We still have many dear friends in Mars Hill. Our daughter graduated from Mars Hill College also one son and our son-in-law. The other son attended there for a while then transferred to Western Carolina.

Then came the biggest change of all. We were advised the I-26 Corridor would possibly come through our farm. At first it seemed like a dream, and I suppose we doubted it would every come about. However, after several years, many meetings and much discussion, N.C. DOT confirmed the road would divide our property in half and it would be necessary for us to relocate.

We began looking for a piece of land similar to the one we had. It was not an easy task. We wanted a fairly large tract with water (creek or stream) on it. Finally we located 54 acres in Henderson County. Our son and his wife found the same piece of land, so we both agreed to buy it and live close together again. (They had a home on the same acreage in Madison County.) It was quite sometime before everything was finalized. In the meantime, we prepared to move, both emotionally and physically. We knew it would be difficult; we had lived on the property in Mars Hill for 23 years and had accumulated a lot of things.

It was especially difficult because Howard Sr. had several serious health problems, the most recent being back surgery which limited his ability to lift heavy objects. I started packing what I could but the majority of the heavy things had to be moved by our family or hired help.

We had mixed feelings about the road and the route. We realized the necessity to provide a safer route for truckers and school buses. There had been a number of fatal accidents by truckers coming off Murray Mountain and losing their brakes. School buses had been spared but there had been some close calls. Our strong feelings for the land and the change coming in the autumn of our lives was soon replaced by the knowledge if one child’s life was spared and one truck driver saved the change was worth our distress. The saying in the movie The Sound of Music — “when God closes a door, somewhere He opens a window” — gave us hope. Our firm belief in God and His divine strength, saw us through those difficult days.

I wrote the following before we knew about the changes coming in our lives:

“So many times I have stood in our den looking out at the mountains. In the spring when the new green buds foretell winter is over and it is time for them to awake. In the summer when the trees are in full foliage and the birds have returned to nest, raise their young and insure the survival of the species. In the fall when the leaves put on their finest show of colors and attest that soon they will fall to the earth and blanket the ground from which they came. Winter, when snow comes softly and covers the grasses and trees. Gently watering the tiny seeds that lay dormant, waiting for-spring and awakening. Coming full-circle in the chain of Nature.

While my eyes beheld these wonderful scenes, I am reminded of life. Springtime, with all the zeal of youth. Promises made and goals to be met. Summer, with daily labor to accomplish these goals. Fall, when these goals are reached. Winter, when it is time to rest, to pass on to younger lives the knowledge of life and the challenge to meet their goals and make this world a better place.”

“To each thing there is a season.

A time to laugh and a time to weep

A time to work and a time to rest from working

A time to rejoice and a time to mourn

As each page of life is turned, after each person has played

their part in the eternal plan of things,

there is a reward for races won, promises kept, goals met.

There will be rest and peace in the great beyond with the Master of our lives, and the Creator of all things, both here and in eternity.”

The houses are gone, the trout ponds are filled in, the apple trees are cut and the Christmas trees, too. In fact, it is very hard to determine where these things were. But the memories linger on, forever written in our minds and hearts. Our children and their children are the joys of our lives and we treasure them. Everyone’s life has different chapters and ours has been no different. Orlando, Maitland, Mars Hill, and the latest chapter is being written in Hendersonville. It may be the final chapter, and then again it may not be. Right now we are taking one day at a time, living each day to the fullest and building new memories as we go.

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