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Ella Day reflects on her 102 years
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Ella W. Day turned 102 years old Tuesday.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

By VICKY MORRISON - Bulletin Accent Writer

Ella W. Day looks back at a life that started with sharecropping and grew into a large, happy family.

Her 102nd birthday was Tuesday.

Day was born in the Swansonville community in Callands, Pittsylvania County. Her parents, the late Arthur and Annie J. Walton, were sharecroppers, which meant that she also was under the sharecropping agreement.

Her grandfather, the late Stephen Tarpley, had been a slave. He lived to be 114 years old.

According to her daughter, Lucy Ann Law, Day lived without running water “all her life until 1970.” Day and her eight siblings got water from area springs.

All but Day’s younger brother Robert. L. Walton have died.

Other tasks Day was required to do were washing and ironing clothes for her family and for the landowner. When she was growing up, clothes were washed by hand and later with a washboard.

Day told her children that those years as a sharecropper were a struggle with “hard labor” for “little wages,” Law said. She was often paid just a quarter or with a small amount of such food items as butter.

Day married Jessie Lee Day (no longer living) in November 1944, and together they raised nine children. She has 38 grandchildren, 60 great-grandchildren, 37 great-great-grandchildren and five great-great-great-grandchildren.

The Great Depression and world wars meant rationing. She told her children of sugar rationing and the swapping that would take place. Law recounted Day’s experience of the passing out of stamps for ration books. She received stamps for such items as vinegar or shoes. Day cooked on a wood stove until she was about 80 years old. She made many quilts by hand. Her husband always had a garden. She canned the produce, and he hunted.

Day’s family got around by horse-drawn carriage. When she married, her husband would take her around on his bicycle. She would ride on the handlebars since she never learned to ride a bike, nor did she learn to drive a car. She has memories, though, of cars that needed winding up in order to function.

Up until 1955, Day’s family only used “an old radio,” Law said — but that only transmitted static. The family got a television set in 1955 and a telephone in 1976.

Law stated Day never had an official paying job. She still worked quite a lot, though: Day was known to be one of the fastest hand-leavers of tobacco.

“Anything you name,” Law said, “she can cook.” Some staples Day made include vegetables and fried chicken. She also cooked a wide variety of meat, from rabbit to raccoon to possum. Law said Day could “take that old wood stove and make it talk.” The family kept two or more hogs at a time for meat. They made their own sausage.

Day taught her children how to cook, sew and keep the house in order. Even though she didn’t go past fourth or fifth grade in school, Day taught her children the alphabet, how to write their names and how to count.

Living in the country all her life, Day was not a witness to many of the race issues of the times other than what she experienced through sharecropping. She did see it when family members entered the service during World War II since the military forces were segregated.

Law said Day has told her through the years that “we do the same thing but in a different way” and that Day and her generation just “did it the hard way.” However, Law said, Day told her “she had a better time than we do.”

Day has been a member of Tarpley Chapel Baptist Church since she was 16.

Her surviving children are Alease Swanson of Roman Eagle Nursing Home, Elinor Day of Camden, N.J., Lucy D. Law of Danville, George Day of Danville, Ella Carter of Axton and Robert A. Day of Danville.


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