Story of Orlean (Granny) Smith

Featured Lifestyle

91-year-old still enjoys work

By Marvine Sugg/lifestyles editor

To most folks she's just "Granny." "She's quite a lady! You don't find many like her anymore," said Larry Dooley, referring to his mother-in-law Orlean (Granny) Smith.

The 91-year-old spends several hours a day at the cash register at Henri's on the Square, owned by her daughter Henrietta and son-in-law. Not only does she take the customers' money, but she makes sure they get prompt service.

Granny has seven grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

Born in Lexington, Ala., Granny moved with her family to the Minor Hill community in Giles County when she was just three weeks old.

"I lived on the same farm all my life," she said. "This is the same farm where the Confederate soldier Sam Davis was captured during the Civil War. In 1926, when the Sam Davis monument was unveiled on my father's farm, I had a big part and even got my name in the history books."

She recalled that Tennessee governor Austin Peay attended the unveiling ceremony.

Granny started first grade and graduated from Minor Hill School, where both Henrietta and her brother, Carl Smith (now deceased) graduated.

"When I went to school we walked one and a half miles around mudholes. There were six months of free school and if you went nine months, you paid for the other three. I always went for the full nine months," she recalled. "When I graduated in 1926 there were 13 graduates. Three or four are still living."

In 1929 she and Porter Smith were married sitting in a car in the middle of the road. "The magistrate always told us that when we were ready to get married, he would marry us free of charge, but Porter gave him $3 and he grabbed it and ran," Granny said with a chuckle. For approximately 25 years, she and her husband ran a grocery, country store and peddling truck in the Minor Hill community. "Lots of days we got home at midnight when I went with Porter on the peddling truck," she recalled. Mr. Smith died in 1962. Granny has lived in Columbia for the past 20 years. She has worked at Henry's on the Square, off and on, since it opened in 1984.

"She just loves to work," said Larry. "She doesn't work for pay, she just enjoys being around people.

"Most kids today can't count money without the use of a computer, but Granny counts money back the old-fashioned way.

"If she's not here, everyone wants to know where Granny is," he added. "It doesn't matter if one of us is sick, but they always want to know about Granny."

" I don't always know people's names, but I know most people's faces," Granny said.

Granny says she has always enjoyed vegetable gardening and growing flowers. "I wish I had a garden spot now," she said. "One year I grew enough tomatoes and turnip greens for the restaurant."

She admits that she still enjoys picking poke sallet.

"Granny wants to see how much she can do for you," said Larry. "She probably has more flowers scattered around the United States than any other person. She gave away cuttings to lots of tourists who came through town."

"She loved to sew and always made all my clothes," Henrietta added. "She made the original draperies for Henri's as well as the ones we have now."

"I used to do a lot more for people," Granny said. "Two or three Christmases ago, a woman called to tell me that I was the cause of her having the best Christmas she ever had. I didn't even know her name."

Granny recalled another time when a woman's husband died and the family didn't have anything, so she and another lady made up a truck load for her.

"She also loves to go," said Henrietta. "Her first plane trip was a few years ago when her brother who lived in San Diego had a wreck, so she and her sister hopped on a plane and went to California."

"I used to enjoy flying more than I do now," Granny added. "With so many plane crashes I don't enjoy it as much anymore."

She says she likes to ride and enjoy the scenery. Her travels have taken her to Tijuana, Mexico, to two World's Fairs (Knoxville and New Orleans) and several other states. "I always liked to go to the Mardi Gras," she said.

Granny keeps abreast of current events by watching Channel 4 News. She knows more about most celebrities - especially country music artists - than most younger folks. "Vince Gill and George Jones are my favorites," she said.

Granny says she's been pretty lucky because she has not had much illness - a light stroke, a broken arm and blood pressure problems. She attributes this to eating right, going for regular checkups, hard work and clean living.

"She takes a lot of pride in her looks," said Henrietta. "This job provides an incentive for her to get dressed and keep her hair fixed."

A class reunion for anyone who attended Minor Hill School is planned in June. Granny says she is looking forward to seeing former classmates and renewing old acquaintances.

Happy Mother's Day Granny! You're a remarkable lady.

Submitted by: Marilyn K. Hare and Lynn Appling McCandless