Taking the Backroads

Julia Campbell Swindell (1912-2003)


As history would have it, I turned out to be the "only boy" born to the five children of Theron Cleveland Swindell and Mabel Lura (Swindell) Swindell. My Mother, Julia Campbell, was the second child and the daughter most involved with her Hyde County family heritage. The home place and farm of Leroy Merritt Swindell sits just across the creek west of Highway 264. My Great-Grandparents, Henry Hardin Swindell and Sarah Ann Rebecca (Swindell) Swindell (Father & Mother of Mabel Lura) had resided at Swindell Fork for many years. Directly across the road is the home place and farm of "Cousin Harry" (John Harold Swindell) and "Cousin Mary" (Mary Atkinson) related through the Theron Cleveland bloodline. To me in my early years, my grandparents only had single names..."Poppa" and "Mammy".

The wide creek flows parallel to the highway in Great-Grandmama Sarah's front yard. To get to the house, a narrow wooden bridge spanned the creek directly across the road from the A.B. Swindell & Sons store, now dedicated as a Hyde County historical site. Contrary to "Cousin Harry's" house that sits up the hill some distance from the road, Grandmother Sarah's house sat just to the left as you crossed the bridge and quite close to the creek. The home was a two-story wood frame structure with a deep porch across the front; a sleeping place for the sheep until family and friends came to sit, rock and talk. A large barn with fenced areas and several sheds were to the left some distance behind the house. At the gate sat a dilapidated barn-like structure that in much earlier days had been a blacksmith shop. I was most fascinated by three things directly behind the house...the cistern, the separate kitchen-dining room building and the family graveyard.

My earliest recollections of visits to Hyde County are at about the age of five...visits always taking place on a Sunday since the adults all worked six days a week. The routine never changed...visit Uncle Herman at Swindell Fork...cross the road and visit Cousin Harry & Cousin Mary, and Mary Louise, their daughter...cross the Mattamaskeet Lake to Fairfield to visit with Aunt Helen. If time permitted, we made a brief stop at the home of Uncle Cecil Swindell in New Holland. Mammy never seemed to be very concerned if time did not permit...these were Poppa's folks.

In 1939, when I was seven, Grandmama Sarah passed away and we all went to Swindell Fork for the burial in the Leroy Merritt Swindell graveyard behind the house. I affectionately called her...Grandmama "Sailor" since I always thought that was what the adults were saying..."Sailor", not Sarah.

My first true adventure came when I was about nine. Mammy convinced my Mother to let me go with her to spend a week with Uncle Herman at Swindell Fork after school was out for the summer. By that age we lived together so Mammy was truly my "second Mother" and I looked forward to the trip since I had never before been away from home more than a night at the time. My Mama laid out the rules...don't go near the cistern...don't go near the creek...don't go to the barn without Uncle Herman and...don't cross the road to Cousin Harry's by yourself. After a few weeks, Daddy and Mama drove us to Uncle Herman's one Sunday afternoon. Some years before, my two cousins...Eunice and Virginia Jones (daughters of Mabel Lucile...the oldest child) had nicknamed Herman..."Uncle Herman the Hermit" and it really fit his lifestyle.

The following week was truly a "Tom Sawyer Adventure" for me. Uncle Herman entertained me all week and we really became "Buddies". He took us to Swan Quarter for Mammy to get groceries and things in his old Chevy pickup truck. In the evenings, he played the fiddle & sang folk songs and he and Mammy talked about family...past and present. One day he took me to the bridge and I saw turtles swimming and sunning on logs sticking out of the creek. Uncle Herman went to the house and got a long heavy twine and a small piece of meat, tying a strip to the end. Standing in the middle of the bridge, I dangled the meat into the water. Soon, I felt a tug and started hauling up the twine with turtle attached. On my knees, I reached through the rail to retrieve my catch but the turtle let go when my hand got within a foot or so. I must have pulled in a dozen turtles in the next hour and they all let go when I reached for them. All the while, Uncle Herman was smiling...he knew what the turtles would do. We tried several more times that week with the same result...the "catch" was not important, it was the "chase".

The only other incident that stayed in my memory all the years was about the "cat". Mammy always cleaned up the separate kitchen & dining room to cook our meals for the week. Uncle Herman would build a fire in the large wood stove. One day Uncle Herman and I went into the kitchen to wait for dinner and the cat followed us in. We were sitting and talking when, all of a sudden, the cat jumped on the counter beside the stove...then, without hesitation, the cat walked onto the hot stove. It screamed and jumped off the stove. Uncle Herman put Vaseline on its quite burned paws. The unfortunate cat had never been into that room when there was a fire in the stove. Uncle Herman cooked on a hotplate in the house.

I spent two more summer weeks with Mammy and Uncle Herman and enjoyed every minute. In my teens, I visited on Sunday trips with the family. After I got my drivers license, I would always stop to see Uncle Herman and Cousin Harry and family on trips to the beach at Nags Head. In 1950, I entered East Carolina College, majoring in music as a trumpet player. In 1952 and 53, I booked a 5-piece dance band for Saturday night dances at Gene's in Fairfield...a service station with a dance hall in the back. The band members always had a great time with a large group of ..."Hoi Tiders". I always stopped to visit with Uncle Herman for a few minutes. My Mama would remind me...always stop at the gate and yell for Herman...I don't want him to shoot you in the yard. I always did just that...he came to the gate and we talked. Invited him to Gene's but he never came.

Throughout those years, I think I was the only one in the family that did not think Uncle Herman was "strange" but to me he was smart and funny and a joy to be around. On a visit with my Mother about 1995, she gave me a copy of a letter Uncle Herman had written in 1919 from France during World War I....it was found in Mammy's possessions. It was written to his Mother, Grandmother Sarah from the front lines just before the end of the war. The letter is posted on this website and is worth the read...it is quite revealing. Uncle Herman died of a massive heart attack in the back yard and Mammy passed away in 1981 at the ripe old age of 96.

Early on a Sunday morning in the summer of 2000, I took my Mother to Hyde County. She was 88 years old at that time and she had regularly attended Historical Society meeting for years. I had a fully loaded camera to record all the places she wanted to visit. Our first stop was to visit the St. Thomas Church in Bath since Mama was born at Bath and was christened there when she was a day old, she said. She was baptized there on June 27, 1915, sponsored by her namesake, Mrs. Julia Campbell and Mr. M.E. Price. The Pastor at that time was. Rev. Howard Alligood. On to Swan Quarter, we took pictures with her standing at the Courthouse where her father had been Sheriff in the 1920's. Two blocks over, we took pictures in front of the house she spent many childhood years. Next came the brick school, long since deserted, where she spent many learning hours. Our final stop in town was to visit..."The Church that God Moved". Mama went to church there for many years. We by-passed Swindle Fork and went across the Lake to Fairfield, visiting churches and the town in general. Coming back across the Lake Mama talked about the big project of draining Mattamaskeet Lake. Then, we walked the grounds and cemetery at Soule Church and headed back toward Swindell Fork. A few miles past the lake road to Fairfield, we drove up a long lane to a large, two-story house...Mama had lived there also for some years. Another country home no longer existed but Mama pointed out where it was originally built. Then I drove to the Nursing-Rest home near by to visit with Celia Swindell, a daughter of Uncle Cecil. She was very sharp mentally and appeared to be doing well. Mama always visited with Aunt Celia when she went Hyde County. Finally, we reached Swindell Fork and entered the driveway to Cousin Harry's house...parking at the rear. The daughter, Mary Louise Swindell McGee, is in bed with a hip injury. We hug, kiss and talk for an hour... including stories about Uncle Herman. As we departed the house, I stopped the car and took Mama over to the road sign that sez...Swindell Fork. I took several pictures with the A.B. Swindell & Sons store in the background. The Swindell homeplace across the road was demolished many years ago, leaving the family cemetery as the only site of by-gone days.

A true Hyde County "Treasure" at 91 years old, my Mother, Julia Campbell Swindell, passed away quietly on November 21st. 2003. For all her years, she never wavered about her love for her "Roots"....Hyde County.

Contributed by: Robert King Williams, Jr.

Copyright  2005

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