Today’s guest post was written by Don Casada.
The Fred Lollis Story
Br’er Jim is the smart one in our family. After all, anyone who can figure out a way to go hunting and fishing, then tell lies and write stories about it for a living has just plain got things figured out.
Seriously, he has a gift for gab, a wonderful way with words, and a heart for the outdoors – and in particular, this place that we call home. A year or so ago, he gave me a copy of a book published by Sporting Classics which he’d co-edited entitled Passages. It’s a fantastic collection of short quotations from quite a spectrum of folks – from Hitler to Thoreau – but all geared toward some aspect of the outdoors – dogs, fishing, hunting, poetry, nature and perspective. [Lest you wonder, the quotation from Hitler had to do with how peaceful things would be now that all guns were registered.] The book makes for pleasant, contemplative reading. I suspect that I read most of it while soaking in the old cast iron tub upstairs in our century and a quarter old house. The tub isn’t as old as the house, since the home didn’t have indoor plumbing to begin with, but I’d bet it is closing in on a century itself. Although I’m not as old as the tub, the older I get, the more I enjoy its company.
But as I’m prone to do, I digress (a tendency that accumulates with the years).
Back during the winter when I was perusing Passages, I sent along a couple of quotations to a few friends, including Tipper. She latched onto one of them and said she wanted to write an article around it. Shortly thereafter, in early spring, she came back to me to see if I might have a photo to go with it. One thing led to another, and here we are with my having agreed to do the article.
As I think back on the sequence, I’m awfully inclined to believe that I’ve been snookered. For those of her readers who’ve not had the pleasure to see our Brasstown Angel in person, let me just note here that to go along with her halo, every now and then there’s this mischievous twinkle that shows up in her chinquapin eyes; when it does, buddy, you better watch out. All of this took place by e-mail, and I reckon I just missed the twinkling.
They came to an old clearing….
The passage which Tipper admired came from a 1936 book entitled Tranquility, by Col. Harold P. Sheldon:
“They came to an old clearing, with its log cabin long since a mere heap of brown mold under a wild tangle of raspberry vines, but with a neglected plot of flowers growing beside the worn stone slab that had been the doorstep of this primitive home – a vernal monument to some pioneer mistress long since forgotten and lost from the dusty records of mankind, but still remembered for her love of beauty by her lilies in this quiet, remote place.”
As some of Tipper’s readers know, my great young friend Wendy Meyers and I are in the midst of a project which involves locating and characterizing old home places in the Swain County portion of what is now the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and studying the people who called the places home. My primary role involves the feet on the ground searching for places; Wendy does much more in the way of gathering information on the families.
When I first began the effort, my principle focus was on chimneys (standing or fallen) and detritus – washtubs, broken glass and dishware, and the like. But as time has passed, my attention and interest has leaned more toward living indicators such as daffodils, roses, periwinkle (vinca), yellowbells (forsythia), mock orange, boxwoods, daylilies, iris, beauty berries, snowball bushes and the like, none of which are native to the area.
When Tipper asked for a photo (and before she asked me to do the writing), I was knee deep in some engineering work, so picked a home site that involved less than a quarter mile, very easy bushwhack – the old Fred Lollis place – to go take a picture. Fred’s place was on Canebrake Branch, a small mountain stream a few miles northwest of Bryson City which was formerly called Sickatowey’s Creek (1820 Robert Love survey).
Fred’s home was situated in a broad, gently-sloping hollow, just below a place where several forks of Canebrake Branch converge. The branch provided not only water for garden irrigation during dry weather, but had sufficient volume and fall to support a small electric generator powered by an overshot wheel which Fred installed just over from the house.
Fred, a confirmed bachelor, was a gentle man who adored children, according to Delia Woodard Watkins, an 88-year young lady who grew up nearby. She describes Fred as a tall, dark, and handsome sort of fellow who always dressed up for church. After church – held at the Epp Springs school near the mouth of Canebrake Branch – let out, he’d laugh and play tag and other games with the children. Delia noted that the older girls in particular were delighted when good-looking Fred played tag, since according to their rules, the one that got tagged got kissed. Now while she didn’t acknowledge a part in such matters, Miss Delia was a mighty pretty young thing herself, and was noted as a speedy runner. The fact that she turned into a teenager in the late 1930s and remembers these tagging and kissing details is mighty suggestive, don’t you think?
When World War II came along, Fred joined the Marines. His papers indicate that at the time he registered with the draft board, he was working for TVA on the Fontana Dam. He had previously worked at odd jobs such as on the survey crew for the North Carolina Park Commission in the late 1920s when land was being acquired for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. But he’d also used his farm to produce cash crops, for instance growing beans to sell in the big town of Bryson City.
During the time that he was away in his country’s service, TVA made the decision to acquire all the property, flooded or not, along the north shore of the to-be-impounded lake, including Fred’s. When Fred returned home, he found that his home – located three-fourths of a mile from the impounded waters – had been taken by eminent domain.
Fred and a handful of others legally contested TVA’s right to take land which was not flooded. The small group received positive rulings up to the U.S. Supreme Court, at which point the lower court rulings were reversed. The Supremes allowed that congress had, in essence, given TVA the authority to dam(n) and take whatever they had a mind to. Greatly distressed, Fred took his portion of the $7,269.89 paid by TVA for the 194 acres of land he jointly owned with his brother Arthur, and got about as far away, both geographically and otherwise as he could while remaining in the continental U.S., moving to the San Francisco area. For years he made a living there as a baker.
But in his later life, the mountains of his birth called him home, and Fred lived out his remaining years on the west side of Deep Creek close to other members of the Lollis clan. He set up a trout hatchery near his house – yet another enterprise by a man who was obviously both talented in any number of areas and was possessed with considerable gumption.
In addition to selling fingerlings, he stocked an old mine pit near his house with them. At some point, he decided to get all the trout out of the mine pit and called on the family to help with the catching. According to his grandniece, Shirley, it took a considerable effort to both haul out and clean all the trout, and they ate on those trout (from the freezer) for a long, long, long time.
On Thanksgiving Day of 1966, shortly after the family had slaughtered and worked up a hog – an annual rite – Fred called his nephew Vernon and asked him to drive him over to the VA Hospital in Asheville. He’d been going to a chiropractor for back pain, but said he thought a doctor ought to have a look. Fred went into a coma the following day, never learning that he had advanced cancer or that two of his ribs had already been completely eaten away. The physical pain must have been terrific, somewhat mindful of the mental torture he’d dealt with when his Canebrake Eden was taken away. Fred died on December 13, 1966, just over two months before my Grandpa Joe.
Today, the chimney at Fred’s place stands in solitary and silent guard, much like the tall and handsome bachelor who made the place his home. It is a testimony to how handy a man he was – from making of surveys to water mills and trout hatcheries, from bean-growing to baking. But his skill of multiple crafts was complimented by his love of things of beauty – a love manifested all around the home in the form of scattered roses, a large patch of yellowbells near what was likely a springhouse location, and several clusters of daffodils below the mill.
Fred’s body rests in the Deep Creek area, not far from other members of his family as well as my own, including Grandpa. But in my mind’s eye, Fred’s not really there at all. He has laid his burdens down, not by the riverside, but alongside a bold mountain stream. There he rests, leaned back in a homemade chair under the branches of a sheepnose apple tree – like those which stood just above his home – whittling out a gee-haw whimmy diddle and smiling as he watches a group of children laughing and splashing in pursuit of spring lizards. Wars and dam(n)s are studied no more; mental and physical anguish are gone. In that place, the authority of eminent domain is wielded not with an ironic combination of bureaucratic zeal and indifference, but with the personal love and attention of the Maker of springs, daffodils, trout, mountains, and men like Fred Lollis.
I hope you enjoyed the story of Fred Lollis as much as I did! If you’d like a chance to read the book, Passages, (which started this whole guestpost idea) you can jump over to Jim Casada’s website. Here are the details:
“Published as part of the celebration of Sporting Classics magazine’s 30th anniversary, Passages: The Greatest Quotations from Sporting Literature is a compilation of enduring and memorable tidbits of wisdom and wit from the world of the outdoors. Coverage touches on all aspects of the natural world, with separate sections devoted to hunting, fishing, dogs, poetry, humor, and viewpoints on the sporting life. The excerpts, drawn from books, periodicals, and other sources, were chosen by co-editors Chuck Wechsler, the Editor and Publisher of Sporting Classics, and Jim Casada, the magazine’s Editor at Large. The latter conceived the idea of a “Quotes” section as the back page of the magazine 28 years ago, and over the years it has become one of the most popular sections of Sporting Classics.
The selections included in Passages constitute the best of thousands of literary quotations which have appeared in the magazine’s pages over the years. Readers will find musings and insights from great names in sport such as Hemingway and Ruark, Rutledge and Leopold, Thoreau and Buckingham, Hill and Babcock, along with snippets of verse from the likes of Robert Service, Rudyard Kipling, and Robert Frost.
The 208-page book includes an Introduction by Jim Casada; an essay entitled “A Fit Inheritance” by Michael Altizer; and dozens of old woodcuts, drawings, and etchings as illustrations. The attractive Smythe-sewn hardback, with gilt edges, gold embossing on the front and spine, and a handsome dust jacket, sells for $25 and can be ordered from Jim Casada (www.jimcasadaoutdoors.com) or Sporting Classics (www.sportingclassics.com).”