Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Raising Up (A book review and thanksgiving greetings)

Happy thanksgiving everyone. I picked up a fresh 20 pound turkey yesterday, from a local farm that sells turkeys at an outlet. Early tomorrow morning, I'll be stuffing it with a cornbread and sausage dressing and baking it for a good while. Then I'll take it over to neighbors where a dozen or so folks will gather to feast. We're still on the lookout for strays, so if anyone knows of someone in need of meal, tell 'em to come on by. Here's a review of a book that I'm thankful to have come across... Unlike most books, I couldn't find a photo of this book to steal off the internet, so I took a photo with my blackberry and posted it here.

R. C. Fowler, A Raising Up: Memories of a North Carolina Childhood (Wilmington, NC: Coastal Carolina Press, 2000), 309 pages

I’ve known the name R. C. Fowler nearly all my life, but to the best of my knowledge, never met him. He was a well-known businessman and real estate agent in Wilmington and when I was visiting my parents last summer, I came across his book, a memoir of growing up during the depression and World War II in a used book store. It sounded interesting so I picked it and have enjoyed reading it.

Fowler was born in 1927, in a cotton mill village in Wilmington, North Carolina. His early years were spent around Eastern North Carolina, with time in Columbus County and later in Fayetteville. In the heat of the Depression, his family moved back to where he was born, to Mill Hill, a community around the Spofford Cotton Mills, just off Wrightsville Avenue. It was a company town and his father and grandfather and many uncles worked in the mills. As a young child, he tells about staying with his grandmother and recalls memories of the candy counter in the store across the street. He learns about cockfighting as well as the way to “pay respects” for those who have died. He attends Sunday School at the Presbyterian Church, and his aunt longs for the day the Baptist can afford to build a church.

In 1937, when he was nine, Fowler’s family moved to a tobacco farm in Pender County, twenty-five miles north of Wilmington, on land that his mother had inherited. There, he’s taken “coon hunting” with his dad and learns the hard work of farming. Slowly the family prospered as they raised tobacco for cash and other crops to for food. They had a cow for milk and chickens and a mule to plow the fields. Fowler learned to plow as well as to cut wood for the stove and the for the tobacco barn. Still a boy, he was staying with the barns over night, keeping the fire going and the heat up, as his daddy drove into town to work in the mills and later, as the country went to war, in the shipyard and at Camp Davis. In time, the family acquired more land and another mule, electricity was extended to the home and they no longer had to huddle around two kerosene lamps.

Still a boy, Fowler learned about hard work, especially when his daddy became ill and wasn’t able to work a period of time. He helped set out the tobacco and the other crops, cut word, plow and chop down weeds, and even dug a shallow well to use as a cooler for milk and other perishables. Digging the well, he learned the meaning of the phrase, “as cold as a well-digger’s ass.” As he approached the age of twelve, he was filled with guilt as he’d been told this was the age of accountability (I can remember thinking about this when I turned 12). His aunts pushed him to get right with God and once, at a holiness service, he confessed his sins. When the holiness preacher wanted to hold services at his home, his father allowed it but decided that even though it was night, he needed to go into the woods to “cut stove wood.”

The book ends in the fall of 1945. Fowler is in the Merchant Marines, on a ship out of Norfolk, sailing off the Carolina Coast. After he graduated from high school, his parents ask him to stay on till the end of the summer, offering him the profits from an acre of tobacco. With money in his pockets, he heads back to Wilmington and takes a position within the office of the Atlantic Coastline Railway. Being inside doesn’t set well for a young man who’d spent most of his life outdoors, doing hard work, and he soon leaves high seas.

Fowler frequently uses dialogue to tell his story, which gives the book a down-home feel. He sprinkles his writings with sayings, many of which I haven’t heard since I was a child. This book gives us an insight into the world of my grandparents and it was a pleasure to read. Another book that I’d recommend as an insight into this time (one that combines a sociological study with personal memories) is Linda Flowers, Throwed Away: Failures of Progress in Eastern North Carolina. All though both families were poor on the farm, the Fowlers owned the land and that made a big difference in what he experienced compared to the Flowers family who were sharecroppers.


  1. Happy Thanksgiving and good luck on the turkey. Cornbread & sausage is the only stuffing for my money, although I can live with wild rice, too.


  2. Randall, I just don't have a source for fresh oysters for the stuffing.

  3. That turkey is making my mouth water all the way down here.

    I like books like this one that you reviewed. They always seems to take on special significance when they are local or where you were brought up.

  4. Cornbread and sausage dressing?? Sounds delicious! I've only had regular mushroom stuffing and then there was that one year my father stuffed black beans and rice in there. It was garlic-y but good!

    HAPPY THANKSGIVING to all of you!!

    PS - When I read the title of the book you reviewed, I thought of you as the author. You have plenty of outdoor stories yourself, young man!

  5. Your description of the turkey is making me hungry already. Have a great holiday!

  6. Wish I could spend it there with you as a stray, Sage. HAPPY THANKSGIVING!!! :D)

  7. Ed, books like this would not have the same meaning to folks who are not from the same area, but they are a treat to find out what life was like earlier.

    The Redhead, I always like it when someone younger calls me young! One day, I'll get my book out.

    Jen, may you have a wonderful holiday, too.

    Michael, Come on down!

  8. So many of us have such fascinating stories. Sheesh, I guess I was pretty spoiled when I was a kid. I thought keeping my room clean was a lofty goal.

    Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, Sage.

  9. I think the only kind of stuffing--or dressing, as we call it--I've had is plain cornbread. At least I think that's what it is. I'll have to ask today.

    Hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

  10. OK. I went Reno to Truckee to Squaw Valley to a circumnavigation of Lake Tahoe (CA 89 and 50) to (almost) Carson City and back to Reno. Happy Thanksgiving road trip.