Granite Quarry’s Fannie Gaither celebrates 105 years

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 18, 2011

GRANITE QUARRY ó Fannie Gaither says she has always been particular about food.
That is to say, she never allowed herself to be a big eater.
ěI didnít want to be a pig,î she says. ěI trained myself to eat what I thought was a reasonable amount.î
Itís important to heed Fannieís advice. She is 105 years old.
She also has read about food and educated herself on vitamins and supplements, ever willing to try something she thought might benefit her.
Fannie believed in regular exercise ó a lifetime of farming, gardening and, in later years, coastal fishing and walking.
She never smoked or drank alcohol. She says she tried to treat people the right way and followed an old adage that advised, ěDonít lay down and let the sun shine in your face.î
On the spiritual side, Fannie has always kept a close relationship with God and figures He had a purpose in mind, leaving her on earth this long.
She celebrated her 105th birthday Oct. 25. To put that in perspective, when she was born, Teddy Roosevelt was president, and the first world war was still a decade away.
Getting around has become difficult for Fannie these days. She spends virtually all her time in a comfortable, contoured chair with all her pills and vitamins close by.
She cherishes the cards she receives from members of her church, Shiloh United Methodist, and all the visits from friends and family. ěMan, Iíve got a lot of friends,î she says.
Her daughter, Lillian, and Lillianís husband have been providing her with live-in care these last couple of years. All of her children ó Lawrence, Wally, Lillian and Diane ó are doing well, as are the 11 grandchildren, 14 great-grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
Fannieís husband, Jehu, died in 1995 at age 91. They had been married 64 years.
When she was 90, doctors decided against hip replacement surgery because of her age. Wally, who lives close by, says they didnít realize she would be living at least 15 more years.
Fannieís biggest heath hurdle was a bout with cancer in 1969, when doctors removed about 14 inches of her colon. The cancer never came back.
Fannie Lillian Frick grew up on a farm in Liberty and was the oldest of four children.
Her father died of cancer when he was only 30 and she was 6. For the next seven years, her mother raised four children on her own. She ran the farm, growing corn and cotton.
ěMom said she picked cotton all day the day before I was born,î Fannie says.
As a young girl, Fannie became a good cotton picker herself and would win races down the rows against all challengers.
ěI could pick cotton out of them bolls fast,î she says. ěBut I didnít really like farm life. I was a pretty good scholar, and that was a whole lot better than hoeing corn and cotton.î
In the two-room schoolhouse she attended, the sixth- and seventh-graders were together. The teacher gave out three academic prizes for those two grades, and Fannie won them all.
ěI would do it like I did other things ó to the best of my ability,î Fannie says.
When Fannie was 13, her mother married again, leading to the birth of five more children.
Later, a cherished aunt of Fannieís arranged for her to gain a full scholarship to the Mitchell School in Misenheimer, the forerunner of todayís Pfeiffer University.
Considering it the best thing to happen to her before marriage, Fannie stayed in the dormitory at night. During the day, she took classes in cooking, sewing, English, math, history and two years of a foreign language.
In addition, she had nursing instruction ó lessons in making beds and caring for peopleís minor illnesses. She also played on the girls basketball team and worked on the side, making bread and serving the faculty table at meals.
There was study hall at night and church twice on Sundays.
Meanwhile, back home, she had become engaged to a boy she first met at Liberty Methodist Church, Jehu Gaither.
Gaitherís family had come to live in Gold Hill from Yadkinville.
Fannie attended Mitchell School for three-and-a-half years, but when she was home for Christmas as a junior, she broke out with what she calls ěthem big measles,î and the sickness delayed her return to Misenheimer.
She also lost school days when she had returned home to help her mother, who was having a child. Fannie became discouraged at having missed so much school, and she decided not to return and marry Jehu instead.
ěI wanted some kids,î she says. ěI did not regret it.î
Fannie and Jehu married April 1, 1928, when she was 21, and they immediately moved to High Point, where Jehu was working in a silk mill.
They boarded with an aunt who had nine children. ěThey gave us their best room for our bedroom,î a grateful Fannie remembers.
That fall, Fannie became pregnant, and she decided it was time to move out of the crowded house. She and Jehu rented an apartment in High Point. Their first child, Lawrence, was born the next summer.
Six months later, they moved in with Jehuís mother in Winston-Salem, but it wasnít long before they decided to try making it on their own back at the Gaithersí Deep Spring Farm off Morgan Road.
Fannie already was pregnant with the coupleís second child, Wally.
The farm, between Gold Hill and Liberty, had been sitting empty and was primitive ó to put it kindly.
ěThat first year we killed 20 snakes,î Fannie says.
The log houseís plaster inside and mud mortar between the logs outside were virtually gone. The first winter, the Gaithers plastered up one room and pretty much lived there, relying on a cook stove, table and chairs.
Because of all the snakes around, the Gaithers made a screen crib for young Wally. To tend to her baby, Fannie had to open a lid to the crib, but the precautions proved worthwhile.
One day, as Fannie was tending to Wally, she heard a snake ěblowing at meî from a nearby window. She hurried both youngsters out of the room and stayed with them on the front porch, all the time keeping an eye on the snake back in the bedroom.
They didnít leave their post until Jehu could return and kill the reptile.
Wally says he and his brother played all over that farm ó in the creek, barn, pasture and even under the old log house.
ěI donít know how Lawrence and me got through those seven years without getting snake bit,î Wally says.
Wally remembers when he and his brother were playing in a water hole at the bottom of a hill on the farm. They fell out of the tub they were floating in and got their britches wet. About the same time, their father was calling for them from the house.
They tried to dry out their pants before going back up the hill, which was a mistake. Wally says he and Lawrence received a ěnot-to-forgetî whipping from their father.
ěIt was not because their pants were wet, but because they didnít come when their daddy called them,î Fannie explains.
The Deep Spring Farm had cows and chickens. In fact, Jehu and Fannie started a chicken operation that grew to 400 to 500 laying hens. It led to Jehuís peddling of milk, butter and eggs on a regular route, and Bamby Bakery agreed to take any of the eggs Jehu didnít sell.
There was never any waste, and Jehu was a good salesman.
ěThe Gaithers didnít pour one gallon of milk away,î Fannie says proudly.
The coupleís lives changed when an insurance man, knowing how good Jehu was with people, visited the farm and persuaded him to start selling Imperial Insurance.
The Gaithers eventually left the farm in 1937, moving to a home in Salisbury. Fannie explains how an insurance salesman did a lot of his selling at night, after people were home from work. Living in Gold Hill was just too far away.
Jehu built a successful career ó first with Imperial, then with Durham Life Insurance Co., for whom he was a top sales agent for 20 years. The family also lived in Lexington before settling for good in Granite Quarry.
The Gaithers added to their brood with two girls, Lillian and Diane, and they built the Peeler Street house Fannie still lives in between 1949 and 1951.
Jehu quit the insurance business in 1966, setting up almost 30 years of a glorious retirement for the couple. They spent it visiting all the children and grandchildren, fishing at Carolina Beach and gardening all summer long.
Fannie became accomplished at fishing from both the surf and pier, and she knew exactly how many fish the couple had to catch to fill the open spots in her two freezer chests.
Fannie canned and froze so many vegetables from her garden that she often gave food as Christmas gifts. ěWe had more of that than money,î she says.
Fannieís large-print Bible stays within her reach at all times. She constantly reads passages from it.
ěI havenít been mean to it, but look,î she says, showing the well-worn cover.
When she watches television, Fannie prefers Christian programming.
ěWe didnít know what it was not to go to church,î Fannie says. ěWe growed up in church.î
Friend Annie Marie Seaford comes to visit Fannie every Wednesday afternoon. Before Annie Marie leaves, she always gives Fannie a kiss and they sing a line together from an old country spiritual.
If we never meet again this side of heaven,
I will meet you on that beautiful shore.
Fannie turns back to another visitor and says something with conviction in her voice:
ěIím ready to go home anytime. Iíve had a good life.î
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or