Appalachia Pap

When Pap was a Boy

Benjamin Wilson and John Mule


Benjamin (Bird) Wilson and John Mule

The other day Pap and I made a trip over to Blairsville GA. On the way back he told me about visiting the Dockerys as a boy.

Pap showed me the little holler where Homer Dockery and his family lived at one time. There wasn’t much to see now. A power line goes right through the middle of the area and it’s so overgrown with trees and bushes you can hardly see the mouth of the holler unless someone points it out to you.

Pap’s Grandpa, Benjamin, and Grandma, Carrie, took him along with them to Homer’s. Pap liked to go so he could play with Homer’s sons Frank and Jack. Pap and his family lived in the same area we do today. I asked Pap if they went through the woods from our house to Homer’s or if there was a road that came around like it does now. Pap said he didn’t remember if they went the shortest route through the woods or came around. He said they walked or rode a mule because none of them had a car in those days.

Grandpa Wilson had a mule called John Mule. Pap said he was the meekest pet of a mule you ever seen. More like a big dog than a mule.

Pap has memories of visiting other Dockerys too. Caney who lived at the head of Pine Log, Chester who lived across the mountain from Pine Log in Smyrna GA (or Smyrnie as Pap calls it) and Dewey Dockery who also lived in Smyrnie. Dewey ran a small store and corn mill.

It would take about 5 hours to get to Chester’s house. Grandpa Wilson walked while Pap and his Grandma Carrie took turns riding John Mule.

I asked Pap what they did once they got there, you know what was the purpose in them going on such a long trip? He said “Oh the grownups would talk and the kids would play. And there was usually some sort of trading going on. Grandma would take something and trade it for something the Dockerys had. Grandma was always fooling with quilts and she might take a bunch of old scraps over there to trade. Sometimes she carded wool to take and trade from Grandpa’s sheep.”

Pap said usually they’d visit with Chester a while then head back over the mountain to Caney’s where they’d spend the night before heading home the next day.

I asked Pap if he slept on a pallet in the floor; he said it seemed like Caney had an extra cornshuck bed and they slept in it.

Pap said when he was just a babe Homer Dockery sharecropped the Harshaw Farm with his Grandpa Benjamin. At the same time, Pap’s father, Wade, sharecropped the land just below the Harshaw Farm which was called the Richardson Place in those days.

I grew up going to visit the Dockery’s too. The main difference being I road in the back of Pap and Granny’s car instead of on the back of a mule. Pap and Granny would load us all up and head over to Moccasin Creek. Sometimes we’d pull up at one of Homer’s son’s house other times we’d visit with Homer’s daughter just up the road. Didn’t matter which house we visited, there was always grown ups talking and laughing, kids playing, good food a plenty, and fine music being made.

It’s comforting for me to hear that Pap grew up going to the Dockerys like I did, but it’s slightly sad to think of those days being gone. As our lives and times have changed, my kids won’t have memories of visiting the Dockerys. But someday I can take them to Moccasin Creek and show them where I used to visit the Dockerys; and along the way I can show them where their Pap rode John Mule to visit the Dockerys when he was a child.


This post was originally published here on the Blind Pig in 2013.


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  • Reply
    SusieQ ❤️Donnie Ray
    April 15, 2021 at 1:55 pm

    ❤️ SusieQ was here today, so enjoyed reading every little bit of all you shared…. where I grew up, we lived closer to the city than some of my mama’s family and our cousins, and friends… they saw us as city folk, we saw them as country folk … oh but how I loved the country and everything about it… no street lights at night ,chickens, pigs, cows, horses , orchards, and attic playrooms, ..I was a tom-boy through and through ..if there was a pond or creek I was wading, fossil looking, or tad-pole catching, ate my share of tart June apples with salt, and at one particular farm, got to ride bare-back ,and a very tall mule…all their roads were gravel and some went down to the bottomland….I always the sights ,and sounds, especially the sound of the mules hooves on the gravel as he would clop pity ,clop along ..such fun memories seeing a big snake in a creek , almost getting knocked plum off a horse who decided to run us under the low branched of an apple tree…this so called with girl had to learn a few things about the country …sometimes the hard way, never wanted to leave, always glad to go back. That’s how I am about the mountains too .I’m not there all the time ,I reckon I’m where God put me…but once I saw the mountains even a little, they were in my heart to stay…. thank you Tipper for all you share it’s delightful to read about and ponder over ,every day.

  • Reply
    Rev. Rose Marie "RB" Redmond
    April 23, 2016 at 9:32 pm

    Wonderful story. I once owned a home north of Smyrna, GA, in Cherokee County, at the northern foot of Sweat Mountain just outside of Woodstock. It was a lovely country town that only had one intersection where the Dixie Inn Restaurant, the gas station and the laundromat sat on 3 corners. Then Walmart built on the fourth corner, and now the town is grown and unrecognizable which is sad to me.
    Prayers everyone has a safe happy weekend.
    God bless.

  • Reply
    Pam Danner
    April 23, 2016 at 9:07 pm

    I enjoyed the story very much. I love hearing about how people lived “back in the old days”. My dad tells us of when he grew up in Unaka and Copper Creek. No cars just horse and wagon or by foot. It is unbelievable how far my Dad and his sisters walked to school! We have driven the route, it was such a long, long way. My Dad said that One man who owed a store up there, had a vehicle. The kids would pay him a nickle and he would take them down to Murphy to the Henn Theater so they could watch a movie (according to my Dad it was usually westerns) and then back home. Dad says he would occasionally “rob” their chickens of eggs and take them to the local store and trade them for candy, soda pop, etc.,. I love hearing his stories! His sister is in her 80’s and I talk to her on the phone sometimes. She also tells me stories. One she told me was how terribly cold it was up there in the winter. The kids all slept together and she said she can remember in the winter the snow would come through the cracks in the roof and fall on them as they lay in bed. I just can’t imagine! They both seem to like to talk about the old days and I love to here about them.
    You have been on my mind for several days now. I know your heart is hurting. Know that I am thinking of you my friend.

  • Reply
    Eva Nell Mull Wike, PhD
    April 23, 2016 at 8:24 pm

    Tipper: Thanks for a wonderful post! Going down that road of life and sorry can get mighty rough! I seem to be ever aware of our loss when our Joey was killed at age 17 and three days!
    You have the right approach, in sharing many meaningful details, which we do not want to forget.
    Eva Nell

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    April 23, 2016 at 7:28 pm

    My mother was born and raised at Needmore. She had relatives who lived in the Nantahala area. She spoke of walking to see them. It is about 7 miles as the crow flies. They walked the ridgetops which made it a little bit further. Had they followed the roads though they would have had to walk down the Little Tennessee to Painter Branch then across through Stiles Gap and down to what used to be US-19 and turn left. Then they would have had to go over through Euchella, down past Wesser Creek and up the Nantahala River to the Winding Stairs Road then up the mountain to Fairview (I think that the general area where her relatives lived.) Google Maps says it is 23 miles and 39 minutes by car. They didn’t have a car. They would have had crossed 3 mountains and climbed up out of the Nantahala Gorge on foot.
    The Swain County High School yearbook used to be called “The Ridgerunner” for a reason. Our people traveled on foot along trails that followed the ridgelines. They had to climb initially but then the going was fairly easy (at least for them). Part of the Appalachian Trail was established along some of the same trails they followed. Most of the ridges in that area had well worn trails along them as late as the 1950’s when I was growing up.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    April 23, 2016 at 5:25 pm

    I started doing genealogy because our children did not have the extended family I did. I wanted them to have deeper roots that just two generations. I thought then, and still do, that it was/is important. Children need to see how adults value family.
    I’m glad you all still have the many intact connections you do and the memories of earlier ones. As family ties gets more tenuous with time, distance and ‘the cares of this life’ it becomes ever more important they be invested in.
    When my Mom died, I started dreading mine and my wife’s departing for our children’s sake. I am trying now to seek what I can do so they will have few, hopefully no, regrets and un-answered questions. They will arrive were I am but I won’t be here then. So I need to anticipate for them.

  • Reply
    April 23, 2016 at 5:18 pm

    Thank you so much Tipper for sharing a beautiful memory with us.God Bless, Jean

  • Reply
    Eldonna Ashley
    April 23, 2016 at 4:33 pm

    Such precious memories! Thank you for sharing this story again. Visiting was way more common and important when I was a child. My grandma used to make 5-6 pies every Saturday “just in case” someone dropped by for a Sunday afternoon visit. By Tuesday the pigs were sometimes eating well.
    The corn shuck bed reminded me of the one time I slept in a corns buck bed. It was at my grandparents’ farm and I was really young. The bed was crunchy and itchy. I woke with a rash covering most of my body.
    I well remember that my Grandma took the ticking out of the house. IDK what I slept on after that, but it wasn’t corn Shucks!
    BTW, our “night light” was a coal oil lamp turned low. A postcard was stuck in one of the brackets to block some of the light.
    I am still thinking of you and your family and keeping you in my prayers.

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    April 23, 2016 at 1:19 pm

    How timely and how poignant that you reposted the 2013 article, “When Pap Was a Boy,” this week when we are celebrating that dear man’s homegoing to glory! How much I remembered my own family’s visits overnight to Grandma Souther’s house about five miles away, and walking distance to Grandpa Collins’s house, about a 30 minute walk away. Much of who I became stemmed from these strong family ties. We didn’t have a lot in the way of worldly goods, but I can never remember being cold without clothes to warm me, or decent clothes to wear to church and to school; never recall not having enough to eat, except that most of the time it was what we grew on the farm; and never being without love, security and solidarity, the ingredients that work together to make us what we are. Your Pap knew all the above, and even practiced them in rearing you and your brothers–plus extending those qualities to his grandchildren. When Pap was a boy, he was growing even then into the man he became.

  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    April 23, 2016 at 12:06 pm

    I wish you would think about writing a book–you have so many wonderful memories and it would be a fitting tribute to your father and maybe a lasting comfort to you and your family. I’m thinking of you every day with love and prayers.

  • Reply
    Sue Crane
    April 23, 2016 at 12:02 pm

    Sweet memory and I’m sure it means even more today. Peace and love, Sue

  • Reply
    George Jones
    April 23, 2016 at 11:57 am

    Thanks for the memories Tipper, Love and prayers from my family to yours.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    April 23, 2016 at 11:51 am

    Like Cindy said, “we were worried for you and the family and are sure glad to have you back.”
    I remember those days where visitation was well received. Folks weren’t so caught up in all the electronics of today. Nowadays you’re lucky if you get a cup of coffee and you can see ’em glancing at their wristwatch.ha That’s just the way things have changed. I can’t do anything about it, but I don’t have to like it…Ken

  • Reply
    Dee Parks
    April 23, 2016 at 11:19 am

    Tipper, those precious memories like the one you shared today will come to you more and more when you get into the so called “golden years.” My father passed in 2004 and my mother in 2005. I remember so well the places they would take me to down south where they grew up. There is a spring that has always flowed out of a small foothill. It was called the Molly Harmon spring for the lady that lived by it when my parents were children. My mother would walk there with two of her sisters and take food to Molly. Molly would tell them that when she was a child she lived up on the hill with Ma and Pa. There were eleven children in Mother’s family and five in Daddy’s. Even when the children all moved away, they would go back at different times and stop at the Molly Spring to get a drink. The water has been tested many times and they find it to have no contaminants in it – just pure delicious cold water. The grandchildren still go back when they can and so do the great-grandchildren. The little farms no longer look like they did when I was a child because most have moved to town and the forest has reclaimed the land. Thankfully, I can remember all the people that lived out in that area and I can walk in the footsteps of my parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. Today our children and grandchildren seem totally interested in computers and texting to friends. If you read letters from the 18th and early 19th century, you can see how beautiful a letter can flow. Of course, with texting, they shorten words to keep it brief. I’m just glad I was born in a different time period and have wonderful memories like yours.

  • Reply
    Ron Banks
    April 23, 2016 at 11:11 am

    I remember my dad telling similar stories of visiting friends and family. I remember also loading up in the car on Sunday afternoon and going to visit family who still lived in the area where dad was raised. We left that area when I was little and migrated towards town so mom and dad could work. Mom worked at a factory that made hosiery for women and dad worked at the lumber company. Mom didn’t drive so dad had to get her to and from work. It was always great to go visit my cousins and play outside while the adults sat under the shade tree or on the porch and talked. My uncles played music too.
    Those are cherished memories for me and a much more simple time of life. We seem too busy to visit anymore and we communicate by texting each other now. I miss the days of visiting the folks!

  • Reply
    Susie Swanson
    April 23, 2016 at 10:32 am

    Cherished memories Tipper. You hold on tight to them and it’ll carry you through many days and nights. That’s how I’ve made it. I remember the Dockery’s well and some just live up the road from me here on Moccasin Creek. Pauline, Homer’s daughter married my uncle Clinton (Mama’s brother). My dad went over the mountain quite often and always walked and took one or two of my brothers with him. They’d be gone all day cause daddy had to visit them all. He talked about visiting Chester, Caney and he never failed to stop at Dewey’s and get cornmeal. He said when he was a young man he’d walk across that mountain with his daddy or ride the old mule. Homer and his first family used to live out the road from our old homeplace but that was before my time. There’s not many of those kids left. Just Howard, Pauline, Willa Belle and Jerry.. They all live up Moccasin Creek except Howard and he lives down in Georgia. Ya’ll come over anytime and visit.. We’re still praying for you all and your sweet mama. God Bless each of ye.

  • Reply
    April 23, 2016 at 10:32 am

    Wonderful memories Tipper, and I’m so glad you have so many! I’m with Miss Cindy, missed you yesterday and so glad you are back! Pap and all of you are forever in my thoughts and prayers. Sure hope you are doing ok.

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    April 23, 2016 at 9:14 am

    Do you reckon the Dockery outfit would know the Wilsons were coming? I’d bet not, but I’ll guarantee you it was a thrill for the Dockerys when they saw the Wilsons come around the bend.
    Tipper, I’m sure you well know this, but the depth and breadth of memories you have to call on and cherish are a one in millions sort of thing. Thank you for sharing them with us.

  • Reply
    Charles Fletcher
    April 23, 2016 at 9:14 am

    Pap, like myself was a story teller as were many
    Of the people that grew up in the mountain section
    Of North Carolina. Maybe you should record the many
    Stories that Pap told you in a book of memories. If
    Not recorded they will be lost forever. Pap had many
    Good stories to tell.
    Charles Fletcher

  • Reply
    Aline Tanner spencer
    April 23, 2016 at 8:24 am

    Thank you so much for this story I loved it it reminds me of some of the same stories my dad Tom Tanner used to tell me .

  • Reply
    April 23, 2016 at 8:01 am

    Memories are to be cherished. They can inspire us, comfort us, and teach us. Our children don’t share our memories but, hopefully, 1) they appreciate the memories we share with them and 2) they are making their own memories that will serve them well.
    However, with them so attached to their electronic devices, I wonder if their memories are more akin to Morse Code!
    My granddaughters respond to emails in tweet format. While I appreciate the value of being able to summarize a thought succinctly, I worry that they aren’t learning the value of a good, in depth conversation. Like good music, good conversation has rhythm and flow, variations in volume, and pauses for impact. come to think of it, music is conversation, and, as far as I can tell, you and your girls have had some of the best education in both the verbal and the musical kind.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    April 23, 2016 at 7:29 am

    That was a different world then and a time of different values. Visiting was the main social interaction. I think, Tip, if you could take one of those old pictures of folks visiting and Photoshop a cell phone in each persons hand like they are texting it would be a real commentary on now times. A juxtaposition of major proportions.
    Glad your back, missed you yesterday….kind of like a hole in my day.

  • Reply
    William Roy Pipes
    April 23, 2016 at 7:19 am

    Tipper, You have many happy memories.
    With the hustle and bustle of today I don’t know if our children, and especially our grandchildren will have theses happy memories.

  • Reply
    April 23, 2016 at 6:59 am

    I wonder how many of us would – or could – walk 5 hours for the pleasure of visiting. Must have been a treasured time spent together, but I’ll bet the last turn toward home looked pretty good too.

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