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Difficulty inspires determination

Freeman Taylor finds farming key to prosperity
Story and photos by Glen Liford 7/31/2018


Susan Taylor, wife of Kirby Taylor, rakes hay on the family’s farm in Carter County. The family pitches in to help one another with whatever needs to be done around the farm.
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Freeman Taylor has bittersweet memories of growing up on his family’s hardscrabble, four-acre homestead in rural Carter County.

He was one of 16 children born to his father, G.J. (General) Taylor. General’s first wife and sixth child both died shortly after the infant’s birth. He later married Goldie Taylor, and the couple had 10 children, including Freeman.

Today, farming is only a portion of the Taylors’ business interests. But Freeman stresses it’s the reason he’s been able to prosper and care for his large family over the years.

Farming was his dad’s only source of income, though the rough, mostly hillside plot wasn’t able to provide all the family’s needs.  The family raised corn, and later added a tiny patch of tobacco that Freeman says “really helped a lot.” But General and his children mostly sharecropped with neighboring landowners to put food on the table and bring in a little money.

“We worked hard,” recalls Freeman. “But we never went hungry. We had three meals a day — breakfast, dinner, and supper.”

Still, it was one of those mealtimes that stands out in Freeman’s mind. The family sat down to breakfast, and all they had to eat was cornbread.

“I remember my dad crying because we didn’t have any flour and had to eat that cornbread,” says Freeman.

Freeman left home at 18 and married Evelyn Taylor in 1951. That was when he went to work at a dry cleaner in Johnson City making $22.50 a week.

“I had to ride the bus from Elizabethton to Johnson City and that took four dollars a week,” says Freeman.

Freeman soon moved to a dry cleaner in Elizabethton that was closer to home and bumped his wage to $40 a week. But the desire to do better kept driving him.

His first son, Kenneth, was born in 1952, and the family began to grow. Kenneth was followed by three more boys, Mickey, Kirby, and Phillip, before the family finally added a girl, Connie.

Around 1953 or so, Freeman and Evelyn bought their first piece of ground — he recalls the deed read “32 acres more or less,” and began to farm to supplement Freeman’s weekly wage. He began raising cattle and corn on the small operation. And as nearby land became available, he added acreage as he could afford.

Freeman soon ventured out on his own, establishing his own dry cleaning business in 1962. He and Evelyn operated Quik Dry Cleaners and Laundry with stores in Elizabethton and Johnson City until he retired at age 75 and turned the business over to his sons.  The business has provided the Taylors with a good living over the years.

In the 1980s, they got hooked up with a nearby plant manufacturing Levi’s jeans and completed bleaching and stone washing for the company. At one time, their cleaner business employed 200 workers. When the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was signed in the 1990s, Freeman says, it wasn’t long before the factory was out of business and their relationship with the company ended.

In the meantime, other business opportunities came and went. The family owned a gas station and convenience store in Elizabethton for a while, along with other real estate investments.

“I guess I was always a go-getter,” says Freeman. “My mind was constantly on what I might do to make it better for my family. And that was Evelyn’s goal, too. We lived for our family, and I still do today. I give my family credit for everything we have.”

Even during his busiest years, Mickey and Kirby stress that their father made time for the family as well as work. He served as a Boy Scout leader for 10 or 12 years, taking the scouts camping and often hiking on the Appalachian Trail and working on the local Boy Scout camp.

“He taught us to shoot and took us hunting,” says Mickey. “We went rabbit hunting together as a family every Thanksgiving. Now we just go shoot skeet because it’s harder to find rabbits. But we do it together.”

The family has hunted bear in five states, says Mickey, and still travel together to Wyoming to hunt mule deer, antelope, and elk.

“We’ve worked hard, but we have taken time to live, too,” says Freeman.

Evelyn passed away in 2014 at the age of 80. The couple spent 62 years together as man and wife.

“We had a great life,” says Freeman. “Even with all the challenges we had starting out, it all worked out. I couldn’t have had a finer wife, and our children all turned out to be hard workers. They never gave us any problems.”

All the Taylor siblings still live in the area around Elizabethton: Kenneth and wife Nancy, Mickey and wife Deborah, Kirby and wife Susan, Phillip and wife Joy, and Connie Taylor-Wyche. Freeman and Evelyn have a total of 16 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.

While some of  the other businesses have come and gone, the Taylors’ commitment to their farming operation remains strong.

“That’s what’s paid the bills and got us started,” he says.

The Taylor family now owns some 400 acres, mostly attached to that first “32 acres, more or less,” and leases another 400 acres. The Washington Farmers Cooperative customers maintain a herd of about 150 mama cows, mostly Angus-based commercial cattle, and some 70 feeder steers. They usually cut 900 rolls of hay and raise 50 acres of silage.

Freeman, 85, is mostly retired now. Mickey and Kirby manage the farm and oversee the dry cleaning business. But he offers them plenty of advice on the operation.

“We went from mules to an air-conditioned tractor in my lifetime,” Freeman says. “People talk about the good old days. Well, they can have them. We flip a switch, and we have light. We turn on a faucet, and we get water. We have it much easier now. “

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