105-year-old Laura Burgess tells life story from Rabbit Skin home
At 105, Laura Bell Messer Burgess lives deep in the groves of Jonathan Creek on Rabbit Skin Road. She's a local living historian whose high-spirited spunkiness could put a 70-year-old to shame.
“I don’t have any idea why God keeps me here, but I guess He’s got a reason,” she said, smiling her contented smile, as she sat dressed in her best in her living room preparing to reflect on 105 years and counting.
Her roots run deep in the waters of nearby Cove Creek where she was delivered on Oct. 4, 1907, in her two-room home to parents Elijah Compton Messer and Callie Doanie Franklin Messer. Eventually, her mother gave birth to 12 children – Lawson (who died at age 1), Laura Bell, Lona Elizabeth, Jerry Lee, Ina Pearl, Stanford Hughes, Horace Eugene, Mae Curr, Amos (who died at age 2), Annie Lou, Eva Mozelle and Frances Faye (who died at age 1).
After they farmed corn, beans and tobacco during the day and her father helped carve out many local roads, they went home to a two-room house at night – one room being the kitchen while the other room served as living and bedroom space. “We used old kerosene lamps to see by and kept a big light in the fire – oh, mercy, I can just see that!” she recalled.
During the day, the family used an old-fashioned outhouse, but that changed at night, she said. “Most of the time we used a pot in the house, then washed it up in the morning for that night,” said Burgess.
She walked to the two-room, 25-student Cove Creek School with her sister, Lona Elizabeth. One day the teacher had a spelling bee and Burgess won when she spelled “shirt” correctly. “I remember the teacher gave me a dictionary for winning,” she said.
“On the playground when we played softball, my cousin Jimmie Evans could outrun a horse, so I would bat and holler to Jimmie, ‘Now you run!’ and we won every time!” added Burgess.
One day when she and her sister, Lona, strolled home, they saw something that made them pale with fright.
“Me and Lonie saw something coming down the road just a flying, not with a horse or mule or anything hooked to it but just going by itself and we were scared to death!” said Burgess, adding they flew up the hill and told their mother they had seen something that “made the awfulest racket.”
“Mama didn’t know what it was either,” she added, noting they discovered later it was a Model-T Ford an Ironduff man purchased.
After finishing third grade, Burgess quit school to help her mother care for her younger siblings and, at only age 12, she helped her father build a new, much larger log home on Jonathan Creek. She helped install the rafters, shingles, windows and doors.
“Daddy told Mama, ‘Don’t worry about Laurie because she’s like a squirrel — you can’t knock her off that house,’” said Burgess.
She liked to go to old-time “revival meetings” at Cove Creek Baptist Church, back in the time when revivals were held twice a day and known to stretch out for weeks.
“I’m telling you what, back then we had real meetings. Those women wore the big long dresses and big bonnets and aprons and buttoned-up shoes and they would get to praying and shouting and I had never heard the like,” remembered Burgess.
“One night revival preacher Doug Davis and his cousin were holding a revival meeting and, when I was saved that night, I felt like angels were all around me,” she added, noting she was 13 when she was baptized in a very complete-with-icicles cold Jonathan Creek.
She met her boyfriend, Medford Burgess, at Marshall Messer’s Cove Creek general store at age 17. Three years later, while walking her home from church, he asked her to marry him. After the couple married in 1927, they had four children — Horace Eugene (who died at age 3), James Hugh, Mary Lou and Sam.
It was in the cold February of 1948 when she first saw the wonders of electricity. One bitter cold day when the electric company employees installed light poles in her yard, she fed them a massive dinner of beans, soup, cornbread, biscuits, tater salad and an array of cakes and pies.
“I remember one of the men said, ‘I’ve never seen such a big table set with such a little woman who set it,’ and he was a boss man,” recalled Burgess, smiling proud, thinking of that historic day.
It was 24 years later, in 1972, when she first experienced the luxury of indoor plumbing, although she didn’t initially like the idea. “At first, we thought going to the bathroom inside was nasty because we were so used to going outside,” she explained.
Throughout her life, she loved growing flowers which she continued until the grand age of 93.
Currently, at age 105, she has no major health problems except a touch of asthma and takes no regular medication. At 105 years strong, she has outlived a husband, 10 of 11 siblings, three of four children, and one great-great-granddaughter. Ironically, only she (the oldest sibling) and her youngest sibling, Eva Mozelle, 85, are still living. Two of her sons, James Hugh and Sam, both died at age 73.
Currently, she says, she thinks a lot about heaven.
“I would like to go on to a better place and what I would like to say to the people left here is to tell them about Jesus and how He died on the cross and gave His life and whoever believes that and will look on Him to save their soul, He will save them,” she sincerely expressed.
“When I die I want to be buried in bare feet because I want to run the streets of gold barefooted like I did when I was growing up,” she said with a glowing smile.