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Mary Canrobert

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Catawba County twins still kicking up heels at 91

  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/02/11/16/21/LqAFv.Em.138.jpeg|203
    - MARY CANROBERT
    A sign in Evelyn Hartzoge’s home lets visitors know where she is. Evelyn and her twin sister, “Toots” Caldwell, go dancing at the American Legion in Newton on Friday nights and Hardee’s on Saturday nights.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/02/11/16/21/1peaQZ.Em.138.jpeg|421
    - MARY CANROBERT
    Fraternal twins Evelyn Hartzoge, left, and Evelyne “Toots” Caldwell, 91, have loved to dance since their corn-husking days in rural Catawba County.

On any given Friday or Saturday night, the place to find Evelyn Sigmon Hartzoge and Evelyne “Toots” Sigmon Caldwell is on the dance floor.

The 91-year-old fraternal twins head to the American Legion in Newton for Friday night dances and to Hardee’s restaurant in Conover on Saturdays when a band’s playing. On one trip to Hardee’s a few weeks ago, “we danced quite a bit because it was so cold in there,” said Evelyn. “We got up to get warm.”

Born in Catawba County to Garland and Ophelia Sigmon, Evelyn and Toots were the youngest in a family of seven children. All are dead except the twins. When asked how she got her nickname, Toots said, “I wish I knew. I was just a little bitty trick when they started calling me that.”

Both women are widowed, but it doesn’t stop them from putting on their Sunday best and heading out on the weekends for some good music – preferably country – and a chance to kick up their heels.

Evelyn and Toots recalled their sisters having dances in the Sigmon home. The women said they were only 10 at the time and didn’t start dancing until they were of an age suitable to seek permission from their father to attend corn-shucking parties at the homes of area farmers. With their father’s blessing, the young women climbed into a Model A Ford driven by a neighbor’s son and rode to the events.

“We went corn-shucking so we could dance,” said Toots, adding that the lady of the house prepared the meals at the parties, and “you didn’t eat if you didn’t shuck corn.”

After the shucking and the meal, the crowd would gather in the host’s living room, where guests rolled up the carpet and danced on the wooden floor. Evelyn and Toots remembered groups of men providing the music, playing banjos, guitars, fiddles – country music. “We danced in circles,” said Evelyn. “You didn’t have anybody special (to dance with) – just whoever was there.”

Toots said she wore a pair of leather loafers to the parties. “You could slide your feet,” she said.

The sisters said their father didn’t permit corn-shuckings on his farm. The get-togethers included some young people who shucked haphazardly, creating a mess of husks mixed with clean ears of corn, as well as cobs and leafy coverings strewn around the yard. Evelyn and Toots didn’t shuck in such a manner. “We understood that we weren’t supposed to tear up someone’s corn,” Toots said. “They’d throw the corn around playing with it. They’d have corn scattered everywhere.”

Evelyn said their father gathered corn onto his horse-drawn wagon, steered the wagon into the barnyard, and arranged the husk-covered ears into neat piles. He wanted to maintain those neat piles. “A lot of people weren’t as particular as our daddy,” Evelyn said.

Both women said they had the great respect they had for their parents, and neither would have gone against their father’s wishes. Otherwise, they might not get to go to another corn-shucking, said Evelyn.

Evelyn and Dewey Hartzoge had been married 38 years when Dewey died in 1980. Toots was married to Reid Caldwell for 61 years. Reid died in 2007. Dancing was a big part of both unions.

“We went to places where they played country music and danced,” said Toots. She and Reid often went to campgrounds where dances were held on Friday nights. “Most of the time, square-dancing,” explained Toots.

Evelyn and Dewey looked for places to dance, too, sometimes double-dating with Toots and Reid, but not always. “We had friends, and they had friends,” Evelyn said. The Hartzoges took dancing lessons, including ballroom, but Evelyn said at the campgrounds, “you did what you wanted to.”

“We danced a lot,” said Toots. Both the Caldwells and the Hartzoges eventually bought campers, so after boogieing the night away, the couples had only to walk to their RVs to crash.

After Dewey’s death, Evelyn met a man who became her companion and dance partner until he passed away 22 years later. No surprise where they met: at a dance.

“People can’t imagine how many friends we’ve got because of dancing and because of everywhere we go,” Evelyn said. “When they see us together, everybody knows us.”

The twins pointed out that dancing helps keep them in shape, as does staying busy at home. “I’m up moving around,” said Toots. “I don’t sit in a chair all day.”

“I get up and go to Wendy’s a whole lot of days,” said Evelyn, who meets a friend at the fast-food restaurant.

Though many people don’t dress up these days for dances, Evelyn and Toots like to honor the event the way they always have. “We dress up,” Evelyn said. “Pants when it’s cold. Skirts and dresses when it’s not.”

“I’ve got plenty of pretty skirts and dresses,” Toots said.

Evelyn has two children, three grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. Toots has four children, five grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. They’ve all got quite the example to follow in Evelyn and Toots, two grandmothers who don’t plan to stop busting their moves anytime soon.

Mary Canrobert is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Mary? Email her at marycanrobert@charter.net.
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