Mt. Hebron Wesleyan Church Homecoming October 30, 2011

I am very honored to have been asked to be the speaker here today; I must admit, though that it is a more than a little intimidating to speak to people who know you so well and who have known you for so long.  This is definitely a “Homecoming” for me.  As most of you know, I grew up in this church; was baptized in Eunice and Chester Burgin’s pond by the minister here; both my daughters were baptized in Thelma Morris’s pool by the minister of this church.  I am a Baptist now, but I hope you won’t hold that against me.

I have lived in McDowellCounty all my life.  I went to OldFortSchool for all 12 years; Mrs. Ruth Hornaday was one of my very favorite teachers.  After college, I spent 30 years in education all here in McDowellCounty, first as a teacher, then as an administrator, and finally I became the Superintendent of McDowell County Schools.  I retired from McDowell County Schools in 2004.  Since the schools consolidated into one county system around 1972, there have been 7 superintendents (not counting interims); to date, I am the only female AND the only McDowellCounty native to have ever served in that capacity; I must admit that I am proud of both these things.  I would like to be able to tell you that I was able to achieve this goal because I really worked hard; and I did work pretty hard at times.  And I would like to tell you that they named me Superintendent of Schools because I was really smart; but most of you know me, so I won’t try that one.  The truth is that I achieved this goal thanks to God’s abundant and undeserved blessings, without question.  But I would be remiss if I did not also give credit to many in this church, this community, those present today as well as those who have gone before; and to some that I never knew.  Many success stories have come from this community, this church:  a college president, community leaders, school principals, administrators, teachers, librarians, plant bosses, and we could all name many more.  Just think of all those folks who achieved so many admirable goals.  But I am here today to tell you that none of us would have achieved anything without the grace of God, and also the firm foundation of love, support, good work ethic, discipline that we received from those in this community and in this church.  Many of the people from which we received these gifts never had a “title”; they never had any degrees; but their lives were so important to so many, their gifts so strong, that they didn’t need a title or a degree for everyone to know how truly important they were.  Many years ago (1991), when Gladys Allison passed away, Eunice Allison did her service.  Now when Eunice Allison speaks, you better listen!  One of the things she said really stuck with me.  Eunice talked about the fact that one time she regretted she was not able to go on to school and she said, “God, if I had had a chance to go on to school, I could have done some things, I would have worked hard, I would have really taken advantage of the opportunity if you had just let me have the chance.”  And she said that God told her, “You are exactly where you need to be and I have given you the best possible teachers you could have.”  Of course, the one that she was talking about specifically was Mama Gladys, who was a wonderful teacher.  But I have held on to Eunice’s words that God sends us who we need, sends us gifts in the form of people.  Today, I want to publicly thank some of the people in this community, in this church who have given so many gifts, certainly to me, but also to all of us.  Some of these gifts, I received through blood, genes, (relatives); some through modeling wonderful lives, some through training, and some by these people creating such a strong community culture that I have learned from them without ever knowing them.

Some of my earliest memories were of the old church.  We lived in the “lower building” for a very brief time, then in the “upper building” for 2 or 3 years; we went to church in the old church across the bridge.  That church was where my mother went to her first school.  Although it is no longer there, it is etched in my memory.   In the summer, we had big dinners on long wooden tables; the kids played in the water every chance we got and fought bees to defend ourselves.  These are fond memories.  But this was before insulation and one of the things I remember about the church was how cold it was in the winter.  But do you know that every time the church opened its doors for Sunday services, Wednesday services, or any other services that one man took responsibility for coming to the church and building a fire in the stove there.  One man; that man was Garland Knupp, father of several children including Lester, Clifford, Ruth Bean, Arcie, Irene Effler, Rachel, Geneva, and Alfred.  If we thought it was cold inside after the fire had been going, imagine how cold it was early on Sunday morning before the frost was gone.  But he always came regardless of the weather.  What a personal sense of responsibility and dedication Garland Knupp demonstrated.  Garland’s wife, Cora (better known as “Corie”) always tried to make sure the church had fresh flowers so it would look its best.  They gave their best for those they loved, starting with the Lord.

Two people who had a direct impact on me were my Grandparents, Alphonzo (better known as Fons) Burgin and Winifred (better known as Freddie) Gilliam Burgin.  Fons lived up the road, just below where Willard [Burgin] lives now.  He had a big apple orchard and farmed.  He was a wonderful church and community person; although he certainly had his hands full with his orchard, his farming, his family, he always found time to do what he felt like needed to be done for the church and the community.  He worked tirelessly to get a road built into crooked creed; he worked to make sure the community had a place in the area to vote.  (My mother was distraught when they moved the voting place to Bethlehem a few years ago.  I didn’t quite see the problem, but she knew how hard Papa had worked to make sure this community could have a place close to home so that they could vote, even if they had limited or no transportation.  Fortunately, it was moved back to Cherry Springs after a few years).  Papa Burgin was only able to go to the fourth grade, but he was a very smart man and understood the value of education and loved to learn.  Mother said that after he had worked hard all day, he would lay down in the floor after supper with an oil lamp and a book.  He was particularly fond of history and loved to read any history book he could get his hands on.  He was instrumental in getting OF School to send a bus out to this area so that the children in this community could go to school.  At that time the school had moved from the old church to the lower building, and then to the upper building, but in order to go any further (into high school), they had to go into Old Fort.  After much community work, Papa was able to get a bus to come to pick up the children.  Now the bus turned at what is now Gregory’s, so everyone had to walk there to catch the bus, but at least the children had the opportunity to go.  Papa was also dedicated to the building of this church.  He, Preacher Freeman, and other community members actually did the physical construction of much of the church.  He was always willing to help his neighbors; once a neighbor had typhoid and Papa took all his children and his mule and worked out his corn patch and weeded the entire garden—they couldn’t go near the house because it was so contagious, they just worked all day and then went home.  Papa Burgin and Mama Burgin had 9 children; times were often difficult, but the family loved each other and each was willing to do whatever was necessary to keep the family afloat.  During one particularly difficult time, Papa and 2 of his older daughters went to Gastonia to get a job at the Firestone Plant, since there were no jobs between here and there.  The plant hired Papa and Thelma, but they said Helen was too young and she would have to wait until she had a birthday.  Helen returned home until her birthday; she was excited to get to return and go to work with Papa and Thelma so she could help the family.  She had just turned 14.

Although times were hard, they always tried to make the best of things, especially for each other.  One time, Papa took a load of corn on a mule over across the mountain to get it ground into meal.  On the way home he found a big turtle.  Knowing how much Mama Burgin loved turtle soup, he caught it and tied it up and put it on the back of the mule to take home.  Now I don’t know exactly how you tie up a turtle, and evidently Papa didn’t know either, because they had only gone a short distance when the turtle managed to get its head out, his mouth open, and then closed tight on the rear end of that mule.  Well, the mule went straight up, Papa went higher, and the sack of meal went even higher.  Unfortunately, by the time Papa and the meal had come down, the mule (with the turtle attached) was gone.  Papa had to walk all the way home, carrying what was left of his sack of meal.  Now you have all heard that if a turtle bites you, it won’t turn loose until it thunders?  Well, it took Papa 3 days and nights to finally find his mule over at the head of CatawbaFalls.  Evidently there had been a thunderstorm, because the turtle was finally gone.  Papa loved to tell that story and laugh.  Despite all the hard work, Papa Burgin had a wonderful sense of humor and he loved to laugh.

Folks often had to grow up early then.  Mama Burgin (known to many as Aunt Fred, or Freddie – She just happened to be the namesake of our Freddie Killough), was from Broad River.  Her dad died when she was 13; she had 7 brothers and sisters, with the youngest one being 6 months old.  When her dad died, her mother had to assume the role of the “man of the house”:  she had to plow the fields with the mule, harvest the crops, raise the animals, etc.  Mama Burgin assumed the role of the mother, doing all the cooking, cleaning, washing, and raising the children.  Think of your children, your grandchildren, friends, who are 13 years old; think of them raising 7 children.  How difficult it must have been for her.   But Mama Burgin did a wonderful job raising her first family, then had her own family with Papa.  She loved gardening, flowers, raising cows, chickens, hogs—and enjoyed bragging about them!  She had all her animals named and would not trust their feeding to anyone but herself.  She loved to trade flower bulbs and seeds and plants; Papa Burgin built her a rock flower house about 10’ x 20” long so she could keep her flowers over the winter.  I can still smell the damp smell of the flower house.   Mama Burgin not only loved her flowers, she also had a deep respect and compassion for those less fortunate than herself.  Before she and Papa were married there was a family up on the mountain above the “Ben Field”, who starved to death.  She heard about how the two children ate dirt trying to keep from starving.  It troubled her so that every year at decoration time, she always climbed the mountain to where the family was buried, cleaned off their graves and put flowers on the graves.  She always said she wished she had known about those people, so she could have gotten them something to eat.  She never knew them; she never knew anyone who knew them; but she had such respect and compassion for them that she never forgot them and always did what she could to honor them.  And to do her part so that no one would ever starve again, you always had to eat at her house!!  An interesting thing about Mama Burgin that she never really talked about that my sister, Peggy [Silvers], discovered while doing genealogy for her “Burgin Book”, was that Mama Burgin was a mid-wife and delivered many babies in the community.  Among those babies she helped bring into the world were James and his twin Mary Knupp – Helen, Carter, and Chester’s Mother.  Unfortunately, the birth of the twins was very difficult and the mother died shortly after the delivery.  The father sent the twins home with Mama Burgin for her to care for them until the family was able to adjust to the death of the Mother.   This was in 1904.

Papa and Mama Burgin had 9 children; 7 girls and finally 2 boys.  The oldest girl (Lizzy) was born in 1905; Thelma in 1907; Helen in 1910; Gladys in 1912; Maymie in 1914; Bea n 1916; Edith in 1918; Roy in 1921; Glen in 1924.  Can you imagine??  But they were all very close and protective of each other.  In fact, just to demonstrate HOW protective they were of each other, I want to tell you about a time when I was small and Mother and I were going to town.  Now her younger brother Roy had been having some sort of dispute with someone (neither of us can remember the particulars); but it was worrying Mother.  Now before I go any further with my story, I want you all to take a look at my mother.  She is 93 now, and smaller than she was at one time [she weighs about 90 pounds], but she has never been a very big girl.  She and I were coming by Crooked Creek General Store.  Now I need to explain that boys and men used to wrestle for fun.  They did this often; I don’t think they do that as much any more, but they used to.  Well, there were a couple of men wrestling in the parking lot at the general store.  Just as we passed the store, Mother got a glance at the two men wrestling, and with her quick glance, she thought one of them was Roy—obviously, (she thought) the man he was having the dispute with had “jumped on him”.  So Mother swerved into the parking lot.  At that time the parking lot was gravel; it was summer time and dry as a chip.  We stirred up so much dust sliding in, that you would have thought it was the race car driver Jeff Gordon!  She jumped out of the car and went flying out there in a flash to help Roy.  Now at this time, Roy was probably at least 40 years old, but that didn’t matter; he was still her baby brother.  Well, just before her feet left the ground to jump on top of the two men, she realized that neither one of them was Roy…She put the brakes on in mid air.  It scared those two men so bad that they immediately quit wrestling and started trying to find out what had happened and why that lady had almost jumped on them.  They were very nice and apologized if they had scared her.  They had no idea that she was actually fearless until she realized that she really didn’t have anybody in that fight…

As I said, all the 9 children were very close, and they had 6 other near siblings, which were also close.  You see, Papa Burgin had a younger brother named Montaville Garfield Burgin, better known as “UncleMont”.  Well, Papa’s brother Mont fell in love with and married Mama Burgin’s sister Ella (better known as “Aunt Eller”).  Mont and Eller had 6 children (including Willard and Viola) who were then “double first” cousins to Papa and Mama’s 9 children.  They were also raised next to each other, and therefore they were all near siblings.  All the children spent lots of time working and playing together.  Now I mentioned that Mama Burgin had all her animals named.  Well, if the animal wasn’t intended for the meal table, the kids would always have a funeral for them.  And Roy Burgin was always the preacher; Mother and Viola said he could really preach!!  One time a goose died from some unexplained reason, so they had a funeral – a really good funeral, sung songs, Roy preached and they buried the goose.  Several days later, they went back to check on the goose’s grave; corn was growing up on the grave.  So they carefully dug it up and discovered that the goose’s gizzard was full of corn when it died and the corn had sprouted and started to grow.  They carefully covered it up and they had an abundant mini corn crop from that dead goose.  They decided it was because Roy had preached such a good service!

I guess you all can tell that they all liked animals, and several are still fond of animals; for example, Viola usually has a dog, to which she is always very attached.  But don’t let that fool you…Viola is merciless if necessary.  A few years ago when Viola was still planting her own garden, the ground hogs kept getting into her garden and eating everything.  She was furious!!  She tried scare crows, and every other suggestion she received on keeping the ground hogs out; nothing worked.  Finally, she just declared her own private war on the ground hogs.  She got her pistol, filled it with bullets with lots of back up bullets.  She started taking the pistol with her every time she went to the garden; and if she happened to just see a ground hog hole (she didn’t have to see the ground hog in person!), but at just the mere sight of the ground hog hole, she emptied her gun into the hole…all 6 bullets!  But she not only took her gun with her to the garden, she took it when she went past her garden in the car; if she happened to get a glimpse of a ground hog as she drove past, she would lean out the window and shoot at it.  Willard said he got afraid to ride with her because she was just as likely to leave the road and drive straight out into the fields, gun a blazing, after a ground hog.  Now I don’t know if there is a season on ground hogs or not, and I don’t know if Viola ever actually shot one or not; but I have heard that there is a big square of land down on Parker Padgett Road where no ground hog has been seen for years and years.

But I am getting ahead of myself.  UncleMont was born in 1883 and, like my grandfather, he was very dedicated to the church.  He had a wonderful tenor voice and loved to sing; he played several musical instruments, including the piano, the fiddle and the banjo.  Everyone said he could pray a prayer like no other: clear, strong, and yet sweet.  He died in 1956.  His wife, Aunt Eller, died in 1946; I never knew her, but I know OF her.   Ella was a good woman of strong faith who loved to knit and crochet.  Mont and Aunt Eller had 6 children; the five who grew to adulthood were: Grady, Paul, Willard, Viola, and Howard.  During World War II, all 4 of their sons were in the war.  Can you imagine how Ella must have felt with all 4 of her sons off fighting a war?  But Ella never lost her faith; she prayed constantly for their safe return.  Willard has said many times that he could feel her prayers all the way around the world; many times he just missed being sent somewhere, only to learn that all those who were sent were killed.  The only explanation was the prayers of his mother.  Aunt Eller was a woman of strong faith, and she was in the company of other women of strong faith.  When Dawn Walker Hollifield did one of her degrees, she did a project about the men from this community who were in WWII.   She said that the women of this church met every Wednesday night at the church and prayed that all their sons would return home.  Every single son from this community returned home from WWII: every one, even the two who were Prisoners of War (Alfred and Frank Knupp).  Talk about the power of prayer!!  In fact, Ella was a very sick women; she suffered most of her life from uncontrollable thyroid trouble.  She was so sick that at one point, Viola put her on a bus and took her to Durham to DukeHospital to see if they could help her; unfortunately, they could not.  But do you know what?  Ella Gilliam Burgin knew the power of prayer.  Although she was very sick she prayed that God would let her live long enough to see all 4 of her sons return from the war.  They started coming home about March; in September the last one arrived home; Ella died that night.  The power of prayer is something the people who founded this church and this community understood… and passed on.

Many gifts were passed on.  Now I mentioned that Uncle Mont was musical; well one time Willard bought a fiddle; I don’t think he ever learned to play it, because he had to go to war.  While he was gone, his mother, Aunt Eller wrote to him and said that the preacher at the church wanted to buy his fiddle, and would it be okay to sale it; he wrote back and said she could do whatever she wanted to with the fiddle.  So she sold the fiddle to the preacher.  That preacher’s name was Cockman.   Now I don’t know if that was the first instrument Rev. Cockman ever learned to play or not, but one can only imagine how much influence Willard’s fiddle has had on Western North Carolina, and certainly this church.

I mentioned earlier that we had lived in the upper building for a while, then we moved to town.  My daddy was Frank Griggs.  My dad was a wonderful character who was always young at heart; I loved him dearly.  But Daddy was not always the easiest person in the world to live with, so from time to time, Mother would need a break and she would bring me and come to where she could always find comfort – on Crooked Creek at Mt.Hebron.   When I was about 7 years old my mother and I came to live with Mother’s sister, Gladys Allison.  Gladys and her husband Brownlow had 6 children:  Glenn, Hilda, Lottie, Raymond, Sammie, and Candie.  Candie was 13 years younger than her nearest sibling, and all her brothers and sisters were delighted to have a baby in the house.  In fact, Gladys let them name her- they named her Candie because that was the sweetest thing they could think of.  So if anybody ever had a chance to be spoiled, it was Candie; it just “didn’t take”.  But she sure had a lot of “Mamas.”  By the time we moved in, all Candie’s brothers and sisters were married and gone, but they still contributed to her “mothering” as often as possible; and they all accepted me and treated me just like Candie – which was wonderful!  Glen and Eunice had Glenna, so we had another wonderful playmate!  Lottie had married Jim, and we thought it was so cool that she had married a football player!  Raymond and Pat, Sammie and Loren, and my Sister Peggy and her husband Harold were all involved in the military and going to exotic, far away places, which seemed so exciting.  And we loved to go to Hilda’s for the day because we got to play with Penny.  Penny was the sweetest; and later she was such a wonderful Mother herself.  It is so hard to understand why such sweet and good people like Penny and Wesley Knupp had to go so soon.  In preparing this speech I was struck with the thought that if we loved them and wanted to be near them because they were so sweet and good, then God must have wanted to be near them too.

One of the favorite “Mamas” was Candie’s Daddy, Brownlow.  You see, my Mother and Mama Gladys had to work at the OF Finishing Plant.  Brownlow was epileptic, so he never worked on a public job, but he worked hard with his apple orchard and farming.  But it was Brown’s responsibility to fix breakfast for Candie and me during the week; Mother and Gladys would always fix biscuits on the week-end, and we would eat the left-overs during the week.  About the first day I was there for breakfast, Brown fixed us oatmeal with the left-over biscuits.  I looked at the breakfast and announced in my 7 year old voice to someone who was giving me a roof over my head as well as breakfast, “I like toast with my oatmeal; I don’t like biscuits with my oatmeal”.  Brownlow didn’t pause but just a brief minute and in a matter of fact tone just said, “You’ll learn to like it.”  He was right; I did learn to like it.  Brown was so good to me.  I have always had a fear of heights, but the idea of playing up in the loft of the barn was always so appealing, that often Candie and I would climb up in the loft and have a fun time playing.  All was well until it was time to come back down the ladder, at which point, I would panic, start crying and tell Candie to “Run get Brown”.  She would go flying down the ladder, up the driveway screaming, “Daddy, Sherry is in the barn loft and can’t get down again.”  Brown would come running down the driveway like it was a fire.  He would climb up and get me and put me on the ladder and climb down with me. He never said a word to me until he got me down and then he would always say, “If you know you can’t get down from there, why do you keep getting up there?”  Which was a pretty good question.  At night Brown would read to us: cowboy stories; and then he would sing to us—sometimes a religious song, but often a cowboy song like Streets of Laredo – a good melody to sleep by.  Brown always wore overalls all week; on Sunday he dressed in his Sunday best and went to church.  Years after he died Candie found his Sunday shoes put up in the closet, wrapped in the cloth where he kept them so they wouldn’t get dusty.  They were still shinny because he always kept them polished for church so they would look nice.  She admired how shinny they were, then she turned them over and saw the holes in the soles.  Brown might not have been able to work on a public job, but he was able to have a wonderful apple orchard, and help raise children; he might have had holes in the soles of his shoes, but he kept them always looking their best for church.  Like so many others, Gladys and Brown and their families always gave their best for those they loved.   My time at Gladys’ and Brown’s was a happy time filled with lots of Mamas and playmates and wonderful memories; but we also had chores.  Candie and I were around 6, 7 or 8 at the time, but as soon as we got in from school, we were to change our clothes, then carry in the wood for the wood cook stove in the kitchen.  Now, needless to say, we couldn’t carry much wood at a time, but we were expected to carry in a stick or two at a time until we had the wood box full.  That was wonderful training for discipline and strong work ethic.  During that same time, Gladys was the YMWB leader of the little folks at church.  She and her little band of children worked and raised money for one of the stained glass windows in this church.  Quite an accomplishment!  Later she was the leader of the youth group; we did fun things like walk from the church up to Bea and Sam’s house on the (then) gravel road.  Sam had make homemade vanilla ice cream.  Candie ate so much ice cream that she got sick; she doesn’t like vanilla ice cream to this day.   When OF Finishing Plant decided to hire the first Black lady to work in the plant, they asked Gladys to take Ms. Lillie Matthews under her wing and make sure everything went okay.  That was a long time ago and things were very different then, so this might have been a big assignment; but Gladys just said she would be happy do make sure Miss Lillie knew she was welcome.  And she did.  Gladys took big jobs in stride without much fan fare.  I think it had something to do with the faith of that mustard seed.

If much of my early years were spent with Candie and her wonderful family; my teen years were spent with Ann, Rose, Kate, and Willard.  I spent many hours at their house.  Kate and Willard loved company, even a bunch of teen-agers.  It didn’t matter who you were or where you came from, you were always made to feel welcome at Kate and Willard’s home.   They instilled in Ann and Rose the knowledge and belief that all people are equal and deserve respect.  In fact, Willard used to get a man to come help him kill hogs, which was a big, exciting day.  The man that Willard hired was named Mr. Jones

Burgin and he was black.  But his last name was Burgin, so somehow Ann and Rose started calling him “Uncle Jones”.   Ann said she and Rose were good sized girl before they realized that “Uncle Jones” was not really their uncle.  Kate and Willard demonstrated and modeled true respect for everyone…even before it was “politically correct”.  And talk about a work ethic!  When I used to spend the night with Ann and Rose, we would have to hide our clothes before we went to bed; otherwise Katie would have them washed, hung on the line, and in the winter, they would be frozen stiff as a board before she went to work at 7:00am.  She didn’t care if we thought they were dirty or not, they got washed.  Willard and Kate both worked at OF Finishing.  Katie’s work included lifting large heavy bolts of cloth on and off a big machine all day.  Willard worked in the Finishing Department.  Most days it was so hot in there that he would come out of the plant without a dry thread on him.  Neither ever complained about their job; they both worked all the hours they could and always gave at least one hundred percent every day.  They were thankful.  I loved my time with Kate, Willard, Ann, and Rose.

There are so many wonderful people who have been founders in this church and community that it is difficult to mention everyone.  Miss Clara Moffitt, who lived where the Gregory family lives now was a wonderful contributor to this church and community.  My Mother said when she was a teenager that Miss Clara started working with the teenagers.  Every Sunday they would get together and go on walks and hikes; one time they went up the hollow behind Earl Croom’s house to a waterfall; who knew there was a water fall up there?  Sometimes she would even take them camping!!  I understand that she continued her work with the young people and their camping trips down through Hilda and Lottie and Barbara and Shirley and so many more.  What a trooper!!  And what would our church have been without the beautiful voice of Miss Clara’s daughter Mildred Moffitt Elliott?

And what would this church be without people like Miss Mary Burgin and Ruth Bean?  And then there are Helen, Wallace, Clifford, Rebecca, Carter, Faye, and so many more.  Whatever needed doing, they did it—Sunday School Superintendent, WMU, Sunday School teacher, pianist, organist and on and on.  Plus, they were always so good about keeping up with former pastors and others.  Carter and Faye always let others stay in their home whenever they needed to — right, Kathleen [Thacker]?  In fact, when Candie was little, she asked Gladys if something happened to her family, could she go live with Carter and Faye?  Barbara Walker and Shirley Arrowood always did so much with BibleSchool and other things and they had one of the best mothers in the world in Aunt Sarah.  When Aunt Sarah prayed, you knew not only that she was talking directly to the Lord, but you also knew that He was listening!  What a Saint Sarah Burgin was.

There are many who have grown up and taken on leadership in this church since I was here: Candie (of course), Greta, Mark Eric, and the others.  Some have moved into the church: Bob and Brenda, Boyce and Wanda, Joe, Shea, Karen, and all you other wonderful folks. You have all brought your own gifts into the church and the community.  You have big shoes to fill and you are doing well with it.  Just know that you never know how much influence you have on others by your actions.  Your legacy will carry on, just as the legacies of the folks that I have talked about still lives and influence us today.

I have gained so much from so many in this church and this community:  I have enjoyed love and support, developed discipline, a personal sense of responsibility, a strong work ethic, and experienced the joy of Christian love.  I have been truly blessed.  I have my wonderful daughters, Beth and Jill; I now have a wonderful husband and Mother-in-Law [David Ricketts & Mama Rosie Ricketts] to enrich my days; I have a wonderful life, for which I am thankful.  But I would be remiss to not give credit to one person who has made all the difference and that is my Mother, Edith Griggs.  Mother worked swing shift at OF Finishing Plant; that meant she worked 3 months on the first shift, three months on the second shift, and three months on the third shift.  Her best job was cutting samples in the sample department, which meant that she stood in the same spot on a cement floor for 8 hours a day and used large, heavy scissors.  Anytime she got the opportunity, she worked over, sometimes a double shift, which meant 16 hours straight.  She never complained; she was always thankful for the work.  When she was on the 2nd shift, I would only see her on week-ends.  But she always had someone to stay with me and I always felt her presence, even if she was not there.  The two weeks of vacation she got each year was spent the same way each year and she looked forward to it: the first week we worked in the garden and the second week we worked in her flower nursery.  I have never known anyone who worked any harder than my mother.  She made sure I had what I needed, including an abundance of love and an ample amount of discipline!  When it came time for me to go to college and I was delaying do admissions and financial aid applications, she asked Lottie’s Jim Washburn, who was the guidance counselor to help out.  Jim Washburn came to our house and helped fill out all the paperwork for admission as well as financial aid.  When it came time for me to go to WesternCarolinaUniversity, she again asked Jim to help.  My Daddy was disabled when I was 14, and could not drive that far.  Jim Washburn drove Mother’s car to Cullowhee, and then the 2 of them helped me carry all my stuff up the 4 flights of stairs to my room.  I would never have gone to college the first day without Jim Washburn and my Mother.  When I went to work, Mother gave up her first shift job that she had finally attained, and went to the second shift so that she could keep my children during the day.  I would deliver Beth and Jill to her house at 7:30am; she kept them until she went to work at 3:00; Daddy kept them until I got home at 4:00; Mother got off work at 11:00pm and came home; she started all over again at 7:30 the next morning.  During that time, she continued to have a garden, root flowers and run her nursery.  Daddy was disabled in 1964 when I was 14; he was never able to work on a public job again.  Mother worked at OF Finishing until she was 67 years old, when the plant closed.  She jokes that they had to close the plant to get her out of there.  She continued to help me with the girls, as well as everything else while I worked and did graduate work.  When I got my doctorate in Greensboro, I took her down for the ceremony; afterward I took her picture with my diploma, because I truly felt like she deserved at least half of it.  While I was Superintendent of Schools, often people would comment on what a hard job it was, and it was difficult at times.  But I have never worked a day as hard as my Mother worked every day.  Now, she is always apologizing for not being able to do the work or help cook like she used to; I always tell her that she is still WAY ahead of the rest of us on work.  But she still has the “want to”.  When she was staying at my house for a while and there was a dinner here at church, she wanted to make her famous chicken and dumplings.  Of course I had to do most of the “leg work”.  Now I have received many gifts from my mother, but the ability to be a good cook was not one of them!!  Somehow, I used the wrong flour or something, so when she tasted of the dumplings, she said that they weren’t good.  I told her that they were “good enough”.  She said, “I’m not going to ruin my reputation because of YOUR dumplings!”  So we didn’t bring any chicken and dumplings that time.

In 2003, Mother was diagnosed with colon cancer and had to have 18 inches of her colon removed and had to take chemotherapy; she went through it like a champ.  She was 85 at the time.  In 2007, at 89, she was diagnosed with lung cancer- a new primary site with an aggressive cancer.  The doctors gave only one possible option and that was a relatively new procedure called cyber-knife “surgery”, which required the patient to lie on his/her back without moving for 2-3 hours while receiving massive radiation.  Because of my Mother’s severe osteoporosis and the resultant curved back, I told them that it would be impossible for her to lie on her back for that long.  When I told Mother what I had told the doctors, she thought for a minute and then said, “Well if I NEED to lay on my back for 3 hours, I CAN do it.”  At 89, Mother went through 3 of the 2-3 hour cyber-knife treatments as well as chemo-therapy; and she went through both like a champ…as usual!   What a spirit and determination my mother has always demonstrated!  I could never thank Mother enough for all she has done for me and for my girls.  She gave us everything we needed just when we needed it…just like Eunice said…God gives us exactly who we need in our lives.  What a gift of God’s love that he gave me my Mother… that he gave all of us our Mothers!  Thank you, Duckie for being MY Mother!

In closing, I want to say how much I have enjoyed having the opportunity to publicly recognize a few of the people who have influenced all our lives so greatly.  We never know how much what we do or say will be carried on the hearts and lives of others.

My prayer is that we will always recognize and learn from all the teachers God puts in our path, and that God will continue to bless us all and hold us in the palm of His hand.


Mrs. Sherron Crawford, guest speaker for homecoming service, Mt. Hebron Wesleyan Church, Old Fort, NC  on 10/30/2011