Appalachia Oconaluftee/Smokemont

Scratching Out A Living In Western NC

Scratching Out A Living In Western NC

In 1976 Dwight Childers talked with his uncle, Frances David Childers (1893 – 1983), about how people lived when he was a boy in the mountains of NC.

How People Lived (Interview with Frances David Childers conducted by Dwight Childers 1976. retains sole copyright)

At that time everybody in the whole world, Virginia and everywhere, was livin’ like I was. The’ [wudn] none of this fancy stuff then. I’ve traced back and found out about people ‘t knowed. All lived like I did. Just scratch and scratch, that’s all the’ was to it.


Between the time when Frances was a child in the mountains of NC and today there have been boom times and bust times.

Since my area seems to be stuck in a bust time I’d wager, many people here would feel sorta like Frances described “Just scratch and scratch, that’s all the’ was to it.”


*Source: Dwight Childers retains sole copyright of material.


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  • Reply
    February 27, 2013 at 6:25 pm

    We grew up the same way! Oh we had meat (even if it was just wings, ribs or bacon which was cheap back then), 2 vegetables and bread for every meal, but if we hadn’t had a garden every year, it would have been much harder. Our mom could mend clothing so it went through every child of the same gender, and once it was stained (she wouldn’t let us wear stained clothing), she cut the buttons off to save for other mending, and used the clothing for rags to clean with or to stuff around the windows to shut the cold out when winter came. Heck, I was in my 40s taking tests to be a daycare provider for children before I learned a Miracle Whip sandwich wasn’t a “balanced” lunch. LOL
    Yep, we grew up scratching out a living, but I’m grateful for it because if (when?) I have to do it again, I’ll know just how to do it. I feel sorry for those who don’t.
    God bless.

  • Reply
    Mrs. V
    February 24, 2013 at 2:24 pm

    I find this pretty interesting. We moved out here from a Va. city to purposefully learn how to scratch it out. The economy (& broody chickens) had me scratching my head yesterday trying to mix up a german chocolate birthday cake w/ no eggs, butter or pecans. The washing machine has been busted & gone for over a year & callouses have taken their place. It’s time to start the peas. We went w/ Sow True based on your relationship w/ them, is there a signs planting post in the near future?

  • Reply
    Sherie Rowe
    February 24, 2013 at 11:12 am

    Times are rough right now, but I think we learn a lot about who we are and where we came from when it’s scratchin’ time. We learn whether we can make it the only way we know how or break. lot of people breakin’ righ now, but I know the Lord will see us through.

  • Reply
    February 24, 2013 at 9:33 am

    I like that it was said so matter of factly…no “woe is me”…just the way it was.
    Thanks for the chance to win, Tipper.

  • Reply
    February 24, 2013 at 8:38 am

    I grew up in the Cowee valley, going to Snow Hill church on Sundays. We walked over the mountain not because we didn’t have a car but because it put us closer to God. No one ever actually said it, we all just knew it. Today, the cars and noise and Sunday tourists intrude on Sunday traditions but, in my heart, nothing has changed.

  • Reply
    Mary Shipman
    February 24, 2013 at 7:30 am

    We have had bad times and boom times as well here in the Ozark Hills. I am proud to have lived through both. The knowledge of how to ‘scratch to get by’ is a good thing, I’ve hadto show others a few things over the years. Makes me feel kind of good to know that there will be some from this generation coming behind me who can make it during hard times. Hard times are knocking at many doors these days.

  • Reply
    February 24, 2013 at 6:43 am

    My M-in-L often talks about those days. She saves margarine cartons and other plastic dishes until we have to carry them away in big garbage bags to recycle. She told me, “We didn’t have anything like that, and I keep thinking how much we would have loved to have something nice like that.” The truth be known, the we better off than the neighbors, their mother grew a pretty good garden, and the older brothers often hunted up a squirrel or rabbit, so they even had meat when few people did. They burnt out once, and moved into a shed behind their grandma’s house.
    In one old school picture we have, we can pick out the oldest three of the six in her family. The siding on the school is cracked and pieces are missing. All the children had torn and worn clothes, we can see that pride, most of the tears in the clothing worn my the children in our family was mended.
    This was the 20’s and 30’s in northern Michigan. So even though the crops and weather were different, I think there was a lot of scratching.

  • Reply
    brenda s 'okie in colorado'
    February 23, 2013 at 11:54 pm

    It really is a shame that people today have it so easy. I know some work very hard and have lots of stress, but not hard labor that our ancestors had to endure. Our new generation wouldn’t know what to do without technology. I’m just disappointed that so many don’t want to work and pull their own weight. Instead of a hard days work, they expect it given to them. I really wish more people today had enough respect for themselves to work hard and teach the next generation about hard work. I’m praying for our future in America.

  • Reply
    Sally Kennedy
    February 23, 2013 at 6:02 pm

    It seems that my father’s family in So Ohio had it better than some other places. They owned their land and were able to pay the taxes, just, but they grew what they ate and wore their clothes out. My dad says he remembers there was hardly anyone that had cash money but they weren’t starving and they had heat so they counted themselves blessed.

  • Reply
    February 23, 2013 at 4:58 pm

    My Mother talked about the Depression so much, I almost felt I lived through it; but I learned a lot from the family stories. They were in the city, but eventually had to move out to her grandparents farm, where they ‘scratched out’ pretty well.I also wonder how folks would fare today.
    Please enter me in the giveaway. Thanks.

  • Reply
    Sallie Covolo aka Granny Sal
    February 23, 2013 at 10:47 am

    Love the use of wudn’ golly, I still say that…Did not realize it was incorrect…Great interview.Thanks Tipper

  • Reply
    Tim Mc
    February 23, 2013 at 3:40 pm

    Scratching out a living is a good description. My Dad told about when he’d wake with snow on his bed covers, or see the chickens under the floor in the room they slept in, and how if they didn’t grow it they didn’t eat… Seemingly the next generation has had it a little better than the next, how long this is going to maintain the status no one knows but I’m afraid most folks today don’t know how to scratch out a living like these folks did.. I remember folks talking about,, “they did not know there was a depression”, because they were already so poor it was just the way everyday living was to them..Enjoyed every story.. please include me in the Cd give away.. thanks

  • Reply
    February 23, 2013 at 3:15 pm

    I can remember when times were hard but Daddy always found some kind of job to keep us fed and clothed. One time he’s been gone from home for a week and when he drove up, i ran out the door with my piggy bank yelling that he could have it. Probably wasn’t $1 in it.

  • Reply
    February 23, 2013 at 2:23 pm

    Hey, Tipper! I’d love to win usic! Was just thinking about this phrase the other day–might be good for vocabulary: “High lonesome”–don’t know if it was used in your neck of the woods but it was used to mean out on a running drunk.

  • Reply
    February 23, 2013 at 2:04 pm

    I enjoy these stories. They kinda
    remind me of growing up in these
    beautiful mountains I call home.
    Like most folks I love the blessings of a softer life, but
    our forefathers had that character
    I admire most. Somehow we lost the
    closeness of neighbors I enjoyed so much as a young boy. We had to
    work for what we got too…Ken

  • Reply
    February 23, 2013 at 1:24 pm


  • Reply
    Kerry in GA
    February 23, 2013 at 12:14 pm

    These interviews have jarred my memory. I remember in 8th grade my teacher got us to interview a grandparent or an older relative or friend and record it on cassette tape. She had a recorder for us to take turns borrowing if we didn’t have one. I interviewed my Granny and I know the tape is still probably somewhere at Momma and Daddy’s. They NEVER throw anything away. 🙂

  • Reply
    B. ruth
    February 23, 2013 at 11:10 am

    Living on a farm of sorts, was probably made it easier to scratch out a living. If you could keep a cow, hog, a few chickens and room to make garden, at least one could eat. You couldn’t be lazy, it meant that every day, up at dawn to keep working at it and like the chickens, scratch out a living a bug at a time and if you were lucky a kernel of corn..
    Thanks Tipper,
    Sorry you all are getting the rain today…Spring is on its way soon….

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    February 23, 2013 at 10:41 am

    I just worry about what will happen to future generations that will have lost the skills and the mindset to scratch out a living wherever they are. Too many people have become too dependent on other people.
    The world economy depends on growth which cannot go on forever. The time could be nearer that we know when people like you and your family, who know how to live off the land, will be the only survivors. Thank you for all you do to promote the principles of sufficiency and efficiency.
    Please put my name in the pot for the cd.

  • Reply
    February 23, 2013 at 10:23 am

    Along with Wudn is Idnit!

  • Reply
    Eva Nell Mull, Ph.D.
    February 23, 2013 at 10:04 am

    Tipper: Somehow I can well remember how my folks worked – especially my daddy – growing crops on other folks land and having to just take a portion of the harvest! But he knew how to get by and MAKE DO!
    Eva Nell

  • Reply
    February 23, 2013 at 9:43 am

    And we call them the good old days!I’m so glad I didn’t have to work at scratching out a livin’ like my parents did. Mom was one of ten children that included only one boy. The nine girls learned how to scratch out a livin’ doing the work of a man early in life. Dad was the only son from a family of eight children. He quit school to help support the family when he was only twelve years old. What they considered a livin’ was simply being able to eat.

  • Reply
    February 23, 2013 at 9:21 am

    Be sure that Paul’s reindition of ‘Little Old Ladies’ is on my CD as well as ‘The Passing Of The Train and as many as possible featuring your daughters singing.

  • Reply
    Bob and Inez Jones
    February 23, 2013 at 8:34 am

    I have enjoyed the interviews. No matter where one lives, I think our older generations worked hard to scratch out a living for their families. They were happy with their bare necessities and I wonder if we are as happy with our aplenty.We have a lot to thank them for. Keep the good stuff coming, Tipper.Please enter my name for the CD. Inez Jones

  • Reply
    Marcia Campbell
    February 23, 2013 at 8:31 am

    Looking forward to learning more about the life and times of Frances Childers. Thank you!

  • Reply
    Jane Bolden
    February 23, 2013 at 8:18 am

    The word “wudn” brought a smile to my face. I had never thought about the word until I was around twenty. My friend told me her northern brother-in-law had been teasing her family about it. Nancy was an elementary school teacher and I was about to become one. We started trying to say it properly, but it was difficult. Now in conversation, I’m sure I’ll be thinking about it. I pretty sure “wudn’t” will win out.
    I’ve really enjoyed the interviews, and my family and I would really enjoy a cd. Thanks for all you share with us. It’s all been great!

  • Reply
    grandpa Ken
    February 23, 2013 at 8:11 am

    From what I have heard from the old folks, people all over the south except maybe the big cities just got by as they said. Living off the land share croping. That was the recovery from the War Between The State. We had a teacher that hated the other name for that war. She would tell all the students there was nothing civil about that war in the south.
    grandpa Ken

  • Reply
    February 23, 2013 at 8:08 am

    We have it so easy compared to way back then. In some ways I’m sure I would have lived that way if I had been there, but I was born into a different generation. I envy those survivors, but I do enjoy the use of modern conveniences. Happy Day!

  • Reply
    February 23, 2013 at 7:43 am

    This makes me wish I had interviewed some of the older folks when I was younger. There was a world of information back in the day. I used to call them the olden days.
    My Dad always had a job, but many of my extended family kept the “scratchin’ out” habits. One fact remains in my mind even today. I cannot recall anyone who was not willing to share the little bit they may have had, and would share anything with a visitor or neighbor. Good folks!

  • Reply
    February 23, 2013 at 5:17 am

    People that never had to “Just scratch and scratch” like they said, will never be able to relate. I guess you just had to be there. But you know, I believe it built some strong character as well as strong people.

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