Sheila, glad to have you stop by.
My husband, John William Ingle, is a cosmic possum. His family immigrated as both German and Scots-Irish settlers and became known as Appalachians.
These Appalachia families stuck with their kin. Seeking a mountain holler with a water source, they would build their cabins and settle down to raise families and enough stock to get by. Sheep were raised for their wool to make cloth, and corn was essential to feed the clan, farm animals, and to make moonshine. Corn shucks were used for mattress fillings and chair bottoms. Tobacco was smoked and dipped. Mountains protected them in North Carolina and Tennessee, as well as isolated them.
They sought independence and a solitary lifestyle, beholden to no one. Both men and women were hard-working, self-sufficient, and proud. Fiddling, wakes, and herbal medicine were the norm.
A cosmic possum is the first generation off the farms and out of the hollers. His/her roots are Appalachian, but who has gone on to become educated while still appreciating his or her mountain roots.
Cotton mills in North and South Carolina hit a boom in the late nineteenth century, and hundreds of mills were built. They advertised for workers from the mountains and the farms. Employment benefits were posted, and company men visited homes to encourage families to move to the mill villages. Mill workers were promised a home, a school for their children, and a weekly pay check. For those, bound to worn-out farms, a mill village sounded like the “promised land.” They traded a lifestyle governed by the seasons to a lifestyle controlled by a mill whistle.
Adjusting to life in mill villages was not easy. Work hours were long, and the jobs were difficult.
Women worked as spinners or weavers. A twelve-hour shift started at 6:00 A.M. or 6:00 P.M.
Make Ingle and his three brothers owned a pulpwood business. They delivered wood every other day to the Chesapeake and Ohio railroad; the train carried the wood to Champion Mill in Canton, NC.
In 1916, thirty-six-year-old Make and twenty-nine-year-old Lizzie Ingle left their four-room cabin and traveled in a wagon headed for work to an upstate mill, called Tucapau. They had 8 children, and Lizzie was pregnant with her ninth and tenth. Yes, they were twins.
She took her dulcimer, butter churn, a rocking chair, two caned chairs Make had made for their first anniversary, a wash pot, and various cast iron cooking utensils. Quilts and pillow cases kept jars of canned fruit and vegetables and Make’s wood working tools. They left behind more than they took.
Lizzie was home-schooled and was taught to “figger” and write her name. Make had a third-grade education and was proud of it.This couple wanted more education for their children, because they believed that education would lead to a better life.
They left Tennessee for steady jobs that would give them a weekly paycheck, a good house, and cash money.
Tucapau Mill was organized in 1895 (Tucapau means "Indian Weaver"). Businessmen constructed a cotton mill, a dam, and mill village on the banks of the Middle Tyger River.
As the family rode through the streets, they saw the Startex Hotel, where unmarried teachers and mill workers lived. There was a community building, a school, the company store, churches, the four-story cotton mill, and the mill houses.
Those first houses were built in the New England saltbox style with the roof line long in the back and short in the front with a shed style front porch. They consisted of 6 rooms: 4 rooms downstairs and 2 rooms upstairs. Each house was for two families, with 2 rooms down and 1 room up. Yes, it was cozy. And it was a forty-yard dash to the outhouse!
Kerosene lamps provided light; meals cooked on wood stoves; and fireplaces heated the small rooms. Water came from a common well. They survived, worked hard, and kept their self-respect. Working twelve-hour days was only part of the struggle to make ends meet.
Like farmers, mill hands grew much of their own food. A family’s wages from the mill barely made ends meet, so a good garden often made the difference between a healthy diet and going hungry. Beans and taters one night, and taters and beans the next; cornbread and biscuits were always available. They planted vegetables every spring, but some could not afford a mule to help break the land. Then the father would hitch himself to the plow. The family kept a milk cow, raised chickens, and pigs.
Villagers helped one another not with an expectation of being paid but with the assurance that their neighbors would help them in return. There was no owing each other.
Mill village life was comparable to one large family. Community values governed, and it was similar to the Three Musketeers, except it was 200+ of them. They were there for each other. (Women had their specialties to share e.g. bread, coconut cakes, or apple butter.)
Lois, John’s mom, was an excellent quilter. We are blessed to have two of her quilts; she fashioned one for our wedding present.
From the feed sacks and large flour and bean sacks, bought in the company store, the women made men’s shirts and underwear and women’s dresses, aprons, and linens for the houses. They tatted and crocheted to bring beauty to the ordinary.
But the mill whistle still governed their lives. Working 12- hour days, 6 days a week and receiving a weekly paycheck of $4-6 controlled each family. When children worked, there was more income for the family; many children started their mill career at age 8.
That first generation of Ingles to leave the mountains passed on a respect for God, a love of home and family, and independence to their children. No one wanted to be beholden. They literally moved away from the Appalachia, but they brought parts of it with them. Even as they quilted, smoked their hand-rolled cigarettes, dipped snuff, and enjoyed beans and cornbread, they also listened to the radio, bought cars, and wanted education for their children. They kept the best of the past and moved into the future.
John didn’t live in those mountains around Erwin, but he heard the life stories. He grew up churning butter, and we have his great grandmother’s butter mold and his mother’s dough bowl.
His mother taught him how to shoot a rifle, and she was a crack shot. She practiced her marksmanship by lighting matches stuck in a chopping block outside. As they did in the mountains, John’s father, uncles, and grandfather built their own homes.
Annie Mae Ingle Bobo ran a boarding house.
John, his brothers, and cousins were raised in Ingle Holler. Grandfather Make Ingle bought land outside of Union, South Carolina and sold plots of it to his family. They were a tight clan.
Lizzie passed down her talent of playing the dulcimer. Her sons and daughters in Ingle Holler rarely missed a weekend night of getting together on one of the porches to make music on the porches with dobros, fiddles, banjos, mandolins, and dulcimers. They sang hymns and country music songs; the Grand Ole’ Opry radio show was a favorite.
John continues to tell the stories of the older generations. He remembers the round, snuff boxes; talks about the good eating from the cast iron bean pot, and enjoys cornbread crumbles in buttermilk for a meal.
Mountain roads and dirt roads beckon him. Interstates are boring. Picking blackberries for a homemade cobbler is not work, but an opportunity to enjoy nature’s bounty. Carving spoons or making trays, benches, and stools make him smile. Two years ago, he even built by himself a Little House Art Studio over the summer and insisted on a tin roof, like his home used to have.
Heritage is a gift, and a cosmic possum understands this. We need to remember that we are the only link between the past and the future.
If you throw away your cultural identity, if you refuse to pass on tradition, songs and stories to the next generation, those treasures may be lost forever.Beatrix Potter said, “I hold that a strongly marked personality can influence descendants for generations.”
Cosmic possums look both ways, to the past and to the future. Perhaps we should all practice this.
You will enjoy reading about a time-gone-by in Tales of a Cosmic Possum.
A graduate of Converse College with both bachelor’s and master’s degrees, Sheila Ingle is a lifelong resident of S.C. Her undergraduate degree was in English, with minors in psychology and religion. Besides taking various graduate courses at Wofford College, she also received her master’s degree in humanities at Converse..
Her second career of writing began after her retirement from teaching at USC Upstate. There she taught English and education courses, as well as supervising student teachers, for 22 years.
She loves to tell the stories of South Carolina
history. The Class that Never Was
relates the story
of her father’s class at the Citadel. In 1943, his class was taken out of school their junior year and
sent to serve in World War II. Finding Mr. Wright is the story of two audacious sisters who
asked Frank Lloyd Wright to draw plans for their home in Greenville, SC, and he did.
Her published books, Courageous Kate, Fearless Martha, Brave Elizabeth,and Walking withElizafocus on the bravery of Patriot women living in Revolutionary War South Carolina.
Tales of a Cosmic Possum, not only shares Ingle family history, but also South Carolina and cotton mill history. Continuing to focus on unknown women of South Carolina, this book spotlights eight women who worked in the upstate cotton mills during the early twentieth century. Three generations of her husband’s family on both sides become characters in these short stories.
As past vice regent and regent of the Kate Barry Chapter, she iscurrently serving as the Registrar of Kate Barry, the South Carolina State Chairman of Constitution Week, and District II Director SCDAR. Sheila also is a member of the Piedmont Chapter Daughters of the American Colonists and the National Society of the Magna Charta Dames and Barons.(She is waiting on approved papers for the Colonial Dames XVII.)
She enjoys speaking to community, church, genealogical, and school groups.
Serving on the board for eight years of Children’s Security Blanket (a 501c3 organization that serves families that have children with cancer), she is the Board Chairman. She is also a member of Chapter D PEO, where she served as vice president and chaplain; Circle 555(a local women’s giving group), where she has served on the grant committee; and aboard member of Spartanburg County Historical Association, serving on the Walnut Grove Committee.
In her church, First Baptist Spartanburg, she was a Sunday School teacher for the youth for fourteen years, served as a discipleship leader for girls, and as chaperone for retreats. Besides leading a women’s Bible study for twenty-seven years, she has substituted as an adult teacher. For five years, she led the women’s ministry of her church.
Married for thirty-eight years to John Ingle, they have one son Scott. Besides being avid readers, the South Carolina beaches are their favorite spots for vacations.
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