News Stories & Columns
Church Organist at 81
“Broad” Roach: A man for all seasons
Photos and Text by Jock Lauterer
Forest City THIS WEEK Wednesday, October 29, 1969
I tell People to come out the Big Island Road ’til they come to this house that looks like it hasn’t been lived in in about 100 years – and that’s me…”
“Broad” Roach stood on the porch of his house, not even trying to disguise the grin that was galloping across his face.
A Fall wind was whipping through the huge patriarch oaks around his house. Broad held the front door open to the main room, where a wood stove was putting out warmth and that unmistakable hardwood scent.
Aside from having probably the most interesting variety of flowers and trees in his gardens, 84-year old Broadus Roach chops his own wood and still plays the organ every Sunday at the Shiloh Baptist Church.
After all these years of organ-playing he admits, “I don’t have to practice much, I can play most everything they put up…”
But he is quick to point out, “Gee Whiz, I never did anything..”
“Never doing anything” includes being Music Director in the Harris School District for years, teaching music at Shiloh Elementary, being Scoutmaster for a time in Cliffside, completing a year of college while working a 12-hour day in the mill, being YMCA Secretary in Lexington, Director of the Cliffside Community Center from 1922 to 1931 and serving as organist and educational directors for churches in Winston-Salem, and hand-building the reed organ at Cliffside.
“I came back in 1939 to set up homesteadin’ and to take care of my Daddy. They called him “Uncle Lummy.” When he went away – that Spring – I didn’t know how I could live on alone…”
“I’m a bachelor – didn’t plan it that way though. But I got along,” he said, warming his hands over the stove.
The room is of dark wood. “Forest Pine,” informed Broad. About the mantel are old photographs of relatives. A big painting of Chimney Rock hangs on one wall. Opposite that is an old upright piano with several music books open on the stand. A bare lightbulb lighted the room.
Broad noted that he didn’t have a telephone. “I’m not here enough to need one. Once we had one though. We used to have a musical group, a boy played the harmonica about as good as you’ll ever hear. I’d play that reed organ and would take that phone off the hook and let it hang down by the wall and serenade the others up and down the line,” Bread laughed remembering that time.
But then one night, Granny fell and Daddy got on the line to phone for a doctor and all the neighbors got on saying, ‘What’s going on”‘ ‘What’s wrong with her” and Daddy had a time getting help. He told Foy Eskridge later to come down here and get this phone or he’d take it out with his ax.”
He began pulling out old photos of himself as a younger man. “There’s people that says I look just like I did 50 years ago.”
“This is one of me Spurgeon Freeman took of me. He had me out in a field. Just as he took it a plane flew over, and I looked up. My pastor says that I look like I’m saying, ‘Come on, Lord, I’m ready.'”
“Old Spurg, now, he’s a mess. He was our mail carrier for years.
“He’d talk to me for months, and then he got that lady from the County News down here to do a story on me. She took her picture just as a gust of wind came up and blew my hair straight up in the air, like a Mohawk Indian or something. I knew I’d look a fright, and I did,” he laughed.
“And here’s a color picture they took of me at organ, he pointed to the large portrait of himself. He was wearing a grey suit and a bright red carnation in his lapel, They took this picture and put it on the organ before one Sunday service… well, I came in and didn’t see it until well into the service and when I saw it, I let out a war whoop…”
“I’d like to get them for disturbing a worship service.”
The only thing that has slowed Broad down is perhaps some arthritis in his hands. Playing the organ can be a chore if you’re in pain. “But I do it anyway, course it slowed me some… I looked all around for a cure, until I heard about an old home remedy… but it called for a gallon of white lightening mixed with Prickly ash roots. Well, I guess they’re both poison and they kill each other out, but it’s the only thing that ever done it for me.
“I told Dr. Yelton about it, and he said that it’s the old time remedy he’d heard of.”
The other story that Broad likes to tell is of the time he had a tumor removed in his neck.
I woke up one morning and the whole side of my neck was swollen up so I went off to the doctor. I knew it had to be an infected gland or a tumor, cause I’d already had mumps.
“Oh, I see you got mumps,” the doctor said.
“No, I said, I had the mumps before you’re born. This is a tumor or an infected gland.”
“Oh, you’ve already diagnosed it? the doctor asked, are you sure you’ve had mumps?”
“Do I have to get on a stack of Bibles to swear it? I asked. Well, they called Dr. England in, and he consulted a bit, and sure enough he came up saying I did have a tumor.
“Well, they were to operate the next, let’s see, it was a Thursday. So I came back. The orderly told me to take off my things, my watch and ring, everything. ‘Just for to take a little plug out of my neck?’ I said.”
I put On that little robe they give you, and hopped up there on the rolling table and we headed for surgery. When we got to that room I flopped over the operating table. The doctors all just stared. We was going to pick you up… you’re no teenager, they told me, but I said, ‘I’m in my second teenage-hood.’
“So I was lying down, and I asked, ‘How about a mirror, I want to see this operation, I’m curious,’ They wanted to know why. I told them l knew how ugly I was on the outside, I wanted to know how ugly I was on the inside. I’ve watched a lot of nasty operations, I just want to see that plug…
“Well they gave me novacaine and ether but that didn’t work and I guess I passed out a couple of times. That was about as much pain as a man could take. They took that plug and sent it off… I guess I was lucky, it wasn’t malignant.”
Broad got up and stretched for a walk outside among his flowers. Around the house are wisteria, bamboo, scotch broom, a little red parasol bush, apple, pecan, crab apple and buckeye trees… The list goes on and on.
Broad pointed to a grownover strip in the huge oak’s bark, “That’s where lightning struck one evening like a ball fire in the backyard…”
Around the massive trees was stacked several cords of firewood. “Sure, I still chop wood. With this plumb,” he demonstrated taking five healthy licks to split the log.
In the garage sits “Old Betsy II” Broad’s ’52 Plymouth, named after the original Old Betsy lost in an unfortunate wreck several years ago.
Over behind the garage is Broad’s outdoor shower constructed out of a huge pail, and draw cord and some wood partitions. “Don’t use that much now with Fall coming on.”
Broad Roach walked down the driveway surrounded by an army of day lilies, put his hand on a wagon wheel hand covered with ivy and looked at the house nestled under the trees, “Well, I guess it’ll last as long as I do…
“Come back in the Spring. It’ll be a sight here then.”
Broadus Roach died on Sunday, Dec. 31, 1973 in Rutherford Hospital following a long illness. He was 87. His funeral was held at Shiloh Baptist Church.
Clipping courtesy Phillip White.