No question about it. Dorothea Yarborough Cole lived a hard life.
Born poor in Fairfield County, S.C., on May 28, 1940, Dorothea (pronounced doe-REE-tha) spent more of her childhood peeling potatoes and pushing a mop than going to school and having fun.
As a young woman, she made her way to Charlotte, hoping for a better life. Here she experienced both happiness and heartache.
She met her husband, Dallas Cole, and found work as a domestic and a caterer. Eventually, she bought the house shed been renting off Arrowood Road.
But in 1988, Dallas Cole died at age 59. The next year, a grown son, James Yarborough, died of AIDS.
And on Dec. 23, 1994, her 30-year-old daughter Andrea Denise Cole Neesie died after a man repeatedly ran over her with his car in the parking lot of the Cricket Motel on Archdale Drive.
Dorotheas longtime prayer had been that her daughters killer be apprehended.
She died on May 29 at age 72 from cancer and complications of diabetes. Her prayer was still unanswered.
In spite of her heartache, Dorothea was an inspiration to many. Her grandson Andre Cole, 32, describes her as the neighborhood mother.
But theres one person not a family member whose love for Dorothea was so special he says you can put it in a jar and place it on a shelf all by itself.
She was the emotional rock of our family, says David Stone, whos 43 and first met Dorothea when he was a child.
It sounds dangerously like a cliché. A white boy, his black nanny, and his deep attachment to this woman he says loved and sheltered him in good times and bad.
The best-selling novel, The Help, reminds us of the sharp inequities between white folks and their black domestic help. Black people often worked long hours for scant wages and were sometimes treated with less respect than the family dog.
There were exceptions, of course, and Andre Cole says the Stones treated his grandmother generously.
She never had to ask for anything, he says. She wasnt somebody who just worked for them. They took her on their vacations, and they paid for her to have her own trips, too.
Anything they could do to show they loved and appreciated her, they did it.
Despite the very real inequities of the time, the beloved black nanny, dispensing wisdom while frying up a chicken, is more than romanticized myth. She was, in fact, a reality in many homes in the South and throughout the country.
And when a child, especially a lonely child, walks into the arms of a powerhouse of love and authority, the earth can rumble.
David was in elementary school when his mother, Anna Stone, ran an ad seeking help with what had become an impossible situation for her.
Both her parents were ill, and the youngest of her four children, Justin Stone, had a lung condition that required frequent travel to Florida.
Davids dad, Herman Stone, was working long hours as head of Consolidated Theaters in Charlotte and as president of the National Association of Theater Owners of North and South Carolina.
Dorothea was among those who saw the ad and applied.
Dorothea happened to mention that she loved to cook, says Anna. I had never given a thought to anyone else cooking. I said, Want to come tomorrow and lets get in the kitchen together?
Dorothea came the next day and stayed.
With his parents busy and distracted and with his older brother and sister, Aubrey and Wesley, involved with school and sports, David was often at loose ends. Occasionally, he was downright blue.
But when Dorothea walked through the door, the sun came out. She took charge, says David, She was upbeat. Shed say, Get down here, boy, and get dressed. It was like, Dorotheas here! Were going to this thing going on.
Davids memories of Dorothea are vivid.
The time they were driving out near Elm Lane and Dorothea hit a possum.
According to David: She said, Hurry, David! Jump out and get that possum. We hit him in the head and his meats still good. Well clean him later.
The times Dorothea went with the Stone family to Litchfield Beach, S.C., and shed put on red lipstick and don her red shoes and dress and go dancing down at the old Club 17.
The times David misbehaved and Dorothea bellowed: Boy, Ill break your neck and boil you in oil!
The times it stormed, and Dorothea directed David to unplug all the lamps and the TV and sit very still beside her so the lightning wouldnt find him.
Says Dorotheas grandson Andre: David was someone she counted as one of her own children.
To this day, David calls Dorothea his safe haven.
She filled the void, he says.
David is now on the treatment staff of the Charlotte Rescue Mission and the Dilworth Center for Chemical Dependency.
He says he tries to treat clients who are recovering from addiction to alcohol and drugs the way Dorothea treated him: with empathy, good listening skills, a nonjudgmental attitude and positive regard.
Says Andre Cole: It never mattered race, creed or color anybody my grandmother came in contact with was blessed, and anybody that didnt, they missed out.
She never got caught up in the materialistic, says David. She lived by the spiritual things fellowship, friendship, honesty and facing fear with faith.