At 100, she’s witnessed lots of change

Published 1:18 am Tuesday, July 10, 2018

On Sunday, Sibyl Smith King was feted with a party for her 100th birthday, complete with birthday cake, decorations, and more than 100 friends and family members.

It was a nice party, she said, and a far cry from the parties of her growing up years. The parties she remembers from her youth involved square dancing.

“My daddy called the sets,” she recalled.

The first time he took her with him, she was barefoot, and the dance was held on a rough floor with splinters.

In the Shreve community – which she believes was built around a sawmill – her father owned a store, one of about five in the tiny community at the edge of Covington, Conecuh and Butler counties. Her parents both worked in the store, and in their gardens.

“I babysat until I was big enough to pull a hoe,” she said, adding that she also tried her hand at plowing a mule.

The first thing she remembers from the century she’s spent on earth is burying a cat in the sand.

An uncle who was blind lived with the family, and he was Mrs. King’s caregiver when she was really young.

“We had a big cat named Steamboat,” she said. “We went down the river road to the sand pile. We’d cover the cat up and watch the sand go everywhere when he jumped out.”

“You lived on what you made” in those days, she said. She often helped her mother preserve food, mostly by canning. But they also dried fruit.

“We had a chicken house with tin on top,” she recalled. “We would cut the fruit up and Mama would put it on a sheet on top of that tin where it could dry in the hot sun.”

If the fruit got wet in the rain, it would mold, so the young girls were charged with moving the fruit before it rained.

One-room schoolhouse

She attended class in a one-room schoolhouse in Shreve until the sixth grade.

“It had a pot-bellied stove in the middle of the school,” she said. “It’s a wonder we didn’t burn up.”

The students had two textbooks, reading and spelling. Pencils cost a penny, and were sharpened with a knife.

Teachers used discipline to coerce students to learn.

“If you missed a word in spelling, you had to stand in the corner on one foot,” Mrs. King recalled. “I remember I stood up front until my foot hurt, and I was one of the best spellers.”

After she completed sixth grade, the Shreve school was consolidated with others. To continue, she would have had to take a bus to Evergreen.

“I was the only one that would have gone, and Daddy wouldn’t let me go by myself, so I had to drop out,” she said.

She was the eldest of six children, only one of whom, Betty Lou Cockcroft, is still alive.

“They all made teachers,” she said of her siblings.

Granddaddy only drove his car once

When automobiles began to be popular, Mrs. King’s grandfather bought one. But he only drove it once.

“My granddaddy went to Andalusia and bought a Model A,” she recalled. “He had to cross Pigeon Creek to get home.

“He drove himself home in his new car, but when he got to the creek, he missed the bridge. The car was stuck on the side of the creek, and they had to pull him out. He wouldn’t drive any more after that, so his son drove it.”

In 1931, about the time Alatex was built, Mrs. King’s family moved to Andalusia, after her father secured a job there. But the family soon returned to the farm after a family member died in an industrial fall.

The Depression was “hard times,” she recalled.

“But we had plenty to eat.”

She remembers when food was rationed.

“Each person had a coupon for so much food,” she said. “Daddy would have to hand it out. But some people would get mad and fight over it.”

The store had a pot-bellied stove in the center.

“Mama had her sewing machine in the back, and Daddy played checkers up front,” she said.

After electricity came to the area, the store had an ice cream box and a soft drink box.

The best part of having electricity, she said, was getting a washing machine.

“Before that, we washed clothes in a pot in the yard, and I did the most of it,” she said.

She also helped her mother make lye soap, and remembers days when clothes would freeze “stiff as a board” on the clothesline.

Home remedies

If someone got sick, “they’d put a poultice on their chest, or use whatever they had to doctor with,” she said. Spider webs were used to stop bleeding, and sometimes were mixed with smut for the same purpose.

She met her late husband, Doug, on a blind date.

“I had a girlfriend who worked with me at the sewing factory in Greenville,” she said. “We were off one Saturday and she had a date, but I didn’t.”

The friend encouraged Mrs. King to go with the couple to a move at the Ritz in Georgiana, and also invited Dub King to join them.

“We went to the show, and were together the rest of our lives,” Mrs. King said.

Her husband farmed, and worked at the “box factory” for 38 years. They made their home in the Pigeon Creek community until 1991, when she moved to town.

Asked her advice for longevity, Mrs. King said, “I don’t know why God let me stay. I never thought about it.”

She has, however, used vitamins for more than 60 years.

“I don’t take a lot of medicine,” she said.

Mrs. King has a son and daughter-in-law, Tim and Shirley King, and a grandson, Steven King.