Granite Quarry man awaits 100th birthday

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 25, 2011

GRANITE QUARRY — Claude Lyerly decided to rest awhile at Walmart recently while his young wife, Pauline, did some shopping.
He struck up a conversation with a woman who also decided to take a load off.
“How long have you been living around here?” the woman asked Lyerly.
“Ninety-nine years,” Claude said, telling the truth.
When the woman’s daughter walked up later, she shared how old the new friend next to her was.
“I don’t believe it,” the daughter said. “He don’t have a wrinkle on his face.”
Claude likes to tell that story, especially with Pauline in the room.
“Who has kept you up all these years?” Pauline asks, shaking her head.
It’s tempting to say Claude Lyerly belongs to another era.
As he nears his 100th birthday, why not relegate him to the past, when he owned and operated the Fifty-Fifty grocery store in Salisbury?
It has been 30 years since he closed and sold the store — another era, for sure.
But Claude and Pauline have never been people to quit living. Claude complains, in fact, that he needs a faster walker. Then he laughs.
“This thing is getting slow,” he adds.
He continues to attend the twice-a-month meetings of the Granite Quarry Civitan Club. Nephew Ellis Cauble picks him up at the house and drives him over to the meeting house.
Claude is the only charter member left for the club, which held its first meeting Nov. 2, 1945.
He and Pauline still go to Christiana Lutheran Church, just down the road from their house. They have been members there all their lives, and Pauline served as church organist for years. The Rev. White Iddings presided over their marriage at the church in 1940, and their three boys — Brantley, David and Donald — were baptized at Christiana.
On holidays, family and friends still gather in the Lyerlys’ basement, which has a full kitchen and is as big as a banquet hall. The tables and chairs are all set up now, waiting for the next gathering.
Pauline still drives during the day. It was only 10 years ago she retired from her job as school secretary at East Rowan High School. Given her 32 years in the high school office, she became a institution herself.
“I enjoyed my work there so much,” Pauline says.
These coming days and weeks are a busy time for Claude and Pauline Lyerly. Wednesday marks Pauline’s 90th birthday, and Thursday is the couple’s 71st wedding anniversary.
Next week, the Granite Quarry Civitans celebrate their 66th year Nov. 2, and Claude marks his 100th birthday Nov. 4.
• • •
Some 30 years ago, Lyerly was deathly sick, and he thought his days were numbered. He was having trouble recovering from gall bladder complications.
“The doctors at Winston-Salem said there was nothing they could do,” Lyerly recalls. He came home, expecting the worst, but he steadily improved under the care of Salisbury physicians Sloop and Parrott.
“The thing about it is, I still have my gall bladder,” Lyerly says. “It just wasn’t my time, I guess.”
He doesn’t have any big secrets to living a long, good life. He gave up fried food and watches his sugar and salt. Except for Claude’s broken hip several years ago, he and Pauline have stayed pretty healthy.
“We’re very fortunate,” Claude says. “I don’t know why.”
One reason might be that Claude was almost 10 years older than Pauline when they married. She was 19 at the time. Claude explains that when you rob the cradle, you live longer.
They knew each other from church.
“We just started dating and kept on till we finally got married,” Pauline says. “Yeah, we didn’t know any better.”
Claude Lyerly fell into the grocery store business naturally. His father, P.H., owned the McCombs & Lyerly store in Granite Quarry with Jim McCombs, then the Fifty-Fifty store on East Bank Street in Salisbury until he died in 1967.
Claude worked at the Granite Quarry store in high school, but he became a fixture at the Fifty-Fifty by 1933, a year after it opened. His only time away was during World War II, when he served in the 81st Division of the U.S. Army.
Because of an eye disorder, Claude never made it out of the States and was discharged in 1944.
With some remodeling, the old Granite Quarry grocery became home for Claude and Pauline until her three brothers, all carpenters, built the Lyerlys’ spacious U.S. 52 home in 1965.
The Fifty-Fifty’s name came from the wooden, revolving shelves along its walls. The Lyerlys could stock both sides of the shelves with their canned goods. When one side was empty, Claude simply turned it to the fully stocked other side.
The unique shelves also helped double the small store’s storage capacity.
In the days before supermarkets, customers came to the Fifty-Fifty for all their groceries — fresh meats, eggs, produce, bread, paper products, canned goods and freshly ground coffee.
“Things were really cheap in the Depression,” Claude says, reciting prices such as 5 cents a pound for beans and sugar.
It was a self-service, cash-and-carry operation. Competitors in this same east end of Salisbury included the Big V, Bennett’s Grocery and Gerock’s.
• • •
Fred Trexler, the store’s first meat cutter, lived with his family in the apartment above the store. Claude said a young Wilson Smith, before he co-founded Food Lion, used to stop in the store regularly, and they used to talk about the old grocery store days when they would see each other years later at College Barbecue.
The hours of an independent grocer were long, especially on Saturdays when Claude might not return home to Granite Quarry until midnight or later.
In the busy days, the store opened at 6 a.m. Monday-Saturday and closed at 8 p.m., except for Saturdays, when crowds would filter in after stores closed downtown.
By the 1970s, however, when independent, neighborhood grocers had long begun to die out, Claude’s hours at the Fifty-Fifty changed to 8:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. He was the only full-time person in the store by then, with some part-time meat cutters and Brantley helping to stock shelves.
“I worked at the store during high school and later, part-time,” says Brantley Lyerly, now in data processing for F&M Bank. “With the Fifty-Fifty, some customers knew my dad’s first name but not his last. The neighborhood kids started calling him ‘Mr. Fifty-Fifty,’ because they did not know his last name.
“Pretty neat, and so is the fact that he’s living up to his nickname.”
Brantley notes that if you add 50 and 50, you get 100.
Claude and Pauline sold the store in 1981 while he was sick and battling his gall bladder problems. Tom Tucker later restored the place to hold antiques, and he still owns it.
Claude served as president of Granite Quarry Civitans in 1960. He and three other charter members, Roy Lingle, Howard Brown Sr. and George Fisher, were made life members in 1987.
Lyerly characterizes his retirement days as “messing around, as long as I can.”
He enjoys baseball, football and basketball on television. He and Pauline like to have breakfast at Wink’s on Saturday mornings with Brantley.
David lives in Radford, Va; Donald, in Moncure. Claude and Pauline have four grandchildren and a great-grandchild.
But the amazing thing about Claude Lyerly, beyond his turning 100 and needing a faster walker, is that he remains wrinkle-free. Pauline is still shaking her head.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or