WHITE PLAINS – On May 29, 1916, Thelma Florence Hamlett entered this world in Pittsylvania County to parents Edgar and Gracie Hamlett and would be the next to the youngest of three brothers and three sisters. Woodrow Wilson was president, the United States was in the middle of World War I and Charlie Chaplin signed his first motion picture contract for $10,000.
Now, at 103, Thelma Hamlett Yeatts, as she is known, after marrying her husband Howard in 1935, is alert, funny, has a positive attitude and is full of stories from the past and the present.
When she was 2 years old, she and her family moved from Pittsylvania County to Prince Edward County. At the time there was no indoor plumbing, electricity or a phone.
“Nobody had those things. When the electric lines came through where we lived, the first things we got were a refrigerator and a washing machine,” said Yeatts. “My momma was so happy. I don’t think the electric bill was more than three dollars a month.”
She says that her family, like most at the time, didn’t have a car to get around. Most everyone walked wherever they had to go or used a wagon or buggy. She was interested in getting a driver’s license.
“I started up the truck we had one time after I was married and it scared me to death, so I cut it right off,” said a laughing Yeatts. “I don’t know what I would have done if that truck had moved.”
Not having a phone didn’t stop people from communicating and passing the family and local news around. In fact, Yeatts thinks that it kept families closer because they visited each other more.
“You had company a lot more back then, nobody had telephones so they would come visit and talk and tell you all the news,” said Yeatts. “You had company all through the week. People don’t visit today like they used to.”
She said her favorite time of the year is Christmas and even though they didn’t get much, she enjoyed everybody getting together.
“For Christmas we would get one toy, an apple, a huge stick of peppermint candy and a bunch of raisins,” said Yeatts. “Families don’t get together today like they did back then. Later after I got married and had a family, we would go to my parents for breakfast Christmas morning and then eat lunch at another family member’s house. Everybody would go to other family members houses each day between Christmas and New Year’s Day to eat and visit. It was so much fun.”
Yeatts was born into a Methodist family but joined the Baptist Church when she moved to Brunswick County. She is the oldest member of Warfield Baptist Church, although she hasn’t been able to go in quite a while. When she was young, the whole family would get up and eat breakfast about 5 o’clock in the morning and when her daddy and the others would leave to go to the fields to work, she and her younger siblings would go out and play in their playhouse.
“We’d have a ball, making mud pies and such. There was plenty to entertain us,” said Yeatts. “At lunch time momma would call ever body in to eat. She would holler out in such a way that even the men out in the fields would hear her and come for lunch. I don’t know how they heard her but they did.”
Yeatts attended Farley School in Amelia County when she was growing up. She loved school because there wasn’t much else to entertain young people and she looked forward to going every day.
“It was just a country school with two teachers. I enjoyed school. The last day of the year we would all sing ‘God Be with You’ and everybody would just cry because we hated it was the last day of school. The teachers always came and stayed a night with us during the school year. Daddy would go pick them up and bring them to the house,” said Yeatts.
Over the years she was never really interested in politics. She was too busy raising a family and working in the home.
“I never was much into politics,” said Yeatts. “Franklin Roosevelt has probably been my favorite president though. He helped the country through a lot and he seemed to be for the average man.”
Yeatts said she can’t remember exactly how she met Howard, but she knew he was the right person for her early on.
“I had a boyfriend one time that walked all the way from Kenbridge to Rice just to see me. A friend asked me later are you going to marry him and I said no, Howard is the one,” said Yeatts laughing before she could finish her sentence. “And I ended up marrying Howard.”
During their first year of marriage, after her daddy sold his tobacco, he bought a hundred pounds of beans, a hundred pounds of sugar, a hundred pounds of cabbage, three barrels of flour, a bushel of corn and a supply of coffee for the newlywed couple.
“He did us all that way when we got married to help start us out. He also gave us a cow that first year so we would have milk and butter,” said Yeatts laughing. “He would give us a hog and a pig, too. Actually, it was two pigs if you would take the runt and that little runt would get just as big as the other pig. Then momma gave us a dozen laying hens and canned fruit. They started us out really good.”
In 1957, she and Howard and their family moved to the Lafoon Farm in the Danieltown area of Brunswick County, where Yeatts lived until 1988 when Howard died. She then moved to the White Plains area to be closer to her daughter and son-in-law Louise and Charles Wright. She moved in with them 11 years ago. Howard and Thelma also had a son, Douglas, who died in 1995.
Yeatts says she loved to cook and on Sundays a lot of the children and others from church would come home with her family and spend the day. She would prepare all the food for them to eat for Sunday dinner.
“I raised my own garden. After the housework was finished on Mondays, I’d go to the garden and gather my string beans and other vegetables and then the next day I would do my canning. Then on Wednesday I would gather the vegetables again and on Thursday do canning again,” said Yeatts. “On Friday I would gather vegetables to prepare them for the Sunday meal. Then Saturday I would bake my cake and pies and get my chickens ready and on Sunday morning I would get up early and get everything ready. I’d have to rush to get things finished to get to church on time.”
Louise said her mother just didn’t fix a few things, but the table was full and there was always more than enough food to feed everybody.
Yeatts gives a lot of credit for her long life to those who have looked after her over the years. She says her husband was a really good man to her and Louise and Charles have been wonderful to her as well.
Her daily routine consists of going to bed around 7 p.m. and getting up by 7 a.m. She eats well and sits and listens to different programs on the television. Her favorites are the 700 Club and Jim Swaggert.
Yeatts says that life is still good even at her age, although she is slower and has lost most of her sight.
“I do think you have to stay positive and never give up,” said Yeatts. “I also think there is something about being at home that keeps you going. I look forward to each day. I am thankful each morning when I wake up. God has also had a hand in me being here so long.”
Ask what her plans were for her next birthday, Yeatts pauses and says, “I haven’t given it much, but I am sure I will think of something by then.”