My mother was about thirteen years old when the Great Depression began and being the oldest became my grandmother’s right hand in caring for the family. She remembered, but rarely discussed, those bleak days. She did recall once how her mother made cottage cheese and took in ironing to help bring income to the house. My grandfather couldn’t find work as the years progressed and it was the promise of work that brought him and his family from Mississippi to North Carolina.
My dad once related the first time he saw my mother. It was a Sunday and he was sitting in the back of that old wooden, unadorned church with its hell fire sermons and singing that turned the small congregation into a choir where everyone knew their parts in the old, familiar hymns. The town, like the church, was small and a new family had moved into a house nearby.
That particular Sunday, everyone was settling into their seats with their handheld fans generally provided by a local funeral home moving the tepid air around. Just before the service began, in marched a family of seven with my grandfather, Willie Nettles, leading the way. With his ramrod straight six feet, his black, black eyes and hair, he was impressive as he led his family down the center aisle all the way to the front pew. He was followed by his wife, Jennie Vee, who held the baby, my uncle Jesse, in her arms leading my mother, her sister, Zula, her brother, David, and my aunt, Emma, to their seats.
I can only think that my mother must have been totally embarrassed; however, she would never have thought of doing anything but what she was told. All the girls had long hair; my mother’s was almost to her waist. They and my uncle stood as straight as my grandfather and never moved around on the pew during the service. My father was thunderstruck by that fourteen year old girl who walked behind her mother. I doubt he heard much of that day’s sermon.
After World War II and my father’s Army service at a hospital in India ended, he came home and married that girl who now was a twenty year old woman. A year later, the first grandchild came along and I grew into who I am not only because of my parents. My aunts and uncles treated me like a little sister. Jesse, the babe in arms that fateful Sunday, was only six when I was born. They were my playmates, my best friends, my everything as the years passed. Happily, some things never change. As a child and teenager, I attended that same church sitting on those hard, wooden pews and the old hymns sung as a part of each service. I still hear those voices lifted in songs of praise and reverence and they comfort me.