It quickly became apparent that Vera (she insisted that we call her Vera) was the genuine article. A real North Carolina mountain woman. We chatted for quite some time and found that we had many things in common. I could have listened to her all day, but too soon she had to leave. Before she left, she asked us how old we thought she was. We absolutely declined to hazard a guess. (Been burned with that one before.) "Well," she said, "If the good Lord sees fit, I'll be 97 on August 19th." We were appropriately surprised. She is both physically and mentally in very good health. Holding herself erect, she didn't even use a cane.
(Photograph from The Transylvania Times, taken last month)
We soon discovered that Vera Stinson is a living legend around here. She was born August 19, 1910 in Cedar Mountain, not far from where we live. William Howard Taft was the President and the United States population was 92 million. The average life expectancy for women was 51.8 years of age. The average annual salary was $750.00.
Vera, widely known as a keeper of oral history started writing a book at age 90. The book's title gives some insight into Vera's love for words. She chose Stumbling Blocks Were Stepping Stones in Appalachia because her family always met their challenges and crises and overcame them.
This is Vera's book. Her parents are pictured on the cover standing in front of the "old homeplace."
(This photograph is our own copy. She inscribed it: 'Best wishes to R and Carolyn; friends of mine from Cinti, Ohio.' She had been delighted that we once had lived in Cincinnati and she had lived there as well, so that made us her friends from Cinti.)
The book tells the story of her family, and of life in the mountains so long ago. It is filled with anecdotes and while it may not be great literature, it gives a reflection of life in the mountains over the last century. It tells of a time when singing, talking and story telling made up the evenings in family circles around the fire. Vera clearly loves to tell stories and who cares if they are embellished a bit?
Vera gives the following advice in her book:
"Don't begin to write a book when you are ninety years old and complete it when you are ninety-five. At this age your mind plays tricks on you...as you read, try to imagine how it was to grow up in a family of ten in what was then a wilderness...I'll admit that writing these stories was more difficult than telling. When I tell my stories, you hear my enthusiasm for my mountains. As you read my story, I hope the words will convey what my heart feels for these hills."
Vera, I don't think your mind is playing any tricks on you yet. And we do feel the enthusiasm as we read the stories.
HAPPY 100th BIRTHDAY, VERA!