Mary Tabor decided she wanted more out of life than that, and she found a way to leave.  It took more than a little courage and resolve to overcome that first obstacle, leaving mountain life and the only home she knew.  She didn't really know what the outside world was like, and there must have been anxiety and maybe even fear when she boarded that horse and wagon for the long ride to Bryson City, then the train ride to Asheville and on south to coastal Georgia.  She chose Georgia because an older brother had gone there to work for the railroad, and with him she had a place to live.

Mary's second obstacle was to enter the man's world of railroading.  With determination she went to telegraphy school, learned the Morse code, and convinced the railroad authorities that she had the ability to manage a station, no small feat in 1912.  She became Station Agent for the rail station in Patterson, Georgia, a position she held for over fifty years.  She handled heavy freight, notified customers that their chickens (and other smelly goods) were in, sold tickets, ushered passengers on and off the coaches, caught the mail pouch off fast moving trains, kept the bills-of-lading straight, did the bookkeeping, hired and fired laborers, worked the telegraph key, and delivered messages on foot all around town. If not the first, she was one of the first women in history to be given such responsibility. 

While in telegraphy school she met William Jesse Lewis.  He became Station Agent at Offerman, the next station up the line from Patterson.  They were married in 1911 and had a family of six children, and all the while she never failed in her duties at the depot.  However important the job at the railroad was, it did not take precedence over her family though.  She gave her children, two boys and four girls, a Christian background and a strong sense of family values. Her strength was tested again when her husband died in 1943, leaving her a widow with three daughters still at home, but she never faltered.  She was always there when her children needed her.  All but little Bill (who died in a tragic accident as a toddler) grew up to have happy, enduring marriages of their own. 

Although Mary set out early in life to leave the hardship of life in the mountains, she never lost her love for mountain beauty, and she never missed an opportunity to go back on vacation.   She and her husband built a summer cabin near her old home in 1934, and the family has enjoyed vacation times there ever since.  Mary loved to climb.  Even at the age of 80 she could outclimb the rest of the family.  I remember one day during a family reunion at the cabin when she had her sons-in-law panting on a climb up the "Pinnacle," a long steep incline through the woods.   Her mountain climbing philosophy was much like her philosophy of life.  "Set your eyes on a goal, then just lean forward and bend your knees."

Mary Tabor Lewis was important to me not only because of the admirable examples she set, but because she brought my wife into the world.  Ann was Mary's youngest daughter.  Mary died in 1987 at the age of 95.  She's no longer with us in person, but her spirit remains as a guiding light to all who knew her.  She was anything but the stereotypical "mother-in-law."


Mary Lydia Tabor overcame two huge obstacles in early life which tell much about her character and personality.  Born in a backwoods cabin in the mountains of western North Carolina in 1891, she knew the hardship of the mountain people's struggle for survival.  The southern Appalachians were then thirty to forty years behind the rest of the country in civilization's march of progress.  At the turn of the century there were no paved roads in the Brush Creek community, no electricity or telephones, no plumbing, and limited schooling.  Most young girls married young, had large families, had a weathered look at forty, and died not long after.