Sarah Withers and Debbie Withers

Recorded November 30, 2009 Archived November 30, 2009 01:09:11
0:00 / 0:00
Id: ATL000101


Debbie Withers (48) interviews her mother-in-law, Sarah Wjthers (78) about her life as a educator and a minister’s wife and her family.

Subject Log / Time Code

Sarah felt most honored at receiving Honorary Doctorate of Humanities from Mercer University. She also felt special receiving a Mother of the Year Award from her kids.
Sarah’s father (Hugh Curtis Brown)died when she was 7 at the age of 50. Her mother(Florence Watson Brown) died when she was 8 years of age.
Sarah went to Joel Chandler Harris School, he was the author of Uncle Remus.
Sarah went to Mercer University and met her husband, Harold. Her husband became a minister.
At special occasions, the family sings “Bless our Food, Bless our Friends”
Sarah’s husband died after 42 years of ministry. She became a Justice of the Peace.


  • Sarah Withers
  • Debbie Withers

Recording Location

Atlanta Storybooth

Venue / Recording Kit


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00:17 Debbie Withers, I'm 48. Today is November 30th 2009 where in Atlanta and I'm with my mother-in-law Sarah and I'm so bear with us. I'm 78 years old. Today is November 30th 2009. We're in Atlanta Georgia, and I'm with my daughter-in-law.

00:45 Sarah or I may be calling you honey, during this. I've always loved that that your your grandkids have it was I guess it was David that nicknamed you honey. That's right back 20 30 years ago. Your oldest grandkid is 30 and your youngest Russell is 1020 Years band you now a great-grandmother to Ava Addie and Lily. What is it? I'm so glad to be part of the Winter's family have been for 23 years and one of one of the first things I remember about how I knew I was in with the family for the first Christmas that I knew you James and I had just gotten engaged and you gave me one of the most wonderful gifts that I've ever received it was and I still have it. It's a wooden a large wooden jewelry box beautiful jewelry box fits monogrammed with my initials DMW Deborah Manning Withers back then I was dead.

01:45 Manny Deborah gay Manning. I've got the gas and it said but when you gave me that gift, and it was just after we had gotten engaged. I knew that that you had accepted me as your future daughter-in-law and I just have always felt bad about you. I've always felt welcome. And I know that you haven't always probably approved things I've done but you've never let on even when James and I have had our disagreements you always make me feel like I'm the one whose side you're probably do that with you too. But that's one of the lessons that I'm going to take one day when I have a daughter-in-law. I want to make them feel like you've made me feel I'm so glad you realize that because I think of you as a daughter just an additional person in the family as a daughter. So we're just glad to have you as well. I certainly feel that way and that was one of this most special gifts I received.

02:44 The way over here you were telling me about some of the special gifts you've received in your life. When and what were those? Well, I think the thing that was the most honor that I have received is when Mercer University conveyed a doctor of humanities upon me in 2002, which I was grateful for. It was my alma mater and then his father from the children. I think one of the things I remember as I've been nominated for a woman of the year in Waycross, Georgia, but I didn't receive that honor but my children were at home waiting for me to come home from the banquet and joy, the oldest one who was a teenager at that time had to draw up a little plaque that said mother of the year and should had the children to sign it the other three see her siblings. And so that was a real treasure for me and I think I meant

03:44 Into you to that James and John who are twins had given me a plate on Mother's Day that had something that said the best mother ever. And so those were just a little special gifts that I think I treasure more than anything else and it's so obvious how important family and church and Mercer has been in your life. What are some other things that you would think are the most important influencing factors in your life? Well, I think initially growing up in Atlanta what the schools that I was apart of what these these were wonderful days in which teachers took such an interest in in you as a person and I treasure that greatly also the influence of my family my parents died when I was young, but I had an aunt who was very strongly influential.

04:44 In my life in that she saw potential and she encouraged me to go to college and those kind of things that didn't have have made me what I am the reason I'm interested in education and spent my life in that field you were so young when you lost your parents tell us about what life was like back then.

05:09 Well, my father died when he was 50, and they had married when he was 42 and my mother was 22. He his sister lives next door to my grandparents. And my mother was the youngest of 13 children and the last one at home. And so the sister that lives next door introduced my father to my mother and I was born a little about a year after they were married but it was in 1931 mits the depression and he was superintendent Ava seed seed and fertilizer plant in East Point, Georgia in the plant closed and he lost his job. So that was a very stressful time in our lives and he tried to open a used clothing store on the cater Street in Atlanta, but people didn't have money even to buy used clothes at that time.

06:09 And so he did have a garden plot that was next door to our house and he grew vegetables there and sold them at a farmers market near McCall's Crossing witches Lee Street and Peter Street connection going into Atlanta, but I think the stressfulness of not being able to maintain our family finances really caused an early death for him. And then my mother took a job in a sewing room that the WPA started and it was during this time of her life that she just really went to work whether she felt like it or the weather was bad, but she felt like she had to hold a job because my father had had to I didn't have the job and he had he died when I was seven and then my mother became

07:09 I feel when I was eight and then do to her nine months. I've trying to overcome her illness she failed and she died. So I lived with an aunt and uncle after that. They had no children, but we're not the most compassionate people in the world and I had clothing and shelter and food but didn't have the love that I really needed in. This was supplied by my church family across the street from me took me to church with them and I became very involved and that became my nurturing family at the church.

07:50 What was your father your father and mother's name Hugh Curtis Brown was my father. My mother was Florence Watson and course Brown when she married.

08:04 And you talked about those early days of school that kind of LED you into the field of Education. What was school like when you were growing up starting at kindergarten kindergarten was fun? I was at the Joel Chandler Harris Elementary School, which who was the author of The Uncle Remus stories and in his home was several blocks away, but still on the same street and that was when in Atlanta when dr. Willis a Sutton was superintendent of schools and kindergarten mandatory like all the other grades and we had a gym set within the big classroom and slides and we could paint on the easel and it was just a fun time and again music was very important part of our our training in kindergarten, but cuz it was like most beginning of school.

09:04 Do you learn the alphabet and you learn to count and all those wonderful things that mrs. Loud was the teacher and she was such a precious person to all of us. We had a good time in kindergarten and then I went on through Elementary School and and part of the good parts in our elementary training was the music program. Mrs. Ruth began was the coordinator for the elementary schools in Atlanta and she would come to the school to make sure that we were having training even in 4th grade. We had a harmonica chorus. We played harmonica and we had the option to study the violin and I played violin that year and just wonderful experience in that and then going on to Junior High. That was Joe Brown Junior High we had music there to that was outstanding I sang in the choral group.

10:04 We put on operettas and our teacher mrs. J. Debruin cops was just so willing to do all that she could to make us have a great success for year and all the teachers in the junior high and Senior High were concerned about our future and I appreciate that very much. I had one year at girls high in Atlanta in 1947. They changed all the schools around in the junior has became high school. So I went back to Junior High Joe Brown and it became brown high school at that point, but it was quite an education to go to school with 1600 Girls 1 year and then go back to the high school that I had previously been in butt from diarrhea.

10:59 My my Minister and his wife had a daughter my same age and she was going down to take a test to enter Mercer University and I asked if I would travel with him down for the day and I said sure at that point I didn't I was not going to college because of financial reasons not having enough money and I had started to Georgia State which at then was the University of Georgia kind of satellites. But anyway, I wrote down to Marissa and found out that they had a scholarship for me available to work in the dining hall and also the Civitan Club in West End that one of my teachers was a part I've said we would like to sponsor you in college if you will tell us where you would like to go and it worked out that

11:59 Mercer was available with a scholarship that I got through the Civitan club and through the school itself Harold your husband or me about that. Yes.

12:14 Eve after dinner every night we would meet for a Vesper service and this would be 15 or 20 minutes of inspiration and they'll be about $200. Would Gather in the campus chapel and of course during exam weeks, they'll be three or four hundred Gathering to get inspiration. But during this time, I noticed this handsome tall dark headed young man and kind of watched him during the several early weeks of our college experience and then one night. I was studying in the library he wants to and he came over and said let's get a Coke when you get through studying and I said sure and so we went to the student center and got a Coke and he asked me for a date to go on a hayride with a group that he was a part of and that just started the dating and two years later. We were married.

13:12 What year was that? What year were you married? That was 1951?

13:17 Wow, and you you tell me about the birth of your children? Well after we finished he had finished MRSA at the time we married I still had another semester. And so I finished Daya and then we stayed a year. He was called to be a pastor of the Reidsville Baptist Church. And so we lived in Reidsville then for a year after our graduation and then he went to Seminary at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky and why we were Diane went to University of Indiana for some education courses and taught second grade in Indiana just a little school 15 miles north of Louisville, Kentucky. And then the next year Joy was born and so I stayed home with her and she of course was the fur.

14:17 Bond and then the next after you finish Seminary there in three years, we went to McRae Georgia and after we've been there a couple of years can a was born and then we moved to Fort Valley Georgia and a few years and James and John sons of thunder were born there. And so that's just been the story of my life all four children. What was it like being pregnant with twins and the early six? Well, they were born in 1960. That's right. Well, I didn't know it they it seem like that. I was a little bit more handicapped with my size before they were born. But when I went for my eight month check-up swept supposedly a month before they were to be born the doctor kept listening and

15:17 He said oh I have are there any twins in your family? And I said no and he said we'll have strongly suspected. This was the days before we had back then we only had X-rays. So we sent me to the hospital the next morning and to verify the fact that I did have two children in my room and it turned out that two months to Weeks Later James and John appeared on the same one right after the other.

15:49 And there are lots of stories about them that I'd love hearing about the frogs in the ladies to tell me about that story again. Oh, oh, oh, well, they loved frogs and they kept a hole in the back of the backyard that they kept all the frogs that they could catch. It was deep enough the frogs couldn't jump out so they had many in there and a lot of times when we would have company the company would wake up with a frog in their bed, but one time I had the ladies over for the missionary society and they came running through the house and took the top off of the candy dish and said, excuse me, and they pulled a big green frog out of the candy dish and ran with that and one time they put a frog down in our gas tank which wasn't very good that car wouldn't what did a little leaping and we had to get the mechanics to get the frog out what the worst thing I think with the frogs is today.

16:49 Put one into an ice cream freezer that we were an old fashioned turn turn crank ice cream. We had out in the under the carport and they had taken a frog and put down inside the ice cream churn. That was the worst part. But I think the worst thing that they did that I can think of right now is that they one of the ladies in the church was always having problems. And so when she called at always pull up a chair and sit by the telephone and and I could hear them. So I knew that they were okay, they were laughing and cutting up and we had a long haul. Hall but dining hall and living room area with the floors were not carpeted and so they took two dozen eggs out of the refrigerator threw them in one end of the hallway of the dining room and they would run and slide in that slick slick mess.

17:49 Now they just had it was still just in diapers. They were just two or three years old, but I knew that would be an okay. That would have been fun. But oh what a messed up feeling clean up and you know that was taken and it did the same thing when she was their age and I was on bed rest and I'm taking a little nap and she came up and whispered. I cracked the eggs. We got lots of stories about your kids angry and grandkids. Don't let James and John still all the Thunder even though they are would you say the sons of thunder tell me something about k a story about Kate when she was little was Kay was my mother quiet when she was the middle child, of course and joy was effervescent and talking a lot and you was James and John who were the people will always looking at them and checking them out. But Kay was just quiet and sweet and didn't raise a lot of profit.

18:49 What about the fish hook? Oh, that was horrible. There was a screen door in our in the back back of our house back door by our house and and the screen was had a spring on it and the spring was hooked and I was talking on the phone and all of a sudden I heard K cry and she had hooked the corner of her mouth on that hook holding the spring in the back door. And so it was hard but I had to take a look ahead and twist it to get her released from that spring and I ran to the phone and call my cross the street neighbor and ask her if she could take me to the doctor which was just a few blocks of way, but I was so upset. I couldn't get the car started and so she can pick me up immediately and we drove to the doctor's office and she was okay.

19:49 But she still has just a hairline scar in the corner of her mouth where that was where she was hooked. It's it's amazing. We all make it to adulthood with some of the what about John and the time that he fell off the roof. How old was he when he was just about 3, there was a tree close by the back of our house and he and James had climbed up on the tree and then he climbed on a limb over to the roof of the house and was running around the roof of the house and I heard him and I looked out the window to see what it happened and all of a sudden he comes tumbling off the house into some bushes, which broke his fall fortunately and I started to run out there to get him and he just got up and ran off resilient, right? This is the story of of their lives and what about joy, and he's particular moment that stand out with joy

20:44 Where Joy was usually wanting to be a cheerleader, which she became it later on as a little child to occupy her time with James and John and Kay I'll to and cables 2 and 1/2 when James and John were born. So that was a handful right that Joy was 5:00. So we let her start taking piano lessons at that age too. Give her something to do and cause she maintained that love of music and took the rest of her life and it's been organist at our church for 27 years and teaches public school music now, so that was a beginning and place for us on Sundays. When I love this Southern tradition where you ice a southern tradition, I don't know anyone else who does this where you could you serve a full Sunday dinner whenever you're in town?

21:44 Send invite all of the family who are in town over for Sunday dinner and it's just such a neat sweet tradition that my kids have grown up with their they think that that's what southern grandmother's do and don't realize that you're just unique in that probably but we always sing songs afterwards you pull out the hymnals and we'd sing some songs. And for those of us who don't make it to church 100% of the time it's in a nice grounding and love the ritual of Christmas where you have one of the young kids tell the story of Jesus read from the book of Luke it and whether they were good readers or not. They still would read the entire story and it's just such a sweet time and have all of the different musicians and their musical abilities. I remember one Christmas. We had saxophone banjo piano joy and Lynn at the piano and he was on the banjo gram or colder on the saxophone.

22:44 All sorts of different music going on but just such a sweet time. And then the how did you come up with a bless our food bless our friends. I heard that somewhere and I can't recall right now where we sang it, but at a banquet one time when I was working with young people in our church, and I just love that it's to the tune of Edelweiss and so on special occasions like Thanksgiving Christmas and Easter. We always sing The Blessing which is it's a sweet thing I think for all the children and the adults to be involved as it's a cherished memory and its you have the words cut out on little Christmas trees even to at Easter or whatever we get those little Christmas presents and glass are Food 4 Less our friends so sweet love it.

23:38 How do you get you your named honey? You have such a strong tie in church and family. What's the worst thing you've ever done? I don't know of anything that everyone thinks of honey as the best example at but I know if there's got to be something. Can you think of anything that you can share with us that? Oh goodness. I don't think about the bad things. Well, that's a good thing then but you know every now and then particularly when you're in administration of any kind you have people that disagree with maybe some of your policies and in having to make follow the rules, so to speak you you have a few people that disagree with a head and and I've had a few experiences along that line when I was curriculum director, but nothing bad.

24:38 Is 13 and she said honey, you have the spirit of Christmas all year long and I love that honey. I've got you figured out or I I know I figured you out. You got the spirit of Christmas all year long. That was so sweet. And so tell him I loved what about being a preacher's wife all of these years that what that must have been tough always having to be the strong one that people come to an end. Tell their troubles to sometimes or always having did really hold your head up and that there must have been some at challenges with that role. Well not I loved it because that's what I wanted to do when I grew up being very involved in my church. I wanted to be either an educational director RP pastor's wife. And so I trained to be an educational director but happened to me.

25:38 Pastor along the road. So I became the pastor's wife. And now I've always enjoyed that role in life. You meet the nicest people along the way and people are good to you and you intern want to be kind to them and I've enjoyed all of those roles was it interesting things things that has happened. My husband died after 42 years in the ministry and some of the young people that I had worked with wanted me to perform their wedding ceremony, and I said, I don't know we'll have to talk to my church and minister to see if I could be licensed kind of like a Justice of the Peace in order to make it official and so that did happen and consequently. I've perform the wedding ceremony for 28 couples and have buried about 30 people conducting funerals, which is not a role that I would

26:38 Wanted or assumed but it just was forced upon me because of these people being involved in my life to certainly you've been a comfort to me in situations. And I know that that that's just something that you have a gift for comforting others.

26:58 What what are some of the is there a story that maybe you haven't shared that you'd like to tell?

27:07 Oh my Debbie you I can't say right off of a story or a memory for each grandchild beginning with David the oldest. Okay. Well several years ago. I was nominated to be a vice president of the Georgia Baptist convention meeting in Macon Georgia at that time and David was in college, but he wanted to introduce me and make comments about me to present my name to the convention. And that was very special to me at that time Michael. It was his brother and Michael was such a cute little boy. I used to in the summer particular stay several weeks down there with them one day. I picked him up from his Nursery.

28:07 We went to get some french fries and something to drink and a coke and we were riding down the highway to their home and I was drinking my Coke and Michael said honey, you're not supposed to drink and drive always thought that was so cute for him to say something like that. That's such a cute little boy. I meant to the family when he was in pull-ups who is now a sophomore At Mercer University and I'm thankful that she's following in the family tradition and

28:51 I think the thing I've enjoyed so much about Sarah and Anna your daughter who is 13 is that they both love music and they love to sing and they've both been apart of the spider Children's Choir and Anna still is in connection with Clayton University and Sarah singing in the women's choir at Mercer University, but they both just always been so loving and kind and make me feel like that. I'm special because they always hug me and say I love you honey, every time we're together but there's a lot of sweet stories about them too. And the next Bourne would be cold and Co and he was such a unique little fella because he was the first one that you had and I think that the thing I remember so much about him when he was very very young Debbie read to him so much.

29:51 That one day when I was visiting there, we drove up to the library and stop the car. She stopped the car and Cole said he was not even walking this time. He said books library knew what it was all about. And another thing that was so outstanding about him that he ate vegetable broccoli and cauliflower and all these things that normal little children didn't eat but he was such a good and he still likes to eat good things to in contrast to Max who is Xi Max eats meat like chicken steak and hot dogs corn dogs and his only vegetable is french fries potatoes are busy, but he's branched out a little bit cream corn now.

30:51 But he is such a wiz. Oh man. He's got a mathematical mind and he's certainly will do wonders with his math. I love to give him problems and have them him solve them just in a hurry and his head. He's great in that respect. And then Allison is John's daughter who lives in Fernandina Beach She was recently on the homecoming court and also was voted all-round student. So she's achieved her specialty in the world to and her big brother who is a ball player Jake Jake place on the high school basketball team down there in Fernandina, but he has always loved ball and when I used to keep them quite a bit as before they were in school.

31:51 We would play ball a lot and Jake and and his little brother when he got old enough started playing ball two, and they both now are into while I haven't said much about Russell. He's 10 years old the smallest of the Grinch youngest of the grandchildren and Russell is just a sweet kind a little fella when I was recently going for the homecoming Court to see Allison he brought in when we were sitting around watching television. He brought in a pan of water and said honey want to suck soak your feet and I said sure So I soaked my feet and he brought a towel and dry them off and then took some wonderful lotion and gave me a foot rub. I thought that was so unusual for 10 year old, but very sweet and special.

32:43 And you've got great grandchildren to Ava Eddie and Lily and just have had such a full life. What are some of the most important lessons you've learned or words of wisdom you'd like to to share. Well, I think you know, my family has given me so much joy because being an only child it's it's wonderful for us to gather particular around the table when they're 22 of us. Now that Harold and I started out and being an only child. I always said I wanted to have at least four because it was very lonely growing up by myself. And so this was a special for me to have a big family. That was very important and then I've enjoyed my work with an education teaching 31 years or being an administrator party.

33:43 That time and then my church has meant so much every church that we served was very special to me and I still keep in touch with some of the people in all of the churches where we served. So that's that's been a very special part of my life.

34:03 Well, I love you very much, and I thank you so much for sharing these stories and for talking with me today, honey. Thank you, Debbie. My goodness. It's wonderful to somebody is interested in my stuff already said so it's been fun talking about those things and thank you for discovering this time together to be here with WABE, and we appreciate this.