Chasing Roots

Most of the time, this blog is about quilting.  But not today.  Not exactly, anyway.  Today it’s about family.

Several years ago, I wrote about chasing my Dad’s family tree in South Carolina.  But today…today, Eric, Mom, and I chased hers.  I knew a little about Mom’s family. Her mother, (my grandmother, Cora Alberta Perry Forbes) was born in McDowell County, West Virginia.

By  1930, she moved to Leaksville, North Carolina. 

Leaksville was a sleepy little town nestled next to the Dan River, whose financial life blood was textiles.  In 1967 Leaksville, Spray, and Draper were incorporated into Eden, NC.  Grandma married George T. Forbes and had five children – Garland (Denny), Donald, Mom, Elizabeth (Beth), and Herman.  Grandpa went off to fight in World War II, and when he came home, he decided the family life wasn’t for him.  He took off to who-knows-where, leaving Grandma a single mother with five mouths to feed.

Single motherhood wasn’t a popular title back then.  Grandma had her mother (Annie Elizabeth Wolfe Perry) and her dad (Felix Gaither Perry) to fall back on, but she knew she needed more than Leaksville could give her.  You see, back then in North Carolina, tobacco and textiles were kings.  And while tobacco still holds value in my state’s economic system, thanks to NAFTA and a short-sighted former President, textiles have pretty much come to a stop here.  And even back while her children were in elementary school, Grandma Forbes knew she and her children needed stability which textiles didn’t offer.  She applied and was accepted into nursing school…

In Alamance County.

Which is not really close to Rockingham County where most of Grandma’s family lived.  It’s strange how you accept some events as a child.  When I was growing up, I knew Grandma was a nurse.  She always had held that position.  It wasn’t until I was an adult with my own kids, did I realize what a monumental thing this was.  A single mother with five growing children, uproots herself and her family from everything and everyone familiar, divesting herself of her support system, to move her family to a town about an hour away, and put herself through nursing school, because she knew – even though it was tough at the time – this move meant better job stability for both her and her children in the long run. 

She was a strong woman, who raised a strong woman, who in turn raised me to be tough, and I’m pretty sure my daughter would say this end of the DNA rubbed off on her (remember Meg went back to school to earn another degree while both of her kids were toddlers, obtained a management position, all while she fought her own cancer battle).  We girls don’t whine…we deliver. 

But today was about more than that.  Today allowed the three of us to have some uninterrupted time together before Eric begins his chemo treatments and Mom has the nerve block put in her back.  Today was about remembering where Mom grew up and letting her have control of the narrative.  Today was about reminiscing, remembering the good times, and not forgetting the ones she loved.  This is the house Mom grew up in…

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It’s a little bigger and better than what it was back in the 40’s.  There’s a two-car garage in back and it now has indoor plumbing. 

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And this is her grandparent’s house.  There was little distance between the house Mom grew up in and her grandparent’s home.  Burton Grove Elementary School (no longer standing) was down the street from Grandma and Grandpa Perry’s. 

The ballfield was across the road from their house. 

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Mom and her brothers and her sister would walk home from school each day, passing their grandparent’s home.  On Sundays after church, they’d play ball across the street. 

Mom attended church at King Memorial Baptist Church, and was baptized there.

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I heard so many stories I had never heard before.  There was a two-story YMCA.  The gym was on the top floor.  Every summer the health department took over the basketball court and inoculated the folks.  Mom couldn’t remember exactly what these shots were for, but she hated the beginning of summer because she knew her mom would walk all the kids down to the Y for vaccinations.  Mom has an intense dislike for needles.  Given her options, she told me, she’d try to run and hide somewhere.  However, Grandma Forbes held steady, and all her kids got the inoculations.  After that, Mom said summer was pretty cool.  She learned to swim in the Dan River, which flowed behind their house.

There was a beauty queen who lived down the street from them.  This lady came all the way to Burlington to see Grandma once.  When World War II was over, lots of people gathered in the town and sang hymns.  There were skinned knees and childhood friends.  Aunts and uncles and cousins.  There was this boy across the street from her grandparent’s house who threw a rock and hit Mom in the back of her head.  I understand Great-grandpa Perry dressed that kid down pretty hard. 

And like with all families, there was loss.  Great-grandpa passed first from a heart attack, before Mom ever married Dad.

Then Uncle Donald, who was a long-distance truck driver.  He hit a bridge in New Jersey in 1970.  He was only 30.

Great-Grandma fell ill with pneumonia and died in 1971.  Aunt Beth died in 1975.  My heart ached for Grandma and Mom who lost three family members in the span of five years.  Let me also throw this fact in:  My Aunt Beth died of kidney failure.  Once she was diagnosed with kidney problems, it was my grandmother the nurse who went back to school to learn how to put Aunt Beth on and off the kidney dialysis machine.  My mother would take the blood samples to the lab to so they could check and make sure the toxins were no longer present. 

We rounded out the day with coffee from The Roasted Bean, a trip to Stitch Party Studio Quilt Shop (where I always have a good time and the folks are oh-so nice), and dinner at Ronni’s in Reidsville.  It was a good day.  I learned a lot about the people I had found on Ancestry.com.  Seeing where they lived and how they grew up not only put names with faces and locations, but also allowed me to see how close the family ties were.  I was especially glad to see where my Great-grandmother, Annie Perry, lived.  Remember, it was her quilt which started me on my quilting journey. 

Great-grandma Perry’s Quilt. It’s plainly a utility quilt. I really appreciate how she made do with the scraps she had.
It’s quilted in the Baptist Fan pattern. Large stitches from a heavy, white thread.
A heavy blanket serves as both batting and backing. More than likely the blanket is a cast-off from the Fieldcrest Textile Mill in Eden. Notice the quilting stitches are smaller on the back. From what I can tell, the quilt is machine pieced and hand quilted.

It’s not a particularly skillful quilt.  The quilting stitches are large, and a heavy blanket serves as both the batting and the backing.  However, it’s irreplaceable to me, and cherished every day.  According to Mom, Great grandma would piece the quilts and then sometimes her sisters and daughters would come over to help with the quilting. 

By the time I had tucked away a great baked ham dinner from Ronni’s and shared a slice of chocolate cake with Mom, I was tired.  I knew she was, too, as well as Eric.  As I caught sight of the last of Rockingham County in the rearview mirror, I couldn’t help but puzzle over the relationship of DNA and location.  I understand DNA and what it means.  This is what makes you male or female.  Decides if you have blue eyes or brown, if you’re short or tall, or have curly or straight hair.  DNA is the chemical sequence which makes you…you.  Unless you have an identical twin, no two people have the exact same DNA sequence.  Your DNA is a combination of the DNA of your biological parents.  But when you consider location…that makes your DNA even more unique.  What if Grandma had never left Leaksville?  Would Mom had ever met Dad?  Would I have ever existed?  Where would I be (or would I be at all) in this trip around the sun? 

I have no answers. 

However, I wanted to share my Ancestry.com adventure with you, especially since I learned a little more about the women who do make me…me.  It’s not all about DNA.  Sometimes it’s about nurture.

And sometimes it just comes from being raised by really strong women.

Until next Week, Quilt On!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

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One Comment on “Chasing Roots”

  1. May 5, 2021 at 9:25 am #

    Thanks for sharing your family stories.

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