Annie and Cora
There have been many people over the years who have had an impact on the Harrell family. Some have been noted people with high elected office who were friends of mine through various interactions. Educators, politicians and others have left an impact on us. But, I would have to say that two people who left an indelible imprint on our lives are people that no one would remember. When I think of my childhood and my teenage years, my thoughts automatically include the two people mentioned in the title of this little tome: Annie Mott and Cora Dooley. They were two colored women who came to our house each week and helped my mother with various things. With a growing family of smaller children which finally reached six children, my mother needed all the help she could get.
In my earlier years, there was Annie Mott. She was a kind and gracious person who became like a member of our family. My mother trusted us with Annie beyond question. She did not mind leaving us in her care if she had to go grocery shopping or attend to any other business. Now, Annie could "pop the whip." She let us know who was in charge when mother was gone. We always felt that Annie Mott was our second mother and that she loved us very much. She would mother us and take care of our little missteps with a "mothering" confidence. We all loved Annie Mott. At the time Annie was helping our other and visiting our home several days a week, there were three children. There was me, my sister Marty and a newborn named Libby. I was about 6 years old, Marty was three and Libby was an infant.
Annie came two days a week to help my mother do cleaning, washing and ironing. She was a very faithful person who always had a wide smile on her face. Annie was short and squatty. She had a square face accented by bright eyes and beautiful teeth. I remember that she always wore a cotton dress that was full and went nearly to the floor. She always looked neat. Annie Mott was a very special person to us all. And, she felt the same about us. In those days we all knew we lived in a segregated society. Whites and blacks all knew the situation. But, while we lived in a segregated society, we were not racist. I never knew anyone we loved more than Annie Mott. She saved the life of my sister Marty one day. The story goes like this: We lived on Love Avenue Extension in Tifton. That is on the North side of town. The city was putting in a new sewer line down the middle of our unpaved street. Right in front of our house they had excavated a large hole in order to install the proper lines. That hole was about ten feet wide, twenty feet long and about 8 feet deep. Mother left the house one morning right after Annie came to work and she told me and Marty not to go near that hole in the street. Well, both of us were "pulled" to that hole wanting to see what was in there. It was about four or five feet deep in muddy water and that's all we could see. We walked to the edge of the hole and finding that there was nothing interesting there, we turned to leave. Suddenly I heard a big splash. Marty had somehow fallen in! I screamed for Annie who came running out the house at light speed. Neighbors across the street all ran out of their homes and gathered around the hole looking at my three year old sister splashing around in there. She was standing on her tip toes and the only thing above the water level was Marty's face. She had her head tilted back to keep her nose and mouth above the surface. Another inch or two and she would have been completely under water. No one jumped in to help. One man standing there with shaving foam on his face and a razor in his hand said: "Well, if I didn't have this stuff all over me, I would have jumped in to help her." Great! But, Annie went to work! She lay down flat on the ground and reached as far as she could into that hole. Her arms were not that long and I remember thinking that she was going to fall into the hole also. Marty saw Annie's extended hand and heard her saying: "Grab my hand girl!!...Grab Annie's hand! Marty obeyed her and Annie pulled her out of that muddy water. Marty was covered from head to toe in mud. Her dress was ruined. She was crying but she was o.k. I remember Annie took her into the house and quickly cleaned her up before mother got home. She washed her dress and fixed her hair. When mother got home, Marty was just fine. Annie Mott had saved the day.
I remember when mother told me one day many years later that Annie Mott had died. We all felt that a member of the family was gone. My mind raced back to the times we had with her on Love Avenue Extension in Tifton, GA and I had pleasant memories of one of the best and most devoted people I had ever known....Annie Mott.
Then, there was Cora Dooley. Different personality altogether. Cora was about five feet two inches tall and very thin. She was always neatly dressed and looked like she had been ironed. But, don't be fooled. Cora Dooley was in charge! My mother would often leave us in the charge of Cora when she had to go to town for groceries and such. She gave Cora disciplining authority and none of us wanted to cross her. We had five children in the family by this time and a lot went on at the Harrell household. It was really unbelievable at times. Great middle America family with all the usual activities and things happening. We actually had a "neighborhood" in those days. Everyone knew everyone else. Cora came to help mother take care of us on particular days so she could tend to things like shopping and grocery buying. In later years, mother told me that she never had a second thought about leaving us with Cora. She knew that Cora could handle us and that she would do just that if need be. She could "pop the whip" and get us in line in a moment. When someone would be doing something they should not have been doing, she would say: "Boy, you come in here and stop doing that! You know your Mama don't want you to be doing such things. You stop it or I'm coming out there! We didn't want that! While she was a "commando" to some extent, she also loved us and we loved Cora Dooley.
When Carolyn and I had our first child, Georgia Ann, Cora came home with us from the hospital. We lived in a little rental house which was on the alley just behind our family home. No one has ever been "mothered" more than was Carolyn and our baby daughter. In those days, the doctor wanted the new mother to get plenty of bed rest. So, Cora ran the household for about two weeks. I, of course, had to go to work but I knew Cora was there. She lived with us for the entire time she took care of Carolyn and Georgia. Man, it was great! She was like a grandmother to us all. She loved Georgia like she was her own child. I remember that she made sure that the baby was wrapped up properly so she wouldn't "catch her death of cold." We worried a little bit that she was trying to keep her too warm but she knew what she was doing. Cora also wanted to ensure that Carolyn was resting properly and was covered up and warm also. Well, it was in the middle of September and in South Georgia, it ain't too hard to be warm in September! But, it all worked out just fine. Cora made a great grandmother and nurse. Those were great days.
Many years later, after I had been in the ministry for a while, I found out that Cora watched our television program every week in Tifton. Some of her family said that Cora would sit and intently watch me preach and say: "That's MY BOY right there! I raised that boy! He's my boy! I was honored that she watched our television program each week but I was even more honored that she said: "That's MY BOY right there!"
Over the years Cora and I lost contact. I often wondered where she was and how she was doing. I said several times that I was going to look her up when I was in Tifton sometime, but I never seemed to find the right time to do it. One day, Carolyn and I were shopping for a new recliner for my mother who was living in an assisted living establishment. We were in a furniture store examining the different makes and styles of recliners. She and I were near the back of the store when I happened to look up and who was coming in the front door and down the long aisle but Cora Dooley! I positioned myself in the middle of the aisle and just stood there waiting for her to get near me and see me standing there. She walked slowly toward the store office. Sensing someone was in the way, she looked up at me and when she realized who it was she let out a loud "Laud, it's my preacher boy." Cora grabbed me around the neck, kissed me and then headed for Carolyn. "Tell me about that baby, Georgia. How is she doin'?" Even though the years had chiseled their mark on her face, it lit up like a neon sign. What a wonderful reunion we had right there in the middle of that store. I have often wondered what the other customers thought about it all. We talked for a while and then parted ways again with hugs and kisses. I never saw Cora again. About two years later mother told me one day that Cora Dooley had passed away. It was like hearing that one of the family had died. Carolyn and I recall those days from time to time and we will always have a soft spot in our hearts for Cora Dooley.
I'm sure that many people have the same kind of story they could tell about someone who influenced their life in such a wonderful way, but I don't think anyone can top Annie and Cora.
William F. Harrell