January 29, 2014

Sister Mary Lourdes Johnson - Her memories, My memories

Sister Mary Lourdes JOHNSON was an unlikely family member, in many ways. We affectionately called her SML, for short. She was a very distant relation, but she was raised by my great grand father's brother, George Robert STANCIL and his wife Annie Valeria BROWNING. SML's birth mother was Annie's cousin. 

SML was a Catholic nun. Odd, for this very southern family who had been active in the Primitive Baptist Church for generations. SML converted to Catholicism in her 40s, after having run away from Johnston County, NC in her teens to become an entertainer in New York City.  Although when we asked her what sort of "entertaining" she did in NYC, she wouldn't answer. Hmmm. She did provide an answer when we asked her why she converted to Catholism and then became a nun. Her answer was "I was tired of running from the Lord." I'm sure it was all quite the topic of conversation within the family.

I met SML when she was in her 60s. We became virtual friends when we found one another on Ancestry.com researching the same family. We became real life friends when she traveled several times to NC to visit my family and I traveled to Connecticut to stay with her at the Sisters of Charity mother house in Baltic, Connecticut. We were a sight to see when we drove to Smithfield for BBQ one day. Many southerners have never seen a nun in full habit. She was a source of great comfort to me as I experienced the trials of raising a teenage son with an aversion to authority and then later when I divorced. 

She was a very kind woman. My family and I loved her very much. She wrote a very loving and touching essay of her life with the STANCILs, which follows. Anyone related to this family will enjoy reading her memories of life with the STANCIL family.


I will tell you about my life with George Robert Stancil, b. 11/1/1878,
 d. 12/16/1966, son of William and Mary Stancil.   His wife, Annie Valeria Stancil, b. 3/6/1884, d. 5/4/1977, was the daughter of William and Nancy Browning. The Stancil’s lived in Smithfield, North Carolina.

I am Valeria Elizabeth Stancil-Johnson. I was born at the Stancil home in Smithfield on May 11, 1936. The Stancil’s had partially raised my Mother, Virginia Mae Pulley, and her brother, Debric Cade Pulley. So it was only natural that they would take me in also. My father, Derwood Belmont Johnson, died when I was 4 months old. My Mom had no money, no job and nowhere to live so she went back to the Stancils. There I was born at their home. Mom had 2 girls and one boy. The boy was placed in another home and my sister, Virginia Wynne, and I lived with the Stancils. Mom left and went into town to work. Shortly after, she went to Norfolk Va. to the shipyards as a secretary in the Navy leaving us to live with the Stancils.

I only knew George Robert Stancil as my real father until the age of 15 when I learned that I was not their child. (That broke my heart when I found out he was not my biological father).  I always called him daddy.

Daddy was my hero. He was such a kind man, gentle, soft spoken; he never spoke anything bad about another person. He never raised his voice in anger to either of us children or his wife. Daddy was a very religious man, being an Elder in the Smithfield Primitive Baptist Church. It was Daddy’s job to make the wine for Church and Mother made the bread. On our way to Church they placed these things in the back seat. I always ate the biscuits and Virginia drank the wine. We always had to go back home for more, but they never said anything to us about it. 

He was always praying. I was brought up on prayer and the Bible (where I know that I got my religious vocation from).

Daddy was tall, with reddish, light brown hair and blue eyes. He always wore kaki work pants and kaki long sleeve shirts, even in the summer. He also wore a Panama hat in the summer and felt hat in the winter. When he went to church, he wore suits with a vest. He drove a 1934 Ford until the early 50’s. He was a man of few words and lots of smiles. He was a farmer and a carpenter. He built tobacco barns for people and houses for us. He had a very large farm in Smithfield before WWII. **   He was drafted into the Army at the age of 50+ to build housing at Fort Bragg. He moved us into town while he was gone. They sold that farm to the Smithfield Country Club at Holt’s Lake and they built a golf course on the farmland. After the war, he bought another farm in Smithfield and built us a new house. We farmed while he built houses. **There are some very important memories of that farm in my mind. It was a very large farm with 3 or 4 tenant houses on it. There was one black family named Durgin. Uncle Durgin milked the cows every day and Virginia and I would go with him to milking. We had a lot of cats that also went. He would squirt milk into my mouth, into the mouth of my sister and to each cat and then into the milk bucket.  That was sheer joy to me!!  Aunt Julie, his wife, would take me when I was 3 years old and bathe me, change my clothes, and rock me in a hand-made cradle all the time singing gospel songs. There were 4 black women who lived on the farm who took care of us two girls and did the house work. They would sling me over their hip and continue their work with spontaneous prayer and singing gospels. (Is there any wonder why I became a nun, I was brought up on religion.)

Daddy plowed with a mule and I would go out with him every day for plowing. As he plowed and turned over the dirt I would eat handfuls of the fresh clean dirt (soil). It was better than dessert. I wanted to go with Daddy when he was working, he took time to show and explain everything he was doing on the farm. Every Sunday morning he went out and walked the perimeter of the farm and came back to tell us how everything was growing or what had to be replaced. He could tell you how many steps it was around the property.

He would put me on his big shoulders and we would go into the woods to pick huckleberries, or hickory nuts, and runnnnnn when a wild boar would chase us. I would put the nuts in his big hat. When we were sick with croup or bad colds, Daddy would go into the woods and bring back roots, bark and berries and cook it up and put in the vaporizer and we were well in no time. He knew the Indian medicines. Smartest man I ever knew.

On Christmas Eve, we would stay up until about 7pm, and then Daddy would go out to see if Santa was near. We would hear the footsteps on the porch and ringing the big bell and immediately we went to bed so Santa could leave our presents.

Every time Daddy went to town he would bring back the 3 colors of coconut candy. He liked hoar-hound candy. It was even used for medicine for us. He would also bring back a coca cola for each of us.

We raised chickens, and Daddy would buy chicken feed in 100% cotton bags, so we got new dresses. They were beautiful calico print, plaid or paisley prints. We were the best-dressed kids in Smithfield. We always had new pretty clothes and a smoke house full of meat.

At hog killing time, Daddy would ask us what part of the pig we wanted. I always chose a Tom Thumb and the liver. Everything else was put in the smoke house. We had access to it at any time. Daddy would take all of us fishing. We caught lots of fish, maybe small but Mother cooked them anyway. We used to get the worms off the tobacco plants and go fishing in the Neuse River.

One year Daddy planted a big plot of popcorn corn. Virginia and I were experimenting with smoking tobacco and caught the field of corn on fire. We had a popping good time until we got in the house and then bedlam broke out. We lied about how the fire started. They were mad because it also destroyed the watermelon patch. Daddy didn’t say anything but Mother sure did.     

We used to go with Daddy to the field and he would drop coins in the path. We would find them and scream with joy that we had found money. He never told us he dropped it for us.

One day Mother was very angry with me and was spanking me very badly. Daddy didn’t like that and he told her to “leave those young’uns alone.” He loved us very much. I think Mother was jealous of him. Every time he sat down on the couch, Virginia and I would sit with him and not with her.
Mother and Daddy lived as brother and sister. There was no sex in their life.  All four of us slept in the same room. Mother and Daddy both had large double beds. Virginia slept with Daddy and I slept with Mother until we became teens and then we had to have our own room.

Daddy was a very healthy man. Once he got ptomaine poisoning from eating brains and eggs. And then he had a heart attack later in life. He never stayed home from work being sick. He worked a lot outside the house maybe that is what kept him healthy, being outside. He never lost his memory or became senile. He knew everything going on around him all the time. Even at death, he knew what to expect.

As I remember Daddy, he must have been a little wealthy. Maybe his parents were also. We never lacked for anything. He owned lots of land and properties and houses. They saved their money. They had the work ethic, that, “the harder you work, the more money you had, you were blessed by the Lord.”  And, the Lord in many ways blessed them.

Daddy liked coconut cake, chocolate cake and homemade peach ice cream, which we made every Sunday in the summer.

We all took a siesta everyday between 1-2p.m. Every day after dinner (lunch) we slept on the floor on a homemade quilt. Then when we got up we would continue our work until about 7p.m.

We would help Daddy, and the farm hands, wash turkey feet. I thought that was funny but their feet would cake up with mud and they couldn’t walk unless they were washed in limewater.

Daddy would help my sister and I look for wild turkey eggs and geese eggs. We would watch to see where they went and later we would find the eggs and put them in Daddy’s hat.

Daddy sat at the end of the table on a stool that he made. We all sat on stools. He always drank his coffee out of the saucer never out of a cup. He liked Kush, molasses with biscuits, yams and salt mullet for breakfast. We also ate large birds, fried chicken and corn for breakfast. But most of the time throughout the winter it was dried fish and yams. He enjoyed sweet potato custard, egg custard and coconut custard, but his most favorite food was fried oysters.  At wheat harvest time he would take us with him to the miller. While they were milling the flour we would ride in a rowboat on the water.

Some other things Daddy did were chop wood and put on our arms and we carried it into the house since we had a wood cook stove. He sharpened saws not only his own but everybody else’s also. We would be happy when he would bring home a new bunch of biddies (baby chicks). That meant we could sleep in the hen house with the babies. If we got chilly that meant the baby chicks were cold and we turned up the lights on the brooder to keep them warm and us too.

We sometimes used the cotton fields as a bathroom at night because we were afraid of the outhouse. During the summer, we would place a washtub filled with water out in the sun to get hot. After dark we would bathe in that tub of water outside.

--Sister Mary Lourdes JOHNSON

1 comment:

  1. The Debric Pulley mentioned above was my father. This was a very interesting article, as I knew Valeria (SML) but not very well, so from reading this, I have learned more about the Stancils, who raised my father, than I had ever heard in my entire life! My family called them "Cousin George" and "Cousin 'Lara" ...I never knew they lived as brother and sister, but always knew they were "different" somehow. "Cousin 'Lara" had a strange (to me) way of talking...every word she spoke ended in AHH. I think now she must have come from an Italian-speaking family perhaps.