After ninety-five years, June 29th is still special to one Chatham couple

A birthday and anniversary in one


SILER CITY — It’s not every day someone gets to enjoy two of life’s milestones on the same day, but on June 29, a Bennett man did just that, sharing them with his wife of many years since she was one of the big reasons the day was special.

Norman Brown was born on that day in 1929 on the family farm just east of Bennett, a homeplace he would ultimately share through the years with his parents, Ina and Bennie, and eight siblings: Hilda, Myrtle, Howard, Colon, Clint, Coy, Lynn and Buster. Twenty-seven years later, on June 29, 1956, he brought home another roommate, the former Mary Lea Langley of Siler City, herself part of a good-sized family including four other children — Billy, Bob, Nancy and Dixie — born to a father most called Mr. Bill and mother Mettie, called “Big Mama” by most folks.

They never lived anywhere else.

Last Saturday, a large number of family members and friends dropped in at the ancestral home for a floating reception to say “Happy 95th Birthday” to Norman and offer similar 68th anniversary wishes to the couple. Not only are they the last surviving members of their immediate families, but they are also the glue that continues to hold their descendants together in a tight-knit circle of family love.

They’ve seen many changes through those years. There have been births and deaths, weddings and funerals, family reunions galore, extended family members living with them, ice cream makings, corn-shuckings, Fourth of July celebrations, and family in Uncle Sam’s military. When Norman’s parents were living, the home place was where family, including Mary Lea’s, gathered almost every Sunday afternoon. For years, when their second generation of nieces and nephews were youngsters, those folks turned the front yard into a volleyball court. And there were always Pepsis and oatmeal cookies, Royal Crown Colas and peanut butter crackers — “nabs,” to be exact.

Though they had no children of their own, they were parents to scores of youngsters, kin and their friends alike. There were camping trips, Rook tournaments, 75 people in the house on Christmas Eve, Mary Lea’s caramel cakes and trips to the beach. And on many of those trips, their van would hardly be out of the driveway before Norman would stop at a country store for a snack break.

In addition, Pleasant Grove Christian Church has been a big part of their lives, from Norman singing in the choir to Mary Lea serving as treasurer for the women’s group and both of them working long and hard on the Fall Festival and other similar events.

Today, they’ve slowed down, but they’re still rocking along, something they did in the chairs on the front porch Saturday as family and friends came by for a smile and a hug. And even though neither one moves as quickly as they once did when they raised chickens, and Mary Lea worked at A.J. Schneierson Manufacturing Co. (“the slip factory,” folks called it) or in the lunchroom at Jordan-Matthews High School or Norman was a mail carrier or could be found out in the side yard working on a lawn mower, they still keep up with what’s going on.

Every two or three minutes on Saturday, Mary Lea was still in the business of looking after the crowd: “You want something to drink?” she often asked on that hot day, not bothering to let the crowd serve her. And although Norman is dealing with what you’d expect for someone 95, he, as he says, “keeps on going.”

“As long as I can sit,” he says in a direct contradiction of how he once was, “I feel okay. It’s when I start moving around that it’s not so good.”

So, while there are a few concessions to the passage of time, Norman and Mary Lea still make an almost daily trip to Siler City for a grocery run, to the drug store or maybe for a biscuit or a lunch sandwich. They've been moving around and traveling for years; there's no need to stop now.