Oldtimer offers glimpses of last 100 years

Martha Kee may be almost 100 years old, but her eyes are still bright, and the sweet and soft chuckle she lets out when reminiscing warms a heart like a batch of fresh cookies from grandma's oven.

Folks like Kee are hard to find. They are walking, breathing history books that share glimpses of what it was like to be a Concord resident in the last hundred years. A good portion of her life was spent like many of her generation who lived in the country, without telephone, electricity or indoor plumbing. Horses and feet were standard transportation back then, and folks raised what they put on their dinner tables themselves from their gardens and pastures.

Kee and her husband, John David, married in 1927 and bought an acre at the corner of what is now George Liles Boulevard and Weddington Road. The little house, which was once an old Lutheran church and school, still sets there today, although vacant. A Kee hasn't owned the property for the last 25 years.

It's one of the last bits of land on that side to surrender to the sprawling growth around it. Throw a rock in any direction, and it would be hard not to hit a restaurant, grocery store, or subdivision. A large "for sale" sign stuck in the ground has been trying to coax a buyer.

But back in the late 1920s and several decades thereafter, the corner looked much different. Weddington Road was a dirt path with a half dozen modest houses tucked between thick woods and cotton fields.

Martha remembers the cotton all too well.

"I had to pick cotton," she chortles. "Sure did. My husband, he always took it to the gin and had it ginned. And then they sold the bales."

Much like her house, Martha's life was centered on cotton. Making a name for herself in the community as a seamstress, she would turn cotton into skirts, blouses, men's jackets, even a wedding dress now and then for people in town. If the right pattern couldn't be found, she would make her own out of old newspapers.

"Whatever they wanted," she recalls. "I was busy all the time sewing for other people."

That included nine children's wardrobes as well.

She made all of her five daughters' and four sons' clothes. The girls' dresses would often be made from flour sacks. Back then, flour was sold in cotton bags with pretty designs.

After 100 years, Kee's memories fade in and out. As a child, she remembers her mom's joyful hollers upon hearing the sirens signaling the end of World War I, but she doesn't recall much about World War II.

She remembers the struggles of The Great Depression. "You had to do on as little bit as you could," she said.

She doesn't remember when she first rode in a car, but she does recall the first few times she saw one of the new contraptions puttering down the dirt road.

"There wasn't very many who had cars," she said. "If we was in the field working and we heard a car coming down the road, me and my brother would run to the road to see it."

Other inventions that have come along during her life, she hints, she could give or take.

The telephone: "I was doing alright without it," she said.

The television: "I just get tired of looking at it."

What she would most rather have is a needle and some cotton.