Editors note: I need to apologize for my rambling so…. I don’t think a single blog is suppose to be this long but this has turned into Wally’s therapy page… please forgive me…
You may recall that recently I told a story about my grandfather. It is only fair that I tell a story about my grandmother too. This is a story about the extraordinary life of an extraordinary woman…
Affie Alexander was born in Tyrell County on December 15, 1895. While she was a little girl her family moved to Elizabeth City. It was there that she would spend the remainder of her life. She starts working in the Elizabeth City hosiery mill, at the age of 4 years old. She worked there until she was 75… 70 years of work. She did quit once when she was 6. She wanted to go to school like the other kids. Unfortunately the other children made fun of her because of her clothes so she only went for a couple of weeks and then she quit and went back to work at the mill and stayed there until she retired.
I don’t know much about her life from the time she was 4 until she was married. I hadn’t thought too much about it but she never talked about her growing up years.
Her first husband was the true love of her life. His name was Ellis White. He was not my grandfather but you could always tell by the way she talked about him how much she loved him. They had a son who died when he was 16 months old. Right after that, Ellis left to go fight in WW I. It was sort of funny… neither one of them could read or write, but my sister has a bunch of letters written by Ellis (one of his war buddies told about how he use to practice making each letter over and over again until he thought it looked good) to my grandmother…. And she could read them!!! Just as the war was ending, he caught the flu on a battle field in France and refused to come off the field. He later died that year (1918) from complications of the flu. It was a year later before his body was returned to Elizabeth City. So there she was, a young widow, taking care of her elderly mother and alcoholic father trying to get over having lost her husband and her son. I don’t know how she kept going.
I never heard much about her second husband. He was my grandfather. She always referred to him as Mr. Davis. The reason she called him that was because he was so much older than her. He was over 50 years old when they married and I believe she was in her mid 30s… what a scandal, I know!!! In any case they had my mom and her twin sisters… then 13 years later, he died too. So my grandmother again was alone, raising 3 girls on her own, working double shifts at the mill making ends meet so my mom and her sisters could have an education. My grandmother had told them that she would pay for college but none of them went. That always bothered my grandmother because an education was so important to her, having struggled the way she did.
My grandmother married one more time. To a gentleman named Felton White. He was a nice man and was the only one that I knew as my grandfather. I remember her taking care of him right up to his death also. It is strange but my grandmother loved to tell the story about going to the carnival once as a young girl and going to a palm reader. The palm reader told her that she would marry three times… and out live them all… and it turned out to be true!!!
My grandmother was a small little lady who loved to dip snuff but was always so proper (that is if you can dip snuff and be proper at the same time!!)… she never had much but her house was always spotless and her clothes were always cleaned and pressed. I remember when I was in high school that I would take her sometimes up to Blackwell Memorial Baptist Church. That was where she was a member. She wouldn’t go to Sunday school for fear they would ask her to read the scripture and since she couldn’t read it would have embarrassed her. I could tell that always bothered her some.
I also remember as a kid, how she would give us 50 cents on our birthday. She would always give all the other grand kids a quarter too so they wouldn’t feel bad. It was such a little thing but it meant so much to me. She would always get on me if she saw me walking down the sidewalk with a girl if I wasn’t walking on the “street side” of the sidewalk. You may ask why that is… well, that way, if a car loses control or if it splashes water or mud, it will most likely hit me and not get the girl… so there you go, true gentlemen always walk on the “street side” of the sidewalk.
I use to love to go over to her house and just sit and talk and sit on the porch or out in the yard. We’d shell butter beans and just talk and talk and talk. There was a time in my life where I was struggling with relationships with girls… (I know.. amazing that a teenage boy would struggle with such, huh?) .. in any case, she and I were standing out in her yard and I was telling her about this particular dilemma. She said; “Well, here is what we can do. I’ll plant these two flowers next to each other. We will assign each of them to one of the options you need to decide between. I will tend to both of them with equal care and the one that grows the most, is the right answer.” This made as much sense as anything else in my life at the time. So time went on. I came over to visit her again one day and she said; “We need to go out in the yard. There is an issue.” I had no idea what she was talking about. We walked around behind her house and stopped. She looked down at the two dead flowers, looked at me. looked back at the flowers put her arm around my waist and said; “Well, I guess you have your answer now.” We couldn’t help but laugh. … I do miss her so. And I could sure use her wisdom again…
Before she went into the nursing home, I went over to her house one day. I set up a camcorder and pointed it at the chair she always sat in. She came out and sat down. I leaned over and cut the camera on and just started asking her questions about growing up in EC and how things were back then. I probably have an hour or so of her just talking and telling stories… so I still get to go back and visit with her every now and then. It always makes me feel better… no matter what is going on in my life.
I never will forget when she past away. It was such a sad time for me. Mom ask me if I would be a pallbearer for her… it was absolutely the greatest honor I could possibly have had.
She was buried in the Old Hollywood Cemetery in Elizabeth City…next to Ellis White and her baby son… and so that is where she lies… next to the true love of her life…. an extraordinary woman…. an extraordinary life….