Times change

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 21, 2001

McCall is 100 years young

Ethel McCall of 1107 Hill Circle in Greenville has quite an important occasion coming up on Tuesday, April 24th, 2001.

"I'm coming up on a very, very important birthday, and not many people make it that far," this petite lady proudly says, a sunny smile crossing her fine-boned dark face.

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Indeed, she will be 100 years old on that day.

Ms. McCall's faded eyes can no longer see and she freely admits needing some assistance in getting around these days.

Nonetheless, she's still got spunk and spirit and enjoys the chance to speak candidly of her century full of memories.

"I've been in these parts [Butler County] all my life . . . I was bred and born out in the Pine Top' Settlement with my two brothers on a farm.

Grew up picking and hoeing cotton, cutting cane," recalls Miss McCall.

Long days of back-breaking work in the field left little time for book learning. "We didn't always get a chance to go to school, but then the school years for us were only three months, and then not all the time [during those months].

Some of us were smart enough to learn enough pretty quick-I was part of that bunch who wasn't," she says with a shrug and sheepish grin. "Oh, you learned well enough," chimes in her proud granddaughter, Catherine Simpson.

As a black woman, Ms. McCall well remembers a time when certain social and political freedoms enjoyed now could only to be imagined.

"Oh, yes, I can remember the day when you [as a white woman] wouldn't have dreamed of coming in my living room and sitting down to talk with me . . . and I sure couldn't have visited your house and come in by way of the front door," she says.

For Ms. McCall and many of her people, life in the old days was tough. ("Now let me say all the white folks weren't rich, either-there was a lot of us out there struggling.")

You didn't give up, though; you made the best of what life dealt you. "If a black woman had a nursing baby, f'r instance, she'd breast feed the child, then turn him over to the older children with a bottle of sugar water for the little one, because the mother had to go work all day in the field.

Children had to learn young to take care of themselves and one another.

"Food left from white families' tables wouldn't be thrown away . . . it was sent home for the black children to eat. White ladies used to pass their old clothes to black women who would cut out the best parts of the fabric and make clothing for their children . . . it is altogether different now. We are living in a new day and a new world," she muses.

Yes, more things have changed in her 100 years, Ms. McCall says, than she can "keep in her head".

Still she's managed to share interesting stories, like the ones about those terrifying early "horseless carriages" and the unhurried making of "old-time" pure cane syrup, with her kith and kin over the decades.

A longtime active member of St Paul Baptist Church, she attended services faithfully for years.

Illness and a hospitalization a few months ago have since kept her more or less housebound.

Times, she says, have changed in God's house, too. "I remember the days when folks were called up before the congregation for drunkenness and such . . . now it seems like folks can do anything they like," Ms. McCall notes. "To live right the best way I could" has always been this extraordinary lady's motto.

"I feel like God is keeping me here for a purpose.

Honestly, some years were good, some weren't. I didn't get to see and do all the things I woulda liked to. I can't hide things from God so I got no need to try to hide them from you . . . but I'd say, oh yes, I've been blessed."

A long life, lived well, can certainly be a blessing- and a lesson- to others.

Happy Birthday, Ethel McCall.