I was born on March 21st, 1965, the first full day of Spring! Coincidentally, my parents named me Robin. I’m not sure why the decision was made to name me after a bird, but I always thought the combination of the name and the birth date was cool. I’m always on time (or, more often, early). I don’t procrastinate. Given a task, I hop right on it. I am the quintessential early bird, living up to my name.
I was never thrilled about the middle name I was given at birth … Lynn … which is right up there with Ann when it comes to generic middle names. My last name, however, I’ve always loved. I have always been proud to call myself Cartner. So much so that when I got married I dropped my boring middle name and became Robin Cartner Holder.
My branch of Cartners come from Iredell County (via Davie County via Rowan County) and have been North Carolinians since at least the 1700s. Being from North Carolina is another thing I’m proud of. I’ve seen many of the other states and have special love for a couple of them, but none compare to North Carolina. Apparently my predecessors agreed.
Growing up I never came across a Cartner who was not related to me. My grandfather, Richard Clayton Cartner, was one of eight children, seven boys and a girl. He liked to joke that out of all his siblings, he’d only had one sister and a fox got her. (She married Wesley Clint Fox.) All seven of the Cartner boys were dairy farmers, scattered around Harmony, NC. Between them, they owned 1,000 acres and milked 168 dairy cows. All sold their grade A milk to Coble Dairy, which was farmer-owned. For each cow a farmer milked, he had to buy one share in the company, therefore most had relatively small herds of milk cows. My grandfather, Clayton (3rd from the right below), milked 25 cows every morning and every night.
The Cartner brothers raised forty-four children on their farms, picking cotton, suckering tobacco, milking cows, and making hay while the sun shone. The farmers’ wives raised children, taught Sunday school, cooked up a storm, worked in the fields, and were even known to drive the tractors during haying season when there was always a job for every man, woman, and child. The brothers shared equipment and labor. In several of the families one or more of the sons remained in the dairy business while the daughters and other sons left the farm for jobs in town.
My grandfather married and had four children with his first wife, Lois; three daughters and a son. Little Johnny was only eighteen days old when Lois died of complications related to his birth. A little over two years later, my grandmother, Mildred Anderson, became Clayton’s second wife at age 21, eight years his junior. She took on his four kids ages 2 to 9. She told me that her own father thought she was crazy for taking on the responsibility. I asked her why she did it and she told me that she had admired my grandfather from afar as she had watched how he conducted himself after losing Lois. It wasn’t unusual in those days for motherless children to be farmed out to various family members to be raised. Clayton kept his family together and marshaled on. He (with help from Cousin Dora) always had the kids at church every Sunday. Clayton heard of her admiration through the grapevine and after only three months of courting, they married on December 23rd, 1936, and proceeded to have six more children. My dad, Carl Ray Cartner, was the middle child of this brood of ten, my grandmother’s firstborn.
Because Grandpa Clayton was killed in a farm accident when I was only five years old, I didn’t get to know him well in person. I remember his ever-present overalls, his stash of Juicy Fruit Gum in the bib pocket. I remember his chair, where no one else sat if he was in the house. I remember his brush cut hair and his large nose, which I inherited. I cherish the silver dollars he gave me for my fourth and fifth birthday. Most of what I know about him came from stories told by my grandmother, my dad, my aunts and uncles. All of them respected and loved him. He was a disciplinarian who expected his family to go to church on Sundays, to obey the rules, to contribute to the family. He didn’t tolerate laziness or put up with a lot of horseplay. The older kids would say he mellowed as he aged and had more children and that he was particularly easy on his grandkids, whom he adored.
Clayton’s ten kids all married and, between them, eventually produced twenty grandchildren. After his death in 1970, five of his ten children divorced and remarried. My mom used to say that most of those divorces probably would not have happened if grandpa had still been around.
Though my father had moved away from the farm and raised his family in the suburbs of Charlotte, most Sundays we returned to the farm for large Cartner family lunches after church. I often begged to stay on the farm with my grandmother for weeks in the summers and during Christmas vacations from school. I loved petting the calves and chasing the barn cats through the bales of hay stored in the barn. The dairy business continued on with my Uncle Andy running things after my grandfather died. During most of those days when I spent a week or two with Grandma in the summer I was awakened before dawn by the voice of my uncle through the open window calling the cows up from the pasture to be milked. My cousins and I played in the pastures and wooded areas of the farm, splashing in the creek, and having persimmon throwing wars.
When I stood in the middle of the farm and turned in a circle, I was surrounded by my aunts, uncles, great aunts, great uncles, and cousins as far as the eye could see. Whenever I took a friend with me to visit Grandma Cartner, as we topped the hill a mile from her house, I would say, “Welcome to Cartnerville!” I would point out Uncle Johnny’s house, then Uncle Andy’s, then Grandma’s, then Aunt Willa’s, Aunt Alice’s, Aunt Ann’s, and great uncle Boo’s. On up the hill, just out of sight around a curve were more of the great uncles’ houses. A left on Cartner Road (I’m not making that up!) led to more family homeplaces.
From the time I was seven until I was sixteen The Waltons was, perhaps, my favorite television show. The show told the story of writer Earl Hamner, Jr’s upbringing in rural Virginia. The main character, John Boy, was based on Hamner. He lived with his mother, father, paternal grandparents, and six siblings on Walton’s Mountain. I so related to the large close knit family. Like the Cartner clan, the Waltons loved and supported each other. The father, John, was stern, but fair, just like I’d heard my Grandpa Cartner was. The storyline took place during the depression and WWII, and many of the stories matched closely with the childhoods of my dad and his family. I thought of the Cartners as the modern day equivalent of the Waltons as I grew up. I loved my large, close family and felt blessed to be a part of it. (My mother came from the polar opposite, a dysfunctional family with a mentally ill mother and a father who drank to cope with her illness. I believe my mother married my dad, in part, for his family. I know she looked up to my grandmother and felt she was the mother she never had. My mama was proud to be a Cartner.)
The name Cartner is a challenge for some. Unless they are from Iredell or Davie County, NC, most people have never seen the name. Growing up, I got called Carter, Carpenter, etc. often. I would quickly correct the teacher or whoever was butchering the name: “It’s CART NER!” I carried the name with pride for twenty years. When I decided to get married, I toyed with keeping my own last name. Even though in the end I decided to take my husband’s last name, as I mentioned, I kept the Cartner in there. I wanted to maintain that tangible tie to the family I was so proud to grow up in.
I love it when someone learns my name and asks, “Are you related to _______ Cartner?” The answer is always “Yes!” and (usually) said with pride. It is true that I am most proud to be a granddaughter of Mildred Anderson Cartner, a Cartner by marriage. She was (along with my mother) my role model, my idol. If there is anyone on the planet who did not love her, they didn’t know her. Her character was unimpeachable. She was the most trustworthy, caring, giving, loving, accepting, forgiving, dependable, respectable person I have had the privilege of knowing. She treated everyone she met with the same respect. She welcomed them into her home. She fed them. She loved them, even when they didn’t always earn her love. I would give anything to be more like her.
My dad and his brothers and sisters safeguarded the Cartner name, each as proud of it as I am, I think. Their children, my cousins, have done the Cartner name proud as well. I love each and every one of them like they were my siblings. I’m never happier or prouder than when I am in the Clarksbury United Methodist Church Fellowship Hall surrounded by Cartners at our family reunions or Christmas get-togethers. Many of them are mothers and fathers, even grandparents to more generations of Cartners. I pray they teach them to carry the name with as much pride in it as I have.
“Passed down from generations
Too far back to trace
I can see all my relations
When I look into my face
May never make it famous
But I’ll never bring it shame
It’s my last name
Daddy always told me far back as I recall
Son, you’re part of somethin’,
You represent us all
So keep it how you got it, as solid as it came
It’s my last name.”
(Verse excerpted from My Last Name by Dierks Bentley.)