January 18, 2012

Grandma's 90th Birthday

Grandma turned 90 years old on Sunday, and we celebrated in style this past weekend with a large party on Saturday afternoon. My fantastic-looking grandmother was the "belle of the ball" talking and laughing with all the guests. So many of her extended family came--nephews, nieces, and cousins from both her family and Papa's. And they came from such great distances traveling six or seven hours to see Grandma at her party. The turnout was truly a testament to this great lady. The rest of the crowd was local friends and family making the party's attendance almost 100.
A Mountville friend made the themed cake, perfectly capturing the spirit of the festive event.
Just as the party was starting Grandma had all her immediate family gather for a picture, including her three children, five grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. We were only missing two: My cousin Caitlin (Grandma's oldest grandchild) who lives in San Fransisco couldn't make it, and Claire (Grandma's oldest great-grandchild) wasn't with us this weekend. (I'm not sure how Uncle Billy missed the picture, but he was there for the party.)
Aunt Judy made a great display of pictures from Grandma's life.
Mom interviewed Grandma, so I could write a brief life-story that folks could read at the party. Travis did all the graphic design and printing of the invitations, the biography, and the nametags. We had everyone write his name and his relation to Grandma on his nametag which helped when we were mingling. I've included the text of the biography at the end of this post.
Here's Grandma with her living siblings, younger sister Flora and younger brother Thomas.
Sweet Uncle Billy spent much of the party entertaining Collier who seemed quite content sitting on Uncle Billy's lap.
Here's Grandma with her new best bud Eunice. She's just moved to town to be nearer to her family, and she and Grandma have hit it off in the last few months.
Many folks said Collier looks like Travis. I think I see the resemblance sometimes.
My photojournalist cousin Amanda was able to fly in from Florida to attend the party. She also took some great shots that she posted on her blog.
Hamilton was great during the party! Once he found Grandma's birthday balloon (and after eating many cookies and slices of pie), he played so contentedly for the several hours we were there.
After the party, many of the out-of-town relatives came to the farm for chili and cornbread. Grandma loved having more time to visit with her family. My cousin Karsten spent lots of his time on the floor playing trucks with Hamilton.
Here's the biography of Grandma:
Ava Gray Turnage Taylor
born January 15, 1922
Ava Gray Turnage started life on a 25-acre tobacco farm in Greene County, N.C., and for the last 30 years has resided on a tree farm in Mountville, S.C. Though Ava was the fourth daughter to Reetho and Viola Turnage, she and her sisters, Helen, Velma, and Ida, worked hard on the farm. Ava filled the woodbox, cared for the chickens, emptied the slop jars, and carried the milk bucket to her father—a favorite chore because she enjoyed precious alone time with him. The Turnages worked the land to grow tobacco, corn, and cotton using only a mule and a two-mule cultivator; Reetho didn’t purchase a tractor until after Ava had left home.

Named for her grandmother Mary Ava Gray, Ava and her three older sisters shared a room in their four-room farmhouse. Though eventually two rooms were added as three more children joined the family, Arlendo, Thomas, and Flora, her childhood home offered no electricity and no inside bathroom. Ava learned to cook on a wood stove, and by age 10 she was trying out the cooking skills her mother had carefully taught her, relieving her mother of many kitchen duties.

Viola also instilled in her children a love for God and His Word. She had regular devotions with the children as the spiritual leader in their family. They attended Hull Road Free Will Baptist Church where their family’s emphasis on living a Christian life would carry through to Ava’s adult years.

Growing up

Growing up in the community of Arba, Ava traveled unpaved roads on the school bus to Snow Hill High School where she began her education. One certain trip on those bumpy roads resulted in Ava’s needing stitches from having bounced along so fiercely that she hit her head on the top of the bus.  A special memory of hers was attending her oldest sister Helen’s high school graduation where the senior girls in their organdy dresses did a Maypole dance. “It was the prettiest thing I’d ever seen up to that point,” Ava said.

Being a teacher, educated at East Carolina Teachers’ College, Viola valued education and made sacrifices for her children’s learning. Viola borrowed $200 so Ava could attend her high school choir’s singing tour. Viola and Ava’s sister Ida handmade her choir robe—a true labor of love for Ava who remembers owning only two dresses throughout her preteen and teenage years. The choir sang in Richmond, Va., Baltimore, and Washington, D.C., at the White House where Eleanor Roosevelt hosted a tea for ambassadors and their wives. Ava was quite impressed with the First Lady. Their final stop was New York City during the World’s Fair. Though the choir tour was Ava’s first time out of North Carolina, her love for travel had just begun.

Following graduation, Ava completed a course in business offered at the local high school, and her first job resulted from a federal program begun during the Great Depression. Earning $20 for each two-week period, Ava worked for a tax collector for two weeks, alternating with another employee who worked the next two weeks.

On her own…but not for long

Ava left her home, traveling by bus to Newport News, Va., where she stayed with her sister Ida and her husband until she found employment as a key-punch operator with the Newport News Ship Building and Dry Dock Company. She rented a room from a couple who lived beside Milton and Jesse Smith—Dalton Taylor’s aunt and uncle. In December 1942 the Smiths happily introduced their young, attractive neighbor to their nephew stationed at Langley Field. Ava and Dalton wed on September 17, 1943 just three months prior to his leaving for North Africa during World War II.

Family life

While Dalton spent nearly two years serving during the war, Ava worked at the Port of Embarkation, and Uncle Milton taught her to drive. Dalton returned in September of 1945 resuming his job with the C&P Telephone Company in Newport News. They eventually settled in Colonial Heights, Va., where family life kept Ava busy with the births of Judy Dalton (1950), Dale Travis (1951), and Linda Elaine (1955).

Once the children started school, Ava worked some to help with expenses. When it was Linda’s turn for kindergarten, Ava drove the family station wagon that Dalton retrofitted with extra seating to accommodate neighborhood children also. Her carpool earnings paid for Linda’s tuition and gave Ava enough extra to buy herself a “white spring coat.” Other jobs tapped her cooking skills including an elementary-school-cafeteria cook and food-service coordinator for a large church daycare center.
The Taylors attended Colonial Heights Baptist Church where Ava helped begin the church’s library, and she served as librarian until they moved. Ava volunteered her time teaching English to Asian women married to U.S. servicemen at Fort Lee, Va. She developed lasting friendships during those five years.

Dalton shared Ava’s desire to travel, and the family visited all but three states while the kids were living at home—though their shoestring budget usually meant camping along the way. The couple also enjoyed traveling in style once the kids left, visiting the Pacific Northwest, Alaska, Vermont’s Von Trapp Family Lodge, Mackinac Island, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island to list a few.

Back to farm life

Dalton retired in 1981 and the empty-nesters moved to Mountville, S.C., in 1983 to help Dale with his newly created Christmas tree farm. Ava was able to dote on her grandchildren, Gray and Travis who now lived close, as well as Judy’s children Caitlin, Tristan, and Karsten, and Linda’s daughter Amanda. Ava and Dalton quickly immersed themselves in church life at First Baptist of Clinton, S.C.  Ava continues to be active in her church singing in the choir and enjoying the senior group’s activities. She’s also active with the senior groups at both Mountville Baptist and Cross Hill Baptist, and she’s part of the Mountville Grange and the Red Hat Society.

Ava continues to give special time and attention to her family and friends. After 70 years she still corresponds with her old roommate Alice from Newport News and her dear friend Myrtle in Colonial Heights. Ava regularly visits friends and church members in nursing-care facilities and retirement homes who are unable to attend services. She gives feet to her faith as an encourager, not wanting anyone to feel forgotten—and no one does:  Embracing new technology and “free minutes,” Ava spends many nights on her cell phone checking in with friends and family scattered around the nation.


  1. It was great to see you! Let me know if you want any of the pics in a larger format. I posted them all on facebook in case you didn't see them there.

  2. One correction. Grandma's best bud is Eunice not Edna.
    Great synopsis!

  3. Amanda, it was great to see you too! And I did see your FB pics; I snagged the group one that someone took with your camera since I didn't have anyone take one with mine. I enjoyed your pictures on your blog!

    Mom, thanks for the correction. At least the name is similar and from the same generation. :) I'll update it. Thanks!