‘A Force to be
Miss Eddie Washington
An essay is like a tool; it should serve a purpose.
This essay and the previous one about Miss Eddie allow readers to learn something about her.
The purpose is twofold. It is a way for readers to not only know Miss Eddie as others did many years ago, but in knowing about Miss Eddie, one can appreciate how she rose above the constraints of the Jim Crow Era to create light, joy and a lasting legacy of love.
Of the many memorable characters that Pocahontas County has produced, a few stand out for the joy and laughter that they have brought to those around them. These special people are remembered long after their passing because of their ability to overcome adversity while continuing to offer their helping hands to others.
Miss Eddie was a ray of bright sunshine at a time when just being black could bring forth physical violence. And, let’s not be naïve – it still can. Yet, she rose to the challenge and saw it as her duty to make this a better world for others. And, in that, she succeeded.
Times, they are a changing, and not too soon.
The day-to-day reality of all persons of color in this country cannot be understated nor ignored. It was, and still is, more difficult for most minorities to navigate life safely and unhampered than it is for those of us who constitute the majority race.
Those who can truly understand and share the feelings of another will acknowledge that this is an undeniable truth. Being white does have its privileges, tenaciously inherent advantages. Truly understanding this requires empathy and this is a hard reach for many folks.
From the research conducted by Ruth Taylor, myself and others, Pocahontas County stands out as a distinct area where blacks and whites lived in an unusually harmonious state. We found no instances of racial violence or overt racism here, as has existed in nearby counties.
Long before integration, local sports teams, such as the Buckeye Alligators, had blacks playing softball right alongside whites. Many of our churches had congregations comprised of black and white parishioners. Church dinners, held to support black churches, were often attended by whites, as well.
Schools were desegregated early in Pocahontas County, but it was probably for financial reasons. Before 1954, black students attended high schools outside the county and at the county’s expense. Apparently, ledgers took precedence over loftier ideals.
To travel outside this bubble of tolerance and acceptance, though, could be uncomfortable at best and dangerous at worst. Many blacks carried the famous Green Book with them when traveling in those days. This book was a guide to lodging, restaurants and other businesses that would serve them. And those businesses were few and far between.
African Americans would often plan their trips so that they made the least stops possible. Just imagine living at a time when a trip to see far-away relatives at the holidays was like driving through a minefield.
I do not mean to suggest that racism was absent here in Pocahontas County. There were, and still may be, those who harbor such vile sentiments. But it must be said that, based upon the testimony of whites and blacks, this area enjoyed a peaceful coexistence.
And in this environment, Miss Eddie and her husband, Stepto, thrived through hard work. And in the process gained the respect of all around them.
Miss Eddie and Stepto open their hearts and home.
We know that the Washingtons raised children for families who were burdened with many children and few resources. Although Miss Eddie and Stepto had no children of their own, they nurtured and educated these young ones in need.
Miss Eddie insisted on every child getting a high school education, and several went on to college. In the following instance, an adopted son of Miss Eddie and Stepto went on to do great things.
Howard Hinson, one of 11 children in the Hinson family, was unofficially adopted by the Washingtons when he was two years old. Now the senior pastor of the Metropolitan United Methodist Church in Baltimore, Maryland, Mr. Hinson attended the Hillsboro Colored School in 1949 and the Sumner High School in Parkersburg in 1953.
Mr. Hinson went on to earn degrees from a variety of prestigious universities, including a Master’s of Divinity from Howard University and a Doctorate from Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri. He was bestowed with numerous awards and citations for his public and theological services.
Howard Hinson was only one of several young people raised by the Washingtons, who had successful lives. Miss Eddie had a way of spreading the seeds of her sunshine far and wide.
Culinary skills pay the bills and open doors
So, how did the Washingtons manage to pay their bills and help so many others?
At her home on Seebert Lane, right next to the Pleasant Green Church, Miss Eddie performed her culinary magic on a Kalamazoo wood-burning kitchen stove. She ignored her gas stove and, instead, split wood and used corncobs for kindling to feed the Kalamazoo, insisting that the food turned out better on a wood stove.
She and Stepto were in great demand by the wealthy and powerful as cook and butler for special events and dinners. Many sources say that while Miss Eddie ran the kitchen, Stepto would serve the food in the manner and dress of a butler.
Today, this would be unacceptable and, to many, would smack of slavery. I was unable to determine if this was a requirement by the employers, or if such protocol was deemed as expected among blacks at the time.
But for Miss Eddie and Stepto, it was a reliable source of income for their small farm on Seebert Lane and in their efforts to obtain an education for their young charges. According to one source, the Washingtons spent some winters in the Washington D.C. area cooking and serving food so that their adopted children could attend nearby colleges and schools.
On a humorous note, one that confirms Miss Eddie’s often hilarious outspokenness, is a story that continues to circulate at homecomings and events at the Pleasant Green Church.
It concerned a period when Miss Eddie was a live-in cook and nanny for a wealthy family in West Virginia. In this family was a young child who was a “handful,” a young man who would later become a governor of our fine state.
Miss Eddie was known to reflect on that time, saying, “I always knew that little ‘shaved tail’ would get himself into trouble over something he couldn’t lie his way out of.” And indeed he did; years later, this governor went to prison.
Author’s note: A “shaved tail” was a military term for an inexperienced mule during World War 1. They would shave the tails of mules deemed inexperienced as pack animals. Miss Eddie probably got that term from Stepto, who served his country with honors in that horrific war.
I went to the Pleasant Green Cemetery on a recent morning to photograph Stepto and Miss Eddie’s gravestones. It was a lovely spring morning, so I pondered there awhile.
I thought about all of the people who had sent me emails and texts, and those I talked with on the phone about this woman who was loved by so many. It struck me that Miss Eddie was, and is in memory, a most extraordinary person.
If you were lucky enough to have had a piece of her famous lemon pie, you enjoyed the labor of an earthbound angel.
Miss Eddie, Etta Foster Washington, died on June 1, 1984. She had written her own sermon for the service, held at the Pleasant Green Church. Bob Taylor was a pallbearer, and he shared the story of that day 37 years ago.
“The service was some two hours long, including Miss Eddie’s handwritten sermon and the prayers and spirituals,” Bob recalls.
At the beginning of Miss Eddie’s written sermon, voiced by Reverend Sanford Boggs, was the following admonishment to the congregation’s backsliders, “I wanted to have a sermon because this may be the only time some of you are in church.”
Laughter issued from every parishioner in the church that day – just as Miss Eddie would have wanted – leave ‘em laughing!
In closing this edition of the Watoga Trail Report, I leave you with one more sweet anecdote about Miss Eddie that was shared by Ruth Taylor.
Bob and Ruth ran Taylor’s Grocery, now The Levels Depot, on Rt. 219 for more than 40 years. A few years after the store opened, a little white girl of about three years old came into the store with her mother.
Miss Eddie happened to be in the store at the time, and the little girl ran over and put her arms around Miss Eddie’s legs. After Miss Eddie left the store, the girl’s mother asked her if she noticed anything different about Miss Eddie.
This innocent little girl replied, “She is the nicest people I ever knew in my whole life.”
Out of the mouths of babes. Psalms 8:2
My sincerest thanks to Chuck Angell, Jerry Dale, Barbara Lacy Baldwin, Curtis Pyles, George Bolden, Reverend Robert Jackson, Jaynell Graham, Bobby and Mary Church, Ruth and Bob Taylor, Jenell Kline, Marjorie Howsare, Sara Swisher, Charlotte McKeever Emswiler, Nancy McComb, and many others who shared their memories of a wonderful woman.