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Interview with Bob High, July 9, 2000 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with Bob High, July 9, 2000
July 9, 2000
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee: High, Bob Interviewer: Cody, Sue Date of Interview: 7/9/2000 Series: Southeast North Carolina (SENC) Length 59 minutes

Cody: Good afternoon. We’re at the beautiful home of Mr. And Mrs. Bob High in Columbus County outside of Whiteville, North Carolina. I thought we would start out this presentation by taking a look for just a moment at Robert E. Lee’s farewell order. It establishes a certain tone of comfort and well-being. I am going to turn this over to Mr. Bob High. In addition to Bob, we have an associate of the University of North Carolina in Wilmington, Ms. Cody. This is Susan Cody who will be our narrator this afternoon.

Cody: Mr. High, from the little bit I've read about Columbus County, it sounds to me like there have been High’s in the county since the county was born.

High: Right before. We came to Bladen County the earliest record is 1794 and then Columbus was formed out of 2/3 of Bladen and 1/3 of Brunswick or 1/3 of Columbus came from Brunswick and 2/3 of Columbus came from Bladen in 1808.

Cody: Right. You have a picture there of your family and today we wanted to focus on the story of your grandfather and his activities in the county so if you want to show us that photograph, we’ll start with identifying this.

High: Now the gentleman on the left is Oscar High, that’s his full name. He’s my grandfather. He died in 1964. The second gentleman is his eldest son, Walter, who died in 1967. The middle, the gentleman in the middle is my father, Robert Oscar High and he is still living. He’s 92. The next one with the T-shirt on is my cousin, Joseph Shelkin who’s living here in Whiteville and Lake Waccamaw. He’s 74. And the gentleman on the right is a family friend and a distributor of Lance products, Lance crackers, Paul D. Woodall who is now deceased. He lived here and was quite familiar at the store. They’re standing in front of Oscar High’s store at the Courthouse Square in Whiteville.

Cody: This is a general store?

High: Yes, general merchandise and this picture was taken during the second World War, probably about 1944 or ’43. My grandfather operated that store since 1889. He started when he was 17 years old.

Cody: So he opened this store?

High: Yes, he opened the store and called it the Racquet Store and Wilmington had a couple of stores that were at various times named the Racquet Store.

Cody: What is that name derived from?

High: I don’t know unless it as an old term for various items. I don’t know why they called it the Racquet Store, but sold everything.

Cody: So did you spend a lot of time there as a child?

High: Oh yes. We lived the first six years, I was born in 1935 and for the first six years, we lived a half a block behind the store and then my father went two blocks north and my grandfather sold a very nice lot for a dollar for $10 I believe it may have been and he built a brick home that’s still there and that’s where he lives now and that’s where I grew up.

Cody: So your father still lives in his home?

High: Yes.

Cody: That’s great.

High: With my mother who’s 92.

Cody: Is that right? That’s great. Did your father work in the store as well?

High: My father worked there from, well I guess he started when he was about 10 or 12 and he worked there until he was 60. He closed the store in April, the first week in April 1968. Now the store continued to operate, but not in our family.

Cody: Right, okay, so he sold the business.

High: Well, no, he just closed and my cousin, Mr. Shelkin’s mother had actually owned the building. My father and my uncle actually owned only the goods in the building.

Cody: I see.

High: So she and Joseph rented the store and it’s now being used as an antique store, antique dealer.

Cody: That’s great. So it’s nice that it’s still operating as a …

High: Oh yes, it’s a three story brick building.

Cody: Great. So your father was the center of the community I guess. A lot of people in the community, you said that he was known as Oscar and no one had to say anything more.

High: Well roughly that’s about right. He had an advantage of being at the courthouse so during at least once every year and many times for sure every two years, just about everybody in the county came to Whiteville to the courthouse either for a court term, either been called as a juror, or they came shopping or they came to pay their taxes or one other thing and it was just a constant stream of traffic. Now we were just one of the two general merchandise stores in the Courthouse Square. There was another one and there was a hotel, a boarding house, a grocer, a drug store which later became across the street from us on the northwest corner, we were on the southwest corner of the courthouse. And on the northwest corner was a service station when I grew up. On the northeast corner was a service station and a garage. And there was another service station called Cricket Gulf Station and then across the street from it was another service station beside the real old hotel and then there was a drug store called Simmons Drug which was on the southeast corner.

Cody: Did the drug store have a soda fountain?

High: Oh yes, it did and my grandfather had the first soda fountain in the county, 1898.

Cody: What were relations between the two general stores?

High: Oh they were fine. A lot of people dealt with both people. By the time I was aware of really what was being sold and what the items were in the store, Mr. Lennon, J.C. Lennon ran the second store. He didn’t sell paint, we sold paint. He sold feed in bags and we didn’t sell that. He sold fertilizer, we didn’t sell fertilizer except for garden fertilizer. But we sold fishing tackle and sporting items and furniture. We had a separate store for furniture.

Cody: Yard goods?

High: Yes, we sold everything. Watches, glasses, reading glasses like you don’t need a prescription for, soft drinks, nails, kitchenware, mule collars.

Cody: Everything you need, overalls, jeans.

High: No we didn’t sell clothing at that time. He had sold clothing. He had gotten out of that. Tools, just anything, it was a man’s paradise (laughter).

Cody: You mentioned a hotel, was that Formeyduvall_____ ran it?

High: Well that was on the southeast corner. Now my grandfather built a hotel that’s still there, the building is still there today. It was a three story brick building and it’s being used as a bridal shop today, the downstairs portion. He built it in 1907 and named it the Columbus Hotel and it went on the tax books in 1908, he opened it in 1908. And he closed it in 1913 because the sheriff was courting his cousin who was running it for him, Miss Fannie High and finally the sheriff and Ms. Fannie decided to get married so he lost a operator plus he also decided to tear down his wooden store building near the other corner. It was just caddy-corner from each other and he used the hotel as a place to operate his general merchandise business while he built his three story merchandise building and he made the brick at his own brickyard which is about a half mile north of the courthouse.

Cody: A self-sufficient man.

High: Yes he was, he was pretty smart. He had a lot of firsts in the county as far as he had the first soda fountain, he sold the first Coca Cola, he sold the first banana, he sold the first parched peanuts, he had a special machine that just used to sit near the front door as you walked from the sidewalk in and it was sitting right there. I remember many a time reaching in that machine and I don’t know what happened to it. My father can’t remember what happened to it when they closed the store.

Cody: Did they have a big sale when they closed.

High: My father thought it would take them a year to sell out. My uncle had died in December of ’67 and daddy had already told my uncle that he wanted to retire by his 60th birthday which was in April and so when my uncle died, daddy went ahead and decided to close the store and started the sale in January. And he figured it would take him a year to sell everything in the store and he sold it in less than four months, in about 3-1/2 months. He didn’t get a bad check from anybody.

Cody: Now that’s saying something.

High: It’s amazing. That’s when you could buy a Brownie automatic 20 gauge shotgun made in Belgium for $75.

Cody: What would something like that cost you now do you think.

High: Oh about $500-$600-$800 maybe.

Cody: You said this picture was taken about the time of the war.

High: Yes maam it was taken during World War II.

Cody: And how old were you, you said you were born in 30 what?

High: 35, I was about 7 or 8, maybe 9.

Cody: So you have vague recollections, or do you remember or do you remember hearing stories telling about during the war, the rationing and that?

High: Oh yes maam. We spent every summer at Lake Waccamaw from the time I was 6 months old until one year in the war when we couldn’t go to the lake because my father couldn’t come back and forth to Whiteville every day which was 11 miles one way.

Cody: Because of the gas rations.

High: Gas rations, so one summer we didn’t get to go to the lake and that was in ’43. But we had a cottage at the lake. My grandfather went down there and he built 14 cottages and rented them by the week furnished. All you had to do was bring your food and your clothes. The utensils were furnished. He didn’t furnish sheets, you had to bring your own sheets, but your linen and your food, everything else was there.

Cody: Come and have a nice week at the lake.

High: And it would cost $25 a week for one cottage.

Cody: Did people bring boats?

High: A lot of them did, but in the 20s and 30s, not a lot of people really had boats. They quit renting cottages about the, gosh I guess in the 50s, early 50s, about the time I graduated from high school, about the last time.

Cody: And why did they stop.

High: It…

Cody: Got to be too much trouble.

High: It got to be too much trouble. It became a little bit more expensive to maintain. The cottages are still, let’s see, all but one of the cottages is still there. Now they are permanent homes. They were sold to various people and made into permanent homes.

Cody: Did your family keep one?

High: My cousin has six of them and our family has ours. We still have ours.

Cody: How often do you get to go out there.

High: Well we've been down there three or four times this summer. We had a big family wedding down there about a month ago, but we don’t go down and spend overnight. Now my daughter was down last weekend for two days. She lives in Clayton.

Cody: How many kids do you have?

High: I have three and three grandchildren.

Cody: All right and they live in Raleigh and where else.

High: Raleigh and Richmond, Midlithian, Virginia and it’s kind of funny, that was where my grandmother was from who married Oscar, Annie Pender.

Cody: How did he meet her, do you know?

High: She came here to teach at the Whiteville Academy which was across the road from the Whiteville Memorial Cemetery which is just north of town.

Cody: And how did they meet.

High: I don’t know, I’m not familiar with that. I know, let’s see, they were married in 1895 and they had six children. The first was born in 1896 which was a daughter. Then they had a second daughter and then my Uncle Walter was born in ’98 and my father was born in 1908, 10 years younger than his older brother and the last child was born in 1911. She’s still living, lives in Charlotte, Louise. Joe Shelkin’s mother was the eldest child. My grandfather was, he was a far-sighted man. Man walked into the store one day and said that he had been to Atlanta and there was some kind of new soft drink down there and my grandfather asked him what the name of it was and he told him, it was Coca Cola and it was very good, a lot of people liked it, so my grandfather sent a postcard to the Coca Cola Company in Atlanta, Georgia, please send me some syrup. Well the can of syrup came and with it were the instructions on how to mix it so my grandfather started selling Coca Cola and he decided, this was in the late 1800s, right at the turn of the century, and he became the jobber in Whiteville for other drugstores selling them syrup.

Cody: Right, right, their distributor.

High: Exactly, that was before the bottling company from _____ and everyone in Wilmington and the first bottling company in Columbus County was in Chadbourn. They had a Coca Cola Bottling Company in Chadbourn. Anyway my grandfather invested in Coca Cola when they went public.

Cody: That was a wise investment.

High: Yes it was, a very wise investment and I remember my family thanking him many many times (laughter). But he was a unique person. He was very short in stature, but very wise and very big. He never, he always took a chattel mortgage on any property, any items that would be sold like furniture or miles of fence whatever they were selling. He would take a chattel mortgage, but never take the property. They would always go back and get the furniture, but he didn’t want the property and he never charged interest on his charge accounts.

Cody: So he was a popular business man.

High: Yes maam he was. There’s been hundreds of families that I've talked to, I used to work for the newspaper and I've talked to hundreds of people in this county that my father and mother were the first…when somebody would set up housekeeping, would buy furniture from grandfather. One of the most popular items was the candy counter. When my father closed the store, Brach Candy in Chicago wrote him a letter and said it was the second oldest customer they’d ever had.

Cody: Is that right.

High: That was millions of pounds of candy went through that store. My grandfather designed a contest to find the most popular girl and so he just said well every pound of candy that you buy, you just say for whichever girl you want the candy for. He sold over 1000 pounds of candy in two weeks.

Cody: And was there a standout favorite girl?

High: Oh yeah, I don’t remember who that was, this was before my time. My father told me about it.

Cody: That’s one way to move the candy out of there.

High: My great-grandfather was across the street, well he was beside his home which was a half a block, you go two blocks north of the courthouse is where my grandfather lived, and another half a block on the west side was where my great-grandfather lived and the Whiteville Wine Company with the cellar and everything else was on that side of the street beside his house. Yeah he was a veteran at Fort Fisher, my great-grandfather. So-called War of Northern Aggression (laughter). 1865 was the Battle of Fort Fisher and my great-grandfather, Daniel ______ High had gone down and become a member of the Signal Corps. He had been in artillery, and transferred to the Signal Corps and he rode blockade runners back and forth from Nassau and other Caribbean ports and they stationed the confederate signal men on board these ships so that the people on the ships would read false signals coming from the Yankee ships who were blockading and they would signal and try and tell them to come on in and do this and do this and they wouldn’t be able to, wouldn’t know the code or anything.

Cody: And then try to get the ships to run aground.

High: Right, so he missed the Battle of Fort Fisher.

Cody: That’s a good thing.

High: Yes it was, a very good thing. He came back out and after the war when the Highs moved to Whiteville, we were living outside of Whiteville, on the far end before then, and his father was James High and he was a member of one of the justices that ran the county government.

Cody: Right, yeah, I read a little bit about James.

High: James was a justice because the justice of the peace were the ones that ran county government. This was before the commissioner type was established and my great-grandfather won a vote 13 to 12 by the justices to become a county clerk registrar so he moved to Whiteville to be near the courthouse. And then he established a wine business in 1869, 1870, and my grandfather was born in 1871 so he grew up in the mercantile establishment, not just a winery, he sold blankets and everything else because they had all kinds of charge accounts with the county commissioners and courthouse and everything, the Whiteville Wine Company, that they would use clothing or linens or whatever else that they needed.

Cody: I had a question, tobacco was the mainstay…

High: County economy. It became the mainstay of the county economy in 1920s.

Cody: So well after your grandfather’s business was established.

High: Oh yes, but we had large tobacco farmers to be our customers and my grandfather would carry them for a year with no income, just charge accounts and when the man who had a large account there who bought a lot of seed, bought fertilizer from him or seed from him or whatever he needed all year long, when he came in to pay his account, my grandfather and my father and my uncle always thanked him by giving him a pocket knife, just opened the box up and said take what you want because he was glad to get the cash (laughter).

Cody: Not only did they not charge interest, but they also gave a bonus for the payoff. That’s good business practice. And then you helped out at the store when you were…

High: Yes, I worked at the store and my two youngest brothers worked at the store.

Cody: What kind of things did you do there?

High: Well I did everything, you put furniture together, you delivered the furniture, you’d sweep the floors, you’d go to the railroad and pick up shipments or you’d take pecans down and ship them because we sold pecans.

Cody: Now where was the railroad?

High: It was a mile south, it was Whiteville. The community was called _____ and the railroad depot was called Whiteville. The community was called _____, but it had a post office, but never had an elected governor and the depot was always called Whiteville.

Cody: Right, right, well I read about the railroad, when they first put the railroad through, they were afraid it would disturb the livestock and is that all just a big myth?

High: I don’t think that has anything to do with it. If you’ll look at a map, see how far you have to go from Wilmington going northwest until you can turn and miss Lake Waccamaw and then it’s a straight line to Florence. All right, if you’re just north of the lake is where the railroad ran, then you’re a mile south of the courthouse by a straight line. I don’t believe it had anything to do with that.

Cody: Didn’t have anything to do with it, it just makes you realize you have to question…

High: They built the railroad in 1850s. They didn’t have free roaming cattle.

Cody: No, okay.

High: That was the old Wilmington Manchester.

Cody: Wilmington Manchester?

High: Railroad.

Cody: Manchester where?

High: South Carolina just beyond Florence, between Florence and Sumpter, between Sumpter and Columbia.

Cody: Okay. Tell us a story about the wells.

High: Oh the wells. I don’t know what year it was, I have no earthly idea, I would say it was in the 20s. Two men came into the store and said, they told my grandfather they cleaned out wells and they did any well no matter how bad it was for $10. And my grandfather said well that’s good, I want you to go up to the house and clean out our well. And they went up and were back in about 30 minutes - $10 was paying a man like a $1000 now. And they said Mr. High, we’re through. Granddaddy sent somebody up there real quick to look and said, yeah they’re through, everything is clean. He said I can’t pay you $10 for 30 minutes work. They said, well that’s what you agreed to do. He said, yes, but he says, let me tell you something. Did you agree to, you told me you’d clean out a well no matter how bad it was for $10. He said well I have one more I want you to go clean out. One behind the furniture store, right over there. So they went over there and worked all that day, worked almost all the next day and came in, and said we’re finished. And he said, okay here’s $20 for the one over at the house and the one over here. He said, Mr. High, we can’t take $10 for this one over here by the furniture store. He said that was awful. He said we've never cleaned one that was as bad as that. He said everything was in that thing, he says I just don’t understand it, we just can’t do that. He said, isn’t that what you said, $10, no matter how bad it was. Yep, so he gave them $20 and off they went. As soon as they got out of sight, he sent three men back over there and started throwing everything back in that well behind the furniture store cause they’d been trying to fill it up for 10 years (laughter).

Cody: He got his money’s worth.

High: Well he taught them a lesson.

Cody: (Laughter) That’s right. And then you went into the newspaper business.

High: Yes I did.

Cody: Tell us about that.

High: I’m not part of this. I've been in the newspaper business since I was 15.

Cody: This is the Whiteville News Reporter, right?

High: Got started there, yes.

Cody: Since you were 15?

High: I was in high school.

Cody: And what did you do then?

High: I just worked summers and I would fill in while members of the staff who would advertise would go on vacation, I’d help them advertise and the sports editor would go, I’d be the sports editor for two weeks, society editor would go on vacation, I’d be the society editor for a week I’d go to the courthouse and dig up just little odds and ends. I enjoyed it. Always wanted to be a sports writer. I got to do a little bit of it when I lived in Wilmington for the Star, but I came back to Columbus County and started an independent news service called the BBC and everybody thought it was affiliated with the British Broadcasting, Bladen, Brunswick, Columbus, (laughter). I had a man call me from a phone booth in Clinton. This was in 1964 and he called and he said, I want to ask you something, I went through Whiteville about an hour ago and I saw a sign that said BBC news service, he said that’s not British Broadcasting Company, is it. He said this is really bothering me (laughter). I told him it was Bladen, Brunswick and Columbus. But I've enjoyed history.

Cody: That’s right.

High: And I've had a lot of it in my own family. My grandfather was just an unusual person. They would winter in Florida even right about the time of the second World War, my grandfather retired. Actually he had retired before then because, right in the middle of the depression they started going to Florida and spending the winter.

Cody: My goodness. Where in Florida did they go?

High: Near Orlando, in Orlando, they had an apartment there in a hotel. The hotel was sold four or five times and granddaddy maintained the same apartment. They said, yes, you can buy the hotel, but ask Mr. High. And I remember my grandmother was down there and she was sitting in one of the parks in front of the lake out there in Orlando and a lady started asking her about where she was from, and she said Columbus County, up in North Carolina, talking about Lake Waccamaw and how nice that was and they said, well is it good climate up there, people get sick. No, she said, it’s a really good place to live, had to shoot a man to start a cemetery in Lake Waccamaw and that’s the truth. The first man buried at Lake Waccamaw’s cemetery was a victim of a gunshot fight.

Cody: (Laughter) no kidding. What year was that?

High: In the 1930s.

Cody: But then you said he retired.

High: Yes and he had just done a lot of different things. He bought 100 acres of land right on the west side of Whiteville, what we call the pecan orchard now. It’s on Union Valley Road. It’s about a mile from the western town limits of Whiteville now. And he bought the land because it was full of hardwood trees and he wanted the hardwood to fire the kilns to make the brick at the brickyard.

Cody: I didn’t know if it was the furniture or the brick.

High: So he clear cut and when he got through, it just so happened to be at a time that it was right after World War I had ended and government was offering farmers dynamite to help them clear the trees and everything, the stumps, expand their farming business. So there was one boxcar load of dynamite that was left over from this program and my grandfather bought it for almost nothing and carried it out and almost completely cleared 100 acres that he had bought by blowing the stumps. Then he started farming it and he and Mr. George Sutton at Lake Waccamaw and Mr. George Sutton’s farm now is where the boys and girls homes, pastures and cattle are.

Cody: Right, I remember those beautiful…

High: Mr. Sutton and my grandfather were the first ones to plant pecan trees for orchards and then my grandfather and Mr. Sutton were the first ones to plant soybeans in Columbus County for commercial crop. This was in the 1930s. Now U.S. 17 which has always come through Wilmington, for years and years came to Whiteville and went around the courthouse before it was ever built from Wilmington to Shallotte. And the Yankees just kept the road hot just like they do now, going Florida-New York, Florida-New England. And my grandfather took advantage of that because every time they had to come around the courthouse, they would have to pass his store and he bought and he raised his own hogs to make country hams to sell. Then he became, it became such a big business, he didn’t want to mess with hogs, and he placed his largest meat order Armour had ever had. In fact, they called him from Chicago to ask him if his order was correct. Nobody had ever ordered that many hams. And then he would stack the pecans every fall in the big plate glass window and you would hold them in on the backside in empty shotgun shell boxes. They would be about this deep in pecans in the window and he shipped them all over the United States in silk bags.

Cody: Silk bags, why silk?

High: I don’t know, I have no idea. I have one of them framed in the other room. But he took every advantage of making a dollar and he made an honest living. He was very generous with his money. He paid half to build the first Presbyterian church, the brick structure that’s still being used as a Christian Alliance Church. He said you all pay half of it and I pay half of it, so he paid half the bills.

Cody: You said he had a brick factory, where was that located?

High: A half a mile north of the courthouse on Pinkney Street, still called a brickyard. It’s not there, they covered the hole up. It was just a clay pit, it had two kilns.

Cody: And how many people worked there, do you know?

High: I have a little book, cannot remember exactly where it is, but it has the week by week wages for the people, usually about 10 to 12. And that book also, I have a ledger which tells who bought the brick, where they were delivering. I am going to send that to the collection.

Cody: Right, right, that’ll be great. We’ll be really grateful to get those things. Let’s see.

High: Oh I have a good story to tell you.

Cody: Oh good.

High: My cousin, Joseph, was on the roof of the merchandise store and he was painting the roof and he was throwing the cans off when he got through and my granddaddy came by and said, Joseph, don’t you throw those cans off. You come down here and get them and carry them back up there. Why. You carry them back up there. He carried them back up there. Granddaddy went up there and said, all right, he said bring me those empty cans. He went to the back edge of the roof, just like this, he said that’s to keep you from painting yourself off the roof. He said I came within an inch of painting myself off the roof last time I had to do this thing and if you’ll put those empty cans across there, you’ll knock a can off before you fall off.

Cody: Right (laughter).

High: He was a man of very quick decisions.

Cody: How so. Give us an example.

High: Well, they were building the present courthouse which is a third on the same site. It’s the only place they ever had a courthouse in this county which is one of four left in this state that way and the foreman of the carpenter crew had become very good friends with my grandfather over the period of the courthouse being built, had a charge account there and he came in there one morning and said, well Mr. High, we’re out of work, we won’t have any work to do for about 6 months, we’re caught up and we can’t do anything until they do this or they do that. And my grandfather said, well do you know how to build a house. And he said, yeah, we know how to build houses. He said, all right, just a minute. He turned around and asked my Uncle Walter or one of the men, he said send one of the boys up to the house, tell my wife she’s got five hours to get out of the house and everything in it, pack it up and move up to daddy’s, to his daddy’s. And they went and tore the house down and left two main chimneys and rebuilt what is there now in 1913, the same year he built his brick store.

Cody: And how did she take that?

High: I’ll tell you a story about her.

Cody: Okay, tell us one.

High: She loved bananas.

Cody: And you said he had the first banana in the county.

High: He sold the first banana. He bought them from a fruit and vegetable company in Charleston and had them shipped up here by the stalk. And once they shipped a stalk and put a note on the box that it was the largest stalk that they had ever gotten into the Charleston port, it was 7’ long. But my grandmother loved bananas and when my father was a little boy, I’d say 6, 7, 8, she told him, he said Mom, I’m going to the store. She said “Robert, bring back some bananas”. “Well momma, I brought back bananas this morning when I came back.” “Robert, I don’t care how many times you go to the store a day, I don’t care if you go five times a day, you bring bananas home every time you come”. In fact, she loved bananas so well that my grandfather had a stalk installed in the house (laughter), a stalk of bananas right near the kitchen.

Cody: Eat them all day long? Did she cook a lot?

High: Yes, she was a good cook. I remember staying with her when my grandfather would go to the beach, go fishing and go stay the night. Grandmother didn’t want to go and I was 10, 11, 12 years old, I’d go spend the night which is only a half a block from our house. I loved to go because she’d make a large pancake breakfast for me the next morning and I liked those large pancakes.

Cody: And your uncles, you mentioned, Walter.

High: Walter, he was the only uncle on my father’s side.

Cody: And your aunts, do you have recollections of them.

High: Oh yes. Aunt Margaret, she was the one that really, she was the oldest and my father called her sister, he didn’t call her Margaret, he called her sister. Walter called her sister. She was the eldest child. That’s Joseph Shelkin’s mother. She was a wonderful business woman.

Cody: And she ran the hotel. I’m getting them confused now (laughter).

High: No, a cousin of my grandfather ran the hotel. She married the sheriff who was a regular customer in the hotel. He stayed at the hotel right across the street from the courthouse because that was where his office was.

Cody: And so Margaret, what kind of business was she in?

High: She was not in a business, she was a homemaker and business woman, just took care of my grandma and granddaddy and especially in the last 30 years that they lived. My grandfather lived to be 92 and my grandmother lived to be 89.

Cody: How about Margaret, how old was she.

High: She was in her early 80s when she died.

Cody: She lived there at the home right after they passed.

High: Yes maam, she did. That’s how my cousin inherited that home.

Cody: And then there was another sister. There were two older sisters before the boys started to be born.

High: There were two girls, then one boy, girl, boy, girl. My Aunt Virginia married an engineer, a member of the Coast Guard in World War II, Pete Turndell?. My Aunt Serena married Lucius Howell and he died during the war operation, some went wrong in an operating room, just never woke up. And my Aunt Louise married a wholesale confectionary.

Cody: And you were saying that some of them lived in Richmond and others lived…

High: Everybody lived in Richmond except my grandmother. My grandmother was from Richmond.

Cody: Right, she came here to teach school. I’m getting it now.

High: She was a Pender from the Revolutionary War Pender’s from Charleston who lost everything in the end because they supported the British. Went to West Indies and then immigrated back again.

Cody: I see, came back to Richmond.

High: No they went out of South Carolina and went back to Virginia.

Cody: Okay, all right and then you were saying you have a real interest in the Civil War. How did that…

High: I was doing family history research and discovered that all of the units from Columbus County and just about every county in this state, each company was from a county.

Cody: They were organized that way.

High: Right, so you could do a complete history of your county if you found out how many units they had and if you used the troops books, which the state archives put out, they've got 14 volumes, they do it regiment by regiment and if you find out which regiment your county had troops in and then you find all the little scattered ones and twos, you can find all of the men who served from the confederate side from your county and I found about 1300 and some and 1300 and some from Bladen County too. So I've done a study of Bladen and Columbus County.

Cody: Now has that been published?

High: No maam. I've written 70 some chapters and I've got about 50 more. It’ll be 1000 pages if I ever get through with it.

Cody: But valuable to people who…

High: I’m hoping.

Cody: I know when I was trying to find histories of Columbus County, I know our library needs to build more of its collection in that way.

High: There’s not a lot written about Columbus County.

Cody: You wrote a book about 800 families of Columbus County.

High: Yes, the 1850 census.

Cody: Right, right, so that’s an index of…

High: We did one volume and there’s to be seven more volumes, but then I got married and the other two women got disinterested in it, the other women that helped me, and I don’t know if it’ll ever be finished, but what we tried to do was to do the genealogy of each family in the 1850 census saying who the children married and who were the ancestors of the family units and criss-cross them and index them.

Cody: Right, that’s a big job.

High: A lot of families, putting the military record in there, the bad and the good. We had the murderers and the county commissioners.

Cody: They’re all there (laughter).

High: Right, we can’t hide anything. You know if you start changing history, you know it’s not up to me to change it.

Cody: No, no, it’s there.

High: All I do is write about what I find.

Cody: Right, right. Every large family have its fusses and fights, are there any in your family background that you can tell us about.

High: No, except when my father started closing the store, it was a surprise to me and I said, “Daddy, why didn’t you let Bill or Walter or I know so we could come up here and keep the store going if we wanted to so we could keep it in the family”. “I’d burn it down before I’d let the two of you have it.” He said, “I've been working this store for 35-40 years, and my brother hated every minute of it because he thought I was stupid. I was 10 years younger than he was.”

Cody: So he just didn’t ask (laughter).

High: But there’s a lot of great stories about the store. There’s a collection of papers called the Keeter papers. And they’re named for a young man named Vernon Keeter and he’s the grandson of a barber who had a shop behind my grandfather’s store at the courthouse, Pa Kennedy. And Mr. Kennedy was a very short man about 5’1 or 5’2” and loved alcohol and was known to be an imbiber and one day (laughter), he was of real character and whether he was drinking or not, he was just a real character. And it was a real cold blue day, it was so cold and the pot belly stove in the store was really roaring. It was red as the binding on that book and pop came up the back store and slid up to the stove and he stood there for a minute and he had a brogue like they do down in Crusoe?, cause he was from the lower part of the county. And he looked at my daddy and he said, “Robert, have one of the boys come turn me, I’m done on this side” (laughter). But he is the grandfather of Vernon Keeter who when the county officials were throwing the records out of the courthouse in the 1960s, the Keeter boy was the one who ran across the street and saved large boxes of them that go all the way back to 1812.

Cody: Why were they throwing them out?

High: Because they didn’t know what they were, didn’t care and they were trying to make space and they carried dump truck loads of them to the dump and burned them. Volumes, even bound volumes, the first nine years of this county’s records are gone from 1808 to 1819, 11 years.

Cody: That’s a tragedy. I mean it’s bad enough when a courthouse has a fire, but when you take it to the fire.

High: We’d never had one and these county records would have been intact except for that stupid act.

Cody: And Vernon saved them.

High: He was 13 years old, he had more sense than the adults (laughter). But Pop was a real character. My uncle went to get a haircut one Saturday night and we kept the store open until 9:00 and he went and got his hair cut and Pop got half way through and he had cut from one side to back here, and he just got down off his little stool and he stood and started going to his apartment on the back steps. And my uncle said, “Pop, where are you going?” He said “Walter, I’m too drunk to finish, I’ll see you Monday”. (Laughter), so Uncle Walter couldn’t go to church the next day, he had half a hair cut. My father and my uncle and my grandfather were avid fishermen. Well one very, very cold day, it was about 25 degrees, my father and Mr. F.M. White Jr. went to Lockwood’s Folly River and caught about 180 pounds of rock fish, stripe bass, and one of them was, I don’t remember the weight, it was either 25 or 35 pounds, a monster fish and when he brought them back, my father was showing them to everybody around the store, sending for people to come and look. The big fish fit perfectly into a six foot, I mean it must have been about a 4-1/2 foot bush axe box and he had ice put in it and put it on the north corner of the store and it stayed in the shade all day long. It was a wooden box so you’d just go over there and look at it, and it would be in ice and keeping it real good. Pop came up there to see the fish and right before the store was going to close that day, it closed at 6:00 on weekdays, Pop came in the back door and said, “Rob, can I go view the body one more time” (laughter), it was like a coffin (laughter). It was really funny.

Cody: You said he paid for half of the Presbyterian Church.

High: The First Presbyterian Church.

Cody: Right, was he a religious man?

High: Yes.

Cody: Very active in the church?

High: Yes, he was a member of either a deacon elder or the session for 60 years. In fact, he was a member of the session for 60 years. I believe that’s the most, he just believed in doing the right thing.

Cody: Right, sounds like it.

High: I’m real proud of that.

Cody: And then the church now, you said they, that church is no longer a Presbyterian church, that building.

High: No they sold it the First Presbyterian built a new church because they had outgrown it. There’s a million things I could tell you and I’ll sit here 20 minutes after you've gone, oh, my father was one of the charter members of the Civitan Club here in 1938 or 37 and one of the first projects they adopted was to build a fence around the cemetery, real nice decorative fence. Well the morning after the meeting, my father was working in the store and Mr. Bob Miller, a real character of an attorney, walked in, a man who inherited a fortune three times and blew it all three times, but he walked in and he was getting his usual Coca Cola or snack of some type and my daddy said, “The Civitan’s are going to put a fence around the cemetery, how about giving us a donation.”. He said, “I will not.” He said, “That’s the stupidest damn thing I ever heard of.” He said, “Ain’t nobody wants to get in there and if the people that in there can’t get out, what do you need a fence for?” (Laughter) He said I couldn’t argue with him, that’s a pretty sensible argument (laughter).

Cody: So the store was a congregating…was there a cracker barrel?

High: Yes, you sat around the stove and told stories, yes maam. Had a little sand box that it sat in so that if any coals spilled out, it wouldn’t catch the floor on fire, oil covered floors to keep it clean.

Cody: Okay, I’m running out of questions. Tell us another story.

High: Well I could tell you about Zeb Bullard. He was a man who occasionally worked at the store and he worked for my grandfather and my father for 50 years. He was just a itinerant person who had about a third grade education and he probably couldn’t read very well at all and I doubt if he could write very well, but he was a very astute and one of the most humorous people that we've ever known. The stories about him are just legend. What Zeb said, Zeb said this, Zeb said that. An examples of some of his shorter ones was the Waccamaw River rose so high, you could see under it (laughter). He would live in tenant house to tenant house to a vacant service station to a tenant house to just anywhere and he would move once every six months, sometimes twice in six weeks and his wife…

Cody: I was going to ask that, he’s not married, right?

High: Yes he was, he had two families, married twice and had 11 or 12 or 13 children, several of them still live here. His wife said that they moved so often that the chicken slept in the trees with his legs crossed so he could be tied up very quickly. Zeb said at one time he lived in a place that had so many holes in the floor, that when a dog walked through the house, he was under it in half the time. He said it had so many holes in the side of the house that when a big wind came up, they had to sleep in shifts so some could hold the sheets down while the others slept (laughter). His wife said that they were real poor and that one day she was doing the washing and hung the sheets out and the game warden arrested her for netting because she had so many holes in the sheets. It’s just amazing what stories Zeb could tell you. He was fishing in Lake Waccamaw and cast one time and he caught a bass and had to shoot him with a rifle with salt pellets to keep it from spoiling before it got into the boat (laughter). He set trout? lines down at the lake and you know what I’m talking about and one of them was hung above the water, about a foot above the water, just a little hook and bait and the next day he came back and he was checking the lines and he went around the edge of the lake and he heard this splash and he eased around and looked and there was this big bass that was lunging after this ?trout____ line, he said he knew he’d been there all night, every time he came out of the water, sweat would just roll off of him (laughter). I’m telling you, he was amazing. But Zeb worked at the store and he’d tell you anything, a man came in there and said he wanted to buy a mule collar, is this a good mule collar, Zeb. Yes sir, Mr. Roberts got six of them. Well we didn’t have any mules. We lived two blocks away (laughter), but Zeb would say, yeah, yeah, sure that’s fine.

Cody: A born salesman.

High: Right, a born salesman.

Cody: So who else did your grandfather have working at the store besides family and Zeb.

High: Oh, he just hired multitudes of people. My wife’s brother worked there when he was young.

Cody: Is that right?

High: Yes. A lot of people worked there. The in-laws, my Uncle Walter’s son-in-law worked there, Jimmy Brooks. He died of a heart attack at summer camp of National Guard, but he was full-time employee there. I didn’t mind working there, it was fun, it was unusual. It was different.

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