Part 1 of 2
Five miles out from Old Fort, up near Catawba Falls; that was my first school. No teacher ever stayed there five months. Usually, they’d stay five or six weeks.
All right. The regulations were that your dress had to come down to your ankle bone. That’s what you had to wear while you taught. I made me three of those happy little items, and I wore them in time of school just like stage clothes, and then when I got out of there and went over to my boarding place, I put on my regular clothes, which barely covered my knee caps, and I dressed like I was clothed and in my right mind.
There was one man in there that tore up the school every year. People put a chip on my shoulder and they just as well put a rich pine on there when I first went in there. “Don’t you talk to his children.”
Now I’m not going to call that man’s name. I’m going to call him Champ Taylor, because that wasn’t his name. “Don’t you scold Champ Taylor’s children. You be good to them. Kinda pet ‘em along. Maybe he’ll let you stay the five months. We like you; we like this school. We don’t want you to have to go away.”
“Well, what does Champ Taylor do to the other teachers?”
“He comes with his old hawk bill knife and makes them run back to Old Fort, and they have to get out of here. Why, that there man last year, the last time they sent a man in this school he was the third teacher they’d sent, and he had to leave his suitcase back there in my back bedroom where he boarded here, and leave out of here and have the man that runs the river barn in Old Fort come back up here and get it; Champ Taylor had him on the go.”
They said, “He had to run out of here in the dark.”
And people would say to me, “Miss Graham, when Champ Taylor gets after you, air you gonna run? Watcha gonna do? He don’t let no teacher say in here no length of time.”
I said, “Oh, I don’t know. I’m no good at running. Maybe I’ll have to wait and see what I’ll do. I just don’t know, but I’ll meet that situation when it comes.”
Right up the road above the school house there was a sawmill. The year before that, four of the bigger girls had got pregnant with illegitimate children, supposedly by those wagon drivers that were comers and goers, and they were driving wagons out of there to haul that lumber to Old Fort for sale, for shipping on the railroad.
I laid the law down the first day of school. I said, “Now, let me tell you: nobody’s going off of this schoolground after you get here until time to go home. You’ve got to wait until three-thirty before you leave here. Nobody is going to that road to talk to these old wagon drivers, and if you do, I’ll thrash you.”
We thought a switch was good for everything but the toothache, then, and we didn’t hesitate to use them. I had three, already dried, that my Committeemen furnished me, and put them up in the schoolroom; up in one corner. They were dogwood. So we weren’t “Woodman spare that tree” people then. Things went along calmly.
Teachers had to spend one night in every home that sent them children. I wondered what I’d do when it came to going to Champ Taylor’s, but I figured that if that was part of the prescription, I’d take it. So I began to visit every Tuesday night and every Thursday night, but mostly on Tuesday night, because on Monday I walked up there from Old Fort, and on Friday I walked back home those five miles after teaching all day, so visiting was confined mostly to Tuesday and Wednesday nights.
I divided it up and made my list, so that the children knew when I was coming to each home. They kept saying, “Are you going to Peachy Carson’s house?” That’s another name I’ve changed. “Teachers never did go up to Peachy Carson’s. They don’t stay here long enough to get up there. Peachy lives in the very last house, way up Carson’s Flats.
Peachy, by the way, had a beautiful peaches complexion. One of the most lovely that I ever saw, but here hands were terrible. She hoed. She had the awfullest corns on her hands. They felt like somebody’s that played golf eighteen rounds every two hours.
But Peachy could pick up a hundred pounds of cottonseed meal and just toss it into a wagon as easy as I could pick up ten pounds of sugar. Peachy’s house was way back. Well, I didn’t know whether I was going to get to Peachy’s house or not, but I firmly resolved that I’d go there, and I left it for next to the last place. Champ Taylor’s was the last place on my list. I was going there last of all.
End of part 1
(b. 1896 in Old Fort, NC)
Interviewed July 24, 1975
Southern Highlands Research Center
Louis D. Silveri Oral History Collection,
D. H. Ramsey Library Special Collections,
University of North Carolina at Asheville