A grandmother can be a vibrant source of care and inspiration. She might warm our milk, teach us that hard work is important, or remind us that our place in the world is just as important as anyone else’s.
When Orlando Ortiz (right) — a native New Yorker from the Bronx — recalled visiting Puerto Rico during a trip after he graduated middle school, one very distinct person shimmered beyond everything else: his Abuelita (Grandmother) “Salu.” When Orlando visited the Mobile Booth, he described his grandmother to his partner, Paul Tantillo.
“[Salu] was more casual. She smoked cigars. When she needed a handkerchief, she’d get the hem of her skirt, bend over and blow on it.” He laughed. “[She] was very contemporary. She always cut her hair.”
And to Orlando, his Abuelita “Salu” provided a concept that he’s carried on throughout his life.
“For this to be a world, there has to be everything in it. It’s like, the universe has everything in it.”
“Why did she say this?”
“Well, I think she knew I was gay. It was her way of saying ‘that’s alright.’ You accept everything just the way it is because it’s all part of the world.”
In my short time here in Asheville I have learned that one thing’s for certain: there is always a guitar close at hand, if not a banjo, a mandolin, a stand-up bass, and a fiddle as well. The Hominy Valley Boys walked by the booth during our stay and were gracious enough to play us a little tune. A little send off, if you will. As the accursed expression goes, all good things must come to an end, and sadly, our stay in Asheville has wrapped up.
Stories are rich in Western North Carolina and it seems that nearly everyone has come in to the share a bit of themselves with us. It has been a privilege and an honor to hear tales of tobacco farming, mountaineering, snipe hunts, immigrating from Moldova, love at first sight, the beginnings of All Things Considered, the Blue Ridge Parkway, hiking the Appalachian Trail, losing a daughter, adopting sons, getting older, fighting in World War II, going to Klezmer Kamp, weaving, throwing clay, joining a sorority... the list goes on and on. We have only scratched the surface. Keep on recording your stories, and stay tuned to WCQS to hear what Western North Carolina sounds like.
Enjoy some shots from our time in Asheville…
Need a haircut? Like bluegrass? Head over to Drexel, North Carolina. For over sixty years Lawrence Anthony and David Shirley have been cutting hair and playing tunes at the Sanitary Barber Shop on Main Street.
Lawrence Anthony and his son, Carroll
What started out years ago, with Lawrence and Drexel’s sheriff whiling the time away with their guitars, has turned into a scene. Each Saturday, anywhere from five to well over 30 musicians will gather to jam in the back of the barber shop, in, as Lawrence likes to call it, “the pickin’ room.” People have come from all over the county and even as far as England to listen.
David Shirley and his son, Philip
Driving into downtown Drexel, you can’t help but notice empty storefronts. Both the Drexel Furniture Factory and the hosiery mill have closed, and so have most of the stores that line Main Street. The barbershop is a bright spot for the community, a place where folks can gather and the music’s free of charge.
Seven years ago Bryce was at the top of his game. He had just made the biggest sale of his career as a car salesman and he wanted to celebrate. He hopped into his car and headed to a friend’s house. “I was going around a back country road doing too many things at once and I ended up going down a cliff.”
Bryce was in a coma for 28 days. Doctors said he never wake up. But Bryce did wake up. To see him walk and talk today you would never know how close he came to dying. Yet he suffers from what he calls “the invisible injury,” brain injury trauma. His short term memory is faulty, and sequential thinking and timing are hard for him. “Since my car wreck, I’m not quick enough to be a salesman,” he told his friend and advocate Karen Harrington during his StoryCorps interview. Bryce was gracious enough to share his story along with other survivors of brain injury trauma who live in the Asheville area.
Post accident, Bryce has become what he calls, “a student of patience.”
“Every time I approach a decision to make, I have before-car-wreck-adrenaline-junkie-Bryce and then I have the more reasonable, let’s-figure-it-out-Bryce. And every time I make a decision I have to have a committee hearing. My favorite analogy is: I’m out at a swimming hole and and I ask myself, ‘What do you want to do, pre-car-wreck-Bryce?’
“‘Well I want to go to the top of that waterfall and dive from the top of that rock.’
“‘What do you wanna do post-car-wreck Bryce?’
“‘I’m happy sunbathing on the beach.’
“And I have to mediate between the two sides of myself, so I go halfway up the rock and jump in feet first. It’s not that this isn’t something that everyone goes through. It just seems that much more dramatic to me. On top of the patience that I have with myself, I accrue the debt of patience or lack of patience from society.”
Today, Bryce no longer sells cars but makes art. He has sketch books full of sculptures and paintings that he intends to create. His dream is to open an art space for people with disabilities. “It’s the first decision that I have made in my life that has come from my heart and not from the desire to make money.”
Rose Clark is 98 years old, but you wouldn’t know it by the way she bounded into the StoryCorps MobileBooth in Asheville, N.C., to record an interview with her son Gary. Rose is a true mountain woman, born on a farm in the middle of Blue Ridge Mountains. One of eleven children, she and her family ate off of the land. Rose began milking cows as soon as she could walk. “The only thing we bought was coffee and sugar,” she said.
Rose Clark and her son, Gary Clark
Rose met her husband at a revival at the Baptist church. Shortly after they married Rose moved with her husband to a logging camp where she cooked for the loggers near the Qualla Boundary. “I didn’t do nothing but cook for those men. All work and no play.”
She has been caring for people her entire life. She kept a garden for her family. “Hoed it and canned it myself.” Milked her own cows, churned her own butter, gathered her eggs, baked her biscuits and then she would go to her parents homestead and do the same for them. At one point she was tending three gardens — helping out her brother’s family, working her own kitchen garden, and still caring for her mother and father, while raising two of her grandchildren.
The secret to a long life according to Rose, is hard work. “Hard work never killed nobody, if it did, then I’d be dead a long time ago,” she said. But I think the secret is her giggle. A sweet little laugh punctuates the end of her sentences. She is all smiles. And her son is quick to point out, “those are all of her own teeth.”