The Life of a Turpentine Girl

Posted on 04 October 2017

Symbolically, an old pine tree still stands, as well as the chimney of the small house in Pearson, Georgia, where Sarah Evelyn Holland Shaw was born on February 4, 1923. Her father was Vivian Holland, a man who knew his way around a pine woods and turpentine still. Her mother was Mae Bell, a lady who knew how to run a household and raise happy children. Now, at 93 years old, Sarah says that the Holland children resembled the three stooges, always cooking something up. Sarah, along with her older brother, Wilford and her little sister, Lottie were lively children with fertile imaginations and always together.

The fact that the family had to move practically every year of Sarah’s life until she was an adult, did not affect her or the other children one bit. In her journal, Sarah sums it up by saying, “Life was one perfect summer day”. Her family wasn’t the richest, nor were they the poorest. They had the necessities of life and didn’t know about luxuries. No one she knew seemed to have more or less than her family, but she never noticed. The most important thing to Sarah was that she and her brother and sister knew that they were loved.

Sarah lived in many small towns, some of which are ghost towns now. However, as a teen she lived in Tifton, Mystic and Milledgeville. To her, every time her Daddy came home and said that they were moving, it meant a new adventure. She loved to explore a new turpentine town and the changes it meant. Sometimes the family lived in nice houses, some not so nice. One thing these houses all had in common was the outhouse. Sarah did not have an indoor bathroom until she was in high school. Also, she never was in nor did she see a grocery store until she graduated from high school. However, Sarah never missed the big stores, even when she knew they existed.

Perhaps, it is Sarah’s outlook on life that has given her a very unique and wonderful sense of humor. When she tells about her life, there is always a twinkle in her eye. Usually, there were no neighbors close by, so the three children played together. No matter, they always had a stock pile of ideas and projects. The children were used to making their own toys. One time, it was a croquet set. Another time, it was Lottie and Sarah putting hair on their dolls by gathering corn silk.

Still another was when the three children made a car by digging out seats in the dirt. A large can top was the steering wheel and a stick held it in place. When completed, the three went on a “road trip”, singing the whole time.

The Sears and Roebuck catalogue was not only a source of toilet paper but also inspiration which brought the toys the Holland children made come to life. Sarah cut out her own paper dolls and the clothes that they wore. A large box would become a play house furnished by cut outs from the catalogue and glass pieces for dishes. None of the toys were made overnight. They took time. Nevertheless, the children had fun creating their custom play things.

Of course, with three children so close in age, there was mischief afoot most of the time and the leader usually was Lottie. When her mother hid the precious pecans for Christmas cookies under the bed, it was Lottie who was the first to sneak in and grab a handful with Sarah and her brother following. It resulted with Sarah getting hurt and her mother having to put spider webs on the cut on her forehead to get it to stop bleeding. When everyone was calm, Momma disciplined her frisky bunch.

Life was not all play. Most children of this time had to work in the cotton, tobacco and peanut fields. There was no exception for Sarah and her brother and sister. They helped by working on their grandfather’s farm. Sarah remembers picking cotton and using a big sack that would hold 100 pounds. It had a strap that went over her head and onto her shoulder. She cautiously picked the soft cotton out of the four sections of the very sharp spur. Being tiny, toting a 100 pounds was very hard for Sarah. Her back and knees would always hurt. She writes, “I prayed for rain to come and soak my cotton sack so it would weigh 100 pounds…if I had to pick cotton for a living, I would have starved”.   

In her journal, Sarah confides to the reader that she would like to be able to tell them that working tobacco was better, but it wasn’t. Probably the worst part of picking this crop was the long, very sticky stem that was sort of like okra. This had to be taken out of every plant. After doing this, row after row, your hands were so sticky that you couldn’t wait to wash them. Shaking peanuts was not that much better. It was another very dirty job, for as you shook out the peanuts, the dirt and dust went all over you.

Her journal tells us, “I learned so much… when I look back over those days of working in the fields. It was a great adventure.”

While in high school in Tifton, Sarah met the man who would be the love of her life, Vernon Shaw. She first saw him when he was the referee for her basketball game. At this time, she didn’t know who Vernon was except that he was a popular football player in Tifton. Somehow, they ended up in the same English class and Vernon sat right behind her. He stole a picture of Sarah out of her book. A guy who sat across from Vernon, dared him to ask Sarah for a date adding he would give him $5.00, if she accepted. Sarah did! On this first date, they went to the movies and for hamburgers, and had a great time!

Their next date was when Vernon asked her to go to his Senior Banquet. She said, yes, even though she did not know what to wear. Thanks to good friends that problem was solved. For the first time, Sarah had polished fingernails and makeup on. She borrowed her Momma’s sandals and stockings. When Vernon picked her up, he was speechless! Her heart swelled when he told her that he had never seen her look so pretty!

Now, the sparks of love had ignited for the two young people. They courted for several months. Sarah felt love between them growing. She writes it this way, “He was so cute, so nice and treated me with respect”.

However, a lover’s quarrel interfered into their relationship and afterward, they broke up. However, after a short time, Sarah learned that she was moving again. This time to Queensland. When Vernon found out, he couldn’t get to Sarah quick enough. After talking, the couple was together again.

After graduation from high school, Sarah went to Milledgeville. Here, she attended Georgia State College For Women. Classes rotated with academic studies for a week, then skills in making a good home the next week. She also took a class in making ceramics which she loved. While in school, her family moved again. This time to Fernandina Beach, Florida.

Vernon, who graduated before Sarah, was working at a gas station in Tifton while she was in school at GSCW. At this time, World War II was raging. When Sarah stopped by to see Vernon, he told her he had joined the Navy and he didn’t know when he would see her again. He was going to sea on the aircraft carrier, USS Enterprise. With the future an uncertainty, he asked her not to forget him. With hope in his voice he told her that he loved her, and always will. Facing the realities of War, sadness engulfed Sarah. However, they did get engaged while Vernon was in the South Pacific. Vernon sent her engagement ring via mail.

Sarah didn’t see Vernon for three years. When she did, she didn’t recognize him at first. He had lost a lot of weight and was very muscular. She says he was more handsome than before. They walked hand in hand to a park near the bus station and sat on a shady bench. Vernon got on his knee and formerly asked her to marry him. Well, after waiting three years and receiving 197 letters from him, Sarah said “YES!” They were married on July 16, 1945.

Now Sarah had a difficult decision to make. She could go to Fernandina with her parents or go with her husband who was now stationed in Chicago. She decided her place was with her husband. Her mother agreed though her father wanted her to stay with them. When she said goodbye to her parents she had no idea that this would be the last time she would ever see her father. He died of a stroke at the age of 47.

When Vernon’s time in the Navy was served, he got a job as a truck driver for a company in Tifton. Now Sarah entered another phase in her life, she became a mother. Her first child was named, Joel Dwain. Vernon was promoted and they moved to Thomasville. As a new mom, Sarah worked hard making a home for her family. After five years, her daughter, Patricia Jill was born. Sarah then started a daycare at her home. Another promotion for Vernon now brought the young family to Bainbridge in 1955. Here they found their forever home. Sarah still lives there.

Soon after the move to Bainbridge, Sarah’s third child was born, Vernon Thomas. After quite a while, the family was blessed with a fourth child, Tammy Gay. Sarah had her wish for two boys and two girls.

Sarah was very proud of Vernon when he joined the Shriner’s, an organization that works with the families of crippled children. Vernon worked his way through the necessary offices to become the Potentate in 1989. Sarah was thrilled for him and enjoyed her time as “First Lady” helping with fundraisers.

In 1994, the Post Searchlight had a contest for a young mother and an older mother of the year. Tammy had written a piece for the contest. Sarah won! These words that Tammy wrote describes Sarah’s outlook on life: “Love gives love and a smile passes on a smile.”

Another change in Sarah’s life was when she and Vernon bought land at Lake Seminole and put a mobile home there. She calls it, “A little bit of heaven.” The couple enjoyed their time at the Lake so very much. Later, they added a dock and fished every chance they got. However, when Vernon became sick, no one went to the cottage for over a year. Faced with a painful decision, Sarah sold it.

November 21, 2007, was the day Sarah lost her Vernon. She recalls going into his room to feed him. He looked at her with cloudy eyes and said, “I just had lunch with my Master.” Those were his last words.

Now Sarah had entered another phase, that of the widow. She was numb and grieving. The power of prayer and help from God rescued her. Slowly, she came to life again for God showed her that her children and grandchildren needed her.

After a nasty fall a little over a year ago, Sarah has been challenged by the recovery. Even though she has slowed down, with the help of her daughter, Jill Shaw, she has love and laughter in her life. She stays in touch with her now large family. She says that God is not through with her yet. She has written her memories and added pictures into a book which each family member has. Jill is now looking into having it published so others can enjoy Sarah’s life with her.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.