By the time you read this, Christmas 2021 will have come and gone. More than likely, the latest and greatest toy you bought for your child(ren) has already been cast aside, as they create imaginary forts and dungeons out of the cardboard boxes their gifts came in.
I bet you spent a great deal of time preparing lots of food for consumption by family and friends. You cannot go wrong with food! It is a universal need that bonds hearts and souls around a table. And, more than likely, there were Christmas decorations inside and outside, along with the requisite Christmas tree. I confess, putting up those decorations seems a lot more fun than taking them down. Especially when it comes to that tree! I have an artificial one and trying to get that thing to fit back in the box it came in is practically impossible. It is like trying to get my chunky self into that swimsuit I wrote about a few months ago: stuff busting out in every direction!
One of the long-standing jokes between my daughter and me during the Christmas season has to do with a gift I purchased for her probably 10 years ago. Young women always want to look their best before leaving the house, and she is no different. Although there was a large mirror in her bathroom, I decided I would purchase a full-length mirror to hang on the back of her bedroom door. This would provide an opportunity for her to check out the “total effect” of her wardrobe and makeup selections. I knew it would be a hit, and not hit my wallet too hard either. So, I purchased it a few weeks before the big day and hid it until Christmas Eve.
That night, I circled through all the hiding spots I had stashed gifts in. Even in her early 20’s, that girl would rummage while I was away at work, so I had several secret caches to hide stuff in. I had gathered the goods and placed them near the tree. I then remembered I had purchased the mirror. I went to the usual hiding places; no mirror. I searched in the “not so usual” hiding places; no mirror. I tore the house up (quietly) looking for the mirror; no mirror. Where was the mirror?
Exhaustion finally ended my search for the evening. I figured I would recall the location by the next morning, and all would be well. Christmas morning came and went, and I still could not find the mirror. Now, I could understand if this were a small trinket of some kind, easily tucked away in a drawer or closet. But this mirror was probably fifteen inches wide, and about 4 feet long. You cannot just tuck that away somewhere unless that somewhere is a pretty big spot! And I am the one who hid it! Why could I not remember where I put it? I do recall thinking at the time that it was a good spot she would not think to look in. Too bad I would not think to look there again myself.
I checked the usual spots again, along with closets and under all beds. I even checked between the mattress and box spring of the bed in the spare bedroom; no mirror. Our house has a hip roof, so there really is not an attic, but I climbed on a ladder and lifted the hatch to look up there too; no mirror. I called family members to see if perhaps I had asked them to store it at their house; no mirror. Where was the mirror?
She got married and moved out not long after that Christmas. And believe it or not, the mirror has not been located all these many years later. Each year we ask ourselves, “where is the mirror” and laugh and ponder where it may be. We have searched places too small or too obscure to be the hiding spot, but we are optimistic it will be found one day! But by this time, I suspect we may never locate it. And do you know what? That is okay. I mean, it has become a cherished family tradition; searching for the elusive missing mirror. Not exactly a Hallmark movie moment, but hey, our family is a bit off-kilter anyhow, you know?
So, the next time you put something in a place where you are SURE you will remember it, think of me. You too may find yourself wondering; where is the mirror?
PREFACE: One of the most famous train songs of our American folklore is that of the Wabash Cannonball. This song debuted in the late 19th century as anonymous hobos made up verses about this mythical train and shared them with all of their brethren. The geographic run of this train was from St. Louis to Detroit—all along the Rock Island line. It is suggested that this mythical train—the Wabash Cannonball—was a “death coach” that appeared when a hobo died and carried his soul to his reward (aka Gloryland). As a hobo’s life is ending, they hear the train whistle blowing as the Wabash Cannonball approaches for them to board one last time and take their final ride.
Tadpole and Hap
Bob “Tadpole” Garland held his hands close to the open top of the fire barrel. While warming his cold old bones, his mind wandered back to his early days as a young train-hopping hobo. He smiled as he remembered his old three-legged dog, Hap. Hap was a very old dog now and had been missing for several days. Tadpole suspected that Hap went deep into this hobo jungle to pass away quietly.
Hap was appropriately named for being such a haphazard little dog that liked to chase each train that rumbled through this hobo jungle. It was during one of these train chases that Hap lost his right rear leg. He ventured just one inch too close to the tracks on one of his runs.
In olden days, a hobo jungle was considered to be an outdoor waiting room for any of the train-traveling hobos who needed a break from miles and miles of the steady clickety-clack of the big steel wheels of an old boxcar. It was also a great layover spot to wait to change trains or directions of travel.
One evening when Tadpole had hopped off of a train in a hobo jungle in a quiet little town in central Illinois, he decided to take a walk around the town. What he found would greatly change his life for the better. As he ambled east along Lincoln Street, he noticed a rustic old sign at the end of a long curvy lane. The sign said “Anglers’ Pond.”
As Tadpole walked along the lane to the back of the property, he spied what looked like a charred little cabin. As he got close to the little house, he could tell that it had been burned many years ago—but not burned down!
Tadpole decided to push the door open and take a look around in the dim little cabin. It took a few seconds for his eyes to adjust to the darkroom. Once Tadpole could see around the room, he realized that this was his new “sometimes home.”
Anglers’ Pond was an old-time fishing club for area folk who liked to fish from the dock or out on the lake with a non-motorized boat. It was a sleepy little club in a sleepy little town.
Several weeks after Tadpole took up residence in his new “sometimes home,” he heard a sad sound coming from his front stoop. He opened the door and saw the saddest little pup he’d ever seen. He lifted up the small dog and carried him into the cabin. Once he set the dog down, the little fella began dashing about the room. He was so rambunctious that he knocked over the stack of wood that Tadpole had gathered for keeping warm at night. It was immediately after this that Tadpole gave his furry new companion the spunky name of Haphazard—Hap for short.
Seldom did a hobo’s accouterments consist of much more than the clothes on his back and a few treasures in his pockets. However, now that Tadpole had a “sometimes home” and a trusty companion in Hap, he began to acquire some worldly possessions–the same as a man who actually has some roots put down somewhere. One of the biggest worldly possessions that Tadpole had acquired (besides his “sometimes home”) was a very old, trusty bicycle. He was so lucky to be walking down Lincoln Street when a kind old gentleman was rolling the bike to the curb on garbage day and leaned it against his garbage can. Taped to the seat of this old bicycle was a note that read, “To someone who is able to ride this, as I no longer can.” As the old man walked toward his house, he turned around just in time to see Tadpole read the note and clasp his hands together as if in prayer and then place himself carefully on the bicycle seat. Tadpole tipped his hat to the kind old gentleman, who, in turn, smiled and waved back.
Days and weeks faded into years as Tadpole and Hap would busy themselves fishing, cooking, visiting with area townsfolk, and riding the rails whenever the urge hit them to see other parts of this fine country.
People in this little town in central Illinois came to know and like Tadpole and Hap. Many of the townsfolk wondered what Tadpole’s “story” was and how he came to be a train-hopping hobo. The rumors and speculations were diverse. They ranged from him being a wounded war veteran to being a millionaire who couldn’t take the rat race of that life anymore and left it all behind. Never did anyone press Tadpole for an explanation. Tadpole was such a part of this little neighborhood that people used to take notice of when he and Hap would be off riding for a couple of weeks at a time.
As the years went by, Tadpole’s time away became fewer and fewer. Tadpole used to say, “Hopping on and off those boxcars isn’t getting any easier.” But what Tadpole and Hap still enjoyed doing was going down to the nearby hobo jungle at train times to visit with any of the younger fellas who were still riding the rails and would love sharing their adventures with Tadpole as they sat around a campfire and drank hot coffee.
On this particularly cool evening, as Tadpole held his hands over the fire barrel, turning them this way and that, he smiled while listening to three new arrivals tell about what was happening up in Chicago. It made Tadpole remember the exciting days of hearing about Al Capone and other gangsters who held a lot of influence over the railroads in those early days.
It was during this storytelling time that Tadpole started to realize that he wasn’t feeling very well. It was just a shortness of breath he was feeling. As the three traveling visitors were about to venture into the town to look for something to eat, they asked Tadpole if he’d like to join them. Tadpole declined their offer and called after them with a smile, “I believe I have a train to catch.”
Just after this exchange, Tadpole felt his legs give way and he slumped down to the ground and leaned against a tree. He heard a train whistle blowing and saw the light getting closer. As the train came into hobo jungle, Tadpole looked up and saw the door on the last boxcar was wide open and he could hear a familiar noise. He realized that the noise he heard was Hap barking and wagging his tail and welcoming him aboard the Wabash Cannonball. Tadpole was going for one last train ride. He was going home.
Author’s note: Back in my hometown of Bloomington, Illinois, I lived about two blocks from a hobo jungle and there really was a hobo of this description named Bob Garland. The cabin, the bike, the dog, the fishing club are all actual things from my childhood memories. The rest of these details were just arranged to make for an interesting little story. Thank you for your time! ~~Mary
Memories are precious things. They enable us to keep a part of our life experiences with us as we grow old. As I recall events from my youth growing up here in Randolph County, some events seem just as real today as they did many years ago. We have memories of life events and of pets that we have had over the years, but the most significant memories are the ones of people we have known. These are the memories that we hold most dear.
When I grew up in the ’50s and ’60s, Ramseur was a different place. It was certainly more rural, but the people were different too. People knew their neighbors and seemed to care about each other more back then. I remember my grandmother cooking pies and meals for neighbors who lived on our road or in the neighborhood. Most everyone around us went to the same church… Parks Crossroads or Jordan Memorial. Whenever a neighbor had an illness or life event, the whole neighborhood would come together. Now, most people cannot name neighbors who live across their street or even next door. Where we lived was in the country, and our “neighborhood” consisted of a couple of miles of dirt roads and farm families who stayed in touch with each other. This was especially true during the harvest season. Some of our closest neighbors grew tobacco, which back then was a very labor-intensive crop. Neighbors who farmed would come together and help each other during planting and harvest time. Priming the leaves was the hardest part of growing tobacco… and this was the first “real” job I had growing up.
I always was one to look for ways to make money. My dad used to let me plant pumpkins and green beans that I sold to Harvel’s Grocery in Ramseur. Mr. Harvel was a kind man and always willing to take my produce. I think daddy was just glad to have me working with him and it kept me occupied while he worked in his garden. I mowed both our and my grandparent’s yards every week, but never got paid money for that… The concept of an “allowance” was not something ever considered in our household. If I was to have money of my own, I had to find ways to earn it. I picked blackberries in the summer and sold them to neighbors in Town for 15 cents a quart, or 50 cents a gallon. My socks always smelled like the kerosene that I used to keep the chiggers off me. I rode my bike once a week to Alton Cox’s, who lived about a mile up the road mowed his yards around his house and barn for $1.25 a week…. That was “big” money back then. He also would pay me 50 cents a day to put feed into the feeders of his chicken house.
When tobacco harvest season came, all the neighbors were busy working in the fields and looking for help. I got my big chance to help after being asked in church one Sunday morning if I wanted another “job”. Tommy Conrad was needing help with tobacco and the first priming was going to be that Monday. I eagerly accepted the challenge and was told to meet at their tobacco barn around 5 AM. While I had been around tobacco the last year, I had never primed before. I knew it paid good money and was hard work, and I was determined to be the best primer ever and hopefully earn those high wages I had heard about. It was rumored that some experienced primers actually got as much as $2 an hour for their work. That was almost too good to believe. Tommy told me he would start me out at 75 cents an hour and see how well I did, but I would have to wait to be paid until the end of the season when they sold their crop. That was fine with me and still more money than I had ever earned before, so I gladly accepted and promised to be at his barn bright and early on Monday. He also told me to make sure I wore a long sleeve shirt and pants. I thought he was just kidding with me. I had never primed before and I knew the summer days were hot. When working out in the heat, surely no one would wear long sleeves. I showed up on time but in shorts and a tee shirt. The” old” men at the barn just smiled at me and said, “OK, let’s get at it”. There were several of us “primers” who headed out to the field behind two old mules that were each hitched to two long wooden sleds. I overheard one of the guys ask Tommy why he did not use a tractor to pull the sleds like his neighbor down the road did. Tommy replied, “now why would I do that? You have to leave out a couple of rows of tobacco for the tractor and with mules, I can plant more per acre. Besides, they can turn sharper than a tractor too”.
I was excited about my new job. Determined to be the best primer there, I eagerly listened to the instructions on how to “prime”. The bottom leaves were the biggest, and of course the closest to the ground, so you had to work bent over all the time. I was young and small, so that was not a problem.. Actually having to look at the ground all the time gave me an opportunity to look for Indian arrowheads while I worked… another bonus. Tommy told me to grab the first three or four leaves. “Just twist your hand around the stalk and the leaves will pop right off. Then you put them under your arm and after you get all you can hold, then lay them in the sled, with the ends facing out”. That seemed simple, I thought. Soon, I discovered that Tommy was not kidding with me when he said to wear long sleeves. The cold, tobacco leaves were wet with dew and the sticky resin made the leaves stick to my skin when I unloaded an arm full. I did not have time to look for arrowheads because the mule kept the sleds in front of everyone and I was always trying to “catch up” with the person in the row next to me. When we got to the end of the first row, I was the last one to finish. Some of the “old” men were already way down the next row before I finished my first one. I soon realized that priming was not only a hard job, it was one that took some skill to do right and quick. The sticky leaves were already beginning to cling to my arms, and I soon realized the big mistake I had made in not listening to Tommy’s advice. I did my best to keep up, and some of the men would encourage me along the way with things like “come on boy, you can do it”. I was determined to prove I was just as good as them, but actually, it took everything I could muster just to keep up. After what seemed like an eternity, it was time for a “break”. We got a drink of cold water from a long ladle that was dipped into a bucket. Everyone drank from the same ladle, which I thought was strange, but the water was welcomed after what seemed like hours priming (actually it probably was just an hour or two). After a few minutes rest, it was back to priming. The mules responded to commands such as Gee and Haw… they seemed to know exactly how far to stay ahead and when to stop. The white sandy soil was ideal for sleds and when one sled was full, it would be pulled to the side of the field and another one hitched up. One mule was used to pull the sleds to the barns, that were located down the dirt road to a lead to the home and barns. Most rural roads back then were dirt. The sandy soil of eastern Randolph County was ideal for tobacco farming and Randolph County had the largest amount of dirt roads in the State. It was not uncommon to see farmers pulling their crops down these roads during harvest season.
I remember one time when we had finished a field, and the mules were both hitched to two sleds, full of freshly primed tobacco leaves. We were headed to the barn when disaster struck. Already bone-tired from a day of priming, everyone was glad to be finished, when suddenly one of the mules began kicking and snorting. The mule took off running and the two sleds were turned on their sides, with greenish golden tobacco leaves scattered all over the road. One sled busted apart when the mule turned the corner and the other was in pieces by the time the mule stopped at the barn. “What happened”, someone shouted. “Bee” Tommy said. “Must have gotten stung by a bee”. We began gathering up the leaves of tobacco that littered the roadside placing them into another sled. When I got to the barn, I expected to see Tommy beat the mule for the damage it had done, but instead, he was brushing him and giving him water. He calmed the animal down, realizing it was frightened and had not done anything wrong. “You have to take care of your animals, he said. They have feelings too”.
It is strange what things you remember. I had not spoken to Tommy since his wife Patsy died. I knew they were close. I had just seen him a few weeks ago when he came to church with his sister. Tommy had lost his eyesight. He recognized people by their voice. It was hard to believe he died so quickly.
I know that there is a lot of more important things people remember about Tommy Conrad, but for me, I will always remember him giving me my first “real” job… and of course those mules.
Ramseur- Thomas “Tommy” Edward Conrad, 77, passed away Monday, December 27, 2021 at Randolph Hospice. Born June 14, 1944 in Randolph County, he was the son of the late Clarence Reid Conrad, and Maude Johnson Conrad.
Tommy was preceded in death by his parents; his wife of almost 56 years Patsy Spencer Conrad; and his son, Spencer Reid Conrad. He is survived by daughter, Donna Conrad Long and her husband Reggie of Robbins; grandchildren, Colton Long and his wife Mary of Robbins, Chesley Cox and her husband Ethan of Troy, Carter Long of Robbins and Steffenie Porvaznik and her husband Mike of Raleigh; great-grandchildren, Reid Thomas Long, Wyatt Samuel Cox, and Gibson Stone Long; brother, Kenneth Conrad of Naples, FL; sisters, Cathy Johnson and her husband Gene of Asheboro and Sherri Needham and her husband Barry of Ramseur; and sisters in law, Jane Gerringer of Asheboro, and Sandra Baucom and her husband Larry of Asheboro.
A graveside service was held at 2:00 pm, Sunday, January 2, 2022, at Parks Crossroads Christian Church, 2057 Parks Crossroads Church Rd, Ramseur, NC 27316 with Reverend Randy Kelley, Reverend Ransom Love, and Reverend Todd Nance officiating. The family wishes to thank Randolph Hospice House for their care of Tommy in his final days. In lieu of flowers, the family wishes for donations to be made in Tommy’s honor to Randolph Hospice or Parks Crossroads Christian Church.
Today as I was getting ready for church, the shirt I put on triggered a memory and I began reminiscing about my childhood. I was privileged to have grown up around my grandparents when I was young. We lived just across the road from their farm, and my dad worked with his father in the lumber & construction business, so we saw them almost every day. My grandad was a quiet, stately man who I admired greatly. I spent as much time as I could with him. During the summer he would let me help with the chores around the farm. I helped him feed his hogs during the evenings and sometimes he would let me ride with him to downtown Ramseur to have grain ground into feed and pick up supplies. When we got to the milling company in downtown Ramseur, he would back up the side dock. The owner, Mr. Shoemaker would greet us at the side door and we would shovel our pickup load of corn and wheat into the large abyss that was in the floor of Mr. Shoemakers’ milling company. The hum of the grinding was always mesmerizing to me, and I shuttered to think of what would happen if an animal accidentally were to fall into that pit. It was just an open hole in the floor that was covered by a wooden trap door when not in use. Once you opened the door, a metal shoot would direct anything thrown into the pit to grinders that would turn it into fine feed or flour. Mr. Shoemaker would then wrap a burlap sack around the mouth of the funnel that came down inside the store and with a quick pull of a lever, fills up a 100 lb sack of feed and quickly tie it with his special knot. It was then loaded onto the customer’s truck. My job was to shovel the grain into the pit and then pull the bags to the front of the building where my grandfather would be waiting to load them onto his truck. Most of the time the feed we had milled wound up into hog feed. Each year, Granddad would grow out several hundred hogs to “top hogs” (when they got to around 200 lbs) and then take them to the sale in Siler City. He gave me one of his flock for my efforts every year that I helped him.
My thoughts were directed to those days while I was dressing for church. We have a new pastor, and his preaching has caused me to actually enjoy going to church again. I was up early so to get dressed and be there on time. Now my wardrobe is sort of limited. I have never been one to buy a lot of clothes. In fact, I rarely ever throw away anything. That becomes a problem when you grow in places that you don’t want. For some reason, my neck seems to be (well, it actually is) much larger than it was years ago, so my old shirts just don’t fit anymore. They don’t button like they used to either. When I try to fasten the top button to put on a tie, it feels like I am being choked. I do have a few shirts that have a large enough neck that they are comfortable, but most of these are not what I would call “fashionable.” I had put one of these shirts on this Sunday, and as I looked in the mirror, my mind went back to those days with my Granddad and Mr. Shoemaker. While we would grind our own grain for hog feed, Grandaddy would purchase his chicken feed at the store. After we loaded up the bags of feed we had ground, he would go through the stacks of chicken feed and pick out several with patterned designs on the bags. Back then, access to a clothing store was limited to an occasional trip to town or mail order from the Sears and Roebuck catalog. Companies would pack their feed in patterned cloth bags that rural women could re-use for dresses, aprons, and table cloths, or whatever they chose to make from them. These feed sacks came in a variety of colors and designs, and when we returned from town with our load, my grandmother would come out and inspect what we had brought. “Now that one will make a nice tablecloth (or something)” she would say “You be careful with it and don’t tear it up.” Granddaddy would nod, as to say “don’t worry.” The shirt I had chosen for church was a yellow checkered one, and it reminded me of those feed sacks and the anticipation of my grandmother getting something new.
Simple things, for a much simpler time. People seemed to be much happier back then. Thankful for memories.
Almost every small town has at least one store, shop, or restaurant that is unique. It may be a family bakery that has existed for generations or a clothing store that sells designer creations made by the owner. Whatever the type, these remarkable one-of-a-kind businesses give us our rich culture and history and make exploring small towns an adventure. One such place in Ramseur is a business called Zack White Leather Company. Once you enter the doors of their modern building located at 809 Moffitt Street, it is like a step back in time. The smell of leather, rich and strong, floods the shop. You are welcomed by a friendly black Labrador retriever named Jasmine who is the official store greeter. Shelves are lined with dyes and finishes of all sorts and behind the long glass counter are racks of small drawers filled with hundreds of different tools used for carving and stamping leather. Further into the store are high shelves filled with piles of tanned hides. Hanging from the stores’ second level are huge hides of hair on cow, goat’ elk, and bison that are hung from the railing, giving the store a rustic appeal. To the novice, the huge variety of leather hides is quite overwhelming. Only in a very few places in the entire country can you find such a variety of leather hides for sale. How did a company like this find its way to a small town like Ramseur?
Zack White Leather Company has been a Ramseur business since it was moved here back in 1984 from its original location in Raleigh. Until 2003, the business was located at the corner of Liberty and Main streets in downtown Ramseur. For many years it was a central attraction for the downtown with a Civil War cannon mounted on top of the building. In 2003, the business moved to its current location on Moffitt Street alongside Cox Home Center, which is owned by the same owners. The history of a store like Zack White is interesting as well as the man for whom the business draws its name.
The leather findings business is an old business that has its beginnings in the shoe trade. The Company originally was referred to as a “findings company”. The term “findings”, which is also used in the jewelry trade, originated in Europe many years ago when craftsmen had difficulty locating the items they needed. These people became known and “finders” and the material they found was referred to as “findings”, which is a convenient way to cover a wide variety of items. Today, with the availability of the internet, almost everyone has the ability to search for items they are needing and companies calling themselves finders are a relic of the past. At one time the leather industry was the largest industry in America, with US Leather being the largest corporation in1901. Even as late as the 1960’s, there were dozens of shoe repair shops and leather stores scattered in every county. Zack White Leather Co used to employ salesman that had designated routes and serviced stores from the Tidewater region of Virginia to Charleston, SC, and up to the piedmont section of North Carolina. Back then, companies stayed in their own “territories”. Zack White had the eastern portion of NC, and other companies had their own territories. Southern Leather concentrated in SC and up to the Charlotte area, JH Cook & Sons had the western part of NC and Acme General the southern part of Virginia. Today, with the advent of the internet, the days of having a “territory” are over. The days of traveling salesmen are over and the Company markets their products through several websites which makes their products and services available to a broad range of customers. Zack White Leather Co ships products both domestic and international. Zack White Leather Company is one of only a handful of companies still in existence where you can purchase the wide variety of items used in the craft, tack, shoe, and leather trades, and the products are actually stocked where customers can come in and browse the inventory. The store is so unique, that people will travel hundreds of miles just to visit the store. In one case, and customer brought his whole family from Maine down to Asheboro, and while the wife and kids toured the NC Zoo, the father and son spent the day at Zack White shopping. Customers are considered “local” if they live within a 300-mile radius of the store and many choose to drive the distance so they can feel and examine the leather before purchase. Many customers will tell you they come to the store so they can talk with Zack and learn from his knowledge of the trade or get his advice on what purchase to make. Actually, Zack has long been gone from the business that bears his name.
Zack White was employed by this company when he got out of high school and was transferred to their Raleigh branch in 1939. He began as a salesman and traveled one of the established routes that ran to Wilmington down to Charleston. Back then a salesman was required to pay his own way when on the road. Back before WW11, hotel bills and meals for a week’s travel averaged less than $15.00. Small town hotels usually were no more than $1.25 a night and the most expensive meal you could buy was a T-bone steak, which cost 75 cents, with a 5 cent tip (10 cents if you were a big spender), Zack was able to save up enough money to purchase the business. In 1954, Zack took a gamble and built a new building next to the train track on Wake Forest Road in Raleigh. The road soon became a major business highway and Zack’s leather business prospered. It was not long before styles and trends began to change to more of a “throw-away” economy, and people repaired their shoes less and less. So to keep up with the ever-changing market, Zack diversified into the leathercraft trade and began stocking and selling tack items along with high-end briefcases to the executives in Raleigh. As the shoe business continued to decline, the business continued to diversify and when Zack reached the age of 70, he sold out to one of his longtime customers who moved the business to Ramseur in 1984. Zack was a former president of the National Association of Shoe Finders and on their board of directors for several years. The business continued to use the Zack White name because of the established reputation and recognition it had within the leather industry and the loyal following of crafters who chose to purchase their products from the company.
To reach a more diversified customer base, the business started to manufacture a line of belts and finished goods. Today, the manufacturing and production part of the business supplies products to a wide variety of businesses that, in turn, sell in retail stores or at craft shows. They produce many “confined” products for other companies that sell the products through their own name or trademark. You may purchase a belt or leather item for other stores and never know that it was originally manufactured in Ramseur. The main retail line currently sold by Zack White Leather Company is “Maxwell-Leigh Creations”. This line of belts, handbags, and fashion items are sold primarily over the internet thru ESTY and in select stores and are advertised in trade publications and magazines such as Our State. They also produce a line of canine collars and leashes under five different style brands and are the official dealer for Cobra Leather Working Equipment for the southeast US.
The increase in retail customers that visit the store can also be attributed to the wide range of craft items that are offered. Handmade jewelry and pottery items by WT Cox are available for sale. Customers can have custom knife sheaths or holsters made to order, also repair services are offered for a wide variety of leather items, including ladies’ handbags. The company also sells a huge variety of motorcycle apparel, including vests, chaps, jackets, and accessories. The MC apparel is not manufactured by the company, but many items can be ordered custom-made. The backlog for custom make items can be several months, but the wait is usually worth it.
Zack White Leather Co. illustrates the unique, one-of-a-kind experience that can be had when exploring small towns. The personal attention and unique products that visitors witness when visiting the store are just some examples of the hidden treasures that await travelers who take the time to explore the small towns of North Carolina. There is no better place to start exploring than right here in Randolph County.
We would like to wish a VERY HAPPY BIRTHDAY to a wonderful lady many people affectionately refer to as Ramseur’s own “Mother Teresa.” Ms. Toni Gilmore Marley will turn 100 years “young” this December 15th. Over the years, this remarkable lady volunteered thousands of hours for local causes, especially Hospice and the Local Food Pantry. She has faithfully served at Our Daily Bread Soup Kitchen in Asheboro and other charitable causes. Ms. Marley has been recognized many times for her many hours of volunteer work. In 2014, she received the Service Above Self Award presented by the Randolph Rotary Club for her volunteerism, especially to the Randolph County Hospice. In 2015, Toni Marley was the recipient of the NC Governor’s Volunteer Service Award in a special ceremony with Governor Pat McCrory. Then in 2020, Ms. Marley was presented with the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, as granted by the State of North Carolina and Governor Roy Cooper. This award was given for her “incredible heart and years of service to her community.” When presented with this award, by Trent Cockerham, CEO of Hospice of Randolph County, Ms. Marley commented, “I can’t feel worthy of this … I don’t feel like I’ve done anything that many other people have done.” What Ms. Marley considers “not worthy” would be quite an accomplishment for most people. Toni had volunteered over 8500 hours of her time when this award was given in September of 2020, and now that number of hours is even more. She not only serves as a patient volunteer by visiting and offering support, she also helps coordinate and prepare donations of desserts and assist with food services. Toni is also known for her baking skills. Hospice credited her with bringing in over $22,000 to the organization through sales of her cakes and desserts.
Ms. Marley was part of the original group of volunteers that was formed back in 1981 when Hospice first came to Randolph County. She now is the last surviving member of that group. She is not the typical person you would expect to donate so much of her time to giving back to her community. She was originally from Pittsboro, in Chatham County, and came to Ramseur when she was 16 years old. She finished high school and married Joe Harris Marley, and they had two children. Her husband unexpectedly died at the young age of 36 and left Tony behind to raise her two children on her own, ages 9 and 5. She lived just a couple blocks from the Coble Dairy where she worked. She was able to put both her children through college, but when her daughter got sick and unable to get around on her own, she gave her the family car so she could get to class from her dorm. During this time without a car to drive, Toni rode a bicycle to work every day, and to church and the grocery store. Eventually, when her daughter passed away from her illness, Toni refused to let hardship get her down. She pulled from her faith, saying “there are a lot of people who are worse off than me”. She dedicated her life to serving others, whether it be in her church or by volunteering her time, she was determined to share God’s gift of caring with others. In addition to the many awards Toni has received, she is most proud of her church and the outreaches it provides. She is a member of Jordan Memorial Methodist Church in Ramseur and active in the ladies’ group, church choir, and assists with the newsletter. She still exercises weekly with ladies of the church and attends services when she can. “I thank the good Lord every day that I can get up and take care of myself”, Marley commented when interviewed after receiving her latest award. She enjoys walking in her yard and growing flowers. Her vision is bad, so she cannot drive anymore, but thankfully she has friends who love her and remember the years of thankless service she has given to her community. Toni Marley is referred to by many who know her as Ramseur’s “Mother Teresa” because of her compassion and zeal for helping others in need. She will turn 100 years young this December 15th, and we wish her a very Happy Happy Birthday.
A celebration service will be given to Ms. Toni Marley Sunday, December 12th from 2:00 till 4:00 pm in the Jordan Memorial Methodist Church fellowship hall, located on Main Street in Ramseur. The public is invited and to please wear a mask, even if vaccinated.
*portions of this article were gathered from the Jordan Memorial Church Newsletter, an article by Tony Bolick USA Network, and from conversations with her friend Emily Johnson. We were unable to interview Ms. Marley directly.
Our son calls “Miss Toni” the Mother Teresa of Ramseur. When there is an illness, accident, death or any kind of family crisis Toni Marley will be the first person to visit with a casserole or dessert and consoling words for the family. She quietly notices if there are things that need to be done and immediately pitches in to help.
Toni visits the elderly and persons confined to their homes. She makes regular visits to those who reside in care facilities in Ramseur and Asheboro. She seems to have that sixth sense that tells her if there is a special concern.
Toni has been a member of Jordan Memorial United Methodist Church since she was a teenager. She has been youth director, Sunday School Teacher and has served in numerous offices and committees. She is currently a member of the member care team and the adult choir. She supervises the kitchen at the church and coordinates all church meals whether for fellowship or for fundraising.
Toni is an active member of the United Methodist Women and attends district and conference activities. Over the years she has served as president, vice-president, secretary, and treasurer as well as offices within her small group circle.
She coordinates the bereavement meals that are served to church members’ families prior to or following a funeral. She also coordinates fundraising activities for United Methodist Women.
Toni is an active member of Church Women United of Randolph and is currently serving as treasurer of that organization.
In December, 2003 a food pantry was established by the churches in the Ramseur area. Toni attended the organizational meeting and continues to serve as an active member of the coordinating board. All food and work are provided by volunteers. Each church provides volunteers every six weeks to keep the food pantry open. Toni is in charge of staffing the pantry with volunteers from Jordan Memorial United Methodist Church. During those weeks Toni works at least one day and often more. She collects and delivers the food donations to the Ramseur Food Pantry and also to the Christian United Outreach Center in Asheboro.
Those of us who are younger than Toni marvel at her energy and enthusiasm. She sets the pace for the rest of us. We could certainly learn time management from her. I can think of no one more worthy of being recognized for service to others.
I am amazed at the impact and contributions that many Ramseur natives have had on society, not only in North Carolina but national and international. People who grew up here in our small town have impacted our world in a lot of different ways. This is a story of Ramseur native Willie Brady and his life experience that has gone from a small town to the Peace Corps during the time of the Viet Nam War and to a small island in Central America that eventually would become his home. Willie’s life is documented from his time growing up on Liberty Street in Ramseur to his transition to builder and conservationist on his adopted island home or Roatan. His Carambola Garden is a mixture of botanical wonders and nature trails that entice cruise ship passengers as well as travelers from around the world. Willie has managed to improve the lives of countless people and give back to nature at the same time. His story is told by his childhood friend and Ramseur economist Dr. Gordon Brady, who has a story of his own that we hope to tell in future issues.
This mini-biography of William Parks Brady (“Bill” aka “Willie”) is a “labor of family pride.” It is based on discussions with Bill, his family, and my somewhat “rusty” reflections and impressions of events and people over 70 years. I recently had the privilege of a 5-day visit with Bill at his family home in Roatan, Honduras. Aside from growing up on Liberty Street, we are descendants of Jesse Alfred Brady (1867 – 1943), elected for two terms as sheriff of Randolph County (1922-24 and 1924-26).
Part of growing up in the 1960s was watching each episode of “Gilligan’s Island.” The story goes — caught in a storm on a three-hour cruise, seven castaways washed ashore on a tropical paradise. Its 99 episodes (1964-67) focus on the efforts of an unlikely mix of characters trying unsuccessfully to leave their island paradise – Bill Brady’s story is the reverse. Bill is the professor — in this case an expert in architecture and botany. A central role is played by Irma, Bill’s wife of 42 years — best friend, mother to his children, business partner, and advisor. My role is to tell the story of a “Liberty Street boy” who found paradise, but unlike Gilligan, Bill and Irma chose to stay in their island paradise. They married, had a family of three (Matthew, Nicole, and Gisselle), and built a life around preserving the ecosystems of Roatan, commercial, and philanthropic projects. Irma has won awards for her many environmental and educational contributions to Honduras.
Bill’s introduction to Roatan came by accident. In 1970 Bill joined the Peace Corps after graduating from North Carolina State University with a degree in architecture. In a process over which he had little control, Bill “landed“ on Coxen Hole, Roatan on a mission to help the locals with housing. It took only a short time for Bill to be fall in love with his newfound island paradise… soon he was hooked. Now, nothing could take him from the island paradise.
Bill loved his newfound home, but also made every effort to bring some is his loves to the island… one was baseball. He started the first organized team on the island and soon had a thriving construction business as well. He became involved in philanthropic and charitable activities and soon met his future wife. He was married in 1979 and had three children. Over the next 50 years he was instrumental in much of the development on the island, including the establishment of an ecological preserve that he named Carambola Botanical Gardens.
Bill was the first son of John Emmett “Bill” Brady, Jr. (1914-1957) and Roselea Parks Brady (1915 – 1995). Linda Brady Burgess was the first, then Bill, and finally John Emmett III(aka Nicky). Bill grew up in the home of his grandparents John Emmett (1870 – 1963) and Lydia Ann Thomas Brady (1874-1954). Bill’s grandfather was my great uncle, a man with whom I enjoyed many conversations about the origin of the Ramseur Brady’s. The Brady’s were primarily Scotch Irish having moved to Ramseur from Bennett in the late 19th century.
Bill grew up in a home designed and built by his grandfather John Emmett Brady, Sr. John Emmett Sr., who was a successful builder, developer, and businessman (he owned the furniture factory in Ramseur). He instilled in his grandson a love of function, design, and carpentry. I well remember two of John Emmett’s inventions. He built a two-story hen house and designed a mechanism to transfer the eggs to a central depository on the first floor. This freed the family to focus on other activities including a grape arbor, unusual plants, and many species of trees.
I always marveled at John Emmett’s black iron structure to store ice for the summer. Like John Emmett, the icehouse had a long life and was removed in the 1970s.
Early on Bill developed an interest in baseball through his family and the Ramseur community. John Emmett’s children were very athletic and accomplished in baseball and golf. Bill’s uncle Clarence L. Brady (1895-1913) died from a baseball injury.
Bill was a very solid student (“Beta Club”), well-liked, and athletic. Academics and sports occupied much of his time. Bill and his brother Nicky developed a game similar to baseball which they called “lemon ball.” The game was played with baseball bats and a plastic lemon juice dispenser shaped like a lemon, hence the name lemon ball. It became quickly popular on Liberty Street but to my knowledge, it did not catch on outside Ramseur.
E.C. “Zeke” Tatum (1926 – 1995) who taught Ag and shop at the Ramseur School was a strong influence on Bill’s artistic and architectural talents through carpentry, assembly, and presentation of projects. These skills played an integral role in the roads he was later to travel and became the foundation of his great accomplishments. In addition to one-on-one learning from Zeke to Bill, membership in the Future Farmers of America and summer jobs became an important avenue for Bill’s development. Bill was co-founder of the Science Masters and benefitted greatly from the guidance of science teacher William A. Barbour.
A summer job with Asheboro architects Hyatt Hammond and Alvis George provided firsthand exposure to the world of professional architects and builders. He became immersed in the process of project development, implementation, and presentation. While working for Hamond and George, Bill met Ramseur/Randolph County legend Oscar King (1899 – 1985) a skilled builder, pipe fitter, and general jack of all building trades. But more than this, Oscar was legendary for his ability to interact/coach workmen, contractors and leaders of municipal governments. Bill credits King with instilling an approach to maximize cooperation to complete projects.
Bill attended the Ramseur Baptist Church and was a member various organizations including the Royal Ambassadors, a youth group. Bill very much enjoyed RA camping trips and church activities such as bowling and a baseball team.
School and the Baptist Church played a strong role in Bill’s interest in sports and “healthy” competition. The Brady’s had always been active, but several had the potential for the leagues outside the community. Bill had a number of colleagues who contribute to the story. Tim Wright, Larry Moody, Wayne Siler were some of his closest friends during his Ramseur years…
People of my generation remember Bill’s efforts to update the facade of the family home with a huge parachute which covered the long front porch of the family home on Liberty Street. Bill and several friends stretched a giant parachute across the huge front porch which surrounded the front porch. Bill describes the motivation as “let’s see if we can do this, how to do it, and how to overcome any resulting problems. The home soon became a “clubhouse” for the Ramseur boys to hang out in. The community became suspicious that great mischief was taking place behind the veil. This led to an investigation by local police Ott Gant and Wiley Craven. Soon, the rumors of mischief were dispelled and the home was once again a meeting place for teenagers and young people. On Sundays, Liberty Street would be full of young people playing “beach ball” from the brick wall that separated the yard of the home from Liberty Street.
While many boys his age were going into the military, Bill chose to go into the Peace Corps. It soon became apparent that getting accepted into the Peace Corps was not as easy is it may seem. Not wanting a “bad apple” to spoil their image in host countries, the Peace Corp sought appointees of high moral character and unassailable integrity. They also wanted a fit between appointees and the challenges of the projects and the regions to which they were sent.
Bill’s desire was to improve the life of the people on the island, preserve fragile Roatan ecosystems, AND “play baseball”. He introduced Little League programs for the youth to the island. Bill and his wife Irma also became heavily involved in environmental issues. One of their first projects was to mount an organized effort to stop the burning of clear-cut land clearing.
Bill got a good match with his wife Irma. She is a lifelong resident of the islands and has won many environmental awards for her leadership in environmental and educational issues. Her concern for the threats of development to Roatan ecosystems resulted in her founding the Bay Islands Conservation Association, a grassroots organization to promote the sustainable use of the island’s resources, monitor environmental impacts, and ensure that development doesn’t come at the cost of irreplaceable habitats. BICA grew in scope and influence over the years under Irma’s leadership, and now has chapters on both Utila and Guanaja, Roatán’s neighboring islands. It also manages the Sandy Bay West End Marine Reserve, the site of our most recent project in Honduras.
Serving as a field evaluator, Irma has long worked with the local and national Ministry of Environment to certify proposed development projects on Roatán as sustainable before they are approved. She remains a strong advocate in protecting Roatán’s remaining coral reefs, mangroves, and other critical coastal environments from poorly designed developments. Her role has often brought her into conflict with developers and politicians, but her tenacity, knowledge of the issues, and broad community support have repeatedly won out and helped foster a culture of sustainability on the Bay Islands. Aside from the central role she plays at Carambola, she is deeply involved in the Port Royal Wildlife Refuge, a terrestrial wildlife preserve, and the Carambola Botanical Garden, which offers free tours to local children to build appreciation for Roatán’s unique flora.
Bill became known as the “Gringo” who played baseball and promoted the sport as part of Roatan culture. His projects in Roatan included designing schools, churches, municipal water systems, and bridges. Today there are many options to play sports in Roatan, including soccer, football, baseball, rugby, and softball. But in the early 1970s when Bill arrived, there were very few. Seeing this as an opportunity, Bill took it upon himself to make a difference. Aside from his day job” he found time to organize a Little League Baseball League – composed of six teams across the island.
He formed a baseball team of islanders. In addition to coaching Little League, Bill raised money to buy uniforms and saw it as an opportunity to pass along his love of baseball to the youth of Coxen Hole.
Eventually, Bill and Irma were able to acquire a 41-acre swatch of land and establish a botanical preserve. The name Carambola was chosen due to its unique star shape star-fruit composed of “five fingers.” Technically, it is known as the fruit of Averrhoa carambola, a species of tree native to tropical southeastern Asia.
The development of Carambola Botanical Gardens was a new direction for Bill’s career work moved into the realm of cultivation for beauty as well as export. Bill’s vision for the Gardens itself was shaped by his architectural training, love of plants especially trees, and their role in ecosystems.
Today, Bill’s Carambola Garden preserve is a major tourist attraction on the island of Roatan and is a must-see destination for many of the thousands of tourists that visit the island via cruise ships every year. Many visitors come by air from all corners of the globe to visit the preserve and observe some of the botanical wonders that are only found on Roatan.
While Bill is right at home in his adopted island paradise, his thoughts still reflect back to his growing up in Ramseur. The values learned, faith, family, friendship, and commitment are Ramseur traits that now are a part of this island culture thanks to Bill.
One of the most difficult things about growing old is having your friends pass away. When I was young, I remember my grandmother reading the obituaries every day. Back then, there was no Facebook, social media… or the internet to keep in touch with people. A lot of families did not even have telephones when I was young, but our newspaper was delivered daily… sometimes it would end up in the side ditch or a mud hole if had been raining, and other times our family dog would find it and hide it, but normally it was there every day. Assuming that she got her hands on the paper, my grandmother would always go to the obituary section. Now, that I am close to 70 years of age, I can understand why my grandmother always read those obituaries. It seems that one of my childhood friends or classmates pass away, much too often. Over the last decade, so many friends have died. Thankfully we are left with memories, and as I look through pictures from the past, I cannot help but smile as I recall some of the great times I have had with people I grew up with. Russell Jessup was one of my best friends, and he passed away on Veterans Day, November 11th, 2021. It seems fitting that Russel was called home on a day dedicated to veterans. One of his most cherished accomplishments was the time he spent in the Navy during the Viet Nam War.
Russell Jessup was born June 24, 1946, and grew up just outside Ramseur and attended Ramseur School along with his brothers Jean, Tommy, David, and Tony, and his sister Lori, Judy, and Phoebe. His father was a farmer and carpenter, so Russell grew up with a respect for hard work and a love for his country. He joined the Navy just as the Viet Nam War began to heat up. Russell belonged to an elite group of all-volunteer soldiers known as HELATKLTRON-3 Sea Wolves. He was stationed on the USS Enterprise (CVN-65) during her maiden voyage as the first nuclear combat battle group to ever fight in wartime. He served with a Light Helicopter Attack Squadron and flew 501 combat missions as an open door gunner in some of the heaviest fightings during the War. After the Navy, Russell returned back to his hometown of Ramseur and began to carry on with his life. He married Donna Bell on 10/26/1979, and they were together for 42 years until his death this year. After re-settling back in Ramseur, Russell went to work as a stonemason. Russell became known as one of the best stonemasons anywhere and took great pride in his work. I was privileged to have Russell lay the stone for my home’s foundation and saw firsthand just how hard of a job that was. The heavy lifting and work required eventually caused back problems and Russell was forced to retire.
Russell was an avid outdoorsman and loved camping and canoeing. We went on many canoeing trips together navigating white water rapids of rivers like the Little Tennessee, Nantahala, New, Haw, Mayo, Dan, French Broad, and Rocky Rivers…. Just to name a few. The last time I saw Russell, he said “we got to break out those canoes one more time..” That time never came. I look through pictures that were taken over the years and remember the good times. Friends are never lost, as long as we remember them.
Change – it is something everyone must deal with, often daily. We start to do one thing, then pivot in another direction to manage another task that has captured our attention. Other times, change comes knocking at the door in the form of good news or bad, and again we must adapt to move forward. Change keeps us from getting complacent and comfortable with our surroundings. It shakes us up a bit.
Recently, the winds of change started blowing in my world. Events beyond my control had me fervent in prayer and searching the scriptures for solace and guidance. I was taught from an early age to pray, “if it be Thy will” when asking anything of my God. It reminds me that He is in control, nothing happens that does not pass through His hands, and He is working all things out for my good and His Glory. I confess it is easy to pray “His will” when I have reason to expect the outcome I desire. It is much harder to do when I truly have no indication of how the situation will play out.
My heart was broken when what I had prayed so fervently for did not occur. I was distraught and foolish enough to start an argument with God. Yeah, you read that right – I argued with HIM. The eternally existing, promise-keeping God of the universe! I shouted out to the ceiling all the reasons I could think of as to why He should have answered my prayers and given me “my will.” Thankfully, He is merciful and gracious, and let me rail against Him until I was physically spent from my anguish, my eyes red from my tears. And then, when all was quiet around me, He whispered, “greater things are coming Debra, just wait.” The uncertainty left me with no choice but to trust Him and ask Him for wisdom to deal with His plan and again pray for His will to be done.
As the days and weeks progressed, I started to see His hand at work. The prayers of many people, including mine, were answered. Doors which were long closed were opened; things fell into place so perfectly and rapidly it can only be attributed to the goodness of God! A new perspective of the potential opportunities before me was revealed as well. None of this would have happened if God had given me my will. He was so right about greater things coming! Imagine that.
But still, I had no peace, as it was apparent that I was going to have to get out of my comfort zone to partake in and be blessed by these new opportunities He was laying before me! I was going to have to make tough decisions about things I loved and cherished! I was going to have to CHANGE. And I was fearful. And that is when I looked at Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV) “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
Things are still in motion as I write this. Some decisions have been made; others await. But I have peace now. I am not concerned about what is ahead, as my God has confirmed yet again that I can trust Him with all things, both great and small. His love for me is so immense, and he rains blessings down on me again and again and gently chastens me when I get too big for my britches. And I will continue to pray “Thy will be done” because I know He only wants the best for me. My God is an awesome God!