It was April 5, 1936, Palm Sunday, about nine o’clock in the evening. People were tidying up their kitchens, strolling home from church services, sitting in the local movie theaters, listening to their radios, talking to their neighbors. Just another ordinary spring evening.
Close your eyes and imagine this: It’s another picture-perfect Western North Carolina Wednesday morning with Chamber of Commerce weather and nary a cloud in the sky.
An incident at a farm facility in Macon County last week left one worker dead and caused the hospitalization of more than a dozen people.
Editor’s note: Marie Cochran attended the production of the “Liar’s Bench” on June 20 at the Mountain Heritage Center on the WCU campus and wrote this review for The Smoky Mountain News.
I am very familiar with the term “the Liars Bench” in its practice of casual storytelling among Southern men sitting in the courthouse square and at barbershops; yet I was skeptical to hear this lighthearted phrase associated with the account of 19 Black men who drowned on a chain gang only decades after the Civil War.
As a disclaimer, for the last month I’ve been a witness to the assemblage of information and a participant in debates that raged about the proper way to engage a diverse audience. Yet, I waited like every other audience member wondering whether “Tears in the Rain” would be told as a gruesome ghost story, a sorrowful tale of faceless men who perished in an unfortunate accident, or an insightful portrayal of a human tragedy.
Charged with stealing, 15-year-old Charles Eason was sentenced to work on a prison chain gang.
It was 1882, and the teenager from Martin County soon found himself side-by-side with other convicts, many two and three times his age. Mostly from the eastern part of the state, the gang was sent to construct the railroad lines in Western North Carolina.
Will it be a bomb, an oil shortage, energy grid damage or an electromagnetic pulse that renders America’s modern modes of transportation useless?
Or will it be the collapse of modern society or simply the collapse of your bank account under the pressure of mounting fuel costs that removes the option of driving a car from the transportation equation?
I normally veer from airing my opinion as a columnist in the editorial pages on issues that I cover as a news writer in the news pages for The Smoky Mountain News.
In my world, and in the worlds of most respectable reporters and editors, news is news and opinion — well, the less said about that the better. It’s easier to pretend that we were born into this world devoid of any such thing (opinion? what’s that? never heard of it) than to try and explain the more accurate, but deeply complex, truth. That yes, of course, we news gatherers do have opinions about the stories we cover.
We are human; humans have opinions.
But, as the wise judge instructs the jury, our job isn’t to be devoid of opinions: that’s impossible. Our job, whether jury or news gatherer, is to set those opinions aside. For the jury, the goal is to render a verdict in accordance with law; for reporters, the goal is to report stories based on facts.
All that said, and I now want to comment in this column on two recent news topics I’ve covered as a reporter for The Smoky Mountain News.
One is Swain County High School’s successful capture of its eighth state football championship. As a 1984 graduate of that fine institution, and as a former Maroon Devils marching band member who sat in the stands and froze her rear end off year after year during numerous championship runs, I can’t help but give a shout-out to the school. Go Maroon Devils!
(And for the record, I’d like everyone to note that I do know how to use an apostrophe correctly. My headline to the contrary last week, a single Devil most certainly did not play all those football games this season.
In an “oh, oops” moment, the apostrophe wondered away from its rightful place in the headline — Devils’ — to inside the “s,” hence the embarrassing, and suddenly singular, “Devil’s.” Hey, there’s no doubt the football team is amazing, but it is made up of many devils, not simply one devil.)
Winning a state championship is a big deal. And I’ll tell you what’s an even bigger deal in my book — that Swain County did it with Coach Sam Pattillo placing such a decided emphasis on academics.
Earlier this year, former staff writer Colby Dunn (who, in a moment of insanity, accepted a job in Holland as an au pair. I kid you not, she’s in that fine country at this moment learning to speak Dutch and shepherding about two towheaded Dutch children) wrote a terrific story about the Swain football team’s reading program.
Pattillo teamed with English department head Dawn Gilchrist-Young, both fine products of Swain County High School — I’m certain neither of them would put an apostrophe on the wrong side of the “s” — in developing the program. Each summer, team members read books intended to both capture football players’ interests and enhance these student athletes’ reading skills.
Pretty cool, that’s my opinion; and even cooler now that the Devils up and won a state championship. Perhaps other area schools could institute the same reading program.
Story No. 2: I wrote this week about “preppers,” or people getting ready for they don’t know what — the Rapture or the next blizzard, they’re not sure, but by golly they aren’t going to be caught unawares and unprepared.
This is a hard subject to strike the correct tone on.
It’s difficult frankly to write about preparedness without making the people involved sound like a bunch of nuts. But also to write an article that does not stray into the nutty side that does permeate this topic.
Anyone reading this column on an even occasional basis must realize that I’m a true believer in sustainable living. I like being able to do for myself, to know how to raise vegetables and animals, and to have adequate knowledge and skills to take care of me and mine. I’m currently living in an all-solar powered house, I have a garden, I take care of livestock, and I preserve food. Does this make me a nut? Well, OK, I may be a nut, but not because I believe in sustainability. That’s perhaps the sanest part of my personality.
Sustainability is fun, sustainability is friendly to this planet, and sustainability is smart.
A small, and to me at this point in my life, an amusing confession: Before I abstained from drinking, one of my biggest concerns when it comes to sustainability was being absolutely sure I would have an adequate supply of drinks even if the world as we know it ended. I learned to brew a variety of alcoholic beverages, from moonshine to wine. I, at least, wasn’t going to go without a drink even if the world’s supply lines of booze suddenly went dry.
I noticed brewing books being sold in Carolina Readiness Supply in Waynesville. This makes me suspect that I wasn’t the only person paddling that particular sustainability boat. I’ve also noticed in recent years that some seed catalogues have taken to offering tobacco seed (often amazingly touted as “organic,” as if that mattered when you smoke cigarettes) for the home grower.
I guess in the event of apocalypse the human race will go out with a smoke in one hand and a drink in the other. Even in these days as a committed nondrinker and nonsmoker, I admit that sounds like a pretty damn fine way to say goodbye.
Bottoms up, a puff of smoke and The End.
At Carolina Readiness Supply in Waynesville you can buy freeze-dried macaroni and cheese by the 20-ounce can and a solar oven in which to warm it.
You can get a woven bracelet in a variety of fashionable colors that converts into handy lengths of cord. Then, in theory at least, you are prepared for almost anything: making simple repairs to your backpack, starting a fire with a friction bow or fashioning a ladder for an elaborate escape from some futureristic prison.
You can buy emergency kits that contain quick-assemble shelter and his-her hygiene necessities, water purification systems, lanterns of every type and variety, and 50 pounds of pinto beans packed for 25 years safe storage. You can outfit an entire library of books on survival subjects, from square-foot gardening to “Bug Out: A Complete Plan for Escaping a Catastrophe.”
At Carolina Readiness Supply, you can —just as the store name promises — get ready. For what exactly? Take your pick: Armageddon, if you choose; or just the winter’s inevitable big, electric-ending and roads-closing snowstorm.
“Will you be ready when the lights go out?” serves as the slogan of Carolina Readiness Supply, owned by Bill and Jan Sterrett. It’s a question that many in the region, and the nation, are now trying to answer.
There is a word in our modern lexicon for the Bill and Jan Sterretts of the world. They are dubbed “preppers.” These are people who have been made uneasy, for a variety of reasons, and who believe they need to prepare for potential huge changes: A terrorist attack, a devastating plague, a national technology failure or, perhaps, biological warfare.
Some preppers store enough food, water and supplies to last a month or two; others have much bigger plans and fears. They want to survive in whatever new reality would follow a societal collapse. They see prepping as an insurance policy of sorts: protection for themselves and their families in the event of major catastrophe — a catastrophe they hope never strikes. But if it does, they plan on being ready.
On the most extreme end, there are people in this region busy building and supplying bunkers. But the problem with bunker-builders, at least for the reporter writing on these topics, is that these are folks who aren’t particularly eager to clue others into their whereabouts and actual identities. After all, if there’s a huge crisis, you don’t exactly want to be the only place in the area identified as bunker-safe and food-ready.
Bill Sterrett is a familiar figure in Haywood County. He retired in January 2007 as chief deputy for the Haywood County Sheriff’s Department.
Sterrett does not strike an observer as the hysterical type. He speaks only after due consideration, and so softly that, in a conversation, you soon find yourself murmuring questions in return and leaning forward to hear his answers.
Sterrett described himself as a man who has a deep interest in the traditional ways of doing for oneself and one’s family, and of simple living in general.
The economy started derailing not long after Sterrett’s retirement from law enforcement. Sterrett, like many in the U.S., looked to his investments and wondered what best to do. He had considered divesting himself of property, and of buying and working a small farm, but given ever-increasing financial restraints that dream seemed an ever more remote possibility.
“I wanted to learn the old ways, and to be self reliant,” Sterrett said in explanation. “But the economy sometimes dictates what you can and cannot do. I grew concerned about the value of paper money in the bank, and felt that it would be better to convert our cash dollars into commodities.”
That led to the idea of Carolina Readiness Supply. But his wife, Jan, wasn’t exactly an enthusiastic participant in her husband’s plans, at least not initially.
“I’m like, ‘OK, whatever,’” she said. “I told him, ‘Go ahead, do what you want.’”
Then Jan Sterrett read One Second After by Montreat College Professor William R. Forstchen, a book she now sells by the hundreds to others off the bookshelves of Carolina Readiness Supply. This apocalyptic novel, a New York Times bestseller, tells the story of a man struggling to save his family and his small town in Western North Carolina after an electromagnetic pulse sends America into a post-modern version of the Dark Ages.
After that frightening, eye-opening read, Jan Sterrett was ready to get ready, too. For what, she wasn’t exactly sure, but ready Jan Sterrett planned on being. Her husband no longer sounded a solo tune; One Second After resulted in a harmonious husband-wife duet.
“I knew we had to do something,” Jan Sterrett said. “We had to.”
Jan Sterrett, in turn, sent the book to her trauma-surgeon son, who lives in Pheonix, after he asked skeptical questions about his parents’ plans post-Dad’s retirement.
“He called back after reading it and told me, ‘Now I understand,’” Jan Sterrett said, adding that her son and his medical partners are now, too, “getting ready.”
Troy Leatherwood might not be the exact textbook definition of a prepper, but he’s a fellow with an abiding interest in living off the land. His family did just that for six generations on their property in Jonathan Valley in Haywood County. The 56-year-old licensed contractor has subsequently made a professional living elsewhere, including selling real estate in Balsam Preserve. His brother, John, still farms the family land.
Together, the brothers want to convert part of the family spread into a subdivision for others interested in living off the land — a prepping place, if you will, for preppers.
The Leatherwoods, Troy Leatherwood said, want to form a community of like-minded individuals. People who want to learn the old ways through classes on topics such as blacksmithing, gardening and so on.
Leatherwood’s idea was rooted in observations from the Internet. He noted that a particular survival blog was receiving an amazing amount of weekly “hits,” and that “a lot of the stuff on there was what mountain people grew up with.”
A light-bulb moment, of sorts, occurred.
“We should sell and market what we know,” Troy Leatherwood told his brother, and fill an obvious and growing business niche. Make some money and help some people at the same time, he said.
John Leatherwood was agreeable. The brothers are now using 16 acres of their family’s land, divided into 10 lots. They plan on having irrigated raised beds for gardening, plus other homesteading-oriented amenities. They’ve planted fruit trees, and move-ins can help and learn on the family’s currently operating, neighboring farm, Troy Leatherwood said.
The Leatherwoods plan to work on the property over the winter. They are accepting applications now, however.
Troy Leatherwood emphasizes that he isn’t a doomsayer. But he believes even harder times could come to the U.S., and that it would be foolhardy for people not to prepare, not to be ready.
“I call it being smart enough to realize that there are real dangers out there,” he said, adding that more and more technology means an ever-increasing risk of dangers.
The demand for goods sold at Carolina Readiness Supply seems to be increasing. Jan and Bill Sterrett moved recently from a previous location on Depot Street because they outgrew the space.
From the looks of it, they might soon outgrow the floor space of this newer store, too. The Sterretts would like to add a line of woodstoves to their offerings, and possibly other readiness supplies as well.
Jan Sterrett said that to her knowledge, there’s not another store in the Southeast quite like Carolina Readiness Supply. And the growing customer base seems to confirm that — a guestbook used to build an email network for the store indicates people coming to shop here are from across the region. But they also hail from other neighboring states: Georgia, South Carolina, Virginia.
The Sterretts are clearly enjoying their new line of work. Bill Sterrett said they are learning, too, through researching new products and determining how best to use them. It isn’t exactly the small farm he once dreamed of working, but Carolina Readiness Supply, Bill Sterrett said, is fulfilling a dream that he never quite before knew existed.
Here’s how much food an average family of four would need to last a year.
Wheat 175 lbs
Flour 20 lbs
Quinoa 30 lbs
Rolled Oats 50 lbs
White Rice 80 lbs
Pearled Barley 5 lbs
Spaghetti or Macaroni 40 lbs
Dry Beans 45 lbs
Dry Soy Beans 2 lbs
Dry Split Peas 2 lbs
Dry Lentils 2 lbs
Dry Soup Mix 7 lbs
Peanut Butter 1 qt
Almond Butter 1 qt
Nonfat Dry Milk 14 lbs
Granulated Sugar 40 lbs
Molasses 1 lb
Honey 3 lbs
Beef Gelatin 1 lb
Salt 8 lbs
Dry Yeast 0.5 lbs
Source: Good Earth Health Food store