92-year-old remembers ‘simple but full life’

Published 4:03 pm Monday, June 1, 2015

Star Photo/Suzanne Galyon Geneva Smalling sits on a bench outside her apartment at Appalachian Christian Village in Johnson City. A former resident of Watauga, she grew up in Dennis Cove and loves to share stories about riding the Tweetsie.

Star Photo/Suzanne Galyon
Geneva Smalling sits on a bench outside her apartment at Appalachian Christian Village in Johnson City. A former resident of Watauga, she grew up in Dennis Cove and loves to share stories about riding the Tweetsie.

JOHNSON CITY — Geneva Whitehead Smalling, at 92, has a wealth of memories — some that younger generations can only dream of or read about.
Smalling is one of a few people alive today who remembers riding the Tweetsie as a young girl, as well as the small lumber train on the Old Laurel Fork Railroad. Her family lived in Dennis Cove and often would catch a ride in the engineer’s compartment of the Old Laurel Fork train out to Braemar, where they bought groceries and other supplies. Sometimes they walked from their home to Hampton, where they caught the Tweetsie to ride to points in North Carolina or Elizabethton.
Smalling now lives in an assisted-living apartment at Appalachian Christian Village. For many years, she and her husband, Woodrow, raised cattle and worked a farm in Watauga.
She describes herself as a homemaker. “I’ve done all kinds of things, but I mostly stayed at home, raised my children and tended a garden,” she said.
Mrs. Smalling has served on the Farm Bureau Board of Directors for 35 years and, with her nephew, just recently attended the Soil Conservation District Banquet.
Her late husband worked as a timekeeper at Watauga Dam when it was being built. Later, he worked at the Holston Ordnance Plant in Kingsport and had his own business hauling rock from a nearby quarry.
In his spare time, Smalling tended several head of cattle, raised horses and took care of the hayfields on his farm, and he and Geneva always raised a large garden.
“I did a lot of canning and made various kinds of jellies and jams,” she said.
One of her favorite chores was working with 4-H kids in the county.
“I remember once attending 4-H camp with a young girl who was diabetic. She wanted to go to camp badly but didn’t have anyone to administer her medication. I volunteered to go with her and give the medication,” Mrs. Smalling said.
Although, she now uses a walker, Mrs. Smalling still keeps herself busy. She just recently had some of her poetry published — one piece in The International Library of Poetry book.
“I mostly write about things I am familiar with. I enjoy writing about farm animals and little critters,” she said,
In addition to her writing, Mrs. Smalling enjoys singing and watching television. Each Wednesday morning, she and several others at Applachian Christian Village visit the sick bay at the nursing home and sing for the residents. “We sing hymns and some old songs that aren’t sung much anymore, like “Go Tell Aunt Rhoda.”
Mrs. Smalling was one of 10 children of the Rev. Cleve and Annie Whitehead. She has fond memories of growing up in Dennis Cove. “We grew up in a log house, which had a big living area with a large fireplace. We had a large room in which we slept and a lean-to on one side that served as a kitchen and dining room,” she said.
Her father, an old-time preacher, also worked for the Pittsburg Lumber Co., which cut virgin timber in the area during the early 1900s.
“My daddy walked to work each day,” Mrs. Smalling said. “He carried his dinner in an 8-pound lard bucket and took lots of biscuits.”
The closest grocery store was in Braemar, which Mrs. Smalling referred to as “town.” At the store, they bought dried beans, rice, oatmeal, sugar, salt, pepper, side meat for seasoning, vinegar for canning, dry goods, shirts, overalls, material for making dresses, sheets, pillowcases, shoes, caps and hats. “Whatever you needed, you could usually find it at the store there,” she said.
“We grew much of our own food, including potatoes, which we buried and covered with straw for keeping during the winter months,” Mrs. Smalling recalled.
The family also had a rock cellar where they kept their canned goods. Some of their winter foods included pickled beans, kraut, apples, homemade molasses, honey, dried beans and apples. They killed hogs as well as a beef each year for their meat, which they canned.
They supplemented their meat supply with grouse, rabbit and squirrel, which her father hunted.
Mrs. Smalling recalled that her mother treated the family’s illnesses with herbs.
“We didn’t go to the doctor like people do now,” she said. “We had no alcohol; it cost too much. We had many home remedies.”
She attended the old Dennis Cove School and later Cloudland and Happy Valley high schools.
Mrs. Smalling is the mother of two daughters, Glenda and Ann, and a son, Doug. She also has two grandchildren, Haley and David.
She has traveled to 28 states and two countries — Mexico and Canada.
“My daughter Ann was a flight attendant, and when she had a week or two off, she traveled some, and I went with her on many of her trips,” Mrs. Smalling said.
Among her traveling experiences was panning for gold in the Yuban River.
“I’ve lived a simple but full life, and if the Lord should call, I’m ready for Him,” she said as she ran her fingers through strands of white hair. “It always pays to be ready; you never know when the call might come.”
Until then, Geneva Smalling will keep smiling, sharing her stories, singing for the sick and writing poetry.

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