Carolina Conversations: David and Linda Childers

by Barbara Hengstenberg | Photography by Caitlin Penna

Two years ago, North Carolina troubadour David Childers retired from his Workers Comp and Social Security Disability law practice as politics and government bureaucracy made it near impossible to continue. He took down his attorney shingle and took to the road with his music. Wife Linda Childers is sometimes at his side when he’s on tour, and sometimes not, but it’s all good. These two have a secure partnership, which has strengthened over their 45 years of marriage. With windshield wipers tapping out a beat against yet another North Carolina torrential rainstorm, I drove to their folk-art-filled Mount Holly home to find out their secret to keeping a marriage going through the inevitable ups and downs of life, thriving in the good times and enduring through the hard ones.  

This couple has a compendium of careers. Linda has worked as a teacher (from preschool through 9th grade), trial court administrator, legal secretary and nursery gardener, all the while focusing on her home and family. Aside from his work as a singer/songwriter/painter, David’s resume includes various jobs such as newspaper classified ad salesman, garbage collector, ditch digger, tobacco picker and, finally, lawyer. The two worked together in David’s law practice for almost 20 years. As an Americana recording artist (Ramseur Records), David has performed solo, as part of the Overmountain Men with Bob Crawford (The Avett Brothers), and with his band, The Serpents. His current album, Run Skeleton Run was produced by Don Dixon (R.E.M., The Smithereens).

OutreachNC: Tell us about when you decided to close up your law practice. Was it a good decision?

David Childers: Linda came to work with me in 1997 until 2016, when we shut down the office. No regrets whatsoever. It wasn’t a thing we wanted to do, but with politics and circumstances, by 2016 it was very evident that we were going to have to make a move.

Linda Childers: We were either going to just reinvent ourselves as something else or take a chance.

DC: From the time I started practicing law in 1981, I would keep my eye out and I learned to morph into something else. There was a lot of failing, a lot of losing, a lot of fighting hopeless causes. The last 15 years were good. We had a whole lot of success. It was a redemption for hanging in there that long. I’d put my time in, and I’ve got a music thing going. People like my paintings. I don’t know why, but they do. It was like, let’s just take a risk again. Let’s take another chance. Anybody that goes into life and thinks it’s just going to be a smooth ride, it doesn’t work that way. That said, I love where I am now. I love the life I’m living.

ONC: You’re now focused on music and art. How many shows do you perform?

DC: Probably 150-200 shows a year. I try to keep it to North and South Carolina, but I just got back from Ohio and West Virginia. Linda goes on some, but not very often. We went to Kansas City for a thing called Folk Alliance. I knew as soon as I got there, that wasn’t my place. I was too old, too southern, didn’t wear the right shirt and didn’t have a hat. I’ve dealt with this all my life. I just never quite fit in anywhere, even more so there. But we got to have this really great trip to Kansas City together. We went driving out into the prairie in Kansas and just had a blast. We drove to Nashville last year, which was a really good experience, and on the way back we stopped in little towns. We’ll go to antique stores, get something to eat and maybe take a walk.

LC: I used to go more, but there are two reasons I don’t go. First, it’s like an eight-hour day when he goes to play a show. Most of the time is just wasted, sitting in places. We like the drives together but once we get to the place I’m always like, oh, I wish I wasn’t here. Back home, I have a thousand million things I like to do. I don’t sit still.

DC: It drives me crazy. Linda moves constantly. Every now and then, we might sit and watch a movie. I’m hoping we’ll do that tonight, actually, since it’s a nice, cold rainy night and I don’t have a gig. 

LC: David was a poet and he would write. He was always doing his art. So, I occupied myself with other things from the very start. We have these parallel interests that we do, but we do them together in the same place, like we’re together but doing our own thing.

ONC: Where did you meet?

DC: We met in college at UNC-Chapel Hill. We were in the same dorm, on the same floor. We shared the same room a good bit. Back then, you were more secretive about living together. We dated about a month and a half before I asked her to marry me.

LC: It was a real quick attachment.

DC: My mom and I didn’t get along. I wouldn’t usually listen to her.

I wanted stability in my life. I trusted Linda. I’d suffered a lot of betrayal, like we all do. 

I brought Linda home the first time on Thanksgiving, and my mom said, “You need to stick with this girl. You’re not going to find another one like her.” We disagreed on so much, but she was right about that. 

LC: My family was very proper. My father was an Air Force officer and my mother was like June Cleaver. If someone came to dinner, everybody sat down and ate. When I got to David’s house, ready to sit down and eat dinner with his family for the first time, they had all already eaten. They didn’t know I was coming. His mother had cooked spaghetti, so I sat at the kitchen table, eating the spaghetti by myself. They were all interesting and amazing to me. It was a whole different world.

ONC: Your son, Robert, told me, “My parents were always nurturing. They exposed us to ideas of compassion for others and animals early on. They also took us to all the stuff they were into, like concerts, sports events and art museums. They were more friends than parents most times.”

LC: Robert and David are clones. As Robert grew, they’ve just had the same interests.

DC: Robert is involved in music. He works in a club and he plays drums. He plays with me, but not as much as I’d like. Now he and his wife, Kristy, are raising their daughter, Margaux. We bought Robert a drum set when he was 14 or 15. I had no idea he could play. All of a sudden, beats were coming out and I thought, God, he’s a professional drummer.

ONC: Margaux is your only grandchild?

LC: Yes. She’ll be two. She is amazing, so fun.

DC: That’s one of my favorite things in the world, hanging out with Margaux. 

ONC: You also have a daughter.

DC: Meghan works in a corporate finance job in Charlotte. She got a BA in Chapel Hill and then went to Clemson and got a Masters in landscape architecture.

ONC: You’ve built a wonderful family together. How would you describe one another?

LC: David’s a pretty incredible human being, extremely intelligent and talented artistically in many ways. He was an excellent lawyer. He’s very ethical and kind to people. He gives openly of himself to people, sometimes to the detriment of us.

DC: The good wife from the Bible. Linda’s very loyal and conscientious, and very moral about things. She’s pretty outspoken, very intelligent and good-looking. She knows how to have fun, but she’s responsible, very responsible. She doesn’t let things get out of control, and she’s very organized. That’s been, I think, part of our sticking together. She provides me a framework, like a house, a place where I can let my creativity and ambitions take fruit. That’s a very valuable thing. 

We just like each other.
We have from the start.
We like hanging out together.

I played rugby and sports into my forties, but that was just a thing I went and did, and then I came home. The same with music. I don’t typically like traveling and staying overnight in places. I’m always ready to get back and just be with her. One day around 2007, I remember I stood here and looked around and realized I’d been home four weekends that whole year. I thought, look at this place. I want to dig in here and cultivate this place and quit driving to New York City, Dallas and Atlanta.  I’m a lot happier just being a troubadour of the breweries.

ONC: Dolphus Ramseur (Manager, Ramseur Records) told me that you and he have “always enjoyed talking about college football. In fact, David leads his band much like that of a football team. When a team wins, it’s the little things that you will not find in the box score which end up making a huge difference. Linda has had a hall of fame career performing these little things. She has been in the trenches pushing the team to victory. Linda exemplifies the ‘BIG TEAM, little me’ philosophy.” You two have a great love story. What is your advice for sticking together for 45 years?

DC: Respect each other. Respect yourself. Just realize that if it’s worth sticking with, talk things out. We’ve had our problems. I read this poem a long time ago, called A Marriage. Marriage is like a house you build. Sometimes parts of it get knocked down or all of it might get knocked down. You just have to go back and rebuild. We’ve had to do that a lot.

LC: Talk and hug.

DC: That’s right, really.  I think our worst time in our marriage was probably the late 1980s up through the 1990s. We dealt with a lot. We would go out and run or take long walks and we would talk stuff over. We were painfully honest with each other, but it saved us. I wasn’t a good husband for a number of years. I wasn’t everything you’d want to be. When I was at my worst, a friend told me, “You don’t know what you’re jeopardizing and giving up. You’re going to be older soon and you’re going to wish that you had what you have or are working on losing.” Those words have come back to me a lot over the years. I took it to heart, and I’m glad I did.

Fellow musician and friend of the family, Bob Crawford (bassist for The Avett Brothers) sums up the Childers’ relationship best: “Every successful marriage is fueled by a love which grows the hearts who share in it. Simply put, Linda is a saint. Linda’s patience and perseverance is the essence of David’s creativity. Without her love and support, David would not be as centered or focused on art like he is.”

Learn about David Childers’ music and upcoming shows at www.davidchilders.com.