Story by: Clara Cartrette
Sarah Harris Kendall is an amazing woman. At 95 years old she reads without glasses, she’s healthy, has beautiful handwriting, a keen sense of humor and a mischievous twinkle in her eye.
What does she attribute her good fortune to?
“God!” she readily proclaims. “Nothing but God.”
Born in the Hallsboro area in 1922, she has lived in other places but returned to her roots many years ago. She lives on Red Bug Road not too far from the old Red Bug Store, no longer open for business but it’s still standing. When Kendall was 81 years old she stepped back, gathered her thoughts and announced to her family: “I want to write a book.”
She has now fulfilled that desire and the finished product was presented to her as a surprise on her 95th birthday. “My Life, Wisdom and Moments in The Spirit” is a beautiful book and it tells much of her interesting life story. She began writing in notebooks or on loose pieces of paper…whatever was handy… in 1983.
“Although it has taken many years to finally print the book, she never gave up hope or was discouraged that she would not have her very own book in her lifetime,” her daughter Irene E. Jordan wrote in the book’s forward. “Her life was not always easy and many of the harder times are yet unspoken, but what you will see and feel is the love she has for her family and her great faith in God.”
Kendall’s loving family gave her lots of presents, including a birthday cake, bouquets of roses interspersed with $5, $10 and $20 bills, a nice restaurant meal and other gifts, but the book presentation, recorded on video, was the highlight of the celebration. It was a surprise and a dream come true for Sarah Kendall, described as “a wonderful mother, auntie, grandmother, great grandmother and great-great grandmother. She is gifted, wise and determined. Always ‘the poet,’ Sarah has loved creative writing from an early age.”
Irene said as she typed her mother’s hand-written notes for the book, she was truly inspired and could see that these penned moments are something to be cherished forever. Sarah’s notes, now safely printed in a lovely book with her smiling face on the cover, is a family history to be cherished for generations to come, and she continues to write notes about her thoughts and God-given words of inspiration. The book cover also features a beautiful Hallsboro sunset and the introduction includes a small photo of the charming old Red Bug Store.
Sarah Jane Harris was born Aug. 20, 1922, the second child and oldest girl of seven children. Her mother, Lillie Smith Harris, was born Jan. 4, 1900. Her grandmother Sarah Jane Smith, a Cherokee Indian, was born June 4, 1863 and was the community midwife. Sarah described her mother and grandmother as “very strong, hard-working women,” and her oldest brother Samuel “who took on a father-like role and was a great man making sure everything was in order on the farm and with his siblings who were well cared for.”
In the early years the first five children lived in a four-room house owned by Grandmother Sarah Jane Smith that was on the same land some of the family lives on today. As a midwife she brought into the world many of the children in surrounding communities, both black and white, and her name is still known by the descendants of her midwifery. She was well respected and one of few blacks who had their own land.
Kendall described growing up in Hallsboro as farmland, unpaved roads “and the dust would fly up behind you as you traveled in your horse and buggy or car. You could actually walk outside and fish from the ditches and wildlife was abundant for hunting, especially deer.
“There were no modern conveniences but there were always chores to do. There are no family pictures of us as children, so paint a picture with your mind and see a bunch of happy children on a farm, surrounded by dirt roads and green fields.
“Growing up in Hallsboro was humble country at its best,” she continued. “You might think we surely had more than I’m about to describe but take a moment, relax and travel with me through time. I’ll do my best to give you a snapshot of this moment when life consisted of farm work and clean country living. It was rewarding to have your needs met directly from your own land. Prejudice was still rampant but we had carved out a safe haven of community and family.”
She goes on to describe breaking a lot of lampshades, as she was the oldest and it was her responsibility to wash the fragile objects. There was no running water, no electricity and the “bathroom” consisted of a small outhouse just a little larger than a telephone booth built over a six-foot hole dug in the ground. There was no toilet tissue, only newspaper or perhaps a catalog from Sears. An open fireplace heated the small, cozy house and water was heated in a reservoir attached to the stove, and in pots and pans on top of the stove. Cooking was done in the fireplace using an iron pot, and potatoes were baked in the hot ashes, along with hot roasted peanuts.
Clothes were washed by hand on a washboard with lye soap, which was made by Grandma in a big iron pot to boil the ingredients. Smoothing irons heated in the fireplace were used to iron clothes. The three girls washed and dried dishes, pots and pans, changing jobs so no one did the the same chore day after day.
“We swept the yard, which was all dirt to keep debris clear, fed the chickens, gathered eggs, fed the animals and brought in wood for the fireplace and cook stove,” she wrote. “There were no school buses in our area and only a few owned perhaps a T model Ford. Traveling was done by mule and wagon, horse and buggy or by walking. We walked about five miles one way to school.”
She goes into detail about making butter from their cow’s milk, making cornbread muffins, hoe cakes and fritters, taking corn to the grist mill to make cornmeal and grits, raising pigs and hanging pork in the smokehouse after the slaughter. They grew all sorts of vegetables, sugar cane, grapes, fruits and nuts and picked wild blueberries and she helped her grandma saw down trees for firewood. “We were never too hungry and lived well off of the farm.”
Tree stumps were blown up with dynamite “and then Grandma and I dug up the ground with a grubbing hoe. After crops were gathered Grandma and Mama worked in the homes of others, cooking, cleaning and babysitting for $3 a week. They took in washing and ironing for 50 cents a wash and took good care of us. We were taught to say Yes Mam, No Mam, No Sir and Yes Sir. Manners were important! If we disobeyed we were switched, meaning we were told to go get a switch and we knew to get a good one or else! What I could not understand is, after I went and got a switch, and they switched me, how did it hurt them? They said it did but they did it anyway. Discipline as they knew it was not frowned upon but part of this time.”
She recalls incidents at school, such as the three sisters being in the same classroom. When one did something the teacher disapproved of, she would say, “Young lady, leave the room and when you think you can behave, come back in.” Elnora got up, went out, closed the door behind her and immediately opened the door and came back in. The whole class broke out in laughter.
Kendall said she couldn’t recall any of the brothers going to school, as Sam and William had to work. Elnora and Lizzie finished high school with Elnora becoming an RN and Lizzie became n LPN. “Going into homes taking care of the sick and helpless seemed to be one of the family’s calling as even I, with less education, went on to work in a nursing home and eventually became a home health aide.”
Looking back on her childhood, Kendall noted that “the farm work was hard but not really a burden, the switch came out only when we deserved it, and I don’t remember any of us ever being really sick. We worked hard, went to school and church. We played the children’s games of jump rope, hopscotch, ring games, hide and seek and tag. We slid down sawdust piles, hid behind hay and fodder stacks. For Christmas we mostly received clothes that were handmade by Mama or Grandma, one toy, and a hat full of fruit and candy. I remember the last toys we got…the girls got large, tall dolls, the boys got red wagons. On special occasions we hand-churned homemade ice cream, it was so-too good! We were taken to church and Sunday school every Sunday, and sometimes my sister and I were asked to sing.
“One of our favorite songs was ‘What Would You Give in Exchange for Your Soul.’ It was here at this little church that we went to the moaners bench, as it was called, and gave our hearts to the Lord, and repented of our sins. Sometimes after work and supper we would sit by the fireplace and sing hymns. Grandma’s favorites were Amazing Grace, Swing Low Sweet Chariot and God Will Take Care of You. My Mama or Grandma led the songs.”
Kendall wrote that she thought her Grandma had the most beautiful singing voice she had ever heard. “One would lead us in the Lord’s Prayer and the other would pray. As one of these prayers was being made one of my brothers said, ‘Grandma, you pray too long’ and got up off his knees, and Grandma kept praying. I’m sure she prayed harder for him. The younger ones slept with Mama or Grandma, the others slept on pallets on the floor as there were only two bedrooms until Mama built a lean-to onto the house. Grandma always wore an apron over her dress and special white ones, even to church. She wore her hair wrapped in twine.”
She writes about her mother marrying William Stone Sr. and she and her sister Lizzie going with them to Fayetteville where she got her first job working in a boarding house cleaning. Her next job was babysitting in a private home but she ran into a problem and quit. She then got a job cooking and cleaning in a restaurant on Hay Street for $8.88 per week. It was there that she met her husband, Robert James Kendall.
“I found him there, and I left him there,” she said with a laugh.
“We flirted for awhile and he began to pay more and more attention to me,” she wrote. “Well, I fell in love and always dreamed about having a family. To this union I had seven children, Hazel Mae, Catherine (who died of illness not reaching a year old), Robert James, Freddie Allen, the fraternal twins, Dorothy Elaine and Richard Wayne, and Mary Alice. Irene Elizabeth, her eighth child, was born three years after the marriage ended.
“The ending years of my marriage were quite difficult and I could not stay in the relationship,” she continued. “My dream marriage was shattered; however, I picked myself up and moved back to Hallsboro. I have never poisoned my children against their dad; I do not believe in that tactic. My husband and I never had much contact again and he remained in Fayetteville, passing away many years later in the 1980s.”
She wrote about 1954 Hurricane Hazel, moving to Boston where her mother and stepfather lived and she got a job in a nursing home. Working on Sundays, she didn’t have a permanent church so she went from church to church. She vividly describes her Christian life, a visit from God Himself, family and fun times, spending her off-work days with them, witnessing miracles and included in the book are some of the songs she wrote. She traveled with other Christians, preaching and teaching the word of God.
“You can think a prayer, say a prayer or sing a prayer,” she said, and on one of those trips she was singing in her heart with her eyes closed, “Jesus Be a Fence Around Me Every Day,” when she detected a streak of light flash around the car. The driver must have fallen asleep, she thought, “as the car had left the road and stopped just on the edge of a small cliff that was deep enough to have killed or injured all of us if the car had gone any farther. Thank God, not one of us was hurt for we were protected by the fence of God that kept us from falling.”
She vividly describes a trip to Jerusalem, which she said was an amazing experience. The group entered the upper room, saw habits given up, souls rededicated to God and many refilled with the Holy Spirit. She drank water from a well where Jacob took time to converse with a woman he met there, and a whole city was converted. They passed the area where Christ raised the widow’s son, stopped at the Jordan River where John baptized Jesus and the group had a baptismal service. They journeyed to Tiberius and had a tasty lunch of Peter’s fish at a “tibituz” (restaurant) and cruised the Sea of Galilee by boat, which was the scene of the miracle of fishes. They crossed over into Capernaum where Jesus cast out an unclean spirit and healed a man from demons and where He called to Andrew, Simon, James and John to be his disciples. They traveled to Tobgha, place of the loaves and fishes, stopped at Magda, home of Mary Magdalene and went into cana of Galilee, scene of the first miracle of Jesus and saw the watering pots that held the water that Jesus turned into wine.
She describes much more of the trip, and after reading it, you’ll feel as if you’ve traveled there with her. She says she still gets chills remembering the wonderful places she visited and encourages others not to put off traveling and seeing things they want to see and do.
The final pages of the 37-page, 8×10-inch book consists of her personal testimonies, scripture, acrostic prose, her personal quotes, the first of which is “The very first and most precious gift that was ever given was the love of God.” The final page consists of her personal remarks and dedication to her family where she gives “all praise, thanksgiving and honor to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who is the head and strength of my life!”
Some ask why she did the book and her answer is, “It is my life, my family, my love of Jesus Christ and inspiration from the Holy Spirit. By sharing I hope to encourage and inspire from the Holy Spirit. By sharing I hope to encourage and inspire (others) to live your life to the fullest and that you can make a difference in this world. It is important to honor and put God first in all that you do.
“I may not have had the most exciting or memorable life compared to others, but I used all of my abilities and gifts with inspiration from my faith in Jesus Christ,” she wrote. “I hope that wisdom is imparted to you and it will help guide you along the way. We often do not take time to speak of our history and heritage with our children. Mothers and fathers, tell them where you came from and direct them in the way they should go. I pray I have done that in this snapshot of my life.”
This story published in The News Reporter Monday, August 28, 2017.