On the living room wall in Ethel Washington Braddy’s house in Winston-Salem there’s a large picture of her teacher and schoolmates from sometime around 1915. She is the only one still alive. Ethel has outlived her husband by more than 62 years. Only two of her seven children are still here, including Dilcy at 84, her oldest child who lives with and takes care of her mother. Ethel has lived through two world wars, the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam, the Gulf War and the continuing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. She turned 106 on Sept. 5, and as she told me when I interviewed her a few weeks before her birthday, “I ain’t had no bad times in this life. All my life has been good to me. I asked the Lord to take care of me, and I am just thanking Him for what He has done.”
Ethel was born in a log cabin on Bethabara Road in 1907, and has lived on the property ever since. Her father later bought a house from their family doctor, who told him that if he would take the house apart and move it, he could have it for $25. That’s what he did. He set it up right in front of the original home, and when Ethel got married and started having children, her parents moved out of the main house and back into the log cabin.
If there is a constant theme in Ethel’s memory of her childhood and young adulthood, it’s hard work.
“Mama didn’t have time to learn me because of how hard she was working,” Ethel said. When I asked her what child-rearing advice she would offer to parents today, she did not hesitate.
“I would give them the same advice that was given me. Mama told me when I started out to work, ‘Behave yourself. Keep your hands to yourself. And do what they tell you to do.’” That’s very close to what Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica: “Aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands.” Ethel later added this advice for parents: “My mama and daddy taught me when I made a piece of money how to save it. Even now, when anybody gives me a piece of money, I go to the bank. I don’t spend everything I have. I don’t buy everything I see, or that I want.”
She has fond memories of setting rabbit traps with her children and enjoying a rabbit stew later. And of going with her family to Piney Grove Baptist Church. “I still go every Sunday!” When I asked Ethel how she got through times of suffering, at first she couldn’t think of any time in her life that was hard. Then she remembered that when her husband was hospitalized and near death in 1951, she would go to visit him in the horse and wagon. “We had a car, too,” she said. “But I couldn’t drive it.”
I told Ethel that sometimes broken relationships take a toll and can even shorten our lives if we tend to hold onto bitterness. She said, “I got along with everybody.” When I asked her how, she said, “When someone hurts my feelings, I give it to the Lord.”
As the interview drew to a close, I asked Ethel what she is looking forward to. She looked up at me and smiled in her pretty red dress that she made herself and said, “Going to heaven.” She paused for a moment and said, “When I get lonesome sometimes, I say, ‘Father, I stretch my hand to Thee, no other help I know.’”
Then she said, “I’ll be ready when the time comes.”