Unlike all my other grandparents, who have always been part of my life, I remember the day I met Granny. Other than my mother, my great-grandmother, known to us as Granny, had the greatest influence on my life.
I was near age three when a woman I didn’t know, came to our house. She looked like a giant and wore a black hat. I was not afraid to politely inquire, “Who are you?”
She smiled and leaned down to my level, “I’m your great-grandmother and I’ve come to help take care of you.” And she did.
To this day it is one of my favorite memories. In fact, it is a rare memory indeed that does not include her. She was born Cora Elizabeth Pence in Charlotte in 1889 in an area then known as Crab Orchard. Today, it is the Hickory Grove/Pence Road/ Harris Blvd/Plaza Road area. From the day I met her until the day she left this earth at the age of 97, she was a guiding force. Not a force that bowled you over or shoved anything down your throat. No, Granny was not like that; she was a force of love. I never heard her say an unkind word to, or about, anyone. The strength of her faith and her values were in every step she took and every word she spoke.
Many were the stories she shared with me and my siblings. They might be about her own childhood or those of her parents. Tidbits of history would be mixed into the stories in such a way that you were learning of the past whether you knew it or not. Some of the stories where funny in and of themselves, but what really made us laugh was how tickled Granny would get when she recalled them. One story in particular would have us rolling.
A group of friends, including Granny, went out for a picnic. If memory serves me, I believe the group was comprised of both boys and girls. While sitting on the ground, a snake, likely a non-poisonous green snake, slithered up the dress of one of the girls. As soon as the poor girl realized it, she jumped up, shook her dress, screamed and hollered. Well, you have to remember the times - a young girl had multiple layers of underclothing. Let me tell you, the sweltering heat of North Carolina is no time to wear layers! Apparently this young lady was quite the rebel and had decided against wearing all those underclothes. When she commenced to shaking her dress, all those at the picnic watching, saw what wasn’t there. With indignation, shame, and embarrassment, she demanded, “Don’t you tell anybody what you saw! Don’t you tell anybody what you saw!” Sixty some odd years later, Granny would laugh so hard while telling us the story, she’d have tears in her eyes and could barely speak for laughing. I know Granny told us the young lady’s name, but I do not remember it; nevertheless, that woman has given several generations a good laugh.
I remember her telling us that a Model-T went so fast they thought it would take their breath away; but this same woman rode the Gold Rush roller coaster at Carowinds at the age of 85.
The tidbits of history she told encouraged my love of the past, putting a face to what was otherwise lost to the hands of time. A trip to Charlotte was a rare trip, and probably only occurred when money from the cotton crop was received. When new shoes were purchased, it might have been her father going to town, template in hand, likely made from a scrap of paper, in the size the child(ren) required. To satisfy a sweet tooth, young Cora would sneak a lump of brown sugar and hide beneath the house to relish it in private. There were nine children in her family and she once asked her mother how she managed with all those children? Her mother replied, “If they hadn’t been mine, there were days I would have run off to the woods.” It is because of the stories she told my mother and then us, that we know so much of our family history.
Granny delighted in gardening. Come March she’d say to my Dad, “Paige, what are we going to plant this year?” I was cringing, working in the garden was the LAST thing this sissy wanted to do - now it’s one of my favorite activities. Every time I rest on my hoe, waiting for that oh so lovely breeze to find its way under my shirt, I think of Granny resting on her hoe, surveying the garden, and waiting for that breeze. I remember the thousands of green beans she must have strung, snapped, and canned, the hundreds of apples she peeled and sliced for drying, and the dozens of ears of corn she shucked and prepared for freezing. I remember the times she would sneak the food off my plate when she thought mama wasn’t watching so I could have dessert. I remember her telling me I had a pretty alto voice and that I was a partying girl. Mostly I remember her love, and I’m mighty glad she came to live with us on that day so many years ago.
She is clothed with strength and dignity;
she can laugh at the days to come.
26 She speaks with wisdom,
and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
Everyday I realize more and more how blessed I have been to have Nancy-Coe Hall as my mother and how thankful I am that she is still here with me.
As children, our parents took us on what I considered great adventures, mostly camping expeditions, but not always. My mother would read to us about the history behind the landmarks we visited. I credit her with my love of history, not to mention reading. Many are the nights that all four of us children would gather in the "girls" bedroom, where mama would read us stories - we were on first name basis with the librarian and never missed an opportunity to browse bookstores.
More importantly, she has been a prayer warrior over her children and grandchildren all our lives. Don't know why God put me in her care, but I sure am thankful He did. Despite all the ups and downs of life, my mother has kept a positive attitude and is likely to find the silver lining in every cloud. I can always call her when I'm feeling worried or nervous about something and she will encourag and help me figure out what to do next.
She is intelligent, has a wonderful sense of humor and is a lot of fun to be around. As a young married woman, I frequently called her to ask her first one thing then another. I'll never forget one day when I was trying to figure something out and my son said, "Why don't you call Nannie-Coe, she knows everything!" I laughed, agreed, and promptly called her.
When I became a single mom, she was my greatest supporter - there for me and my children, helping us through thick and thin. She saw my children come into this world and was right there when my son, Steven, left this world. She is the strongest woman I know - I love you mama and I wouldn't trade my time with you for anything! Happy Mother's Day!
My heart is overflowing with a good theme; I recite my composition concerning the King; My tongue is the pen of a ready writer. Psalm 45:1
A few weeks ago, in preparation for the arrival of my family for Resurrection Sunday lunch, I was busy dusting - the move things, dust under kind of dusting, not the quick swipe kind. On the top of my great-grandmother's’ wardrobe sits an old box my father used to store seeds. Now it plays house to letters and cards of all shapes and sizes, from my great-grandparents, mother, aunt, and children.
The box itself is special. The picture on the front has faded with time, but it carriers nostalgia like the fragrance of spring through an open window. I remember it sitting in my father's workshop, not nearly as full with seeds as it is now with letters. The box made a good landing spot for the seeds that would eventually find their way to the garden behind our house. The inside of the lid is decorated by some mischievous hand - I couldn’t tell you whose.
But the letters and cards inside, Ah, what a treasure they are to me. Most are from my grandmother, Ruth Victoria Martin Teeter. She was gifted, both artistically and musically. She also had a tremendous love for all nature. She shared her knowledge in a way that a young child found easy to understand. She suffered from a muscular disease, Myasthenia Gravis (MG). Today people with this disease generally live a full life, but at the time my grandmother suffered, medical science had few remedies. Physical activities easily exhausted her and muscle weakness caused her to give up driving as well as playing the violin for the Charlotte Symphony. She did not allow the loss of either to stop her. She begin giving music lessons and, in later life, had her art work displayed in a Charlotte gallery. Letters were her window to the world, she kept up correspondence with many friends and family through the years, including some in Japan that she would never meet.
Time spent with her was magical. She always had some interesting gift or item to share with her grandchildren and when you were at her home, you felt like you were the most important person in her world. We would go on walks through the neighborhood and she would teach me the names of the different trees based on their leafs. Or, we might stroll down the hill behind her house into the woods; she had created a spot she called her “thinking spot”. Two concrete mushrooms marked the spot and served as seats. These same mushrooms now grace my rose garden, one as a seat and the other, turned upside down, is a pedestal for my bird bath.
She lived scarcely three miles from my home and, though I saw her frequently, I received letters on a regular basis. Her letters shared the simple things she saw from her window each day - nature. Whether it was a bee, squirrel, or bird, she relayed their daily activity and the importance it played to the world in a manner that entertained and taught the child on the receiving end. Re-reading her letters puts a smile on my heart, I can hear her voice and see the expression on her face. I knew she believed in my ability to be anything I wanted to be, no matter what career I was interested in at any particular moment, she would encourage me. She taught me to knit when I was in elementary school and later, when I mentioned secretarial work, she gave me my first typewriter and taught me to type. As a teenager, when I was interested in journalism, she encouraged me there as well.
To be honest, I must add that her letters could also scold, but these I received later, when as a young adult she believed I needed admonishing - and I did. Words, whether spoken or written, have a tremendous amount of power. The tongue that welds them, or the pen that writes them, should always be used with care and prayer. All these years later, reading over the cards and letters, reminds me of the rich blessing of family, especially grandparents, and what an impact they have on their grandchildren. The picture below is Ruth with her first great-grandchild, my daughter, Michelle. My Uncle Edwar looks over her shoulder. So many precious memories.