(The following was read at the Friday. Jan. 18 Memorial Service at White Level Baptist Church, Louisburg, NC.)
Good evening….I’m Suzy Barile, Pattie’s oldest sibling, though to Jack, Joseph and Jesse, I am simply “Aunt Suzy.” There aren’t many more sweeter words, unless you were Pattie Brooks, and then to her 9 nieces and nephews, and their many friends, she was “Pat-Pat,” and to the children at CrossCreek Charter School, where Jack, Joseph and Jesse go, she is quite simply “Miss Pattie.”
How she loved participating in activities at the school. From working in the library, to collecting boxtops and soda tabs and organizing a Million Dollar Campaign as fundraisers, going on the boys’ field trips, reading in the classrooms, and eating lunch with the children so a teacher could go out for his or her birthday, the school is where she spent much of her time.
That side of Pattie – as an adult with responsibilities – is not how I ever thought of her, for she is simply my baby sister. As the youngest of seven – three girls, including me and Ellie, and four boys – Donnie, Billy, Tommy and Bobby – you can imagine what our household was like when she was brought home from the hospital. Our Mom gave each of us a special song, and Pattie’s began with the words, “Pattie Marie, Pattie Marie, sweetest thing the world can see.”
Because I was 15 years old when she was born, we had little time at home together. I left for college when she was 3 – she promptly moved into my bedroom, leaving the room she shared with our twin brothers, who are just two-and-a-half- years older. I was, however, allowed to sleep in “her” room when I’d come home to visit!
Not until Pattie and I were adults did we really get to know one another and become friends. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have some great “remember when” stories to share, so let me tell you a bit about her early years.
Pattie was born at the end of a long, hot summer, shortly before our Dad was to head out for sea duty with his Navy ship. Mom wasn’t looking forward to him being gone, but his captain had laid down the law: If the baby isn’t born when it’s time to go, you’re on that ship. A wise doctor suggested Mom drink a concoction of tomato juice and castor oil, and not too many hours later, our precious, pretty Pattie entered the world. We dressed her in pink and doted on this little girl.
But the twins had something else in mind for her, teaching her how to climb out of the playpen long before Mom was ready, and how to roughhouse and stand up for herself. In fact, whatever the boys did, she did, as well, including playing soccer on a boys team!
Life took a dramatic turn for her and our family when our Mom died when Pattie was 22. Gone was the person she was a Daisy scout leader with, the one with whom she had learned and practiced clowning – together they created balloon animals at Pizza Inn on Saturdays and surprised children at birthday parties. Pattie even played the Easter Bunny at the Cary mall!
Gone, also, was the person with whom she was to celebrate her 23rd birthday. Whenever anyone had asked Mom her age, she always replied, “23.” So she and Pattie had big plans. That year, however – 1991, and just three months after Mom died – Pattie chose not to observe her birthday at all. Suddenly she had to face the world as an adult, and face it, she did.
After earning her cosmetology license, she polished thousands of fingernails and toenails, and pierced many a little girls ears for the first time. Those little girls often accompanied their mothers to a nail appointment, for they knew “Miss Pattie” would polish theirs, as well.
During this new time of her life, she also doted on her nieces and nephews. She took my daughter Jen to her first rock concert; she had sleepovers with nephew Joey and niece Sydney; and when the twins, Annie and Bryson, were born, she and Jeff kept them so often that Annie once told friends she was at boarding school!
Pattie delighted in these children, and life became even more full and fun when brothers and sisters-in-law Chad and Amy and Tommy Angie welcomed Adam, William, Ben and Alex –before and during the years that Jack, Joseph and Jesse were born. I’m sure you can imagine the noise those little boys made when they were together!
Jeff said just this week that Pattie was as much a kid as the kids – and I can assure you that had she been here for last night’s snow, she’d have been on a sled as quick as her boys!
Pattie loved doing for and being with her family, even helping get two brides and attendants ready, and baking two wedding cakes this past Thanksgiving, when our brothers Donnie and Bobby married Misty and Sarah’Lee in a double wedding ceremony. When any one of us needed something, she did her best to lend a hand.
I noted earlier that Pattie and I didn’t really get to know one another until we were adults. We became even closer after Mom died, and after she and Jeff wed (remember how you all got on your honeymoon and realized you’d left all your money at home and we had to wire it to you?!), and of course, after Jack, Joseph and Jesse were born.
When my husband and I moved to Iredell County two years ago, and with all three boys in school, we didn’t see them every week anymore, so had to settle for weekend visits every two months. At our house, Pattie claimed what I dubbed the Carolina room for its obvious decorations, and last year for her birthday, I gave her a large, fluffy Ralph Lauren towel to use on their visits.
John and I delighted in her near-daily calls to share the details of their lives, whether it was for Jesse to serenade us with “Deck the Halls,” or to hear Joseph tell about a school field trip, or for Jack to describe how he’d gotten the Wii properly hooked up, or for Pattie to celebrate their achievements – even each deer that Jeff shot while hunting.
As I know all of you will, I already miss her voice on the other end of the line, the one that said “hey, Sue” when I answered, and then we were off and running.
She will, of course, be ever-present, for I pledge to you Jeff, and to you, Jack, Joseph, and Jesse, that we will be there for you every day, in every way.
And to all of you, thank you from my family for being here tonight to share our love and the life of our sister, daughter, wife, mother, aunt, friend, and most especially, “Miss Pattie” and “Pat-Pat.”
Had my daughter been at UNC-Chapel Hill when Friday was assistant dean of students, or when he was assistant to the President of the Consolidated University, or when he was its secretary, or when he served 30 years as system president, her attention to his death would be understandable.
But she also benefited from Bill Friday's work.
A Southern Woman
The kindest, gentlest Southern woman I ever met died Tuesday. Pansy Womble taught me to how to cut up and fry a chicken, how to shell beans and make sweet iced tea, and how to dig for potatoes for mashing. She could bake a mean Pound Cake and to-die-for pecan and pumpkin pies, and she did it all while raising three children, working fulltime, and giving her best to her church, New Hill (NC) Baptist. Though she’d been ill for some time, the news of her death surprised me, and now the note I started to her this week about my summer gardening experience and how she inspired me will go unfinished, a tribute in its stead.
Pansy and her husband Wallace came into my life during my sophomore year in college when I began dating their youngest son. It was a tumultuous time in their lives: Carolina Power and Light had bought up thousands of acres to build a lake and adjacent park that would anchor its new nuclear power plant, and the Wombles’ land off NC 751 was in the project’s path.
When we met, they were preparing to move their house in the country outside of New Hill to within its unincorporated limits. But first they had to fix-up an old farm house to live in while their home was lifted from its foundation and trucked to the new site. And because Grandma Womble, who lived with them, was moving to her daughter Charlotte’s home in Raleigh, her small efficiency apartment at the rear of the house was to become a new master bedroom suite.
Despite this enormous lifestyle change, the Wombles opened their arms, inviting me, a “Navy brat, a city girl,” into their country world for many an enjoyable weekend. Sunday mornings when I visited were devoted to the 11 o’clock church service, followed by a dinner that Pansy had prepared before she left for Sunday School and featuring dishes I’d never tasted but grew to love -- turnip greens doused with vinegar, fried okra, and slow-cooked pinto beans.
Sunday afternoons were devoted to reading the newspaper and napping. But it was also a time when I learned what makes a country home truly that -- the garden. The afternoon Pansy told me to “dig me some potatoes for supper,” I looked at her like she was speaking a foreign language. She laughed heartily while handing me a spoon and told her son to take me out in the garden where the potato plants were starting to bloom and show me how to carefully turn over the soil to uncover the “new” potatoes she favored. I like to think that on those Saturday and Sunday afternoons, I was a help, that I did snap beans and shell peas and shuck corn before being instructed in how to blanch and freeze, though I truly don’t recall whether I did!
When my husband John and I moved in mid-November 2010 from Cary, a suburb of Raleigh, to three miles outside of the small town of Harmony, the first mission John undertook was to plant a winter garden. I wanted to get curtains hung and he was out putting in greens! The next summer, our garden was so large that we later admitted it was too much food for the two of us. We’d planted three rows of two kinds of green beans and one of butter beans, two rows of different peppers and one of okra, three rows of tomatoes, as well as rows of cucumber, zucchini, yellow squash, and eggplant, plus enough basil to supply every restaurant in town! We froze and canned and gave away until no one wanted the bounty we had to share – I even took a basket of peppers to my students because they didn’t believe we really had a garden that size!
Through all the hard work -- heading outside first thing in the morning before the sun’s heat became unbearable, weeding by hand because we didn’t have a tiller, picking and freezing and canning and cooking – what was in the back of my mind was all I’d learned during two summers nearly 40 years ago under the loving guidance of Pansy Womble.
And that’s what was in the note I was composing to the kindest, gentlest Southern woman I ever met.
By Suzy Barile
As a community college English instructor, one of my fervent hopes is to interest students in reading more, for – I assure them – reading will make them become better writers. Often I steer them towards my favorite North Carolina authors: Reynolds Price, Lee Smith, Clyde Edgerton, Alex Hailey, Joseph Mitchell, Suzanne Newton, Anne Tyler, Charles Frazier, O. Henry, Ellyn Bache, Gail Godwin, and Statesville’s own Doris Betts, who died this past weekend.
Though I planned to be a journalist when I entered UNC-Chapel Hill in 1973 at the start of my junior year, no one told me that outstanding and well-known writers frequently taught at universities, and that I should check out who was on the faculty before I signed up for any English classes. Without this valuable advice, I missed taking a class with Betts, who – like me – was a newspaper reporter before she became a teacher.
Instead, I was introduced to her work at a reading she gave of her award-winning The River to Pickle Beach. One insightful reviewer described it as “a probing look at life in a small North Carolina town [which] richly evokes the summer of 1968. A moving, sometimes startling portrait of people grappling with change and their need for love … [that] pulses with the reality of the contemporary South.” A wonderful review, but The River to Pickle Beach was so much more than that for me.
As I followed Betts’ main characters Jack and Bebe Sellars through a summer of managing several beach cottages and all that came with it – visits from long-lost Army buddies, the careful handling of a mentally-retarded woman placed in their care, racial inequality, even murders – I was awakened to a life I’d never experienced. Oh sure, I knew about the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, and the national turmoil that followed during the summer of 1968. And I had a mentally-handicapped aunt, although I didn’t quite grasp the significance of the challenges she presented to my grandparents, nor the care she required, until years later when it was too late to matter. Yet in all truthfulness, I was naïve.
The summer I met Betts, I was a budding journalist with a desire to remain in the South, but with much to learn. Within the pages of The River to Pickle Beach, she eloquently portrayed feelings of enduring love and compassion, and brought to life a place and time that I needed to know about – and begin to understand. For that insight, for what I took with me as I began my own journey, I will be forever indebted.
Posted on Tuesday, February 21, 2012
"earning it" or "deserving it"
By Jen Brett
there are 2 important things i learned this week: 1. no matter how tiny, always wear a sports bra. 2. taking a week off makes a huge difference. next time i feel under the weather, i'm running anyways.
this post is inspired by my valentines day, it's a little sad but don't worry, everyone is happy in the end.
all thru my youth i played soccer. i wasn't great, but i really enjoyed it. in high school i was on jv until senior year when i made varsity. my mom will argue, but the only reason i (along with 3 other girls) made varsity is b/c seniors weren't allowed to play jv. we hardly played.
the thing about playing soccer with old raleigh money in the 90's soccer craze was there were a lot of girls with a lot of their parents money and they all had name brand gear. adidas was stamped across everything. my gear was mostly from kmart or jc penny, my duffle was the bag my mom got for running (and completing!) the 5k cary road race. i was 12, what did i know about name brands, it all seemed to serve it's purpose. after 2 years of not making the junior high team and dealing with the new money cary mean girls, i knew.
by the time i was in high school, my mom had remarried and i was able to spend a little extra money on my gear. i had adidas cleats, snap pants and duffel, all purchased on sale of course. the one thing i did not have but desperately wanted was the adidas warm up. i had no real need for it, but i wanted it. that's where making varsity comes in. see, all the varsity girls wore the same green and black adidas warm up every game day. we tried to do the same on jv but were told that was a "varsity thing."
senior year rolled around, i had to make varsity. even if i wasn't good enough, school rules prohibit seniors from playing jv. so i had finally "made" the cut, the coach was less than pleased. we all worked just as hard, did the same drills and then happily took our place in the sub order. finally, a week before the first game, the warm ups arrived for us to try on for size. rather than the typical adidas warm up i had been looking forward to, there was a not so great looking all black reebok. turns out the coach decided this year she wanted to "go in another direction" with the warms ups. i couldn't help but feel like the 4 scrubs were part of her decision making, like we hadn't earned the right to wear them. paranoid maybe, but that's how we were made to feel in that situation. the following year, she wasn't the coach anymore and the team was back to the old adidas warm ups, i just missed the cut.
now i know it's not good to put importance on name brands (unless it's technology and then it's gotta be a mac) but not having that warm up stuck with me. it's weird but i kinda felt like i didn't deserve it. like i'd worked just hard enough to not have the coach fight the school board to get me off the team but not hard enough to earn the gold medal of warm ups. for years i never purchased adidas gym clothes. it wasn't like i was a gym rat or anything, i just felt i was probably better suited to the champion rack at target (great stuff by the way).
while at dinner after attending the grammy's (fab life name drop) i told my beau the story, it really upset him. he's never been in that position. he ran cross country in high school, i mean no one gets cut from the track team if you finish, much better system i think. he also grew up with more money and less mean girls than i did. this year for valentines day i dug into the bag from my new fav chocolatier and next to the box of dark chocolates were an adidas jacket and pants. he felt like i deserved to have them, that everyone deserves to have what they want. now, i just have to work on earning the 13.1 mile rep :)
By Suzy Barile
HARMONY -- As a young reporter for The Henderson Daily Dispatch, one of my "beats" was Warren County - its school board and county commissioners, the town councils of Warrenton and Norlina, the ill-fated Soul City, then in its heyday, and occasional activities in Macon and Littleton.
Though I spent just two years at the Dispatch, it was long enough to be introduced to Reynolds Price. The author was a favorite son of Warren County - born in Macon and raised in Norlina, both of which figure prominently in several of his novels. Residents were proud of the young man who had graduated from Duke and Oxford universities, then been hired by Duke to teach composition.
By the time I happened upon him, he'd been teaching nearly 20 years and already had published a highly acclaimed first novel "A Long and Happy Life," and added "The Names and Faces of Heroes," "A Generous Man" and "Permanent Errors," among others. The Henderson library never had a better customer as I devoured his works, taken in by the narrative voice that his colleague James A. Schiff once described as ranging from "austere, solemn, detached and at times, even biblical or oracular in nature."
Tt was Price's way with words that captivated me: "They observed Papa's birthday with a freezer of cream even if it was the dead of winter, and they had given him a Morris chair that was not brand-new but was what he had always wanted. The next morning he was sick, and nobody could figure the connection between such nice hand-turned cream that Rato almost froze to death making and a tired heart which was what he had according to Dr. Sledge."
Readers could "see" the stories he told and "hear" the characters speak, relating to their plights, their joys and their sorrows. I relished his work - bragging to those to whom I'd recommend him that he'd written not only novels but plays and poetry and memoirs and essays and songs - the lyrics to James Taylor's "Copperline" and "New Hymn" - even published his personal writing journals.
But it was Price's voice itself - that "deep, lovely voice," noted former student and novelist Josephine Humphreys - that soothed me. I never passed up a chance to attend a public reading or lecture. His pauses, often at the end of a descriptive phrase, even if it wasn't the end of a sentence, delighted me. When I read his words, I could hear him reading them to me: "Papa said 'Tired of what?' and refused to go to any hospital. He said he would die at home if it was his time, but the family saw it different so they took him to Raleigh..."
During a reading at Quail Ridge Books in late 2007, Price spoke of his own mortality. It wasn't an unusual topic: In "A Whole New Life," the memoir of his bout with cancer, he shared an encounter with Jesus and the healing he'd been promised. Now, 20 years later and nearly 75, he acknowledged that death was a certainty.
Never hear his voice again? Never hear that wryness with which he broached ideas about which he was passionate, that careful placement of words and phrases? I purchased his memoir in audio - "author and reader," the cover claimed - and placed it intentionally, yet unopened, on the bookshelf containing my Reynolds Price collection.
At the conclusion of "A Whole New Life," Price described his writing after cancer: "The books are different from what came before in more ways than age. ...Even my handwriting looks very little like the script of the man I was in June of '84. Cranky as it is, it's taller, more legible, with more air and stride. It comes from the arms of a grateful man."
This grateful man, who enjoyed 50-plus years of a prolific and varied writing and teaching career, died Jan. 20 following a heart attack. As are other fans, I am grateful for that career. And one day soon I will unwrap and listen to the audiotape, certain that for me his words will live on.
In this world of social networking, with self-promotion at our fingertips, it’s easy to get information about oneself out into “the world.” But is that what’s best when tackling a serious matter such as a review of artwork or a film or a book? Can we legitimately review ourselves and not seem self-serving?
I’d say “NO!” if asked by my Intro to Journalism students. Yet as I paged through Shannon, Illinois: 100 Years – 1860-2010 published late last year by the town’s 2010 Sesquicentennial Committee, I couldn’t help but want to issue a glowing review, despite the fact that it includes a piece I wrote on one of the town’s first physicians, my great-great uncle Richard Caswell Swain.
At 272 pages, Shannon, Illinois is a comfortably-sized hard-cover, coffee-table-worthy book jam-packed with history, anecdotes, celebrations, and photographs about a town that was “founded in 1860” and chartered in 1869, but had its stirrings some 40 years earlier as settlers headed west in search of new lives found lead in the mines of the prairies of Illinois – lead for making ammunition, vessels, pipes, roofs, tanks, coffins; the list goes on and on. So many settlers arrived that by the time the Village of Shannon became an official town, it already had farms and homes, a railroad stop, churches, a hotel, and a school, everything any growing and thriving town needs.
I knew little of Shannon until I began the research into my ancestor. He moved there to practice medicine at the behest of his brother-in-law, Freeport, Illinois, postmaster, lawyer, and newspaper editor Smith D. Atkins, a former Union soldier who saw promise in this man who also had served during the Civil War -- as an assistant surgeon for the Confederacy -- and apparently suffered from what today is called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. In the 1860s, however, he was a drinker, among the thousands of soldiers who came home from the war damaged, labeled as suffering from hysteria, melancholia, and insanity. Swain seemed unfit to treat anyone, until his sister’s husband intervened.
His move to Shannon in late 1865 was apparently a welcome one for residents of the village, as he immediately began seeing patients, soon building a thriving practice. His wife and daughter followed him in early 1866, just as talk of incorporation was taking place, and he continued treating his neighbors until a train accident in January 1872: While attempting to board, he somehow slipped and was pulled onto the tracks. He was killed instantly.
Swain was not the only doctor to serve Shannon and its surroundings, and he and others who made the town what it is are remembered fondly in chapters entitled “People of Our Town,” “Businesses of the Past,” “Businesses of Today,” and “Memories.” Readers will learn about the area’s first residents, its first businesses, the groups and organizations that were a part of a growing farming community, and most importantly, about Shannon today.
It took a little more than a year for the Souvenir Committee of the Sesquicentennial Committee to raise the funds and gather information – stories and photographs -- for Shannon, Illinois, the second such publication to examine the town’s beginnings (a paperback titled A Memento of Shannon, Illinois Centennial Celebration 1860-1960 was produced for that milestone). This newest committee’s success is reflected in the new volume’s “Introduction”: “It has been a very exciting journey. We have learned a lot … To the best of our knowledge, we have done our best to issue a Shannon Book to be proud of…”
If my words have been self-serving, my apologies. If they make you want to order Shannon, Illinois, then such self-servance has been well worth it!
(Shannon, Illinois: 150 Years – 1860-2010 was designed and produced by its editor and Foreston, ILL, resident Kathy Pasch and printed by Walsworth Printing Group of Marceline, MO. It is available by contacting Carolyn Deininger, Box 626, Shannon, IL 61078.)