In her 97 years, Mrs. Eunice Smith has seen many things change in the world around her; radio programs have given way to television shows, 17 different presidents have come and gone, and countless advances in technology have been made. However, through all the changes in the world and in her own life, one thing has remained the same for Mrs. Eunice, her church home. In fact, she has been attending Shiloh Baptist for 85 years, something not many people can say.
“I lived in Florida until I was 12 and we moved to Thomaston and started attending Shiloh Baptist,” said Mrs. Eunice. “I liked the people there. I like the preacher and his wife and I like my Sunday School class. It’s my church home.”
The church even played a part in connecting her with the love of her life, her husband, the late Chester Smith. Mrs. Eunice had gone caroling with a group of friends one Sunday evening at Christmastime and she met Chester that night when everyone was leaving and he grabbed her hand. The next day he came over to her house and asked her to go see a show with him, to which she agreed, but admits she was a bit surprised when his whole family, his mama, daddy, two sisters and a little brother accompanied them on their date! Everything worked out for the best though and the pair would have been married 78 years this year. Together they had four children: Chester Smith, Jr.; Roger Smith; Patricia Smith Vining and Faye Smith Drummond, all whose first outing was a trip to church. Four generations of the family including Mrs. Eunice, her daughter Patricia, grandson Stephen and their spouses, along with great-granddaughters Evie, Allie and Sophie, all attend Shiloh Baptist together.
There is no denying that what is regarded as appropriate church attire has changed a lot over the last eight and a half decades and when Mrs. Eunice was asked what she thought the biggest difference was, she quickly stated women wearing pants to a church service.
“I remember my aunt saying one time that she wouldn’t shame her mother by wearing pants to church and now women wear them all the time. When I started wearing them, the pants I wore were ladies pants, not men’s pants, so I didn’t see the big deal,” said Mrs. Eunice with a laugh.
Over the years, her children and grandchildren feel they have learned a lot from the matriarch of their family. She taught them to be thrifty. She taught them how to iron a shirt and how to cook. She taught them how they can do anything they put their mind to. One example of the latter is how she taught herself to drive after all of her children were grown, just by driving from the front yard to the back yard. Mrs. Eunice explained that she had not gotten her license when she was younger due to a traumatic experience when her uncle was giving her a driving lesson… she drove straight into the smokehouse and tore it down! However, she stated the accident was not entirely her fault. What happened was while she was driving back towards the house, her uncle thought she was going a little too fast, so he slid his foot over to hit the brakes, only he hit the gas instead.
“We drove straight into the smokehouse,” she laughed. “I didn’t tell anybody the reason I didn’t stop was because his foot was on top of mine. Oh well, it needed to be torn down anyway.”
Years later she was home alone one day and decided she was going to learn how to drive herself. Mrs. Eunice thought if she practiced while no one else was home, she would be able to keep it a secret from Chester, but he soon began to notice the car was never in quite the same place he had left it. When he discovered her secret, he told her if she could back in and out of the driveway, he thought she could drive well enough to get her license, so he carried her to get one. She was proud to finally learn to drive, although it took her until she was in her 40s.
Another trait she instilled in her family is to focus on the good times instead of the bad times. She told the story of a dress her aunt had made for her just before she moved to Georgia. It had a sailor collar and she was excited to show it off when she started the sixth grade. However, when her family made it to Georgia, the dress wasn’t in the suitcase. She came to find out her step mother had taken the dress and given it to her niece; Mrs. Eunice was devastated and didn’t understand why she would do such a thing. Over the years, the more she thought about it, the more she came to realize that maybe the other girl needed it more than she did; it was during the Great Depression after all. She knew that if she continued to dwell on the fact that her dress was taken from her, it would continue to upset her. So she chose to focus on the good things in her life instead, which she also credits as the way to have a happy life.
“She did a wonderful job raising us,” said her daughter Faye Drummond. “We all have learned a lot from her.”
It is not just her family who feels that way either. Diane Googe, who teaches Mrs. Eunice’s Sunday School class feels the same way.
“Mrs. Eunice is one of the finest Christian women I have ever known,” said Googe. “Her faithfulness is an example to everyone, young and old!”
Ashley Biles can be reached by calling 706-647-5414 or on Twitter @AshleyBiles1