“Oh! It’s just completely changed.”
Irene Groce has seen a lot of differences between the present day and 100 years ago. She said everything had changed since her birth on March 22, 1913, when she experienced a far different time in another America.
Groce saw the era when wagons were the mainstay and cars were never present in the area. There were days, especially a cold Christmas day, when she and her family traveled in a wagon from Brushy Mountain - near the I-77 and Highway 21 intersection in Jonesville - to see her grandmother Ferguson in the Thurmond/Boomer area.
“We were happy that Christmas,” Groce said. Groce said that despite the cold it was a very pleasant memory, one that has not faded with time.
She also remembers riding across a frozen Yadkin River to the Elkin side to visit her uncle. Groce said people had to bust the ice for the boat to pass through.
Her father was one of the first men to tend the Brushy Mountain’s apple orchard, one of the most iconic areas in Jonesville for many years, and it was on and around the mountain she spent the majority of her life.
Shortly after her birth Groce moved to the mountain from the Thurmond area with her parents and siblings so her father could work.
“I came down from the Blue Ridge when I was about 3 years old to the mountain,” Groce said. “The orchard hadn’t started then.”
“They had trees and wanted Papa to come and cut them down. They didn’t have machinery to take up the trees and all that. When we left the Blue Ridge Mama and me and my brother rode the train to Elkin.”
There the owner of the former apple orchard met them and took them over to the Brushy Mountain. Groce said the traveling took all day.
Groce said she can remember setting out the first apple trees on the mountain. Her father Bynum Ferguson managed the orchard for years, her son Roger said.
She attended a two-room kindergarten through seventh grade elementary school on Swan Creek Road, staffed by only two teachers. She and her siblings walked down the mountain to school every day, truly in rain or shine, until she graduated from the seventh grade.
“They had a high school in Jonesville then, but you had to get away to go or board somewhere because they didn’t have buses then,” she said.
She stopped after her time at Swan Creek, but her brother did go on to the high school.
Years later they moved down to the foot of the mountain, where she lived until her marriage at the age of 16.
Roger, 75, sat with her during the interview with The Tribune, speaking loudly enough that she could hear. Roger jokes that people all over the place know what they talk about when he visits.
Groce has a hard time hearing and requires people to virtually shout to be heard, something that made Roger’s translations necessary.
Roger is Groce’s only child, although she also had another who lived only three days.
Groce’s husband Farmer Groce died in 1989 at the age of 79. He was born on October 10, 1910, and died exactly 79 years later on his birthday.
Groce said she met her husband when he came to Swan Creek.
“I heard about him some way or the other. He came to Swan Creek Church, him and another boy. I met him there.”
She has also seen generations of her own family grow, even holding her great great granddaughter in her arms as people celebrate the beginning of her 100th year.
Groce is the matriarch of the family, with Roger her son, Von Groce her grandson, Crystal her great-granddaughter, and Crystal’s daughter Kaleigh the great-great-grandchild. Until Groce had to move, she and her family lived within walking distance of each other on Highway 21.
She misses her home now, speaking from her room in an assisted living center in Yadkinville. She has been a resident for two years in May.
“There were lots of people, and they seemed to have a good time, talking and all. I enjoyed it too,” she said, recalling the birthday party her friends and family threw at the center last month.
She added, “I wish I could have been home.”
Groce made light of her century, saying, “Right many people live to be 100.”
Her sister is 94, her neighbor next door is 102, and another woman in the center is 103. Groce’s grandmother also lived to be 100.
“I’m happy that I’m living, but I don’t know how to explain it,” she said. “I guess I’m happy to be that old.”
Throughout the interview it was apparent her heart was still in the mountains.
“We left one mountain and came to another mountain and moved off and then came back to the mountain,” she said. “They kept getting us to come to the mountain.”
To contact Taylor Pardue call 336-835-1513 ext. 15, or email him at email@example.com.