My parents married in 1961. When my mother arrived in Wilson shortly after, my father took her around to meet the elders who had not been able to travel to Virginia for the wedding. Along the way, they stopped at Dew’s Rest Home. As my mother stepped through the door, Aunt Nina threw up a cautionary hand: “Wait. You ain’t expecting, is you?” My mother, mortified: “No, ma’am!” “All right. ‘Cause it’s some uggggly folks in here!”
My paternal grandmother had a thousand stories about Nina — with a long I — Frances Faison Kornegay Hardy. Though she called her “aunt,” Nina in fact was her cousin. She was born March 15, 1882, probably in northern Duplin County, to John Henry Aldridge and Addie Faison. (John H. Aldridge, born 1844, was the son of John Mathew Aldridge, and first cousin of my grandmother’s grandfather, John W. Aldridge.) She seems to have been married briefly to Joe Kornegay in 1899 in Wayne County, but I have not found her in the 1900 census. By 1910, she had made her way 40 or so miles north to Wilson and was boarding in the household of Jesse and Sarah Jacobs as “Nina Facin.” The census also shows a “Nina Facon” living and working as a servant in the household of Jeff Farrior in Wilson. Though described as white, this is almost surely Aunt Nina, who cooked and cleaned for the Farriors most of her working life. Though she and her husband lived just outside Wilson on what is now Highway 58, she was at home only on her days off.
Said my grandmother:
Aint Nina lived up over the Farrior house on Herring Avenue. Herring’s Crossroads, whatever you call it. And that’s where she come up there to live. Well, the maid, as far as the help, or whoever, they stayed on the lot, where they’d have somewhere to sleep. So Aint Nina was living on Nash Road, way down there, and when we went to see her, me and Mamie would run down there five miles. She was working for Old Man Farrior then. When she was living out in the country, she was working for white people, and so she went up to their house and cooked for them. And when we’d go down to her house, she’d have to come from up there and cook when she get home. So we would go and spend a day, but it would be more than likely be on her day off. But when we had the horse and buggy, Mama drove out there once, and we went, I went with Papa with the wagon to where you grind corn to make meal, down to Silver Lake or whatever that place was down there. Lord, them were the good old days.
The Farriors, their back porch was closed in. It had windows. And had a marble floor in the back, and that stairway was on, where it was closed in on the back porch, you could go upstairs, and there was a room up there. You couldn’t go from out of that room into the other part of the house. You had to come back down them steps then go in the house. And that’s where Aint Nina stayed. I said, Lord, I wouldn’t want to have stayed up there. And then something happen … She had to come down and go down the steps, go upstairs, I mean, and come out of the kitchen, and then go up them steps out on this porch in her room. So she stayed up there. Lord, I wouldn’t want to stay up there. She get sick out there, she couldn’t get nobody. I didn’t see no – I was up in there one time, and I went up there just to look around. Well, she had a nice room, nice bed and chair and dresser and everything. There was a whole set in the room where she was. That was the only time I was up there. But I wouldn’t want to stay up there.
In 2004, J.M.B., a Farrior descendant, sent me copies of several photos of Aint Nina. My grandmother had described her (“She wasn’t real short. But she was heavy built, and she had big limbs. But she wasn’t that fat, but she just had big limbs and had a big face.”), and I had seen a couple of pictures of her before, like this one, taken in the mid-1950s with my uncle’s children:
And this one,
[There’s a photo booth shot that I can’t find right now. But I will. UPDATE: I found it. 1/3/2016]
But these …
… these touch me. Nina at work. Nina in a kitchen with a floured pan, perhaps making biscuits, perhaps the dumplings my grandmother relished. Nina, her own legs aching, tending to whitefolks. The columned Farrior mansion, since torn down, with Nina’s little room tucked out of sight.
In 1917, Nina married Julius Hardy in Wilson township. It is likely their house that my grandmother and great-aunt visited out on Nash Road:
They had guinea chickens. A car run over a chicken and killed it, and it kept going. And we, me and Mamie, was going out there, and we picked up the chicken and carried it ‘round there. And Aint Nina poured water and scald the chicken and picked it and cooked it, and we had the best time eating it. Wont thinking ‘bout we was going out there to eat. And so we come walking in there with that chicken, and she wanted to know, “Well, where’d you get that?” “A car run over it, and we picked it up and brought it on over so you could cook it.” And she said, “Yeah, it’s good. A car just killed it?” And it wasn’t too far from the house. And I reckon it was one of her chickens anyhow. Honey, she cooked that old stewed chicken, had to put pastry and vegetables in it. Lord, we stayed out all that time, then had to come home from way out there. But we was full.
And her brother, his name was James Faison, lived across the street from her, and his wife, and I think the lady had been married before because they wasn’t his children. It was two girls. And he worked at the express, at the station. The place was on that side, Nash Street station was over on this side. Baggage used to come over there. The baggage place where’d you take off the train. That’s where you put it over on that side at that time. And he was working over there.
Nina was a font of information about the family back in Dudley that my grandmother barely knew. Mama Sarah was impatient with questions about the past. Nina, on the other hand …
Mama never talked about her daughter Hattie. But A’nt Nina, she would tell everything. Mama got mad with her, said, “You always bringing up something. You don’t know what you talking ’bout.” So she’d go behind — Mama wouldn’t want her to tell things. And she never did say, well, if she said, I wouldn’t have known him, but I never did ask her, who Hattie’s daddy was. I figured he was white. Because she looked — her hair and features, you know, white.
Even as she waited on others, Nina struggled with her health:
But she was kind of sickly, and I went up there for something. See ‘bout her. Carry her something. And then when her leg was sore, and she come to stay with us. Oh, she stayed with us a long time ‘cause she had to go to the doctor, had to be taken to the doctor with that leg. That leg was still big. But it was much bigger than the other one. But it healed over. But it was so knotty-looking, like it’d heal up and draw up in places, and it just looked so bad, and so she’d wear her dresses long. But she had big feet! Oooo, she had big feet. With those big legs … And she was the one that Mama made Mamie iron her clothes on Sunday. ‘Fore you even got to playing, had to get her clothes. She was at Rocky Mount in the hospital with that leg. They had operated on that leg and Mama would go every Sunday and take her clothes, bring her dirty clothes home and wash ‘em and bring them back to her. So, Lord, we had a time with that. And I looked at that big leg and just said, ‘Wooo…. What in the world is that?’ Looked like it just swelled up. And I saw a lady right here in Philadelphia. I had passed, and I seen her, and she had a great big leg. And so by that woman having that big leg, I said, ‘Lord have mercy, I hope I don’t get that. I wonder what’s wrong with it? How come the swelling won’t go down in it?’ People don’t know what they’ll have to go through…. Yeah, ‘cause we went over there, and you didn’t have — it was an open sore, and it was always running. She had to keep her foot up and had to keep the flies from on it, and so I said, well, finally it got better, but that leg healed up, it drawed up and you could tell where the sore was all on her leg. And that leg was much bigger than the other one. It took a long time to heal. It was all healed up though before she died.