I was raised in the largest
un-incorporated city in the world, Kannapolis, NC, but my summers were spent
with my paternal grandparents in Danielsville, Ga. I had the better of two
worlds. I lived in a small city that gave you every advantage of the big city,
except for the fact you knew all your neighbors. And then I was fortunate enough
to experience farm life in rural Georgia before the era of electric lights,
telephones or radios. My fondest memories occurred at the feet of my
grandparents who had the time to talk to me & tell me of their memories &
allowed me to fall into their footsteps as I learned about a world that was
foreign to me.
Some Mornings Never Come
It was March 1968. My daughter, Ruth, was 19 months old.
We were living in the house where I was born, with my parents and my 96 year old
When I was a young girl, I spent a good bit of every
summer in Danielsville, Ga. with my grandparents, Charlie and Savannah Collins.
They had a dog that I remember well. Her name was Tippie. She was a feist and
boy oh boy was she ever feisty. Tippie and I played at the base of a huge
mulberry tree. It had large protruding roots that ran atop the ground. This was
my playhouse. The only problem was, Tippie thought it was her playhouse.
Remember Papa, when I was born? "You can’t name her
Charles, Charlotte it’ll be; for she’s not a boy…..she’s a gal! Yep! This is
My grandfather, Charlie Collins, moved his family
to their new home in 1904. It is where I now live and I call it the
HOUSE ON THE HILL.
When enough is too much
My grandfather, Charlie Collins, was the most easy going man I’ve ever known. He was honest to a fault. He had rather be cheated than to cheat another person. He did business with a handshake. His word was his bond. I never even heard him raise his voice or speak a word in anger.
Everyone I ever heard speak of him always spoke highly of him. He was always good natured and loved a good belly laugh. He was the kind that didn’t talk till he had something to say. No chitchat; just straight talk.
I was talking with my dad, George Collins, one day about Papa’s sweet nature and he agreed. He said Papa was always slow to anger and never lost his temper. He would just politely walk away from an argument, that is, except just one time and he remembered that time real well; just like yesterday.
Dad said he was about 6 years old when it happened. This is his story:
Papa’s wife was the former Savannah Beard. Her sister, Samantha, was married to James Olie Fowler. Everyone called her "Mainty". They lived about a mile apart from each other. Samantha ran the local telephone company out of her house. The phones were the big wooden telephones that hung on the wall and you picked up the receiver and then turned a handle that made a bell ring and the operator would answer and say ‘CENTRAL". Then you told her who you wanted to talk to. No number, just the name. Samantha was ‘CENTRAL’.
My grandfather, Charlie, was the telephone lineman. He put up the poles and ran the lines from one house to another. When repairs were necessary he climbed the poles and made the repairs. Those pole climbers are in the attic of my house.
Olie and Mainty’s second child, Wortie Savannah, (named after my grandmother), had married Hoyt Dudley and moved to South Georgia. They had a little girl named Janie. Things never went well with Hoyt. Several years after this incident that I’m about to tell, he stole my grandfather’s new T Model Ford in Athens and was never seen or heard from again. At the time I’m writing about, he had abandoned Wortie and his child and left them in dire poverty. Wortie wrote her parents of her situation and wanted to come home.
Olie came to his brother-in-law, Charlie, and asked him if he would go in this truck after them and if he would bring them and her belongings home, he would pay him for his time and trouble. Papa agreed and left on the long journey south. You have to keep in mind that Hwy. 29 was not paved until 1932 and this was around 1915. I don’t think any of the State Highways were paved at that time. Some of the cities had cobble stone streets, including Athens, but out of town you hit the dirt roads again.
I’m not sure how long the trip took. I would think the better part of 2 days one way. There were no motels, restaurants, or rest rooms along the way. I’m sure Granny packed a good supply of ham biscuits and fried chicken, but not enough I’m sure for the return trip.
When Papa found Wortie, it was worse than he had ever imagined. They had no food at all. The child was nearly starving. When he was loading what little furniture they had he found meat that she had hidden in the mattress. It was full of maggots!!
The trip home seemed longer now that there was a woman and a child in the truck. I’m sure they found food some where along the way at a country store somewhere. They always had bananas, Johnnie Cakes, cheese, crackers and soft drinks.
They finally arrived home and Papa asked Olie for the money he promised for his time, gas and other expenses. Remember, this was a four day journey. Money was tight for Papa. He had a wife and 5 children at home to feed. Olie said he didn’t have it right now, but would pay him later. The days, the weeks, the months stole by and now it was years. The answer was always the same. "I don’t have it now."
Papa let Daddy go with him to the Bond Gin to get his cotton weighed and ginned. The Gin was just up the road from Papa’s house on the road to John Beard’s house. Daddy was only about 6 years old and this was a real experience for him. He got to hold the reigns on the mules that pulled the loaded wagon.
It was a busy day at the Gin. The yard was filled with loaded wagons lined up for their turn. Papa was up on his wagon getting the cotton ready to be weighed when Olie came in the Gin yard with his cotton. Olie came over to Papa’s wagon and climbed up on it to talk to him. Papa decided it was the right day to ask him for his money because he knew he wouldn’t have an excuse. He would have the money!
Olie’s answer to papa was the wrong one. He said "I’m not going to pay you! I never had any intention of paying you in the first place!" Before the words were out of his mouth good, Olie was lying on the ground with blood coming our of his ear. It was later determined that he lost the hearing in that ear that day.
Dad saw the whole thing, as well as half the community. Most of the men were glad to see Olie get what was coming to him. He had already earned a reputation for not keeping his word. Papa said he never would have believed he had hit him if he had not seen him on the ground. He didn’t remember passing the blow…. I guess that’s what they call "temporary insanity" or "the straw that broke the camel’ s back" or "THE BLOW THAT OLIE NEVER HEARD." Papa always said "enough of anything is enough ", but in this case ENOUGH WAS TOO MUCH!
The Day Papa Mooned a Snake
My grandfather was Charlie Collins. He was born 1873 and died 1968. To me, he was just Papa and his wife, Savannah, called Vanna, was just my Granny. The two of them raised their six children on the farm the bought in 1904. Together, the family was self sufficient. They raised cotton as a cash crop and corn and wheat for their bread and they had every kind of vegetable. They raised cows for milk and butter, chickens for eggs and food. They also raised pigs and goats for food.
Granny and her four girls worked in the garden and Papa and the two boys worked in the fields. Granny and the girls did all the cooking on a wood stove and they canned and preserved their food for the winter. Papa killed the hogs and cows in the winter and put them in the smokehouse for curing.
They grew apples, peaches, pears, figs and plum trees. Life on the farm kept everyone busy year round. In the winter by the fire, the girls pieced quilts from their old dresses and the boy’s old shirts and any other material they could find. When they were finished, the quilt racks were hung from the ceiling and friends and neighbors would come in for a quilting party. They embroidered pillow cases and doilies and dresser scarves. They made all their dresses and underclothes as well. They made shirts for papa and the boys. If material was scarce they made their clothes as well as sheets and towels out of feed and flour sacks.
Life was hard for them but it had its good times too. Winter nights were spent by the fireplace reading and popping popcorn in a long handled basket. Sometimes Papa played the fiddle and everyone sang and danced around. Other times it was story telling time. Everyone was involved in the telling of stories. Papa would tell of his father’s experiences in the Civil War and Granny would tell of her father, Bill Beard, and how he was seriously wounded in the head in the War and then she told about her Grandfather, Dickie Fortson, and how his wife, Lucy Jane, rode a horse to Richmond, Va. to bring her husband home from the Military Hospital. She said Lucy was so fearless that no Yankee dared to bother her. To this day, the headstrong girls in our extended family are called LUCY JANE.
Other stories would begin with "Do you remember when…….?" The story teller would hold their audience in the palm of their hand as they embellished the stories by acting out the rolls. Roars of laughter always followed each story.
Many years later as all the siblings grew up and had their own families, the custom of telling stories continued. Family reunions were a riot of laughter as one sister would tell a childhood story on one of the others.
My best friend, Betty Ruth, and I were witnesses to an event when we were in our teens that we still laugh about today. And we loved Papa’s theatrical gyrations as he would re-in-act the event at every reunion.
This is the story:
"Do you remember the time that snake crawled up my overalls pant leg?" Then everyone burst into laughter as he demonstrated the experience. It sent chills up my spine and at the same time found me rolling in laughter.
It seems Papa was plowing the cotton field just below the house when he felt something crawling up his leg. He shook his leg thinking whatever it was would fall away but it didn’t. He stopped the mule and laid the plow down and began to feel around his leg. His heart nearly failed as he realized a snake was crawling up his leg under his pants leg.
What to do??? He had his hand on the snake through his overalls. He had do idea what kind of snake or how long it was. How to get it out??? Papa worked his fingers up on the outside of his pants till he got to the snakes head. He clamped it tight. Then he unfastened his gallowses with the other hand. Still holding the snake by his head he let his overalls drop slowly to the ground.
There he was! In the middle of a field, in sight of the road, naked from his shirt down. HIS MOON WAS SHINNING. I don’t know if the snake caught sight of the moon as he departed this life or not, but that’s how PAPA MOONED A SNAKE.
A FIRM FOUNDATION
I don’t remember my great-grandfather, Nelson Collins. He died in February of 1932, six months before I was born. He was born 1849. From his photographs I can see that he was a very tall and handsome man. He had a peg-leg in an early family photo and was wearing an artificial leg in a later photo. He was a very distinguished looking man. He lost his leg in a wagon accident when he was thirty years old.
From his obituary and other items I found in newspapers, I learned what others knew of him. He was the Tax Commissioner of Madison County, Ga. He was proclaimed as a very competent and honest man; his books always in perfect order. He was known in the county, according to his obituary, as "one of Madison County’s most respected citizens." His church spoke of him as a true Christian, a faithful husband and loving father. From these accounts and personal stories told to me by his son, my grandfather, he was a man of great faith. He and his family were members of Jones Chapel Methodist Church, eight miles north of Danielsville.
It was evident to me that Nelson had instilled that faith and his virtues in his only son, Charlie Collins, who was born in 1872. Charlie's life exemplified his Christian heritage. He instilled that same faith in his children as well, especially in his son, George, who was my father.
My earliest memory of my grandfather Charlie, is of him rocking me in his great big rocker and singing "Bye Baby Bunting" and "The Mocking Bird Song." He was always my protector. I knew his love for me was unconditional. I could see that love in his twinkling eyes and I could hear it in his voice. I was special, I was his and he was mine. I think of that relationship many times as I try to envision how God loves me. It always boggles my mind when I think of a Holy God loving me and yet KNOWING me; faults and all. I can’t conceive it! It’s too wonderful. And yet, when I remember Papa holding me in his arms and his adoring eyes and his comforting voice, I remember how safe I felt. I wallowed in his love for me. I do the same today when I bask in God’s love, thanks to my grandfather’s example, though it still leaves me in awe.
Papa was a good man; a Godly man; but not a perfect man, except perhaps to me and his wife, Vanna. She adored him. She loved him desperately and showed it in every way. He was the head of the house. The king on his throne! She saw that his subjects always paid him the honor he was due. Her table would be set with an abundance of food she had gathered or canned and hungry kids and grand kids were ready to have a feast but -- not until Charlie sat down at the head of the table. A biscuit or sweet potato would hold us over till he came in from the fields. He was met with a fresh dipper of cold water for his thirst, fresh water in the wash pan on the porch to clean his face and hands and then a foot tub of sun warmed water to wash his feet. That was my job.
No one came into Granny’s house with dirty hands, feet or face. If you were going to respect the king, you would also respect the queen.
The queen met the king one Sunday at Jones Chapel Methodist Church. Actually, she didn’t meet him. She only saw him. She asked a friend "Who is that tall skinny man over there by that wagon?" The friend answered "Why that’s Charlie Collins." Vanna said "Well that’s the man I’m going to marry." Her friend said "No, You’re not! He’s already engaged." Vanna said "You just wait and see!" It was love at first sight for Charlie too and I guess it was a good thing because Vanna was a very determined young lady.
They were married October 27, 1893 and celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 1943 by renewing their vows on their front porch, in front of their children and grandchildren. The son of the minister who married them in 1893 repeated the ceremony in 1943. The wedding party was the same. Norman & Mary McEwen stood again as their witnesses. Their love for each other was apparent to all who knew them. They were caught time after time holding hands and kissing right up to the time the queen died in 1958.
Charlie lived another ten years to everyone’s amazement. We all thought he would sit down and grieve himself to death. To the contrary! My mother, Ruth Collins, had to be hospitalized the day of Vanna’s funeral. She passed out at the church. She was exhausted physically, mentally and emotionally from many years of caring for her mother-in-law and was over-come by grief and relief coming at the same time.
I carried papa home to settle him in to rest and was going to rush to the hospital to see about mother. Papa would not hear of resting. He was going to the hospital to see about my mother. He said "It’s time to bury the dead and see about the living." I was stunned! Though his grief was unbearable, he put it aside. He was needed! He was never known to know self-pity. To feel sorry for himself was a foreign idea. Though, if anyone was eligible to engage in those feelings it was surely Charlie Collins.
Nelson, Charlie’s father, lost his leg in an accident when Charlie was only seven years old. He had to learn to plow a mule and bring in all the crops so the family could survive. He became the "man of the house" though he was only a child. As the other children were born; Eugenia, Lecie, Frances, and Alice, Charlie continued to make sacrifices and worked much too hard for a mere boy, to see that there was food to eat. His father grew able to do many chores, but plowing and working in the fields was always Charlie’s job.
When Charlie married Savannah Beard, he became the Superintendent of the Paupers Farm in Danielsville. Their family began growing and they needed a larger house. The Easom Bond Estate came up for sale and Vanna took her inheritance from her father’s estate and they bought the Bond Place. They added on to the home and built a separate apartment for his parents, Nelson and Mary "Babe" Moon Collins. Charlie’s youngest child, George, as born in their new home.
Eventually, many years later, two of Charlie’s sisters concocted a plan that rocked my grandfather's world. They taunted Nelson, their father, and told him that as soon as their mother died, Vanna would have him thrown out. He became so sullen that Charlie decided to add his father’s name to the deed to appease him and to make him feel secure. The sister’s plot had succeeded! When the parents died the sisters demanded one half of the estate.
My parents, George and Ruth Collins, had built a new home in Kannapolis, NC. They had to sell their home to buy the Collins Home Place to pay off the sisters because Charlie didn’t have the money and he would have lost his home.
Charlie did not become bitter. He became better! I’m not sure I could have done the same. If he indulged in self-pity or even thought of retaliation, no one knew it.
You know, I don’t remember seeing my grandfather read the bible, though it was always in plain sight in their bedroom. I never saw him on his knees in prayer. But I did see him take short walks and sit on a tree stump or sometimes just lean on a fence post and his face reflected a clam peace. Prayer is communion with God where ever you are. I saw in his life all the precepts that the Bible teaches.
In all my life, I never heard one person say anything bad about my grandfather. He was loved and respected by everyone who knew him. He was a man of integrity. He was honest to a fault. He was a man of noble character. His word was his bond. He did business with a handshake. The way he lived his life reflected his Christian beliefs. I know of no one who reflected the image of his master more than he did.
A few years ago, I interviewed a black man in our community, Calvin McWhorter. I was trying to get information on the black McEver family that had been the slaves of Andrew McEver, my fifth great grandfather. We had a wonderful visit and I learned much more than I had anticipated. In the middle of our visit, Calvin asked me if I was related to Charlie Collins. He said "I knew him well and his father too. Old man Nelson, he was a peg-leg man. I never knew a finer nam that Mr. Charlie and his daddy". Calvin said he used to work the bottoms below grandfathers place. I have to say I was filled with pride at his remarks.
Papa was a man of few words. He had a kind gentle spirit. He also had a wonderful sense of humor. He had to have a sense of humor to be around Granny. She was a riot. Her "Irish" came out of her in many ways, but none so wonderful as her laughter. Papa may have caught his laughter from her, but at any rate, he was never happier than when he had caused a big belly-laugh.
Matthew, Christopher and Alex, the purpose of this profile on Nelson and Charlie Collins, is to show you that a FIRM FOUNDATION has been laid for you by your forebears. It was passed on to your great-grandfather, Papa George. I tried to pass it on to your mother and I pray she passes it on to you.
King Solomon said it best in Ecclesiastes 12:13. "Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep His commandments for this is the whole duty of man." This is my prayer for you three young boys, my precious grandsons.
Compilation Copyright 1998 - Present by The GAGenWeb Project Team