“Is Mama dead? Let me know at once.”

In this interview, Hattie Henderson Ricks (1910-2001) spoke of how she received news of the sudden death of her great-aunt, who was also her adoptive mother:

“Mama didn’t know she had a bad heart until two weeks before she died.  She was always sick, sick all the time.  She’d go to the doctor, and the doctor would tell her it was indigestion and for her not to eat no pork and different things she couldn’t eat.  ‘Cause Mama was fat.  She weighed 200.  She wasn’t too short.  She was just broad.  Well, she was five-feet-four, I think.  Something like that.

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Sarah Henderson Jacobs Silver, circa 1931.

“And so, but she loved pork, and she’d try to eat some anyhow ‘cause we always had a hog, growing up.  All the time.  So after they said she couldn’t, she tried not to eat no pork, much.  Fish and chicken, we eat it all the time.  But she was so tired of chicken until she didn’t know what to do.  And I was, too. But Papa loved all pork, so he’d always get a whole half a shoulder or a ham or something and cook it, and she’d eat some.  But when she went to the doctor, and her pressure was up so high, and he told her, ‘By all means, don’t you eat no pork.  It’s dangerous to eat pork when your pressure is too high.’ And then that’s when she stopped eating pork.

“Well, it didn’t help none, I don’t reckon. She had that little bag.  A little basket.  A little, old basket ‘bout that tall with a handle on it.  She had all kinds of medicine in there to take. She was going up to Mamie’s, and Mr. Silver told her, said, ‘Well, you just take your medicine bag.’  She’d been married to him a good while.  He said, ‘Well, you shouldn’t go up there by yourself. Since I’m down here—’  See, she’d go up and stay with him a little while, and then he’d come back to Wilson and stay a while.  So he said, ‘You just take your little basket there with your medicine in it.’  So, he said, ‘Well, I’ll go with you up there and then I’ll come back on to Enfield.’  So he went with her down there to the station.  He was picking up the bags to go up there, told her to walk on up to the station and wait for the train.  And he got a cab — C.E. Artis. Not C.E. Artis, not undertaker Artis but a Artis that drove a cab. This was another set of Artises.

“So, she went up there to the station in Wilson and got on the train. And she’d done told me to send her insurance and everything to Greensboro, ‘cause she won’t never coming back to Wilson no more.  Because she’d done seen, the Lord showed her if she stayed in Wilson, she wouldn’t live.  If she went ‘way from there, she could get well.  So she was going to Mamie’s.  And when she got off at Selma to change trains –- she’d just got to the station door.  And she collapsed right there.  And by happen they had a wheelchair, a luggage thing or something.  The guy out there, he got to her, and he called the coroner or somebody, but he was some time getting there.  But anyway, they picked her up and sat her in the wheelchair.  They didn’t want her to be out ‘cause everybody was out looking and carrying on, so they just pushed her ‘round there to the baggage room.

“And so when the coroner got there, he said, ‘This woman’s dead.’  So they called Albert Gay, and he was working for Artis then.  Undertaker Artis.  And Jimbo Barnes.  And called them and told them that she was dead.  So, Mr. Silver couldn’t even tell them who to notify.  He had Mamie living in Thelma, North Carolina, on McCullough Street, but didn’t know what the number of the house was. He was so upset.  So they had to call the police for the police to go find Mamie Holt.  On McCullough Street.  And her mother, they said, her mother died.  Well, she did die.  But they said it was, I think, Thelma.  Not Selma, but Thelma.  ‘Well, where is Thelma?  It can’t be my mother. ‘Cause my mother don’t live in no Thelma.  I never heard of that place.  She live in Wilson.’  But, see, it was Selma.  They got it wrong.

Screen Shot 2019-01-06 at 9.42.06 PM.png

Selma Union Depot today, Selma, North Carolina

“So then Mamie went down to Smitty’s house and had Miss Smitty send a telegram to me.  On the phone.  Charge it to her bill, and she’d pay her: ‘IS MAMA DEAD LET ME KNOW AT ONCE’  She asked me if Mama was dead.  And when I got that telegram, Annie Miriam and all them, a bunch of kids was out there on the porch, and so at that time, Jimbo or one of ‘em come up.  And when I saw them, I knowed something.  I had just got the telegram.  Hadn’t even really got time to read it. And he said, ‘Well, you done got the news.’  And I said, ‘The news?  Well, I got a old, crazy telegram here from my sister, asking me is Mama dead, let her know at once.’  He said, ‘Yeah, we just, we brought her back from Selma.’  I said, ‘What in the – ‘  Well, I went to crying.  And Albert Gay or some of the children was ‘round there, and they was running. Everybody in the whole street almost was out in the yard – the children got the news and gone!  That Mama had dropped dead in Selma.  So I said, well, by getting that telegram, I said, that’s what threw me, honey.  I wasn’t ready for that. I’d been saying I reckon Mamie’ll think Mama was a ghost when she come walking in there tonight. Not knowing she was dead right at the same time.”

—–

  • Mamie — Mamie Henderson Holt, sister of Hattie Henderson Ricks.
  • Mr. Silver — Rev. Joseph Silver Sr. helped establish the Holiness denomination in eastern North Carolina, founding Plumbline United Holy Church in Halifax County in 1893. Rev. Silver married Sarah Henderson Jacobs, herself an evangelist, in Wilson on 31 August 1933. The couple alternated between his home in Enfield and hers in Wilson.

  • C.E. Artis — Columbus E. Artis.
  • Jimbo Barnes — probably James “Jimbo” Watson Jr., whose 30 November 1974 obituary in the Wilson Daily Times noted that he was a former Artis Funeral Home employee.
  • Albert Gay — Albert S. Gay Jr., son of Albert and Annie Bell Jacobs Gay and grandson of Sarah Silver’s first husband Jesse A. Jacobs.
  • Annie Miriam — Annie Marian Gay, daughter of Albert and Annie Bell Jacobs Gay.

Interview of Hattie H. Ricks by Lisa Y. Henderson, all rights reserved; photo of Sarah H.J. Silver in personal collection of Lisa Y. Henderson; photo of Rev. Silver courtesy of Ancestry.com user lexxee52.

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