Frail and Blanche JoinesJohn Elree Joines -- or "Frail," as he was nicknamed and always called-- was the fourth of nine children. He was born in 1914 in a house built of logs eighteen inches thick, daubed, papered, and sealed in weatherboard. It had a living room thirty-six feet square, with one window, a door with a drawstring, rooms overhead, and other rooms built onto it. He was a chubby baby, so someone teasingly called him by the name of a local fat man named Fraley. The name stuck. He resented the nickname as a boy, but as he grew into a tough, sturdy teenager, he came to enjoy its comic inappropriateness. Other people spelled the nickname as Frale or Fraley, but Frail preferred the spelling that underscores that comedy.
His family was kin to most of the others within four or five miles. His mother's people, a family of German descent named Brock, were fairly prosperous and peaceable farmers. They had books and liked to read. His father's people, who he believes came originally from near Liverpool, had intermarried with Cherokees and had a name f or loving to fight. Although his father shared this bent and drank too hard and often, he taught the children hard work and strict honesty. He "had plenty of sense" and could in his head figure the number of feet of lumber in a stack of logs faster than most men could with a pencil, but he never learned to read or write.
Schooling was still hard to come by when Frail Joines was a boy. He reached the eighth grade, excelling in arithmetic, spelling, and geography, all of which he loved, but estimates that he actually attended school only four years, and rarely as much as two months a year. His chief schooling was in how to work animals and care for them, to prepare the land, plant, tend, and harvest crops, to cut and haul timber, and to perform other tasks of a farming community. At the age of thirteen Frail Joines left home as a result of a dispute with his father, moved to the home of a married sister, and began to earn his own living. He worked three years for an orchard, eighteen months at a saw mill (at twenty cents an hour, doing two men's work and getting twice the usual pay), two years for a farmer, nine months at a furniture factory, several years breaking mules and horses in Wilkes and neighboring counties, three years logging, and one year at a mirror factory. He was an unusually strong young man. On his eighteenth birthday, he won a bet by carrying five hundred pounds of feed around a store building, one sack under each arm, one on each shoulder, and one grasped in his teeth.
In 1942 he enlisted in the Army and for the first time traveled further than a hundred and fifty miles from home. He trained in Illinois and Colorado and served in England and Scotland as a medic. He crossed the English channel to France seventeen days after the D-Day invasion and was a ward master in a thousand-bed field hospital first in Carentan and then in Commercy. During the Battle of the Bulge he volunteered for the Infantry and was sent to the front as a medic in January 1945. He was on the front lines from then until the end of the War, in campaigns in northern France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Austria, and Czechoslovakia. His unit -- the 328th Infantry Regiment of the Twenty-Sixth Infantry Division of Patton's Third Army -- was thirty miles beyond Linz when the war ended on May 8, 1945.
During the war Frail's sister had arranged a correspondence between him and one of her husband's relatives, Blanche Clanton. Frail and Blanche became interested in each other and met when he came home on a furlough in April 1943. They married during his second furlough, on August 9th of that year, just before he went overseas. Blanche was born June 19, 1922, on a farm in Iredell, a neighboring piedmont county. Her father left the family when she was two or three, and her mother moved to Kannapolis to earn a living taking in mill workers as boarders. She later moved back to a town in Iredell and remarried. Blanche loved school and was an excellent student, but could not attend beyond the seventh grade. At fourteen she worked for some months in the spinning room of a cotton mill (without pay during her training period), but had to leave when the Child Labor Law was passed. From then until her marriage she lived with her mother, helping her to farm and also picking some cotton and sewing for neighbors.
After the War Mr. and Mrs. Joines had three children--two daughters and a son--all of whom were to attend universities as honors students and earn graduate degrees. (Joyce Newman has two master's degrees, her sister Carol has an MS in genetics, and her brother Jerry an M.D. and Ph.D.) Mr. Joines wanted to support his family by farming and was able to buy a farm after the war, but the first of his two back injuries forced him to give it up. Later the inflation of land prices put farm ownership beyond his reach. He consequently worked during these years as manager of an orchard, as caretaker of an estate, as a mechanic in a garage, as a surveyor, and as a landscaper. He retired in 1978, but he and Mrs. Joines enjoyed raising much of their own food in a family garden. Mrs. Joines had worked for Woolworth's department store, for an orchard, and for several florists. Her own effort to set up a flower shop, like her husband's earlier attempt to buy and operate a farm, was ended by sickness. In 1965 she had to stop work because of heart trouble. She continued for many years to live in their home, but in 2003 lives in Carrboro, NC. Her husband Frail Joines died at the age of 67 on April 24, 1982, two and a half years after the completion of the film "Being a Joines".
This essay is adapted from the pamphlet "Being A Joines: A Life in the Brushy Mountains" written by Daniel Patterson, Joyce Joines Newman, and Allen E. Tullos, and published in 1981 by the Curriculum in Folklore of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Adapted and revised in 2004.