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.