Novelist Phyllis Inman Barnett: "Writing gives me a voice"

Points to Principal/Coach Poindexter as influential in her life
By Julianne Kuykendall | Aug 09, 2013
Photo by: Julianne Kuykendall BACK HOME: Phyllis Inman Barnett, 71, is pictured here at her home situated on her family's old home place off Lake Logan Road. Her father planted this weeping cherry tree soon after her mother passed away in 1970.

Phyllis Inman Barnett, now the published author of two books, is proud to see her name on book covers. However, she is just as proud to see her name embedded in the deep-rooted memories and the rugged landscape of the Lake Logan community. After all, the clear streams of the west fork of the Pigeon River and the history of the mountain people she grew up with are her cultural heritage she never forgot.

As she sat on a rocking chair on the front porch of the house her and her husband, Bob, built on her family’s home place, she recalled her family history.

“My grandfather, Ballou Inman, originally bought this land in the late 1870s or early 1880s,” she began, as the rushing waters of the Pigeon River provided a natural backdrop for her family’s story.

Her parents, Willis Ted Inman and Donnie Warren Inman, raised four children on the property — herself and her siblings Ted Darrell, Gail and Cheryl. Her mother, Donnie, was a twin and she and her sister, Bonnie, were the oldest in a farming family of 12, so they were forced to quit school and help support the younger children during the Depression years. The twins worked on the farm, cooked, cleaned and also helped neighbors during childbirth and stayed with older community members to make ends meet.

“Because my mother was so used to working at an early age, she worked outside the home much earlier than most women. She worked at the Enka plant during World War II, at the Lake Logan Lodge, at Champion Papers cafeteria and also ran the Bethel Dairy Bar where the Juke Box Junction is today,” said Barnett.

“My mother and grandmother were very driven women and taught me when times are hard to not complain but just keep working,” she added, noting that her grandmother, Pearl Reece Warren, had 12 children and 35 grandchildren and lived to be 100.

Her father worked at the Enka plant and also repaired radios and televisions which offered the Inman family the chance to own one of the first televisions in the community.

“All the neighborhood kids would come to our house to watch ‘The Pat Boone Show,’ ‘The Red Foley Show’ and ‘American Bandstand,’” recalled Barnett, adding that her siblings and neighborhood kids also gathered in her yard to play basketball.

“Another thing I remember about this land was hoeing corn and that my grandfather Warren would take all of us kids swimming when the work was done,” she said.

Barnett attended Cecil Elementary School from the first through eighth grades, then attended Bethel High School where she graduated in 1959. It was during her time at Bethel High School that she says two individuals particularly influenced her. One was Principal Poindexter, also the girls’ basketball coach, whom Barnett describes as a true “institution” who stressed excellence and sportsmanship in the game. “I have a clear memory of watching Coach Poindexter during our lunch hour stooping down and picking up papers on the campus,” she remembered. “He was a humble example of what to do.”

Also highly influential in her life was Grace Erwin, daughter of the Rev. Tom Erwin, who was a teacher in her 20s at the time and a friend to Barnett, loaning her books and encouraging her reading. Erwin’s influence along with Barnett’s natural passion for reading led her to study at Mars Hill College and at Appalachian State University where she earned her bachelor’s degree in 1963 in education. She also earned a Master’s degree from the University of South Florida in 1973.

It was at ASU that she met Sara Williams. After graduating in 1963, Barnett and Williams moved to St. Petersburg, Florida where they each accepted positions as English teachers at Dixie Hollins High School.

During that time in Florida, she met and married her husband, Bob, and had two children, Elizabeth and Rebecca. She taught English and writing in St. Petersburg for 15 years and then in LaGrangeville, New York, south of Albany, for another 20 years while her husband, Bob, worked in the computer industry.

“During all that time,” she noted, “I always spent part of the summers here at home on Lake Logan.”

So, when they retired in 1997, they retired to the two places they loved — Madeira Beach, Florida in the winters and the Lake Logan community in the summers.

After retirement, Barnett became fascinated with the history of the Sunburst area and wrote a book, published in 2007, titled “At the Foot of Cold Mountain: Sunburst and the Universalists at Inman’s Chapel.” The first part is a narrative and pictorial history of the logging community at Sunburst, the second part is a brief history of James Anderson Inman and the third part is a descriptive history of the restoration of Inman Chapel.

The new book, her first novel, is titled “Love in the Time of War” and takes place near the border between Indian and Pakistan. “It’s a novel about second chances and it’s a love story without being a romance novel,” Barnett explained.

“I feel writing gives me a voice,” she said.

As Barnett launches her first novel at age 71, she is continually inspired daily as she looks off her front porch to a massive weeping cherry tree her father planted shortly after her mother died.

“My mother died from cancer in 1970 at age 54. She was very sick those last five years, but she never complained or stopped working and truly lived every single day,” she said, speaking of her mother’s heavy influence on her life to keep making goals, stretching and living.

“Writing keeps me passionate about something which keeps me young,” she added. “I’m very proud to have completed the novel and I think it’s a very good book.”

Barnett will be present at a public book talk and signing at 3 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 25 at Blue Ridge Books & News in Waynesville. Both her books are available at Blue Ridge Books & News and at Amazon.com.

To contact Barnett, call 648-1418 or e-mail her at phylbarnet@aol.com.

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