Luther Harwood: life in the holler

“We always called it Hungry Holler,” 87-year-old Luther Harwood said of his childhood home and setting of his first book, Life in the Woods (published 2022). His eyes full of merriment, he continued, “Everybody who came to visit was hungry!”   

Little Cabin in the Holler

Luther HarwoodFrom his birth in 1936, Harwood lived with his parents and siblings in a log cabin in the woods in Fairview, NC. Naturally, there was no insulation in the beginning, and modern conveniences were nonexistent. On cold winter days, he might awaken to a layer of snow atop his blankets; in warmer temps, he would peer through the floorboards and watch the chickens play under the house.  

“You know the saying, ‘You could swing a cat through the wall?’” Harwood asked. Met with blank stares he explained, “It meant you could swing a cat in any direction, and it would go through a crack in the wall. That’s the way it was in the cabin.”  

School Days

When he wasn’t spending time in Hungry Holler, Harwood attended Fairview schools. “Spelling was my thing. I could hang in there with the best of them.” He remembered spelling bees with pride and shared that once his skill brought him 15 minutes of fame in the big city of Asheville. 

“I was walking by S&W Cafeteria there on Patton Avenue,” he said. “There was this guy out there with a microphone challenging people to spell hard words.” Harwood stepped up with confidence. “He gave me the word ‘ancient.’ I can remember spelling it: A N C I E N T—ancient!” Even though more than seven decades have passed since that day, Harwood still beamed recalling the moment. 

“I didn’t graduate from Fairview High School, though,” he admitted. “I quit over a pencil.” Harwood didn’t have a pencil at home, so when he got to school, he went to the office. “They sold school supplies there: paper, pencils, that sort of thing. But they were out of pencils, so I just went on to class.” When he got there, his teacher was less than understanding with Harwood’s plight. “He told me he was going to give me a whipping for not having my pencil. I didn’t think he was man enough,” he chuckled and leaned in conspiratorially, “But I didn’t want to find out either, so I just left!”  

In the Navy!

A few years later, when Harwood was of age, he joined the US Navy. He served from 1954-1958 and remembers participating in Operation Redwing, a nuclear weapon test exercise in which atomic bombs were detonated in the ocean to measure their impact. He recalled one such event. 

“They set it off under a barge. From our ship, we could see the barge, but it looked small from where we were.” He guessed it was probably at least 20 miles away. “We were all up there on the deck, wearing life jackets, you know,” Harwood said. “An officer came by and said, ‘I can assure you gentlemen that there is no great danger.’”  

The sailors were instructed to turn their backs to the test and cover their eyes with their arms. When the bomb went off, it was as if they were in a giant x-ray machine. “You could see all kinds of stuff in your arm you didn’t know you even had.” Harwood laughed as one does when something is not one bit funny. The memory still sobers. “That barge went up, but it never came back down,” he bowed his head, shaking it from side to side. “I reckon it was melted.”  

Homeward bound

It was during the military years that Harwood began writing with intention. “My two older brothers went into the navy; I watched my mother go to the mailbox every day hoping for a letter.” Young Harwood kept his eyes on his momma as she returned to the house. “I could tell by the time she was half-way back if she got a letter from them.” He remembered how disappointed she had been when no letters came. “I determined to write religiously.” 

When his military service ended, Harwood returned to Fairview. He found work in construction before settling into a job at a glass plant in Skyland from which he retired. “I started on May 17, 1960,” Harwood said. “And I worked there for 34 years, 2 months, and 17 days.” But who’s counting? 

Story time

It was about that time that Harwood started writing stories about his childhood. “I’d set by the creek and think things over. I got to remembering some of these things and writing them down.” He recorded his thoughts in a 3-ring binder, hoping to capture the happiness of his childhood. It was Harwood’s kids who digitized his writing, converting the binders into word documents. “I got to thinking,” he said, “people might be interested in these stories.” And thus, Harwood’s first book, Life in the Woods, was born. In it, you’ll find fifty stories, each one summed up with a moral or a lesson learned. 

While he writes about the past, Harwood isn’t living there, believing that “People are mostly living better these days.” For example, “It used to be news when you put electricity in,” he said, “but now it’s news if you ain’t got none!” 

He lamented, though, the lack of connection nowadays and the distraction of possessions. “We used to walk a quarter to a half-mile to borrow a wheelbarrow. Now, folks are stressed to make a living just to keep up with all their stuff.” 

Clearly, life moves faster in 21st century Fairview than it did in the 1900s in the Harwood’s log cabin. Want to slow things down? Take a stroll through Harwood’s recollections of Life in the Woods. You’ll be glad you did. 

To get your copy of Life in the Woods, contact [email protected] with the subject “Life in the Woods.” Consider having Luther Harwood visit your group to read some of his stories and sign books for those who purchase them. Inquire at the email above for more information. 


This piece appeared first in The Fairview Town Crier in April 2023.

By Aileen MItchell Lawrimore

Aileen Mitchell Lawrimore is a mother x 3, wife x 35 (years not men), minister, speaker, writer, retreat leader, and lover of beagles and books. She has a lot to say.