Ashley McGhee Whittle: My Story - Part Three
Paul Brigmon as a Youth
TITLE: My Story: Ashley McGhee Whittle – Part Three: Paul Brigmon as a Youth
AUTHOR: Ashley McGhee Whittle
PERMISSION TO PUBLISH granted by the author. All rights reserved.
Daddy made it through the eighth grade. Nancy decided that she didn’t want him and Peggy going to that African American school. She tried to get them up there in Barnardsville to take them into the white school, but they wouldn’t take them. So Nancy took Daddy and Peggy over to Crossnore Academy in Avery County, and enrolled Peggy and him both. He stayed one night, and he left out walking, and he walked from Crossnore all the way back to Barnardsville [about 50 miles]. He was homesick. A baby. Nancy coddled him. He didn’t go back to Crossnore. He didn’t get a high school diploma or anything like that.
Growing up then, which was in 1940’s, it was a lot harder back then: barefoot summers and cold, cold winters up there. I mean it was right off the Coleman Boundary at the back of Mount Mitchell. He said they did have a few neighbors up there; most knew who their neighbors were, helped them if needed. The tobacco farming paid bills up there, and it was hard work. Daddy absolutely hated it. He hated tobacco farming. It was backbreaking work. Daddy and his brother Bud each had their own fields that they worked. And whenever they got done, they went and helped the rest of their siblings in their fields. They usually did not have to hire anyone because she had so many kids, and they were all working in those fields. When they got done with the fields in the summertime, they really looked forward to getting in the creek at the end of the day. Granny Nancy always grew corn in every summer, and Bud and Daddy would ride the horse to the grinding mill in Barnardsville to get the corn ground into meal. They fished a lot. The two of them fished a lot. Daddy and Bud used to go to Blue Sea Falls and trout fish. He was telling me that he had caught some of the biggest trout that he had ever seen in his life back in there. Swannanoa Valley Museum leads a hike in there twice a year. When I got back into hiking in my early twenties, I found a picture of Blue Sea Falls online, and it looks like something you’d find down in the Caribbean or something.
He did enjoy going into Asheville. I had a black and white photo of Daddy, when he was young, stuck in the visor of my Toyota Tacoma truck. It was like a wallet photo. And he’s in a pair of khaki slacks, and those brownish black loafer shoes and a white T-shirt and a belt. He had some kind of necklace on. I never remember him in my life ever wearing anything like that, but he had some kind of necklace on, and he had his hip kind of cocked. I mean he was dolled up and getting ready to go to town. Sailing into Asheville. He was into cars. He had a ’57 Chevy all my life. My mom just recently sold it, actually. It was robin’s egg blue, and it had fins on the back. He and Bobby would go down into Asheville, especially on the weekends. On Saturdays, they’d go to the movies. In Asheville at the time, there was Paramount, State, or Strand movie theaters. And they’d go eat at Elite Lunch on Broadway. And they’d go to clubs, they went dancing and hunting tail and that kind of thing. There was a club named Casaloma on Pack Square, Buck’s Drive In, and Wink’s Drive In. And they went to every race they could get to in Asheville. These were illegal races. That big long straightaway in front of where Sam’s Club is now, the most trafficked road in town, they’d go there for hot roddin’ and streetracin’. We always called it “the drag.” They went to legal races, too, to some of the tracks. I know they went to the one where Carrier Park is now.
His older brothers made a lot of moonshine. He and Bud learned how to from them. Corn was a commodity best made into liquor and sold. There was more money in it, it was easier to transport, it was easier to make, and they knew that. He had a brown box, and it had carved potatoes on the front of it. It said, “Potato Box.” That’s where he kept him a little jar of white liquor. He’d go out on the back porch, and he’d get him a nip. He and Bud got busted one year. They must have been in their late teens. The Feds came upon their still site over there in Barnardsville, and they ran. He got a shoe caught in the mud, got his foot yanked out of the shoe and kept running, but the Feds got his shoe and were able to place him and catch him from his shoe. This would have been in the late 1940’s, early 1950’s. I don’t know if there is an old law record on him or not, but neither he nor Bud would ever expound on what happened there.