Hollywood Casting On Spillman Road

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 27, 2011

Lula Sparks, my late grandmother, would have been amazed to see a movie crew surrounding her old farmhouse on Spillman Road in Farmington a couple weeks ago making a TV movie about an Amish family.

She never had a television. Never needed one … unless evangelist Billy Graham was preaching in one of his crusades. For that, she walked next door to our house to watch Graham and hear George Beverly Shea belt out, “How Great Thou Art.”

She also came over to watch astronaut Neil Armstrong’s moon walk in 1969 but gave up at 9:30 p.m. after a long delay. It was past bedtime. Not even “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” justified losing her sleep.

Her lifestyle was close to the Amish way being filmed in the movie. Not just by choice, farm people born a century ago lived a frugal, self-sufficient life. Before electricity. Before tractors replaced the mules. Before freezers and supermarkets.

She and my grandfather raised almost everything they ate. They bought sugar, coffee and maybe pinto beans from the store. They bought molasses in the fall from Oscar Rhynehart, who supplied most of the Farmington community with syrup. My grandmother’s cellar was lined with jars of grape juice, peaches, tomatos and green beans from the garden. Potatoes were watched carefully for signs of rot.

She took her ax to a hen on Saturdays to serve on Sunday. My brother and I fed the hogs twice a day that would eventually wind up on our tables. Hog killing day was the most exciting day of the year, followed closely by silage cutting time.

I grew up on the cusp of America’s seismic shift from a farm economy to city ways.

I didn’t taste pasteurized milk until I went to school. We drank whole milk straight from the cow, and I helped crank the churn to make butter as a little boy.

No wonder my children think I’m telling fairy tales when I describe my childhood.

The society of Dunkards that lived in Clemmons around the Old Fraternity Church of the Brethren is gone now. They were industrious dairy farmers, much like the Amish, but not totally rejecting modern inventions, especially ones that improved farm production.

I remember going to a Dunkard funeral as a boy and gawking at all the beards among the men.

All the Amish male actors sported similar beards. The crew filmed at Dinkins Bottoms along the Yadkin River and at Union Methodist Church in Yadkin County before shifting to Spillman Road. From the farm, the crew went to downtown Winston-Salem. In the movie, an Amish girl is lured away from the order by the tugs of love and city lights.

One of my sisters did a double take when several SUVs stopped by the house a month ago. A man introduced himself as “Michael Landon Jr.”

Sure, my sister doubted. As it turns out, the late Michael Landon, aka “Little Joe” from Bonanza, really does have a son in the movie directing business. Primitive Amish buggies were brought in on trucks. Horses arrived. Cameras and bright lights turned the quiet country road into a stage for a couple of days.

One of my sisters, a couple of their grandchildren and even some neighbors took roles as extras during the filming. 

It was the biggest thing to happen on Spillman Road since the asphalt trucks came in 1971 to lift us out of the mud and dust.

The movie, “The Shunning,” is based on a popular book series. It will be aired next spring on the Hallmark Channel. Meanwhile, calm has turned to Spillman Road.