Wineka column: Grace Goins has a way of keeping you grounded
EAST SPENCER — When Grace Goins was growing up in East Spencer, most of the streets weren’t paved yet.
If it rained on Sunday, Goins carried another pair of shoes so she would have clean ones to wear once she arrived at church.
Kids walked everywhere then — to Dunbar School, to the post office, to the C.C. Kirk’s and Drain’s grocery stores. You could even say they walked to the bathroom, in those days before many of the homes had indoor plumbing.
Goins’ childhood friends included Essie Mae Foxx, Maybelle Mitchell, Odessa Kelly, Mildred White and Sarah Sullivan.
“She’s pass and gone,” Goins says of some of the women, as she goes down the list in her head.
In the living room of her home on Cedar Street, Goins has photographs of family all around her. When you live to be 90, you tend to accumulate family and friends and, of course, that’s a good thing about living so long.
Patricia Mallett, one of Goins’ children, says her mother’s life is much simpler today than when Grace was a single mother raising a young family on her own.
Lady, a Jack Russell terrier, provides constant companionship. Goins follows a couple of afternoon soap operas on television and tries not to miss Judge Joe Brown.
Goins also loves word-search books, and she will sit for hours working on them. She reads the Bible daily, and although it hurts a bit, she lowers to her knees every night and prays before going to sleep.
From this little house on Cedar Street, where freight and passenger trains rumble by every day, Goins has raised four children and assisted with many of her 16 grandchildren.
She puts the number of great-grandchildren at close to 20, though she’s not sure any longer. Grace is sure the great-great-grandchild count is up to four.
Patricia Mallett says her mother could cook. When Larry Mallett, Grace’s youngest son, was still alive, he loved his mother’s chitlins and pig’s feet. She cooked them for Larry about every other month.
“We would have a time here in this house,” Patricia Mallett says. “She didn’t do biscuits, but she put a hurt on sweet potato pie.”
Patricia speaks fondly, too, of her mother’s turkey dressing, collard greens, fried chicken, cornbread in a skillet, egg custards and fried peach and apple pies.
It’s nice to stop and visit with people such as Grace Goins now and then. It keeps you grounded.
Goins, who grew up as Grace McCurry, attended Dunbar School through the eighth grade before starting on a life of domestic work, helping white families in Salisbury, as her mother did.
Her father worked for the railroad.
But as a young woman, trying to find a better life, Grace left East Spencer for New York. She settled in Harlem and went to work as a maid. The families for whom she worked would give her Thursdays and every other Sunday off.
Her duties included looking after her employers’ children, cooking, washing and ironing. She met her first husband, Amos Mallett, in New York. Her oldest daughter, Betty, was living with her mother back in East Spencer.
Meanwhile, the Malletts had three other children — Patricia, Garry and Larry. Garry’s wife, Barbara, is now mayor of East Spencer.
Grace and Amos eventually separated, and Grace said her mother needed somebody to be with her in East Spencer.
“So I just came on home,” she said. The whole family packed into the house on Cedar Street.
Patricia Mallett remembers the cultural shock, as a little girl, of moving from Harlem to the little Southern town of East Spencer.
“It was a whole, big difference, even going to the bathroom outside,” she recalls. “I was afraid of everything — cows, chickens. It was a different world, but I had to get used to it.”
She figures she was 5, Garry was 3 and Larry was an infant when they made the move. All four would go on to graduate from high school here.
“We adjusted,” Patricia says.Grace settled into a tough life of trying to raise her young family, while doing domestic work in Salisbury and taking some shifts at Star Laundry.
“It was (hard),” she says. “The Lord — he brought me through it.”
Through the years, she became a dedicated employee of the Uzzell and Sherrill families, catching the city bus in East Spencer every morning and taking it home in the late afternoon.
She has never learned to drive.
In her personal life, Grace had a long courtship with George Goins, who lived on Long Street and worked for the railroad at the transfer shed.
“Yes, he was a good man,” says Grace, who finally gave in and married George in 1972. They had good years together before George died in 1984.
Several of their wedding pictures are framed and sitting in the living room.
You always want to ask someone when they reach 80, 90 and 100 what his or her secret is to living long and being healthy.
One thing we know is, Grace could put a hurt on sweet potato pie.
But there’s something more basic to what has made her life rich and rewarding.
“Trusting my God,” Grace says.Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263,or firstname.lastname@example.org.