“I was born in Covington County in south Alabama. When I was five, my daddy got a job at Hollingsworth and Whitney Paper Mill in Mobile, and we moved to Prichard. In those days Prichard had a park, a zoo, and a big celebration every 4th of July with a greased pig and fireworks.
Daddy built us a house on Section Street and later another one on Bay Bridge Road. We didn’t have a car and walked at least a mile every Sunday to Plateau Baptist Church – later I played the piano and organ there. I fell in love with Jesus at age 9 at this church and He has been my best friend all of these years. We also walked to Vigor High School. Our senior class was the last in the 11-year school system. The following year, everyone had to go for 12 years.
After high school, I went to Judson College in Marion, AL. One weekend, my roommate and I went with our suitemate to visit her home in Pickens County. There was nothing to do but ride in the car, and a group of boys drove us around and showed us the sites. One of the boys liked my roommate, so my suitemate told him he had to come back with someone for me. He stopped by the pool hall in Aliceville and picked up James; we hit it off, and James started visiting me in Marion.
I married James that fall and got my Mrs. degree instead of my bachelor’s degree. James went into the Army and became a paratrooper. Just before leaving on a tour of duty in Japan, I found out I was pregnant with our first child. It wasn’t easy having our first baby while James was overseas.
I was pregnant with our second son close to James’ discharge date. We wanted to have the baby while we were still on the base, and our landlord told me to drink castor oil because it might cause me to go into labor. It worked. Our son was born the day before discharge.
We moved to Pickens County in 1957, and I have been here almost ever since. Jobs became hard to find, so we briefly moved to Mobile for James to work at Brookley Air Field. We had been in Mobile for about a year when James’ brother was burned in a fire; he died a few days later. James felt his duty was to move back to Aliceville, take over the dairy farm, and support his brother’s wife and children. Our oldest boys helped their daddy early in the morning and late at night.
We eventually sold the dairy, and James returned to a salary job in Columbus, Ms. He put his paycheck in his white shirt pocket a couple of times and forgot to take it out. I put the shirt in the washing machine and washed the paycheck- both times. James learned not to leave his paycheck in his pocket again.
The country is a good place to raise children. We built this house in 1970 with seven kids and just one bathroom and one shower tub. We also had a big garden and cows. When our kids were growing up, God showed me I was responsible for their spiritual and physical development. My family became my mission field.
I also helped provide for them. We needed more income, so I called a probate judge friend and asked if he knew of any job openings. I got a job putting all the county probate records on microfilm- working in the basement. I taught piano lessons at our school in a little closet converted to a piano studio and have been the organist and/or pianist at Carrollton Baptist Church for over 30 years. A few years after I started playing the organ, I also became the church administrative assistant. That was my calling; I loved helping people.
A federal prison opened in Aliceville, and our director of missions wanted to start a prison ministry with women who would be getting out in a year or two. We began holding worship services there, and I found that most of these women were beautiful inside and out, but had made a bad mistake, often drug-related. Many of the women were mothers, and my heart went out to them. After the main prison opened, I continued volunteering in a ministry called Rubies for Life. This program continued until COVID hit, and we couldn’t enter the prison. Last year we were able to go back in as mentors with a new program.
My husband and I also helped start the fire department in Sapps. There was a house fire on this road, and it took forever for a fire truck to get here because we are so far out. We incorporated the fire department in 1986, and I was elected treasurer; I am still the treasurer. I went through the training with the fire college and would put on the gear and go out on the calls. I can still drive the firetruck and operate the pump, but I can’t pull the hoses anymore. Most of our calls are medical. Usually our fire department can be on scene until the ambulance arrives. Our hospital closed several years ago and now emergencies are transported to the closest hospital in Columbus, MS, or to Tuscaloosa. Often Air Evac flight helicopters are the best option. Losing the hospital is a catastrophic change in our community, and we are praying they soon reopen the emergency room at Carrollton; it is desperately needed.
James and I were married for 53 years when he was in a single-car accident on the way to meet me to go to the dentist. I was working at the church and knew it was about time for him to arrive. I heard an ambulance take off, so I got in my car and followed it a little ways, but returned to the church so I wouldn’t miss James. I had an emergency radio at my desk and heard the dispatcher say, ‘We tried to reach Ms. Hall and couldn’t get her.’ The Carrollton police chief then came to see me and told me to get to the hospital. Unfortunately, James’ neck was broken in the crash and he died a day-and-a-half later. It was the saddest day of my life. But, God was with me.
James died in 2007, and I was elected fire chief after his death. I had been a fireman for about 20 years and knew how everything worked. It also gave me something else to think about. In 2011 I was honored with the Pickens County Fire Fighter of the Year Award. I am now 87 and still serve as fire chief, but they need a younger leader, so retirement will be coming soon.
God has blessed me with so much and a long life, but losing the people I love is hard.
About three years after James died, I reconnected with a former classmate from Vigor High School. We had lost the spouses we dearly loved and helped each other through the grief. It is hard to go places by yourself as a widow, so we did many things and had a wonderful time together. Laughing and talking for hours felt so good. He lived in Tuscaloosa and introduced me to Alabama football and gymnastics. He died suddenly on Christmas Day of last year. Once again, death knocked the props out from under me, but I would do it all over again.
God has been so good to me all these years. I like sitting on my deck in the morning, watching the birds and reading my Bible. I have a little garden with tomatoes, pepper and cucumbers.
I have a motto, ‘I would rather wear out than rust out.’ My body is fast wearing out! My greatest joy in life has been my music and my big family with 26 grandchildren, 27 great-grandchildren and 1 great-great-grandchild. If it hadn’t been for the Lord, I wouldn’t have made it this far. I know my guardian angel will be worn out by the time I get to heaven.”