I guess I’ve always known how much I appreciate my grandmother Ethel, but it’s taken far too long for me to give her the credit due.
There is a double purpose to this story. I would like for young people today to understand how strong women
were well over a hundred years ago. I am also speaking to all young people to encourage their interest in those who came before. One of the biggest mistakes I made when my parents and grandparents were still with us was to have not pressed for more information. Memories… Times gone by… When you’re young, you just don’t think about that sort of thing. Then it’s too late… they’re gone.
She was born Ethel Younce in 1887 in Banner Elk, Avery County, NC, the highest county in elevation east of the Rocky Mountains. That alone must have been quite a story I will never know. Her father, John Roby, was a timber buyer from Fossil, Oregon.
Somewhere along the way she met my grandfather Edward Richelieu Minus, Sr. (Ned) and became his wife at 19. We have a copy of their Marriage Certificate dated December 6, 1906, but it does not record where. I seem to remember my dad saying they met in Memphis. Their first daughter was born in Tennessee.
The young family moved to St. George, SC, around 1914, where there had been family and family land ever since the early 1700’s. Ned opened a grocery store.
Ethel gave birth to five more children, about one every two or three years, including one set of twins and my father, the youngest and only boy. They only lost one of the twins. This was less than 50 years after the Civil War. Life in the South was not easy, but she must have made the best of it.
With the help of an uncle, they moved to Greer, SC, in the 1920’s to open a furniture store. At that time, Greer was a small but thriving textile town with four cotton mills and a strong agricultural community based on cotton and peaches. Halfway between Miami and New York City, it was also on two major north-south railroad lines.
Ned and Ethel rented a 3-bedroom, 1-bath, frame house on south Main St. for $30.00 a month. They raised their family and lived the rest of their lives in that house. My dad told me the owner, Dr. James, never raised the rent (I mean never) for 40-plus years.
Ethel was no country bumpkin. She came down out of the mountains and must have gotten a decent education. She made sure her children got the best education available. Since two of her daughters married very successful attorneys in New York and Boston, she succeeded.
Along the way she managed to start the first library in Greer and only the second in the county.
As far back as I can remember I looked forward to summers when our cousins descended on the home where one of their parents had grown up. With 5 siblings there were always 10 or more cousins around.
A small southern town and an old house with one bath must have been a total mystery to our northern big city
cousins. Ethel made all feel welcome and conducted the summer program.
The house had a large back yard plus Ned’s garden. The visiting cousins were mostly able to entertain themselves and each other and, more important, enjoyed exploring the curiosities of youth.
My dad used to say, “three of his sisters married Yankees and the fourth married a fellow from Chicago who had the sense to go to Clemson and stayed in the South.”
When we got bored or started squealing among ourselves, Ethel would pull something out of her sleeve. Now that I look back, it was not just to keep us busy, but to also teach us a lesson or two. With that many youngsters around, learning to get along was essential. In her own way, she led us down that path.
She came up with things that today’s children would never do or cannot do. Too bad.
Once or twice a summer she would boil peanuts from Ned’s garden, bag them up and send us downtown to sell them for 5 cents a bag. There was no worry about 8-to- 12-year-olds walking the few blocks to downtown. We got to keep the nickels and spend them as we wished. A good lesson.
Other times she would help us dress-up in their old clothes. The clothes were way too large and made us look like little old men and women. I often wore one of Ned’s hats held up by my ears and sported one of his pipes. All in fun, we would again head downtown just to make people laugh.
The yard just outside the back porch was hard packed dirt–no grass. There was a small goldfish pond about the size of a bathtub. In the dirt area, we would play for hours constructing a miniature village. Small houses and barns, an inch or so high, were made of mud, twigs, stones, and moss–each cousin trying to out-do the others. We always had a stream running through the village fed by letting the fishpond overflow just enough. Late in the day, after we showed off our accomplishments, we would turn on the fishpond faucet full blast and let it overflow flooding our miniature village. By the next morning, the yard would have dried up and, if we had not found something more interesting to do, we would build another village.
Since most of the cousins and their parents only visited in summer, or now and then on holidays, my brother and I were fortunate to be the recipients of her knowledge and guidance year-round.
Early on, Ethel recognized the differences in my brother and myself–as different as brothers could be.
Older brother Ed was always more interested in the written word and school. I, on the other hand, was just as eager to learn, but more in how things grew or worked.
One of Ethel’s daughters gave her a subscription to the New Yorker each year. She passed her copy on to Ed and he saved every issue from 1953 on. Ed died a year or so ago, and I would bet all those magazines were left in a storage building somewhere.
On the other hand, Ethel went with me on long walks and talks. She loved nature as I did. By then she was what we called a “portly” or “stout” woman–“bless her heart” –so on our walks my job was to pick flowers or dig up small plants she was interested in. There seemed to always be a small vase with one of those plants or flowers on her kitchen table.
I think of her often and the joy she provided in our young lives.
Ethel in many languages means “noble.” Her parents sure picked the right name for her. A life well lived.
Expect to hear more about Ethel and Ned from me. Too many fond memories for one article.
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