The Early Years of Sadie Ellen Mann
by Sadie Ellen Mann Smith
“Once Upon A Time”, for real, in the year 1914, a commotion of a sort took place. In history October 12th is known as Columbus Day! For this purpose, however, I will refer to it otherwise.
Already there were fifteen children and now, on this historic and very important date, October 12, 1914, I found myself “at home” in the Lindsay Mann family on what was called for many years “Pegram Hill” – a place were in the past a Pegram family had lived and had called their home.
That is the beginning of my life in this world. For sure I wasn’t aware at that time how great this beginning was, but, in days to come experiences led me to know I was loved very much from the beginning, and forever!!!
Can parents love their 16th child as much ? There is one simple answer. “Yes”! All along I knew that to be true, and now even as I think and write, as never before it is known.
I wish it possible to paint word pictures of the many ways in which the experiences we had together as a family expressed something of our joy, peace, love, and contentment. Hardships were real! Sadness was felt. Both were mixed in with the other, yet for me memories are rich with good things, good times, good days, and a truly good life.
So will I sense my own limitations in trying to write about this, or any matter, my attempt to write is not going to do justice to that good life, or to those involved. What is to follow will only be my feeble way of wording some of what I recall about home, and how it impressed me. The purpose for trying is mainly to show the love whereas which I was (am) loved!
It doesn’t really matter if I do, or do not, remember “the first thing I do remember”, not to me that is, for the beginning was before that anyway. Mama and Papa already had their hands full, it appears, seeing after their other youngsters when I came along. Want to know their names? Lemmie, Berta, Johnnie, Raymond, Florence, Benona, Clarence, Maude, Gaither, Herbert!!
These total ten, and were half-brothers and sisters in a way, but in a real sense we never saw fit to “half” that relationship. It never was felt or shown! For one thing my mother married my father after the ten were born. It so happened to be true that the older brother Lemmie, was only about four years younger than my mother. And, one further unusual fact to me is, each of the ten older children, all during my life yet to come, respected, obeyed, and loved my mother, always, and to them she was known as, and called, “Mama”. They did this simply because they loved her in that way, and she loved them even more.
In my way could I ever express the appreciation I feel in knowing that throughout the past, and even now, even so, neither could I ever really be able to merit my portion of it all. Can a woman love a man with ten children? Maybe not now days, but once it did happen. Within that is seen, in part, a heart of gold which is my feeling was inside our Mama! Better yet, and to be more exact, two hearts of fold which God united in His own way in His own time, for His own purpose.
The other six children, of course, came later, and names were Beulah, Sallie, Garlon (Buck), Fannie Reid, Mary Joyce, (at one time “my-yee” for my young tongue), and then who else -? Me, the last of all, Sadie.
That takes care of the list of names. To know them – one and all – would be to love them! A wonderful bunch in my opinion – including me, and no bragging for as I look at the facts now it is truly “wonderful” to be one of “the bunch”.
The House That Was A Home
Now days all types of cameras are available, and one can get immediate pictures from them. That would have been helpful in former times but don’t have such to offer in describing what our home was on the inside. In front there was for us a long but rather narrow “front porch”. On one end, to the right, hung a wooden swing for two or three to comfortably sit, on the other, a rocker and at times a chair. One long box was placed on the edge and was used for ferns, green plants, and petunias. At the left end of the porch we often had potted plants and more ferns.
Inside the front door to the right was “the parlor”. Only special company was allowed therein, usually I walked in and out, for my special occasions were not often inside this room. We had a nice old organ and Beulah had the know how to make music on it, as did Buck and Reid. Sallie didn’t do too much trying. Joyce and I were a bit younger and had ways of playing games instead. We did have music once in a while on another “box”, an old Edison phonograph which played tube records. That was a specialty! Later came our modern piano, and Joy had her training for that in her days of high school.
On the left, across the hall from “the Parlor”, was another rather large room in which my mother and father slept. Being a large room it was also used as a family room. We always gathered here after our supper meal, as well as during hours of leisure each day. Joining this room was a “little” room – a homemade bed, some spaced shelves for a clothes cabinet, a trunk of my mother’s which contained her valuables, and no hamper but a corner for the to-be-washed items.
It was used for many other personal consequences too, such as what goes in closets when there is one. It really was a “little” room but you wouldn’t believe how much it held. The bed was one of my father’s hand-made, the mattress and all. Pillows were made from the geese outside who very un-willingly gave their feathers. In the bed I slept! So did one, two, and sometimes three others in the family. They outgrew it and moved to other rooms but I never did make a change.
Both the Parlor and the family room were special for special reasons though different. The memories are strong, and lasting, happy and sad, all combined. In the family room we lived. It was reading time, playtime, commotion time, clean-up time, entertaining families of the family and community time, and last but not least devotion time. Even the boys who came to date my sisters were often invited in on Prayer Time which my father led, always. That says so much, even now, to me.
Too, in later years in this same room I was to see my mother in great pain for many weeks because of cancer. She died there one late Sunday afternoon, when I was fifteen years old and a senior then at LaFayette High School. Soon thereafter, we decided to leave home, to stay with older sisters and brothers. Yes, it was a big house, many open places, halls and attics! A stairway from the hall led to our upstairs where we had a closet at the top, and a bedroom to the right, another to the left, each had a fireplace. Just for the record a fireplace was in the Parlor, one in the family room, and another in the kitchen.
Cutting wood was an essential habit we all picked up and that included bringing it, and the chips, and the lightwood, and the splinters, and the stonewood, all in due time according to need, so we could cook and be warm. Errands had assignments but no one was left short. Water supply was great but had to be brought in from a well where two buckets worked on a windless – one comes up and one goes down. Wash days afforded for us a treat – winding the windless on and on and on to get the required water for the tubs and black pots!
In the back of the Parlor was another bedroom, well filled, back of it a room for “company” eating. A long porch to its left, and beyond it the kitchen, back of that, as an exit, was a very small porch which was used to prepare vegetables on, and a shelf for a couple of five gallon cans of kerosene used in the lighting system. Not too costly, not too bright, but in that day we were not aware of a “fuel crisis” or burden.
There is no end to what one could say regarding the events, activity and fun had in the kitchen. The table was a turn-table, not a modern lazy-susan but did have an area cut out large enough for the food to be put (in the circled area); it was one we turned to select what we wanted from what we had. The seats were not chairs but a bench on the dies, and four or six homemade stools as smooth from use – as one could find in the finest furniture store now days.
Food wasn’t fancy but all we had was such as I could hope to enjoy all the rest of my days. It was good! We grew it on the farm, for the most part. Once in a long while my father came in with a hundred pounds of sugar, maybe some cheese, but hardly ever an extra menu beyond home-grown products!
That was some house! That was some home! We were some family! There must have been a few long hours, some heartaches, and such, but nothing to compare with the beauty of it all.
All that one such as I can do is try to word only a few of what I call “blessings” coming my way from the person called “Mama“! When my best has been done it will be in a sense unfair to her because of my own limitations in ability, memory, and words, but far from lack of lasting love, admiration and appreciation.
One of the most unusual things to say in the beginning is how it came to be she accepted my father as a husband with ten children! True! Unbelievable, but true! Their ages ran from eighteen months to about 25 years. She took them all into her heart and her life. They called her in respect and in love “Mama” though some were only a few years younger than she. By the time I appeared on the scene the testing had been done and she stood the test of loving every “child” in a special way, an exceedingly great way!
The days, weeks, and months passed into years, and the ten children, eventually sixteen. I, being “the little red caboose” am at a disadvantage to say a lot about what really went on before my day. Some happenings have been told to me so often I almost feel I was present. Some were what you could call normal, some dangerous, and some outlandish, to say the least. Naturally the experiences I had personally are most meaningful, and last longer.
It could be said here that “a man’s work is from sun to sun, but a woman’s work is never done.” Mama knew the meaning of the word “work”, and did more than her share, always. It did me good to see that she enjoyed the work, whatever it was, and still amazes me how easy she could spread that enjoyment to her children, me especially. No matter what the task was, she could arrange to convert the hardship into fun by some tale, saying, game or idea of her own humorous witty mind.
The other sisters had taken up some of the house responsibility such as cooking, cleaning, and sewing, when I came along. To be out of doors was Mama’s choice. To be honest there was a “big demand” for her everywhere. Since farming was our life, and we “tended” acres and acres of crops, the hard way, we all worked. Everyone had plenty to do on any given day! Mama was our leader, usually for Papa built a lot of houses and was frequently away from home.
Some “jobs” were a dread! Some, a pain! Some almost unbearable. They could have been worse, however, and would have, too, if Mama had not shown us in her own loving way that it was both important and necessary, but most of all a lot easier done her way. Rewards was another specialty she seemed very gifted at. The kind didn’t matter as much as the earning it. That was her secret!
Within her own family of O’Connells were several brothers and sisters. Somehow arrangements could always be made to visit them rather frequently. Sometimes we walked, sometimes we rode in a wagon, or a buggy, or a Model T. We went! Uncle Danny, her older brother, lived in Durham. Our visits there were usually overnight! Uncle “Bud” lived closer by, and a Sunday afternoon visit to his home came more often. Aunt Kate (Cotton) lived out from a mining community called Cumnock (near Sanford) and we made a real occasion out of this because we flagged a train to go, and we flagged a train to come home – a white handkerchief or rag did the trick. Uncle Charlie and Aunt Annie (Truelove) were special, too, and they came to see us a lot as well. The delight one can have playing with cousins cannot be equaled, and this we looked forward to always.
Except for minor ailments, and the usual diseases, we had very little sickness in our home until it was learned Mama had a growth on her breast. At that time very few knew about cancer or how to fight it. Advice was given by someone to see a Mrs. Broughton in Raleigh who made her own medicine that could take off this growth. The experiences we had from it were painful and heart-breaking. It failed to do any good, instead caused Mama to suffer for days, weeks, and months. Except for a short stay with Cousin Lila in Durham for further treatment, she was at home during all of her sickness.
She was most uncomfortable from pain and that for us a great strain. Only she could say how unbearable the suffering was in the last stage, but we knew in part. At the age of 55, and on a late Sunday afternoon in November 1929 she passed away. I was then 15 years of age, a very sad teenager, and one who felt great need for a mother. All of this I felt that day, and many later days, but one can’t see that much suffering and not feel relieved when it ends. So it was! She deserved relief, and God gave it!
I’m unable to say all I’ve missed but realize it was for her good that she seemingly died young. In my heart is lasting gratitude for her every word, and deed. One can’t say “I’ve seen a perfect person” and speak the truth, perhaps. I can say “I don’t recall anything Mama did or said wrong.
Being a sixteenth child, it would be impossible to cover the events and days prior to my birth. Much was told to me, however, on that part of Papa’s life. From what they said it was a treat to learn about those years, too, for it had to be “there was never a dull moment”. Heartaches and hardships were a part of it all but being one of the “Manns” on “Lindsay Mann Hill” was indeed a special way of life, second to none. Fun and frolic, work and play overshadowed any and all memories of unpleasantness. Behind it all there was love for one another.
Papa was quite a fellow, and loved his family, and his neighbors. He was rather old when I was born but had energy plus, and enjoyed playing our games on Sunday afternoon, or so it seemed. He and Mama were young-at-heart. Great ideas for enjoyment were easy to come by for them, games, walks, visits, fun stories, and all kinds of special “past-time” doings. Work first though, always! We had a dandy merry-go-round, and a long wood swing attached to a big tree which extended over the road when in use. The cars were few in those days, but even the few made swinging a challenge to see if we could go over the top! There were jump-boards, two-wheel carts guided downhill by a rope, mule back riding, and so on. All grandchildren loved to come! When there was arguing, his words were brief but strong, “You chaps hush that clashing”!
There were so many things he enjoyed as a “worker”, and we were fully convinced as his children “he loved to work”. Papa’s life work was perhaps farming; however he was off building “homes” and houses a great deal. The blacksmith shop he operated for himself and the community was busy too, real often. He had to shoe the mules and horses, fix up wagons and buggies, buried coffins often for colored people and children. Mama fixed the inner padding and Joyce and I were “used” to make sure the measurement was right.
He soled our shoes and sometimes for others as well. Growing cane for syrup was ordinary, and he operated the cane mill! Wheat was grown for flour, and somehow he did not have that on his list but we enjoyed some great times as children when the “wheat-thresher” came. Food was abundant and so good, for the workers were fed too. “Corn shucking” occasions were also a great feasting time in the fall. The neighbors worked it out to a perfection – the “working together” and “eating together”!
Along with the wheat, corn, cotton, peas, potatoes, oats, rye, peanuts and popcorn was a nice orchard. Apples of many kinds which were used for eating, drying and cider (later vinegar). Too, we had a healthy but grassy dewberry patch, and that too was an asset in one way, but the work to keep it clean not so pleasant. Peaches and pears were rather plentiful plums and damsons, and a few cherries. Always a nice big garden to chop, plant, plow, and eat from. Truly Papa knew how to live at home, and except for a rare visit for sugar or cheese or salt we just about had it at home. The pigs and cows finished our diet rather well. Now and then we could have company fried chicken, but mostly we grew them for eggs and more hens and more eggs, in my opinion!
The memories are so plentiful and impressive, interesting, too and meaningful to me. All can’t be recalled or mentioned here, but our church life and school life activities stand top and near top next to my family-life. Papa was a “church lover” too. He was a part of the fellowship, a leader, and one whose praying impressed and had lasting influence in my mind and heart. He didn’t “say prayers”, he prayed, and the Lord was present to hear, see, and act, of that I’m sure.
Papa seemed to find, more than anyone, jobs to do on the church building and did them. Perhaps others helped now and then but there was always more he saw to do and spent days and weeks adding on rooms, re-roofing, repairing and building altar, benches, tables, and the like. His last days, even though old, were spent adding on it. The way he did things were not always perfect, but no one could deny his willingness and delight. Yes, he loved the Lord, he loved the church, he loved his family, and he loved his neighbors. The evidence was reality in my young life, and grew year after year. Even though he wasn’t physically or financially able to keep up the younger ones, I, the youngest, never felt he didn’t love.
Merits are many in the life I recall, and even though he saw things “his way” always, usually they were right, best, honest, and good. Mama, he called “Mattie”, and all her life she was truly his best “help-mate”. Reunions were his idea, so they originated with a day each year when all the folks came “home”. The old and young were considered in his planning. Grandchildren were given a ride by Papa on the two-horse wagon with his conversion into seats like one doesn’t find on a bus, but the kind about forty or fifty “youngsters” could be seated and “in order”! There is no way to describe their fun or Papa’s pleasure in it all! Money was scarce, but we had Papa! There isn’t another his equal in my mind and heart.
After Mama died, our home life changed for we, Joyce, Reid and I went to live with our older sisters or to work elsewhere. Mama had suffered so much from cancer, it really was all but unbearable. So she needed to be relieved by God, but Papa nor “the children” were ever quite the same. Buck was already away going to Elon, but he, along with us, knew we had lost our “best friend” and it hurt. Papa continued to stay rather well, and active as he stuck with his busy life of doing all kinds of work. He, too, “lived” in the homes of his older children, no certain place to be permanent. That must have bothered him some, and others, for at times he showed loneliness. It wasn’t for anyone to make his decisions however; he still wanted to do that, and for the most part did until his stroke which caused him to be voiceless and helpless for a few long days. On a long December day in 1936 he was “called home” to be with the Lord at the ripe age of 81. Somehow it isn’t possible to be prepared to give up a father, a mother, or one’s loved one, but it wasn’t surprising to be told (in the office at Proctor-Barbour Co.) “Papa died”!
The changes began, of course, when it seemed necessary for our family at the time Mama died to separate. This was in the spring of 1930 after her death in November. My age was 15 and I was a senior at LaFayette School. Nearby our home place, Sister Sallie and Wilbur (her husband) were living. So she was most kind in asking me to come live with them. My stay there was for about two years, and no one could have been treated better. I felt at home, and was as content as one could be under the circumstances. A big adjustment had to be made by me, for at that age the needs were many – physically, mentally, financially, and spiritually.
Memories of those years mean so much now, especially how everything possible was done for my betterment and pleasure. “Maxine”, their wee one, added to that joy, for she seemed to find me enjoyable, too, and we got along together unusually well. I don’t know what she recalls but all my memories are special and sweet where she is involved. She helped a lot to fill the empty place felt being separated from those I did live with. Later Joyce came there to live, too, and we sensed a sort of togetherness we had felt back home. Work was still the password, but doing things together made it all so different.
There was no big reason but it was then decided I would go and live with Maude, and Joyce would go over to Raleigh for a course at Hardbargers. Maude, and her husband, Carl, took me in and gave me the “at-home” feeling. Brantley was a couple of years younger than I, Carl Jr. a couple of years younger still. Doris was about nine years of age, Robert, about 6 and Eloise, “the baby”. That made a rather big family, even then, and now it really would be abnormal, however the food was in plenty, aways good, the needs met, and no one seemed to be burdened. There was work for all, yet fun and good times as well. The problems must have come off and on also, at our age we must have caused some concerns, yet I couldn’t have been given more love, care, and understanding as an “extra-member”.
There were moments, there, and in previous years, when I felt perhaps I was adding too much to some of their responsibilities, and that to me was a problem. No one caused me to feel this, it was inside, and real, because I wanted to much to do more for others rather than be constantly receiving In due time the opportunity was given me to prepare for “work”, this time office work. The plans originated mostly in the minds of my sisters and brother Buck in Greensboro. They agreed to meet the financing of a course in business, all with my approval and cooperation.
Buck and his wife Sut (Ruth) gave me a “fourth home”, and they, too, were especially kind and good to me. Sut was a nurse, and Buck selling furniture, later insurance. They weren’t rich but willing to share with me, so again I felt “at home”. Mary Edwards Ellis, a young lady there, had her private business school in the Marley Home, so that was our choice. The school work was not so easy at first, but with the patience and help received my efforts were rewarding. The shorthand took a lot of time, but the praise I had from “Miss Ellis” for my neatness and accomplishment gave me added encouragement to keep on trying. Typing was “o.k.”, and a source of help later, however my “speed” and accuracy weren’t great. Bookkeeping was hard also, but it was more of what I seemed to enjoy best, so in that score my work was satisfactory and satisfying.
After about a year in this school I came back to Fuquay for work in the office at Proctor Barbour Co. Strange things can be, and happen, for this was a job Joyce had filled, and had resigned to marry. Somehow she convinced “the boss” her sister would be an asset, or I reckon she must have, for in the next eleven years I tried to convince him, Mr. Proctor, the boss, I would be useable in keeping the records straight. Goldie Rowland (Johnson) came later to help, and be a dear friend of mine as well. Also, Emolice Utley (Scott) was included in the office force, then later Alta Broughman (Dean). They, too, came to be my special friends and gave to those years a great deal of pleasure. They had to be special to put up with me – some of the time, I’m saying.
Time marches on, always and in the course of time more changes. I came then to live with Joyce, and Willie Grey (Bill), her husband, and baby “Jim”! This was in Fuquay Springs, and in what is now Reid’s home. They were really good to me, as always they have been. My room was upstairs, and joined the apartment occupied by Paul and Ruth Wright. We all had some great happy times there, and life seemed happy for me in a special way. Even now I delight in the memory I have of the Model A Ford coupe Bill had and gave me permission to drive on weekends, and still wish to own one myself. Elizabeth Dewar came about that time to work as a beauty operator in town, so Joyce and Bill let her move in with me for her home! This was added pleasure for all of us, and she moved with us into their new home later. She came from Lillington but we knew her as our Cokesbury friend, and one that could really fly playing “round-cat”!
Prior to this, unless my mind is “crossing wires”, I lived in the country with Reid, and Len H. (her husband), and Walter, their “wee” son! They were farming out near the Frank Dickens’ home and I lived with them for a year, or thereabouts. Joyce sold me her “Dodge” couple to go to and from work, which was an asset and liability, yet met the need! Sometimes it would crank, sometimes it wouldn’t; with my strength and temper I could usually get some results. Len H. was willing to help me, always, but saw my determination for what it was and let me exert my independence as long as it would last, the help.
They were real good to me, and for me everything was fine, but the house being small they did need more space, so that’s why I moved in with Joyce and Bill, first in Fuquay Springs town, and later out to the new house on the hill (going south). To be honest, it’s not easy to get every home arranged in order of years because how numerous my changes were. One thing for sure, I don’t recall ever being asked to go – and never felt unwanted! That’s comforting, too! To be sure there must have been times when my presence caused some kind of “hitch”, but that didn’t show!
The new house was a two-story and three bedrooms upstairs. Our room was on the north side near the bathroom, and very comfortable for “Lib” and Jim and Bob added to our “fun” and later Jeanne! Children can be such a delight even when small – I say, and loved them all! “Lib” left us to marry Al Rogers, and soon thereafter Mary Rosa Fleming, a teacher and good friend to be, came to live with us!
Each person could very well make up a full “book” and rightly so because of their place in my heart. There is such lasting memory of all that connects with the past relationships in the homes I’ve lived. There would be satisfaction for me to at least try to express in some small way my deep feelings and appreciations for each and every one I’ve named as well as quite a few unnamed, who gave me great and lasting warmth in my soul. Here there isn’t much chance to do any other than touch on the person’s name and place in my life. Special people deserve special recognition and I so want to do just that – for my sake. Maybe later!
There was an omission in my statement of events during my “home life” in Fuquay Springs, which, among other things, proved to be rare and endless because it’s still reality! My romance isn’t what you might find in a movie or magazine, but I’d say it was interesting and spectacular! One night there came to our door a young blond-headed fellow, and asked if I would consider taking a ride with him to see the Christmas lights in Raleigh – the Montlawn Cemetery to be exact! We hadn’t met, not really, but already he was on my mind, and, already I had made some “investigations”. Too, that pretty blond hair was an added attraction, and something!
So, yes, we went to see the Christmas lights! John Wesley Smith was his full name, I learned. The lights were rather impressive, too! In fact they have been all these years ever since I’ve come to be Mrs. John Wesley Smith. We did not get married then, or soon thereafter but for sure that was the beginning of many other rides, and whatever. Then came the wedding day, years later, on June 12, 1943! After that my “home life” and “home” really changed, and “new dimensions”!