Grandma Casey’s Chocolate Cake – Part 2 – A Village Family Remembered

th-1Listening to Maggie Casey Langrehr talk about her beginnings in The Mills Village, about her parents, Annie & Jim Casey, her brother, Jimmy and many friends, it was like taking the top off an Oreo cookie in order to get to the best part, the white filling. Maggie became energized as she spoke of the love of her family, her beautiful complexion glowing, eyes alight. The Mills Village family stories help define the sense of place that makes Rocky Mount unique. It was delightful to hear Maggie say, “Christmas was the greatest.”  Instead of stockings, children received boxes filled with candy, fruit and nuts. She continued, “Every year my mother set to work baking three different kinds of cakes from scratch: chocolate, pineapple, and coconut. She baked the BEST seven layer cake in the Village.” (I expect to read a long list in the Reply section below disputing Maggie’s claim in favor of YOUR mama’s recipe.)

The Mills Village families may not have been wealthy, but the Casey family is another wonderful example of how the love of family made everyone rich. The Village, a safe place to grow up where there was a moral compass that directed people how to treat others rightly. Maggie’s grown children, Tammy Davis and Tracy Tofften, remember their grandparents with great fondness. What we all hope for from those who come after us. Tammy, who lives locally, continues to bake her grandmother’s famous chocolate cake recipe. Check out A Piece of Cake, on Facebook, Tammy’s cake-making business. She has kicked it up a notch by making an eleven layer chocolate cake that Grandma Casey would be proud of.

If you are a product of The Mills Village and have your Mama’s Chocolate Cake recipe, wouldn’t it be fun to have a Mill Family Bake Off in the form of a reunion one day soon? I bet the families along #17 & #19 Carr Street would let us set up tables in the street. We could ask three judges to select a cake winner. The point of a Bake Off…to celebrate Annie Casey and your mothers too. What do you think? Leave me your thoughts in the REPLY section below. Bake Off or not, we remember Annie and Jim Casey, their wonderful family, and the lives of all the good people of the Mills Village. We’ll visit another family soon.th

Remembering a Village Family – Annie and Jim Casey – Part 1

                            History is the essence of innumerable biographies                                          Thomas Carlyle

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Through the eyes of a Daughter  – Mary Magaline Casey Langrehr  “Maggie”

I think all of us have wondered what will be remembered about us when we are gone. Hopefully, we have made enough memories with our siblings, friends, our children and grandchildren, to last a long time. This is why I know that Annie & Jim Casey would be pleased, though perhaps flabbergasted, that they are being written about all these years later. Wouldn’t they be delighted that “all the kids” remember their swing on the porch at 19 Carr St. in the Mill Village as far back as 1949. I hope you, my readers, have your own memories of playing outside as the mill children once did, unstructured, free to roam, able to entertain themselves without parental direction. Maggie, the Casey’s wonderful daughter, told me that as a child growing up in the Village, when the street lights came on, it was time to go home. Home, in this case, to Annie Pearl Davis who was from the Wilson, NC area. She met her future husband, Jim Casey (Goldsboro, NC area) at the Mill. They married, and had two children, Maggie, and her brother Jimmy Casey who is 8 years older.

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               19 Carr Street                                                                         17 Carr Street

Jim Casey worked at the Mills until he became ill in later life and died in 1980. He worked in the Card room where once trained, he remained. Annie worked in the Spinning room.  Jim, a quiet man, had a shed out back where Maggie said, “He piddled.” He made whirly-gigs and little houses that looked like out-houses. He was a funny man who cracked jokes and spoiled his daughter when possible. The family first lived at #17 Carr Street, but Annie was happy to move to #19 Carr with it’s larger kitchen. She was a fine seamstress making her own families’ clothes and many an Easter dress for the little girls in the Village. She worked at the mill, took care of her family, looked after the bills, and baked “the best chocolate cake ever.”  Like many of the Village families, Annie was proud of her garden from which the family ate. We must not forget to add chickens to the Casey backyard scene.

Maggie remembers the Mills picnics at Sunset Park where a band played from atop a wagon. People dressed up and gathered to enjoy abundant watermelon and summer picnic food. Do you remember this event? She remembers a log cabin with a porch up in the woods across from the Mills that people rented for family reunions. Do you remember this place? Maggie remembers her mother saying that Tommy Battle was one of the finest men she knew. A good man who knew the first names of all his employees. After Jim Casey died, Mr. Battle saw to it that Annie received $25.00 a month.  Here is the link to an earlier post I have written about how important the Battle family is to the Rocky Mount Mill story and beyond.

Tomorrow we will learn more about the Casey family.

Remembering a Village Family – Milton and Cora West – Part 2

“History is the essence of innumerable biographies.”

Thomas Carlyle

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 An excerpt from the letter Mr. Hyman Battle wrote to Milton West on the occasion of his retirement from The Rocky Mount Mills

…He doesn’t recall the names of all the mills he worked in between 1910 and 1916, but he worked in Charlotte, Raleigh, and Fayetteville before coming to Rocky Mount in 1916. This came about when his sister wrote and told him our mill needed experienced help. He says he had no trouble in getting a job – he even recalls his first day at work when he ran 4 “old timey” drawing frames which had no guards. Mr. West says only good sense kept you from getting hurt. Mr. West doesn’t remember getting hurt.

…On April 7, 1917 he married Miss Cora Register who had come to Rocky Mount from Duplin County to work in the mill.

…Mr. West has the honor of having received the highest award ever given by Rocky Mount Mills for a suggestion. In 1948 he was awarded over $200 for his suggestion about running the Waste Mill. He likes his job, he likes Rocky Mount Mills and in his words, “I consider it an honor to have worked for Rocky Mount Mills 35 years.”

…”Mr West, Rocky Mount Mills considers it an honor to have had you with us for 35 years. So with a great deal of pride, I present Milton Dupree West for his 35 year Special Award.     Hyman Battle

Stepheny with a note: This is the first in what I hope will be a series of stories about families who lived in the Mill Village. If you have a story you are willing to share, PLEASE, leave me a comment below and I will contact you. Let’s honor the past together. 

Remembering A Mill Village Family – Milton and Cora West

“History is the essence of innumerable biographies.”

Thomas Carlyle

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22 Carr Street

1940 historic marker on the house

Originally from the Lumberton, NC area, Milton West & Cora Register West made The Mill Village their home for sixty-plus years of marriage.  They raised five children, three sons and two daughters, living at one time or another in a house on E. Elm, on W. Elm, and at 22 Carr street, the only one of the three homes that remain. The monthly rent was $25.00. I doubt that Milton and Cora could have imagined that as we look back at their seemingly ordinary lives, they are no less than iconic versions of their time and place.

We enter their story through the heart of Jackie Howell Wall, the oldest of their eighteen grandchildren. Her mother, Myrtle West was one of Milton & Cora’s daughters. Jackie’s father, Jack Howell, grew up across the street from Myrtle where eventually they fell in love and married.  Jackie is one of four children. She remembers her grandparents well. A favorite memory is taking her grandfather’s lunch to the Mills where they would eat together in the Bell Tower.

Milton was tall, mischievous and loved to pull jokes on others. A committed Christian, he sang in the church choir with a beautiful bass voice. A hard working man, it was always clear that his family came first. At holiday time the family gathered at the Mill Village and during summertime the various grandchildren looked forward to staying with Milton & Cora.

Cora was short and stout, a great cook and baker. There was always something cooking on the stove; a plate of food on the table with a cloth covering it. She insisted on feeding you before you left. Jackie said, “No matter how old we got, we always wanted to go to Grandma’s.” Here were two people with a strong faith who instilled in their children and grandchildren a sense of family that endures today.

When Milton retired from the Mill he was given a gold watch, $25,00 a month retirement pay, and a letter of commendation from Mr. Hyman Battle. In old age, widowed, Milton went to live with his daughter, Evelyn in Raleigh, NC. When the house on East Elm burned soon after his move, they found the picture of Jesus that that had hung near the fireplace without a scorch mark on it. A nice story to end with. A brief Part 2 scheduled for Wednesday.

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Jackie remembers the hot dog stand that is still in operation today owned by Skippy Ezzell and Capps Grocery, now closed.

This post is written in honor of Milton & Cora West, A Mill Village family that should not be forgotten for their hard work and god-fearing ways.  They are wonderful examples of a time and place in our Southern Mill history, a time that may have passed us by, but worth emulating in the Village today.