Father of the Year-My Dad
Sunday will be fathers day and it is with pride I submit this hub written about 2 years ago as an honorarium to my dad, Wilkie Ballard.
On September 1, 1920, a son was born to Reuben and Maybelle Ballard of the Mt Olivet community. With already two sisters in the rapidly growing family, Wilkie became the first born son. Eleven more siblings would follow making a total of fourteen. These were hard times for the Ballard family as well as many others in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Money was scarce as was everything else. These mountain folk were hardy lot and relied on their faith in God, hard work ethic, and instincts for survival. Most were farmers and grew the larger portion of their annual food supply.
My grandpa had a small farm on the top of Mt Olivet where he grew cabbage, corn, potatoes, and beans and always had some chickens, hogs, a milk cow and at least a mule or a horse for cultivating the fields he would plant. Of course, there were the usual cats and dogs about the place and dad told us of at least one goat that grandpa bought him when he was a boy. Daddy said he made a little cart for the goat to pull and he smiled as he remembered how cantankerous his Billy goat could be.
My dad worked hard on the farm with the help other siblings who were old enough to contribute, Daddy always affirmed his best cross cut saw partner was his sister Ophelia. Uncle Ulysses one of grandpas brothers was caretaker for the Smyth Place, now the Carl Sandburg historical home in historic Flat Rock, North Carolina. Daddy would grub stumps and helped on the farm tending the goats for ten cents an hour. With the advent of WWII he went into the Army and served in Panama for most of his time. After his discharge, he returned back to the mountains, dad soon went to work at the cotton mill at Tuxedo and worked there until his retirement at age 70.
Many folks here in our part of the Blue Ridge Mountains cut and hewed cross ties hauling them by wagon to the Zirconia train station where they sold them. A friend tells the story of how he had been at my grandpa’s house and had stayed late. He was returning home after dark but there was a full moon and he could see pretty well. On his way, he had to go through a cemetery and about half way through, he heard the clanging of chains. He told me that “I thought the Lord was a coming and it was the end of time,” and “when I looked up to see the Lord coming, the moon was blood red. I remember reading in the Good Book that the moon would drip away in blood” Then he heard my dad call out to the team of oxen he was driving along the Mt Olivet road and returning home from the train station where he had just delivered a load of hewn cross ties. Just so happened the moon was in full eclipse that night accounting for its color.
Dad drove a float in one of the first Apple Festival Parades. It was a float drawn by a team of oxen. My dad love to work oxen and even in his later years had a team he played with down on his little farm. This was his recreation and had become a hobby for him; he didn’t care much for ball but loved simpler amusements. He even made the first set of block hames himself.
He and mom was a pair. Daddy was the strong and quiet personality, somewhat introverted and she was more extroverted and vocal sometimes to a fault. I have heard it said of others, "She was like an angel,” up in the air and always harping on something.” They had a great love for one another and sometimes even today, mom tells me of some of the things that they enjoyed like eating cookies in bed at 3 AM and drinking coffee cause they couldn’t sleep or some of the picnics they enjoyed with her sister and husband when they would go to the U-Pick fields in South Carolina to gather fresh beans or strawberries to can. I asked mama how they met and she said,” Well he asked to walk me home from the cotton mill where they both worked and when we got to a bridge he picked me up and sat me on the railings and ask if he could kiss me.” I laughed at the picture she had just put into my mind and ask her, “Well, did ya let him?” "Of course," she said with a little blush and the rest is history.
Wilkie Ballard was a quiet man and a beloved husband and father. He was a good citizen and neighbor, always lending a hand and sharing the fresh vegetables he grew in his garden. Dad was an usher in his church, faithful as long as he was able to drive. He was a firm believer in donating blood; there is no way of knowing the number of units he gave at Red Cross blood drives. He didn’t give to be seen or have his units recorded, it was just his way of helping out and showing his love for those who might just need his blood type..
Dad loved his little farm in Mountain Page and resorted there early mornings to feed and care for his animals, a few old cows, hogs, and even an old coonhound he kept tied near the old farmhouse. He also had beehives and loved rob the hives of their honey. In years past, a favorite activity was the hunting of bee trees in the mountains.
Dad also loved us younguns and even though he was not one to show it openly or tell us very often, we just knew it. He made a lot of sacrifices raising us and we never went hungry, cold, or lacking for any basic needs. I am so thankful for his life and the example he set for us.
After a bout with colon cancer, my dad died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 81. We are thankful that his cancer did not consummate his life in a long prolonged illness sometimes associated with pancreatic cancer. He died peacefully in his sleep from massive hemorrhage. He died well. He was my hero and the best man I ever knew.