Remembering the Valle with Blanche Hodges Kohnle - Part Two
- Mar 4, 2015 |
PART TWO: Music and the 1940 Flood
[Last week, we shared Part One of our visit with Blanche Hodges Kohnle – “Day in the Life and Barter”. We've been so pleased reading all of your beautiful comments on MastStore.com, Twitter, and Facebook. It’s been especially exciting to hear from so many folks who know and love Mrs. Kohnle. She is, indeed, an exceptional woman with an incredible life story and worthy of high praise. Thank you so much for writing in and sharing with us! This week, we’re exploring "Music and the 1940 Flood".]
Reflecting on her own childhood, Blanche describes her dad, Clingman Hodges, as “the greatest musician”. He mastered the banjo, mandolin, and auto harp. Each morning, he’d awaken the children for school and their mother’s fresh made biscuit breakfast by picking a cheerful tune on the banjo.
Clingman was also a great carpenter. He made beautiful coffins for folks in all the outlying counties – each one of them lined with cotton and lace and the wood varnished so bright, they gleamed. “Daddy went blind at age 72, built his own casket that same year, and was laid to rest in it 12 years later,” Blanche recalls with tenderness.
While Blanche’s five sisters and three brothers played musical instruments like their dad, Blanche was a child with music in her feet. In those days, dancing was considered improper by many folks, especially her mother who forbade her children from doing it. Described by Blanche as “kind, patient, and neighborly”, Blanche’s mother was gracious about most things, but not dancing.
One afternoon during her childhood, Blanche recalls going to the outhouse to practice a few special steps she learned from the other school children… it was called the Charleston. The whole family could hear her behind the house tap-tap-tappin’ away the steps of this popular dance, named after the beautiful South Carolina harbor city, on the wood timbered floor. The consequence for Blanche’s disobedience was a swift spanking, but it was delivered with lots of kind laughter by her ma who knew how much her daughter loved to shimmy.
Years later, long after the devastating Flood of 1940 swept through the Valle, Blanche’s mother said, “I knew when the Valle Crucis Mission School started allowing square dancin’ that it would come to no good. I’m certain that flood was brought on by the dancin’.”
Before that same flood swept through Watauga County and took Tweetsie Railroad with it, Blanche would hop on the train and head west to Johnson City, Tennessee for the day to eat at restaurants and enjoy “city life.”
Mountain weather in the summer wasn’t as hot in those days and the winters were much colder. Summer would find local children swimming and fishing in the pool of Dutch Creek Falls. This spot was popular with the locals for many years, but wealthy homeowners have since purchased the land all around the beautiful falls and it has been hidden from sight for decades.
It wasn’t unusual to have snow up to your knees in January. The students who attended the Valle Crucis Mission School wouldn’t be able to make the walk back home in bad snows and would’ve been stranded had Blanche and her neighbors not taken them in for days at a time.
A different kind of precipitation drew a dark veil over the Valle during an otherwise sunny summer in August of 1940. The remnant of an unnamed Atlantic hurricane, affected portions of northwestern North Carolina and eastern Tennessee and left in its wake shattered lives and unimaginable devastation. The memories, though not pleasant, have endured for many generations and have become a permanent part of our mountain heritage.
“My family was spared. The flood waters came right up to the porch of our house and stopped there. All of our haystacks floated down the washed out road, and no potatoes or cabbage were harvested in the Valle that year. The church next door was pulled right off of its foundation. For other families, it was much worse. I remember seeing our neighbor son’s fiddles floating by my house. He didn’t survive the flood. It was all so very sad.”
Blanche saw electricity light up the Valle in 1932 and “Electricity brought so many great things: washing machines! Irons! The vacuum cleaner! It changed our lives in so many wonderful ways,” Blanche reflects. The Wagon Factory on the north side of the Valle serviced all of horse drawn buggies until the late 1920s. Blanche’s older brother, Bynum Hodges, drove the area’s first Model-T through town to church one Sunday and soon Henry Ford’s great invention changed the dirt roads around the Valle forever.
Blanche was a wife by age 14 and a widow at age 44. She never remarried. She has a rich legacy of 8 children, 22 grandchildren, 24 great grandchildren, and 8 great great grands. One granddaughter inherited “music in her feet” and is a champion clogger. You can see the pride in Blanche’s eyes when she talks about her family.
Blanche Hodges Kohnle misses the sound of her daddys' banjo pickin' every morning before school and the joy of her mama's laughter. She enjoys her many flowers – roses and impatiens mostly – that attract the most beautiful butterflies and hummingbirds to her lovely porch in Granite Falls, North Carolina. She’s the matriarch and everyone’s favorite parishioner at Ebenezer Methodist Church and has touched many folks throughout her life as evidenced by the wonderful comments about beloved "Ms. Blanche" in PART ONE.
With kind, twinkling eyes, and a warm, generous hug, Blanche offers only one piece of advice… two simple, yet profound words: Love people.