When Jim Buchanan emailed me that Patsy Parris McClure had dropped off a book for me, I was excited.
That’s because I already knew Patsy was a gifted storyteller.
After a column I wrote last spring documenting an 1888 feud between Allen Dills (father of Sylva Fire Department founder A.J. “Jonah” Dills) and Logan Bumgarner, Patsy wrote me a letter describing the time her family lived on a farm owned by Jonah Dills and the strange happenings that went on there. Turned out the farmhouse where they lived was on the site where the Dills/Bumgarner land dispute came to a head, resulting in a gunfight that left Bumgarner seriously injured, one of his sons dead and sent Allen Dills into hiding. After a month or so, Allen Dills turned himself in and was later acquitted at trial.
Here’s an excerpt from Patsy’s letter:
“In 1937-38, my daddy, DeWitt Parris, worked for Mr. Jonah Dills as caretaker on his farm located in Dills Cove. We moved into a small farmhouse that Mr. Dills provided for us. We hadn’t lived there long until strange things started happening that couldn’t be explained. Daddy said that late in the evening it would sound like a T-model Ford would crank up behind the kitchen stove, and the noise would get so loud that the windows would rattle. Also, things began to disappear and then reappear.
“One evening a creature we would call ‘Bigfoot’ today paid a visit and scared my mother half to death. That’s when Daddy decided it was time to move. He mentioned all this to Mr. Dills, and he (Dills) said the place was haunted. Mr. Dills went on to say that his father and another man had been involved in a land dispute and they had engaged in a duel on the property, and a man was killed by Mr. Dills’ father in the front yard of the old house and his mother was almost killed when she tried to intervene. Whether the duel was truth or legend, I have no idea, but my daddy related the story to us over the years.”
That tale is just one of many that 82-year-old Patsy relates in her new book titled “Addie: Memories of a Hobo’s Daughter” that’s based on her childhood growing up east of Sylva in the Addie community.
I caught up with Patsy by telephone on Friday and asked about the title. Turns out the “hobo” part of her father’s life came long before Patsy entered the picture.
“Before my dad married my mother, he was kind of wild,” Patsy said. “He and a buddy of his hoboed a train there from Addie. Grandma said he was gone about three months, and he went to just about every state. He never really got that out of his blood; we always lived close to the railroad. He worked, and he retired from Mead, but he always loved the railroad.”
What caused Patsy, in her ninth decade, to pick up her pen and write her stories down now?
“I’d always wanted to do it for my kids, but I never had time,” she said. “I have five children, and I worked all my life. After my husband died eight years ago, I had plenty of time. My daughter, Donna, talked with (Publisher) Amy Garza (of Catch the Spirit of Appalachia), and it went from there.”
Garza said Patsy’s writing really struck a chord with her.
“As I was working on this book, it seemed as if I was reliving my own growing-up years in Jackson County,” Garza said. “As you read Patsy’s words, her stories come alive in your mind, allowing you to once again go back to that simpler time. It was exciting for me to keep turning the pages to see what she would talk about next. As the book drew to an end, I realized I had learned more about the community of early Addie and its people than I had known before.”
Patsy has never kept a journal or diary, but she says she can remember her childhood vividly.
“It’s weird, I can remember all the stuff from back then, but I can’t remember where I went yesterday,” she said.
Patsy, who lived in Sylva for most of her life and moved to Waynesville 10 years ago, also created the book’s cover illustration, which depicts a boy and girl holding hands as a train steams past.
“I also started painting after my husband died, and I had an art show about three years ago,” she said. “I’ve drawn pictures all my life – I used to illustrate reports and things for the other kids in school. I had a lot of stress after he died, so I would just sit and paint.”
“Addie” is filled with details of what it was like to survive in the mountains when people didn’t have much money and relied on themselves. She tells of eating cornmeal mush in the winter when the chickens quit laying, and describes butchering hogs, and canning and drying food.
Patsy says she thinks it’s important to share these stories of life in Western North Carolina as the Depression was coming to an end and World War II was being fought. Her ancestors lived through hardships but managed to make it through, she said. “Because of their determination and the close family structure, our ancestors managed to survive and overcome the worst of times in our history, leaving us a legacy of which we can all be proud.”
Patsy’s book also resonates because it reminds me of two other Addie natives who have been important to me: longtime Asheville-Citizen Times columnist Bob Terrell, who taught the only writing class I ever took; and Harold Norman, a Sylva Herald pressman who generously shared lots of local knowledge he’d gained outside of school – his “Addiecation.” Both Bob and Harold are gone now, but things I learned from them inform most everything I write.
As for Patsy, her book has already sold more copies than she ever expected.
“I didn’t think about anybody wanting to buy it,” she said. “I was doing it for my family. But a lot of the older people around here like it because they can relate to the way we lived back then.”
City Lights has copies of “Addie: Memories of a Hobo’s Daughter,” and plans a book event with Patsy at 3 p.m. Saturday, March 9.
Lynn Hotaling was editor of The Sylva Herald for 18 years, retiring in January 2016. She is the author of two books on local history.