REMEMBER WHEN: Helion Motes reflects on parents, grandparents teachings

Published 2:00 am Saturday, July 4, 2015

Messenger Photo/Scottie Brown  Helion Motes looks at pictures from the past and reflects on memories of her parents and grandparents and how their times in the Great Depression had an impact on how they raised her.

Messenger Photo/Scottie Brown
Helion Motes looks at pictures from the past and reflects on memories of her parents and grandparents and how their times in the Great Depression had an impact on how they raised her.

As the country celebrates its independence this weekend, many senior Americans will look back and remember a time when it seemed as if there was little hope for better times. Even with the turmoil that is sweeping the country today, older Americans know that America is a blessed country and that, even with all of its problems, it is still the greatest country in the world.

For they are products of those hard times. Their families lived through the Great Depression and survived to become the Greatest Generation this country has ever known.

The Great Depression began in Aug. 1929 when the United States went into an economic recession. Then, the Wall Street Crash in October marked the beginning of a decade of high unemployment, poverty, plunging farm incomes and lost opportunities for economic growth and personal advancement.

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That decade and the times that followed crafted a lifestyle for Americans that was passed down through several generations.

Helion Motes’ grandparents and parents were products of those times and their ways of life helped shaped her attitudes and outlook on life.

Motes’ grandmother died when her mother was only six months old. Her grandfather was left with an infant and four other young children.

“The story is that my granddaddy ‘needed’ a wife so he went out looking for one,” Motes said, with a smile. “Someone told him about an old maid, who lived over in Honoraville. By that time, the baby was 11 months old. My grandfather asked Mary Lee Davidson if she would marry him and she said, yes. So, she went home to him and five children.”

The couple had five more children. The former old maid was a good mother to all 10 of the children and became “Granny” to Motes and the other grandchildren in the family.

When Motes’ grandfather died, her Granny broke up house keeping and went to live “around” with the children.

“She would stay a certain length of time with each of their 10 children,” Motes said. “Five of the children didn’t have any children of their own. Each of the others had several children.  Granny liked to stay longer at the houses where there were no children.

“There were seven of us children, five girls and two boys. We loved Granny being at our house. Mama made more of an effort to fix better things to eat. We had a lot more pies when Granny was there.”

Motes’ dad, Thomas Wilson Craft was 15 years older than her mother, Eula Idell Amanda Head.

“To me, Daddy was always an old man,” Motes said. “He was as old or older than most of my friends’ granddaddies.”

Motes’ said her daddy was as funny as could be but her mother was the serious kind and she handled all the discipline.

“If we were playing out in the yard and got to cutting up, Daddy could be sitting right there on the porch and he’d call Mama to ‘come see about the children.’”

Motes said her dad only whipped her two times.

“Both times, because Mama told him to,” she said, laughing. “But, Mama spanked me on my behind 10 times a day.”

Motes said, as with most men of those times, her dad did nothing around the house.

“But I never heard my parents fuss about anything,” she said. “I’m sure they didn’t always agree but they never fussed around us. Sometimes, Daddy would do something that Mama didn’t like and she would say, ‘Tommy, be ashamed.’ But that was the most disagreeable thing I ever heard between them.”

Motes said her daddy and mama met at a dance and Daddy wanted to court her mom but her granddaddy wouldn’t allow it.

“He said Mama was too young. She was only 22,” Motes said. “Daddy went away but came back two years later when she was 24. My granddaddy said she was old enough and they got married and we to live with him until they had two children. Then, they moved to their own home and Mama said moving came way too late.”

Tom Craft was a farmer and, “from the word go,” his bride was a part of it.

“Whatever needed to be done, Mama did it. From feeding the animals to working in the fields, Mama didn’t back away from anything that had to be done.”

From the day their first baby was born, Idell Craft got up a four o’clock every day. She cooked breakfast and got an early start to a long day.

“Mama would go to the field and work just like Daddy,” Motes said. “She would take a quilt and spread it out at the edge of the field near where she would be picking cotton or doing whatever kind of field work. She would put the baby on the quilt and go to the field.

“Mama was a fast worker and she picked two rows of cotton at a time. If the rows were long, she would pick halfway down and go back up. That way she could keep an eye on the baby. When it was time, she would leave the field and go nurse the baby and then go back to the field. As more children came along, the older children would be assigned to watch the baby while Mama worked.”

Before dinnertime, Idell Craft would leave the field and go home to cook dinner.

“Mama could stop along the road and pick blackberries and put them in her hat,” Motes said. “She would have berries to make pie for dinner. She would go to the garden and gather whatever vegetable she wanted to cook for dinner. She would shell the pea or beans and get everything done by time Daddy and the older children got to the house.”

While his wife got the dinner put away and the children tended to, Tom Craft would take a straight chair, turn it upside down, lean it against the porch wall and put a pillow on the back. Then he would stretch out and take a nap before going back to the field.

“Mama would put what was left from dinner in the oven and go back to the field, too,” Motes said. “Just before it got dark, Mama would go to the house to milk the cow and feed the chickens and get supper out.”

When Motes was 11 years old, her family moved from Ansley to a house in downtown Shellhorn. She liked living in town, but Tom Craft had always wanted a place of his own and, finally, he got the chance.

“My brothers, Vernon and Robert, had been in the Army and they had sent their allotment home to Mama to help her out but she never spent a penny of their money. When they got home, she had their money in the bank for them. That’s how they had money to help Daddy buy the house and land in Russell County. 
I’d never seen a house as beautiful as the one Daddy and the boys bought,” Motes said. “I thought we were rich. The walls were tongue and groove. Every room had a fireplace. We had bedrooms and a living room and a dining room and kitchen – with a sink. A sink for goodness sake. But we didn’t have a bathroom. Not until I got married to Boy Motes.”

When Tom Craft got too old to farm, he and Idell moved to Auburn and later back to Pike County.

“Their house in Auburn was right were the stadium is today,” Motes said. “Can you believe that? Right where the stadium is.”

Tom Craft died in 1969, and Idell Craft died in 1987.

“Mama never had a car and she never learned to drive, but she never missed church. Someone would always pick her up and take her. She never wanted for more than she had and she was devoted to her husband.

“Daddy didn’t take a bath but once a week,” Motes said. “Every night, Mama would wet a rag and take it to him so he could wash his feet. She would turn back the cover on the bed every night for him. If for some reason, he got ready for bed before she had turned the cover back, he would call for her to ‘come make my bed.’ Daddy died when he was 89 years old and not one night since he got married had he turned back the cover on his bed. My mama was an amazing woman.”