Williams column: Harley a man from another time

Published 12:00 am Monday, September 19, 2011

By Mack Williams
for the Salisbury Post
Mr. Harley Canup lived about a half-mile down from us on the Old Concord Road when I was growing up. Our world then, was the 1950s and ’60s, but he seemed to be from an earlier time. Harley worked at the Salisbury Post Office, but after the end of his day’s work, he became someone of a simpler time of self-sufficiency, more akin to a mountain man or pioneer.
Harley and his wife, Mae, were simple in dress, and treated others with true goodness in their approach to life. They taught their three sons, John, Paul and Tim well in the treatment of others, because I can’t recall a single one of them ever treating another person badly, either in word or deed.
Harley had horses, cattle and he also raised chinchillas for the modern-day fur trade, which, as a child, made him seem like one of those early fur trappers who were the vanguards in the exploration of North America, whom we were reading about at Granite Quarry School.
Harley and Mae were fond of western-style clothes, Harley often wearing a western shirt or vest, and Mae, a frontier-style dress. Some people, these days, try to “affect” this look, but they come off as disingenous. To me, Harley and Mae were the “real thing.”
Mae was also my Cub Scout den-mother; and studying those aspects of vanished Native- American life (which occupy a respectable portion of the Scout Handbook) with her seemed to make the past current. I sort of expected that if I were to walk way down past the Canup’s back yard, I would suddenly come upon an early Native American stockade, like those seen by such explorers as John Lawson in his early explorations of the Carolinas. I also imagined a Native-American garden existing there, containing squash, gourds, maize, pumpkins and tobacco.
In Harley’s garden, we would sometimes find the signs of early Native- American presence: chipped flakes and projectile points. These points and flakes looked just as new as if they had been fashioned sometime within the span of our young lives, but a great many similar Piedmont North Carolina artifacts have been dated to a time long before the building of the Great Pyramid.
Harley’s pioneer self-sufficiency was also evident in his homemade attractions for his boys. Some of these were as exciting as the rides at the Rowan County Fair. There was a tire swing, but nothing like the usual one. Most tire swings are moderate and quasi-terrestrial in nature, fixed to a limb no more than 7 or 8 feet off the ground. Harley’s tire swing had become more arboreal in nature, due to the rope being tied to a limb at least 50 feet above the ground. One time, I sat there and twisted around repeatedly, until the rope was as tight as a twisted rubber band. The amount of disorientation which I experienced with the untwisting of that rope, excelled anything experienced by me at the Rowan County Fair.
Harley also had his own version of the merry-go-round, fashioned from barrels, ropes, pulleys, wheels, and pedals. The riders, in their cut-open barrel seats, would work the pedals with their feet and propel themselves around the central pole.
Harley also built a glide-slide, consisting of a tire, rope, and pulley attached to a sturdy wire, fastened between two trees. The trees seemed to be a little over 100 feet apart, and the height of the ride, with its suspended wire, was about 10 feet. The tire was reached by the ascent of boards, nailed into the tree that marked the beginning of the ride, the boards and tree becoming a ladder made from inanimate lumber and living trunk. The ride began around 10 feet above the ground and continued for over 100 feet at a descending angle, reaching the other tree at the ride’s end.
Harley Canup is now 99 years of age, and his son, Tim, recently told me that he has moved the old merry-go-round to his home, refurbishing it in order that his children can enjoy what his father built for him and his brothers years ago. Tim added that the glide-slide still exists, and that he himself still sometimes slides down it; so counting the builder, some of these hand- crafted rides have now spanned multiple generations of the Canup family.