Closer Look

Author Series: Becky Ramsey Estes shares her growing-up years in Macon County

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Jeannie Chambers

You can take the girl out of the mountains, but you can’t take the mountains out of the girl. This phrase fits local author Becky Ramsey Estes to a “T.” Even though she moved to Charlotte, N.C., for about 30 years, the mountains in the Cartoogechaye community were always in her heart – so much so that she wrote “Growing Up Mountain.”

Estes was named for her great-great grandmother, Rebecca Ann Ramsey. Estes’ father, Albert Ramsey Jr., used to tell her that she was like her Great Granny Becky, in spirit.  In an excerpt from her book, “Growing Up Mountain,” she shares: “I look a lot like Great Granny Becky, petite build, flaming red hair, and blue eyes. Coming from the Ramsey clan (Scotch Irish), I have a fiery temper and am very strong- willed. From my Mama’s family (the Setser/Slagle/Siler families), I inherited my creativity and passion for helping others. From both families I inherited a passion for the Blue Ridge. I love the mist that hugs the peaks, the flowers that paint the ridges and hollers, the trees that cover the highlands and lowlands … I love everything about the mountains. It’s my home.”

One fascinating story Estes includes in her book is when Great Granny Becky was only 10 years old. The Civil War was basically over, and although no battles are known to have been in Franklin, renegade raiders took it upon themselves to wreak as much havoc as possible. Greedy and bloodthirsty, a group of renegades showed up at their home demanding treasures. Her great great grandfather refused and told them he did not have what they were looking for. 

The 10-year-old saw those men on horseback tie a noose around her grandfather’s neck and hang him from a tree in the front yard. She actually cut him loose and as he fell over a fence, the breath was “knocked back into him.” He lived, but he was never quite the same. Great Granny Becky grew up to be a strong woman who helped her father run a mill. Later, after she married, she helped run the farm and tended to the needy in the community.

Another aspect of her family that Estes shares with readers is their focus on education. Estes said she considered her Great Granny Becky as one of the reasons she sought a career as a teacher. In fact, many Macon County teachers have a place in Estes’ lineage.

Estes earned a bachelor’s degree in education and then a master’s degree in remedial reading from Western Carolina University. Those credentials led her to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system, where she was able to help many students with learning problems. She enjoyed living in Charlotte, maintained long-term friendships, and met her husband, Tom Estes. They came back to Cartoogechaye to be married in July of 1992 and moved back to Franklin full time in 2015.

Estes’s grandfather, Albert Ramsey Sr., studied law at the University of North Carolina and played baseball for three years while he was there. He took and passed the state bar exam and was about to be chosen to play for a Georgia baseball team, now known as the Atlanta Braves; instead, he answered the call to serve his country in World War I by joining the Army. While serving in France in 1916, Ramsey was subjected to mustard gas and returned home, his recuperation taking years. He never practiced law but returned to his family farm and later served as an agricultural extension agent and supervised the Farm Home Administration office in Franklin. 

MACON COUNTY native Becky Ramsey Estes participated late last year in the Franklin Chamber of Commerce’s event to spotlight local authors.

Estes’s father, Albert Ramsey Jr., was only six years old when he and his even younger cousin, Clay, started helping out at the Ramsey farm. Everybody did their part.

Estes writes about how her father was disciplined, but he knew how to have a good time, too. Both parents loved sports, hiking, and fishing. Her father went to N.C. State, earning a degree in agriculture and then an engineering degree from West Point. Her mother, Margaret Setser, played basketball on the first girls’ team at Franklin High School. 

Estes’s parents were avid hunters, and bear hunting was probably her grandfather’s favorite wild game. In “Growing Up Mountain,” she writes: “Daddy often brought home a bear. When he did, we would eat bear for weeks. Daddy named one of his bears ‘Herbert.’ He had the bear’s head mounted and the skin cured. The head became a fixture in our den, hanging over Daddy’s chair. He became a part of our family. He was named Herbert after Daddy’s lawyer, Herbert Hyde. Daddy had Herbert’s hide tanned and put on the wall upstairs. They were wonderful conversation starters.” 

Estes’s mother was an expert seamstress and quilter as well as a manager of Maco Crafts. She started her education at Slagle schoolhouse in Cartoogechaye as a child and then attended Franklin High School, the University of Georgia, and Western Carolina University, achieving a degree in home economics. She became involved in the farm operations and volunteered extensively in the community. 

Estes was the first child born to her parents. About two and a half years later, her sister Diane came along, and Estes shares how she thought Diane was her own living baby doll. Eighteen months later, her brother, Joe, was born. Between Estes and her youngest brother, Ralph, is a nine-year interval.  

The Ramsey farm grew tomatoes, corn and hay, but they also raised Angus cows and operated a dairy farm. Estes remembers and shares in her book about the family’s beautiful palomino Belgian stallion, named J.R. 

When asked what inspired Estes to write her stories, she said, “Mama kept a big Tupperware tote, one for each child, in which she kept articles, photos, and other things. None of the children were allowed to take them away.”

But after her mother died, Estes began looking though all the family memories.

“Pretty soon I told myself, ‘Becky, you’re writing a book!’” 

Estes’s remembrances of Macon County can be found all through “Growing Up Mountain.” She summarizes the book by communicating: “It is not meant to be a history. It is a portrait of life in the mountains through the eyes of a girl growing up beneath the shadow of Wayah Bald Mountain in the heart of the Blue Ridge. If you can feel but a small part of the love and nurture I felt, then I will judge this a success. I trust that you will fall in love with the mountains which are so precious to me.”

Jeannie Chambers is the author of two books targeted to tweens and teens: “Tunnel of Time” and “Arnetta and the Mirror of Destiny.” Both are available at Franklin Office Supply, A Novel Escape, and online.