PELHAM, N.C. – Betty Gentry and her husband, Judge Lloyd M, Gentry, live in a house built in the 1800s in this tiny community of Pelham, North Carolina.
Betty, who works at the North Carolina visitor center, at the northern edge of the state, was reluctant to have her picture taken and I admit I didn’t do her justice.
She is a lovely, friendly, well-informed, dedicated, and self-effacing woman. She cherishes the community where she has lived since she was born.
Both her parents, as so many others here once did, worked for years at the Dan River cotton mill across the border in Danville, Virginia.
Her mother tells how the people of the area lined both side of the railroad tracks as the funeral train carrying the casket of President Franklin Deleno Roosevelt traveled north.
Her mother baked biscuits every morning, and always baked extras for the hobos who rode the railroad cars across America during the Great Depression. Sometimes she provided them with jam or jelly as well. Her mother also kept a mason jar so they could go out back for a drink of fresh, pure water.
A child during the depression I have heard similar stories, but somehow my conversation with Betty made it real.
When Betty was young her family would ride the train south to Greensboro for a day of shopping or entertainment. That’s back when the train stopped in Pelham.
Now they have to drive a short distance north to Danville, but at odd hours, where the Amtrack train stops twice a day – 11:30 each night going south and 4:30 a.m. heading north.
Long ago her aunt arrived here from Germany. When Betty was born her name was Betty Strader. Her grandfather helped build the local school.
Sadly, when small town schools were consolidated (there were just 30 students in her class) the high school she attended was sold and turned into an auto recycling facility (the polite term) but is actually considered a junk yard.
Life isn’t easy in America’s smallest towns. She remembers how, when she was a girl, before local schools were merged, parents were more involved. Local schools may not have been able to offer a wide range of subjects then, but she believes they helped hold small towns together.
She and her husband have an adopted daughter, and that daughter now has two sons. One of the boys has two little girls — making Betty delighted to be a fairly young great grandmother.
She is enthusiastic about her job at the North Carolina Welcome Center because she is proud of the area and meets so many interesting people, including individuals from almost all the states and various parts of the world.
At the entrance to the center the manager had chalked in this greeting which people were commenting on while I was there:
Happy Mother’s Day.
Please come inside.
That reflects the overall feeling one gets at the busy Pelham visitor center.