Savoring life’s lessons
Even in the briefest encounters with some folks you get a feeling that there is something going on that needs to be recorded for the benefit of this and future generations.
Such is the case with 91-year-old Dessie Gertrude Stamper McLaughlin.
Entering her room at the Pocahontas Center must be akin to entering the home she shared with her husband, Lee, and their seven children – Eddie, Bobby, Larry, David, Sue Green, Marie Sharp and Cheryl Beverage.
The room is warm and inviting, and it speaks volumes about her and her family.
Dessie is always busy and is surrounded by soft things and books. Things she loves and things she makes for the ones she loves.
Her most recent project is embroidering designs on dish towels.
Embroidering towels, tablecloths and pillowcases was a popular pastime years ago – a way to add a bit of flair and color to a home. But it has, today, nearly become a lost art.
Daughter Cheryl, a crafter in her own right, provides the towels for her mother, and often transfers patterns onto quilt squares for her, continuing a tradition that began many years ago when Dessie learned the craft of embroidery from her mother, Verdie May McClure Stamper.
“I learned to embroider and to quilt from my mother,” she said. “She taught me how to quilt. I’ve made a lot of quilts. She taught me how to cook and can, and how to keep a good house.”
“I had a good dad and a good mother,” Dessie said.
She also had three sisters, Elizabeth, Lena and Glenna, and a brother, Marian James.
Her dad was William Luther Stamper, and he sold Raleigh products – traveling around three counties in his Model T.
“He had everything,” she said. “All kinds of products – medical, pie filling, cosmetics. He had it all.”
Dessie and her sisters went with him to open the gates, she said. Her dad had lost a leg to an infection, which was the result of falling on a rusty nail. But despite that handicap, he worked all his life, she said.
“He was very strict,” Dessie said with a smile. “And I’m glad. Because I never got into trouble.”
Dessie, the next to the youngest child, was born in Rorer.
The family moved to Seebert when Dessie was a baby, and then to Hillsboro.
“I loved Hillsboro,” Dessie said, “I had so many friends and neighbors.”
And there was one neighbor in particular that Dessie remembers quite vividly to this day.
“Virginia Callison was a Beard,” Dessie said. “She lived up on the hill from us and was a few years older than me. I’d look up there at her pony, and I’d wish I had one.”
Although she didn’t have a pony, Dessie remembers riding a horse to Hillsboro to the store when the family needed something.
“I lived on a farm all my life,’ she said. “When I was a teen-ager, I hoed corn all day, and then I would run to the river to go swimming.”
The family eventually moved to Dunmore and that is where 18-year-old Dessie met her future husband, Lee McLaughlin.
“I knew him after we moved to Dunmore,” she said. “I’d never seen him before then. We met, and he asked me for a date. We married in 1940.”
The couple was married for 59 years when Lee passed away in 1989.
There was no hoeing corn after she was married.
“I never had a job,” she said. “But I had work enough with seven kids.”
One sister wanted her to go to college, and one wanted her to go to beautician school.
“Dad wouldn’t let me go, so I got married,” she said.
But it was a life she took to quite well, following the example of her mother.
In the summer when the garden was in full production, Dessie’s life was quite busy.
“I’d get up and clean my house, then start canning,” she said. “I use to wash on a washboard. Oh, my, I was so glad when I got a washing machine.”
She also milked the cow, separated the cream, sold butter and made cottage cheese.
Every farm had chickens, and theirs was no exception.
Dessie always had eggs to sell.
“When I was a senior in high school, Mom was still milking cows, making homemade butter and selling eggs,” Cheryl said.
But life was not all work and no play.
“We use to do jigsaw puzzles,” Dessie said. “We had a big dining room table and we always had a puzzle to work on.”
Today the puzzles are word search, and instead of novels, Dessie says she only reads the Bible.
But on a snowy Saturday afternoon, she picked up another book that brought a smile to her face.
It was her journal that son David had recently brought to her. And within its pages is a memoir of her travels in her younger days, and more.
As she thumbed through the pages, she said, “Well, where was this? Where did I go?”
That journal recorded the sites and adventures of trips with her sister, Glenna - to California where they attended the Gold Rush Celebration; a tour of the Smoky Mountains, Dollywood and Pigeon Forge, North Carolina; her involvement with the Pro-Life group as well as activities at church and at the Green Bank Senior Center, and even tells of David’s hunting trip to Colorado.
It was like living the past all over again – a most enjoyable experience for the most part.
The pages record Dessie’s spunk and determination, as well.
It tells of a day that affected her life for many months.
“I went upstairs to clean the top of Grandma’s wardrobe,” she recalled. “I stepped on the rung of the chair and fell on my right arm. But there was no stopping.”
Dessie endured the pain for a few months before going to Low Moor to find that she had a tear in her rotator cuff which required surgery.
As part of the Pro-Life Group, Dessie remembers taking red silk roses to the residents of Pocahontas Center in honor of Grandparents Day.
And as a member of the Church of the Brethren, she recorded and remembers when the congregation took part in “Guess who’s coming to dinner?”
“You would always plan to go to dinner on Sunday, but you didn’t know here you were going. We went to different houses. We probably drew names to decide where we were going,” she said.
Reading that journal gave more than a glimpse into Dessie’s life. It also gave a glimpse into another time when perfect penmanship was the norm – not the exception.
A drawback of longevity is that Dessie has lost three of her four sons – Eddie, Bobby and Larry.
The joy of a long life is that she has been blessed with 31 grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Pictures of her family vie for a place in a huge collage on the door of her “home” today.
There are pictures in an album of quilts that graced the beds of the McLaughlin home, and Dessie is a picture herself as she continues to turn out stitches of love.
The nurses tell her she needs to take a break.
But when you talk with Dessie you know that her hands have always been busy making her corner of the world a little brighter.
“When I was growing up, we were poor - we didn’t have much,” she said. “But I have had a pretty good life.”
And she has savored life’s lessons and passed them on to her family.
“She’s is beautiful inside as well as outside,” daughter Marie recently posted on Facebook. “Just wish I could be half of what she is. She is amazing.”
Perhaps Dessie revealed the secret of her peaceful countenance with these words:
“I’d rather laugh than cry,” she said. “I’d rather smile than frown.”
Jaynell Graham can be reached at jsgraham@poca hontastimes.com