Do you have family stories that you’ve heard all your life- maybe so much that you just kind of dismiss them now? Then one day, when you’re grown up a little- maybe they sink in a bit more? This happened to me last week as I overheard Mom talking about when her parents moved their family into a 3-room “cabin” with 10 kids and no water or electricity. Thinking of my 1 child and what would happen if the power went out, I think I heard a record scratch as I said,”Wait. What now?”
Two hours later, and just in time for Labor Day, I had a story of hard work and perseverance and how their family just refused to give up.
My mom is matriarch of Hidden Mountain Resort, Brenda Smith. She and my dad, Butch Smith, started Hidden Mountain Resort in 1981. How the resort started is a story I’ve told before and I’ll share again another day. But this story goes back to when my Mom had just graduated high school in Vonore, TN. Her youngest brother, Chuck, was born the day of her high school graduation. He was #14 of 14 children. (Mom was #4.) My Papaw and Mamaw were C.B. (Coy Burl) & Bonnie McCarter.
Papaw was an auctioneer and a farmer. He’d had a terrible tractor accident that took quite a lot of time to recover from. When a second tractor accident re-opened old wounds and left him unable to work his dairy farm, the doctor told him that if he didn’t get away from work and all the stress he was under, he wouldn’t live to see his youngest son reach 21. In April, 1966, Papaw and Mamaw held a 3-day dispersal auction and sold everything from their dairy farm in Vonore, TN. They moved back here to Wears Valley to let the younger kids finish their school year.
Mom had been working in Papaw’s auctioneering office in Sevierville with her older sister Glenda, when Papaw came in one day with her brothers Lee and Scottie. He announced that he was moving to middle Tennessee. He’d seen an ad offering 1,000 acres of land for $10,000, bought it and was moving the family to it so he could recover. Mom started packing up her desk, and he asked what she was doing. She was going with him. Although he tried to protest, she insisted that she come and help with all the kids. Glenda agreed to stay in Sevierville to keep the office running. Some of the other siblings were married, so they were staying, also.
They eventually got on the road to their new home. The first ones to go were Papaw, Mom (18), Lee, Scotty, Kay (10), and Mary (5). On the way to the farm, Papaw got sleepy driving. He pulled over on the side of the road, unloaded 2 mattresses and quilts and told everyone to go to sleep.
The next day, they made it to the home of the people selling the land. Papaw, Lee, and Scottie were going into the office to settle up, and they told Mom that she could find the cabin if she followed the tracks in the old road. Mom owned 2 skirts, 2 blouses, and 1 pair of shoes. Kay and Mary had one pair of shoes also. To keep from getting them dirty, they took the shoes off and headed off into the woods barefoot.
Mom said the woods were very dense. Before too long, the skies darkened and a torrential downpour started- washing out the tire tracks! They took a wrong turn, and walked so far that they ended up on what’s known today as Buzzard Rock overlooking the entire valley. Mom knew they were lost. They turned around and started running back the way they had come. Kay and Mary were crying. Mom was praying for help. After awhile, she heard Papaw calling for her through the woods. Whew! They had made it. Mom said she was shaking all over- freezing and scared. Papaw estimated that they’d gone 5 miles out of the way! When they finally made it to the little cabin, Papaw told her to get some dinner ready for them. So she did. This was the Fourth of July.
This is an excerpt from my Aunt Kay’s memories during this time. She was 10:
Daddy saw an ad in the paper for a farm for sale in Altamont, TN, which he and mama decided to purchase. Daddy, Lee, and Scottie built a tiny 3 room cabin out of rough sawed lumber, covered it in black tar paper & installed a shingle roof. In July 1966, we moved to Altamont. The cabin did not have electricity or indoor plumbing. We had a wood cook stove where Mama prepared delicious meals. We carried fresh water from the nearby spring for drinking, cooking, and bathing. Mama used a wash board & clothes line for doing the laundry. Forest trees were all around us. We literally had to look straight up to see the blue sky. Daddy had a shotgun and would often go hunting which provided fresh meat for our family. That summer we worked to help clear some of the fields. That fall our main road to our cabin had not been completed & it was a very long walk on an old logging road through a small creek to catch the school bus.
This 3-room cabin housed Mamaw, Papaw, and 10 kids for 8 months. Papaw and Mamaw’s bed was built into the kitchen/living room. The babies had cribs in this room, also. There were 2 full-size wooden bunks built against the wall in another room. Aunt Kay said she and Mary shared a cot- each sleeping at one end of the cot at night and folding it away during the day.
Mom stopped the story and said, “Do you remember the 3 room chicken coop at Mamaw and Papaw’s farm? That was where we lived.” And I do remember that coop- it’s where all the baby and teenage chicks lived until they were ready for the big coop. My cousin Wesley and I loved to play in there when I came to visit the farm in the summers. It was great for chickens but impossible to imagine for a large family.
Back to the story- Papaw and the boys cut pulpwood to sell so they had some income for food and supplies. They were clearing some of the land to build a bigger home next door. In the meantime, mom and her brother Lee started thinking about winter coming. Knowing that they wouldn’t be able to cut wood in the winter, Mom and Lee decided that, as the 2 oldest ones living at home, they needed to find jobs. They talked about it, got a plan together, and went to talk to Papaw. Again, he protested. He didn’t want them to give up on their own dreams. But they finally convinced him that they wouldn’t make it through the winter without this additional income.
Lee found a job at the Western Auto, and Mom found a job folding shirts at a shirt factory. Lee was able to work the same schedule as Mom so he could drop her off in the morning and pick her up on his way home. Mom said she was paid $45/week, plus an additional $2.50 if she made production. After the first week, she made production, which upset her co-workers who weren’t in the habit of making production. Mom persevered telling them she was sorry, but she needed the money for her family.
While they worked, Papaw was regaining health. Mom and Lee were (and still are) big encouragers. They remained positive and continued to encourage and help Papaw. While some people told him to declare bankruptcy, it wasn’t what he wanted to do. He wanted to pay back the money he owed. He began having small auctions again in middle Tennessee. In 1967, they moved into a larger home with electricity and water next door to the little “cabin.” Then they added some auctions back in Sevierville. Soon, he was working between both places and slowly but surely paying off his debts.
In 1969, the family moved back to Sevierville. One of the largest debts Papaw owed was to Charlie Blalock, patriarch of Blalock & Sons. Papaw told him that if he wanted to come to his auctions and choose property that he would pay him back in land. Charlie had graciously agreed to this. Charlie even agreed to become a 25% partner in what became Papaw’s most successful auction. Charlie cut the roads in and on Labor Day, 1969, Papaw held the auction of the Greater Marshall Woods II subdivision. This sale was a tremendous success and made Papaw very well-known in the auctioneering world. He was asked to speak in different states, and he always took the entire family to the National Auctioneer Association Conventions, where their family photos always made the paper.
This is most of the family and a few spouses at one of the NAA Conventions.
Papaw never gave up or quit working. He paid his debts and regained his reputation. He took care of his family. It’s why his 14 children and their families can hold their heads up and be proud of him and each other today. After his passing in 1989, Papaw was inducted into the National Auctioneer Association Hall of Fame in 1990.
Aunt Kay ended her notes with this:
“I am proud of the men & women my siblings have become. The tough times we encountered together as a family only served to make us all stronger.
NOTHING WE DO IN LIFE IS A WASTE OF TIME IF IT ADDS TO THE CHARACTER OF THE PERSON WE BECOME.”
Three of the 14 McCarter siblings work at Hidden Mountain today. Kay Green is our Group Sales Coordinator. Joe McCarter helps on Front Desk and is also a contractor- he is building a new cabin now at Hidden Mountain East! And my mom, Brenda Smith.
If you find yourself in the trenches on this Labor Day, I hope this story is encouraging to you. Seek and trust God, work hard, appreciate and honor your family, and keep moving forward.
“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.” Jeremiah 29:11
(I’ve told this story as shared by my Mom and my Aunt Kay, our Group Sales Coordinator. When there are 14 siblings, you may get 14 different versions of a story, but these are their remembrances.)