2017-08-31 / Front Page

Cunningham celebrates 100 years, reminisces on decades of changes

By JANE ELLYN AARON
news editor


Lincoln County Native Lena Dallas Cunningham celebrated her 100 birthday on August 21. She was joined by her son (left) Earl Cun­ningham Jr. and her nephew Albert “Buddy” Dallas. Lincoln County Native Lena Dallas Cunningham celebrated her 100 birthday on August 21. She was joined by her son (left) Earl Cun­ningham Jr. and her nephew Albert “Buddy” Dallas. “I never in a million years dreamed I’d live to be 100, but here I am. You have to do the best you can with what you’ve got to do with.”

Lena Dallas Cunningham was born to Walter and Gussie Dallas over 100 years ago. Having recently celebrated her first year as a centuri­on on August 21, Cunningham remi­nisced on the way life was from the time she was born in 1917, painting a distinct portrait of how drastically the world has changed since.

“I’m the last living Dallas in my age group, but all of us were from Lincoln County. The two story house on Dallas Street with the oak grove was where I lived,” Cunning­ham said, explaining that she came from a family of farmers, and that her father had a saw mill.

“Everybody helped each other and nobody had money. Everybody had to raise a garden and hogs and chickens for eggs and a cow for milk. We had to work, because they didn’t have all that stuff in the grocery stores like they do now, it ain’t nothing like it was back then,” Cunningham said. “But Lincolnton was a good little place to grow up – you knew your parents and they knew you. They were good to you. When they told you something one time, that was it.

“They’ll have kids eat first these days, but when we used to come home for Sunday dinner children didn’t eat first, the grown people would eat first. Now you hear kids saying ‘hurry up, hurry up,’ but you wouldn’t dare say that then,” Cun­ningham continued. “The grownups would sit and laugh and talk as long as they wanted to, and when you finally did eat you ate in the kitchen and you ate last. I don’t care what nobody says, nobody around our house did otherwise, and I know nobody else did either.”

From the time she was 12-years- old, Cunningham had designated chores to tend to everyday after school – like most children, she pointed out – her job was to prepare supper and make fresh biscuits for the morning’s breakfast.

Having a house in the center of town, with a shared well, and a place welcoming to the neighborhood children, Cunningham explained that there were always people around their home.

“We had a good home, and we had a big yard. Children from up the street and on Dallas Street would come to our house to play hide and go seek. We had so much room to hide and go find them. We always had people at home with us.”

Life in general, according to Cun­ningham, was lived in preparation of the future, in perseverance and unwavering hard work, but not without a heart for caring for fellow community members.

“Everybody in Lincolnton knew how to cook, and they had a garden and a patch out in the field to raise vegetables. We didn’t have a freezer then, so we had to can. You canned stuff to have it for the winter. And not one family did it, everyone did. You didn’t have running water, ev­erybody had a well. Nobody had a bathroom inside, you had an outside toilet. At night you used what they called a slop jar and you carried it out in the morning. They wouldn’t let the girls go out at night, but the boys could go to the outhouse, as they called it,” Cunningham ex­plained. “You washed on a scrub board, and you boiled your clothes in an iron pot outside, and then you rinsed them three times to make them whiter before you hung them out. You see how times have changed?”

Resolutely, however, Cunning­ham said, “We didn’t have much, but we enjoyed it. We helped you and you helped us, because nobody had any money.

“We only got one toy at Christ­mas, and when you got through playing with your doll or whatever it was, you cleaned it up and put it back clean. Now when kids get something, they play with it for 15 minutes and they’ve got to have something new. They don’t enjoy stuff like we did, because they get too much,” Cunningham segued. “Children are not as kind to their parents as they used to be. They talk so ugly to them. You didn’t do that in my time, and if you did you got your bottom skinned. Not one family, but every family. If you knew you were doing stuff wrong, you knew what you were going to get, so you might as well come home and take it, be­cause they weren’t going to let you get by without it. And, one wasn’t going to get by without a spanking and the other one not, because they were all treated alike.”

Sincerely, she added, “We didn’t mind working, and we worked hard because we knew if we didn’t work we wouldn’t have anything. These kids these days are too lazy to work, and they think they’re so smart and act like they know it all, but they’ve got a long, long way to go.”

Despite her observations on to­day’s society, Cunningham thinks back fondly on a time when the railroad ran between Lincolnton and Washington, when the ice house and Coca-Cola plant were still standing, and a regular bus between the two counties frequented the lower part of the county. Even in a period of impending war, explaining that

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