A century of experience
Centenarian Verena Paul remembers the days when crops were planted with a mule and hand plow, an evening’s entertainment meant a visit with the neighbors, homes had no indoor plumbing and were lit with kerosene lamps, stoves were heated with wood and the ice man delivered every week.
“My stepdaddy farmed, and I worked in the fields. They used horses and mules to tend their farms. My stepdaddy started me scooping drains when I was about 6 years old. I got to where I could really scoop a drain out good,” Paul remembers.
She later was promoted to “chopping” corn and tobacco with a hoe.
For fun, “the neighborhood where I lived was all we had. We’d go to our neighbor’s house and have a party and entertain ourselves. There was nothing else.”
More than 60 family members — including two sisters, all six of her children, 13 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren — gathered together for a two-day celebration recently to mark Miss Verena’s 100th birthday at the home of son, WD Paul, in Belhaven.
“We’re all blessed,” said her youngest son, Gregg. “She had such a giving heart. Giving back is what she taught us. She set such a good example for us to pass onto our kids.”
Miss Verena reminisced about her century of living prior to the family event.
One of 10 children, Verena Lillian Marslender Paul was born Sept. 20, 1912, in Belhaven and has lived less than 10 miles from that location ever since. She met the man who would become her husband, Dallas Paul, when her family moved from Pantego to the Smithton area in the late 1920s. They married in 1935.
“We didn’t have much then. I believe Dallas didn’t have more than $5 in his pocket,” she said with a gentle laugh.
Their only transportation was a Dodge car shared between her husband and his brother.
They lived in the Paul family home until her husband could make enough money working on the family farm and in the Belhaven cooper’s mills — for $9 a week — to purchase a small three-room house down the road in Smithton.
“We didn’t have much room, but we made room. We managed. We had a pretty good life,” she said.
That house was moved in 1937, using pine logs and a tractor to move it to its current location. It was enlarged to accommodate the Paul’s growing family of six children — James Edward, Evelyn, WD, Ray, Cindy and Gregg.
On Saturday nights Miss Verena and friend Sanna would head into Belhaven for a bit of socializing.
“We’d go to Belhaven every Saturday night. We’d sit in the truck and talk to the people coming down the street. On the way home we always stopped at the little grocery in Smithton. I remember my groceries cost three dollars and Sanna’s cost four dollars,” Miss Verena recalled.
“We’d give the boys a quarter, and they’d go to the movies for 10 cents. They’d buy popcorn and a drink for another 10 cents and have 5 cents for a candy bar. You could buy right much with a quarter back then,” she said.
Paul called the changes she’s seen in her lifetime “amazing,” adding that electricity
made the biggest difference in her life.
“They used to bring ice around. I bought 35-cents worth every week. I got a pretty good size block for that. We got current around 1948. Current is the most important change I’ve seen. It was years before we got anything else. The first thing we did was get a refrigerator and a freezer. We made enough off the potatoes that year to pay for both. I had that freezer full every fall,” she said.
The Pauls raised and “put up” most of their own food.
“When I got married, a vegetable garden was one of the first things we got. Dallas had pigs. We had chickens. A man used to come around in a truck and buy the extra eggs every week.”
Paul continued to garden into her 90s and stopped driving only a few years ago. She said living a simple, wholesome life is her secret to longevity.
“I’ve always tried to live a decent life. I have no habits to break my health down. I’ve always tried to eat the best I could. I reckon that’s about the biggest things I’ve done,” she said.
Miss Verena’s giving nature and big heart have likely played a part as well.
“She’s fantastic,” said her son, Ray. “She’s just such a great lady who’s done so much for everybody — her family, her community — she considers everyone her family.
Anyone who wants to wish Miss Verena a happy 100th birthday may do so at a community birthday celebration set from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 15 at Sidney Free Will Baptist Church, located on Sydney Road near N.C. Highway 99 in Belhaven.