A 92-year old Columbus woman’s story about almost a century in The South.
By Sarah Wilson
She was sitting serenely in her wheelchair by the window, a slight smile on her face. A bright blue blanket was draped across her lap, her hair and makeup were done, her clothing neat. She fingered her wedding ring, two round diamonds set diagonal to each other atop a thin silver band.
“Hello dear, It’s nice to meet you,” she said smiling widely in a distinctly southern drawl. She clasped my hand with both of hers, eyes bright, personality untempered by her small room at Vineyard Court Nursing Center.
Laura Fields was born April 27, 1920 in Noxubee County. She was the youngest of six, and her parents died before she could know them. She and her siblings were adopted by her mother’s sisters. Fields’ aunt, Georgia Perry and her husband Sam took Laura and her sister Sylvia in. Other siblings Mattie, Georgia Mae and Johnny were cared for by other aunts, while her oldest sister Fannie struck out on her own.
At just 17 years old, she married James Fields, a 50-year-old chauffeur who went to her family’s church, Charity. It was 1938.
“We hadn’t been dating long,” said Fields. “It was late summer when we married.”
Fields admitted that her family wasn’t thrilled with her new husband’s age. Because of her marriage, Fields left school to keep James’ home in the Crawford district. She had attended Charity High School, which was run out of her church. She never got her high school degree, though she said a diploma didn’t matter that much back then.
James and Laura had one son, names James Jr., who died two days after he was born. “I didn’t want to do that again,” said Fields who explained that babies were born by midwife then and many were lost very young. “I was one of 15,” she said. “Only six of us made it. In Momma’s time I guess that was normal.”
In 1939, only a year into their marriage, James left Fields to go to New York. “He got into a little misunderstanding, a little trouble here. I don’t know exactly what, but he had to leave.” Her eyes saddened. “My family didn’t want me to go.”
So Fields stayed behind. She never saw James face-to-face again.
Fields moved to Memphis shortly after. She worked cleaning homes and for a short while, caring for the elderly in a nursing home similar to the one she lives in now. “I didn’t have enough education to get a government job.”
Being away from her husband and family and providing for herself, she lived on her own. “At that time, you could rent a room,” she explained. Of her free time she said. “I went to church. Sometimes I’d go to the picture show.”“Just sometimes,” she added quickly.
She spent the majority of her life in Memphis, though memories of that time escape her.
She does however, remember the food. “I liked to cook, and I like to eat too,” she said excitedly, her hands animated. “You know, I’m old now, I don’t eat too much anymore, but then I liked my food cooked right and I liked to cook it.
“Collard and turnip greens, sweet potatoes, butter beans and corn…I’m a country girl. We raised hogs. Ate hog heads, eat the ears and the heads. It was good. Chittlin’s, if you fix ‘em right, they were good. We’d eat hog feet, hog tails, everything but the snout. Momma’d use the fat to cook. You could trim the fat of the hogs and cook it down to skin and let the skin get brown. That’s what you’d call the cracklins. I remember the lard too. Pretty and white.”
“I ate so much hog I got high blood,” she said with a mischievous grin and no trace of regret in her voice. It was easy to tell she would do it all again.
At 55 years old, she took ill. “I had a tumor in my stomach,” she said. Fields had the mass operated on and removed, though after surgery, she could no longer work. “I was put on disability,” she said. “I couldn’t work so I came back home.”
During her time in Memphis, James returned to their Crawford home occasionally to visit family. “I never saw him because I was in Tennessee,” she said.
James died in 1972. “I was sorry,” said Fields. “If he were living I probably wouldn’t be here (in the nursing home).”
She had another operation, for a blood clot in her brain, which was removed by a Tupelo specialist.
Fields is the last surviving of her siblings. “Some of them retired, they got sick, they got husbands, one of my sisters got killed in Brooksville. I’m the only one alive left.”
Fields has photos of her sisters and brother in her window, and the obituaries of Fannie and Mattie framed. She said she remembered going to church with her siblings. “I was a church girl,” she said. “We was raised by a Christian family.”
She and her sisters were all members of the Order of the Eastern Star, a large Christian fraternal organization. Fields said she remembered wearing the uniforms… a black dress with a white collar and cuffs.
“The Lord took care of me,” she said.
Fields is visited by her sister Sylvia’s children and grandchildren and she says she sees Mattie’s grandchildren almost every week. She has lived at Vineyard Court for five years.
“I enjoyed my life when I was young,” she said. And I don’t worry about nothing now. The Lord takes care of me.”
After settling her back in her room and asking if she needed anything, I made my way to the door. Fields called out after me “Be careful,” she said. “Please be careful out there.” Though I didn’t know if she meant on the drive home or in life, I smiled and promised her I would.