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Work, Family Reassures 100-Year-Old Taylor Resident Life is a Blessing

By Anna Grace Usery

Mildred Egerson, a lifelong Taylor resident, can sum up her life in two words that are a testament to the 100 years she’s spent on Earth.

“Work and church,” she said with a shrug, like it was the gospel.

Egerson, 100, says the key to her century’s worth of success is keeping both God and family close. Photo provided.

Unfaltering labor and unwavering faith guided Egerson as she became an educated and independent woman in the 1920s and ‘30s, serving as a lifelong role model to hundreds of descendants.

Born May 11, 1919, to the late Jerry Norphlet and Vermacy Holt Norphlet, she said some of her earliest memories were spent in the field, bare feet on the soft Mississippi dirt and eye-level with a stubborn mule. The others were spent, palms pressed together worshipping the Lord who brought them rain and plentiful growth to those fields.

“I was too young to have anything to do with that mule,” she said as she shook her head. “But I guided it in the fields while my daddy was behind it.”

During that time, hands labored hours on end to stoke the lush land into beautiful cotton and corn acreage. The land was fruitful and Egerson and her family watched the small town of Taylor blossom into a thriving railroad town. Although the fields and their growth provided success to the majority of Taylor families, Egerson knew her success was inside the books and learning materials at the town’s one-room school.

Mt. Hope Missionary Baptist Church. Photo by Anna Grace Usery.

She walked each day with her teacher, Mrs. Rena Ford Smith, to Mt. Hope School. Its frame was a humble shack near Mt. Hope Missionary Baptist Church, which recently celebrated its 150th anniversary in Taylor. To this day Egerson attends that church, sits in the same seat she has since she was a child and gives her thanks to the Lord just like He’s given His thanks to her and her family.

During her childhood there was little time for play, she said, and she never let the principle her parents instilled in her of a hard day’s work become a passing thought in her mind. As she grew, she pushed to make something of herself and surround herself with likeminded people.

The entire neighborhood often sought her advice on the subject she called her favorite – arithmetic. She craved knowledge, and in turn, aspired to spread it. She taught nearly her entire neighborhood, friends and family a subject they used for the rest of their lives.

After completing her sixth-grade education and advancing through the eighth grade at neighboring Taylor Vocational High School, she married the late Rev. Lee Egerson and worked at the Oxford-Lafayette County Hospital. His work ethic and “lovin’ smile” attracted her, she said.

After working in the fields all day, he and other men would “set out the pine” in the winter, per government orders. Until the sun went down, he and others would meticulously plant pine seed that, in 100 years’ time, has littered the Yocona Valley with strong, sturdy pine trees. One of his true passions involved a clear day and a strong cane pole.

“He’d sit out all day and fish,” Egerson said. “He’d bring home a mess of ‘em.”

She had her career to pursue, too. As she worked her way up from housekeeping to laundry press operator to transporting patients in the Oxford-Lafayette County hospital, she and her husband had 12 children.

“One child died at birth,” she said. “But I raised a whole lot more kids than just those 11. Sometimes we’d have 15 or more in the house alone … not counting the yard.”

Along with those strong and sturdy pine trees, the Egerson children grew to produce an Old Testament-like lineage.

In addition to 11 children, Egerson lays claim to 45 grandchildren, 111 great-grandchildren, 106 great-great-grandchildren and six great-great-great grandchildren.

Egerson’s daughter and granddaughter display a blanket another relative gifted Ms. Egerson that features several of her Sunday morning outfit and hat combinations. Photo by Anna Grace Usery. 

“I am proud of my children,” she said, motioning her hands outward to clarify she meant all 279 of them. “In the name of the Lord.”

Egerson relishes in a grandeur of pleasures as she rounds out her century. Along with a strict schedule of working in her flower beds, scheduling dinners and coordinating her fabulous outfit and hat combinations for church, she still finds joy in being the strong, independent matriarch of the family.

Her crowning achievement is fifth Sunday dinners, which originated in 1956 and haven’t been canceled, postponed or forgotten since. Her staples of chicken and dressing (no matter the season) and strawberry shortcake are the signature dishes anchoring the extensive family meals.

Attached to her humble brick home is an add-on that serves as the major hubbub of the family’s meal gatherings, resembling a fellowship hall or event space. Filled with folding chairs and tables covered in plastic, it’s an inviting space that has endured many laughs, tough conversations and prayers. Though not all 279 Egerson descendants make it to fifth Sunday or Christmas dinner—which began its annual run in 1963—Egerson promises every seat, whether in the hall, living room or yard, is filled.

And even though camaraderie and good times have embellished most of Egerson’s adult life, she possesses another side; one that her family has no choice but to appreciate.

“Don’t be mean, don’t steal, and if you want something in life you work for it,” she said.

That aspect of tough love really struck a chord with a young Relva E. Hairston, one of Egerson’s daughters. One specific memory that stood clear in her mind was the day she told her mother she was going to have a child out of wedlock.

Without any emotions—neither surprise or disappointment—her mother shook her head and told her with the strongest conviction in the world, “You had him, you’re going to take care of him.”

And Relva did. She said she spent nearly every penny she made on a babysitter but never lost sight of trying to restore her mother’s faith in her. Eventually, the two reconciled. The experience made her a stronger person, Hairston said.

As she thought of how “Big Mama” impacted her life through the power of tough love, an array of memories rolled past granddaughter, Martha Shaw’s, eyes. They were a mix of good and not so good, but above it all, one thing came to mind about Big Mama’s tough love — “The family that prays together stays together,” Shaw said as she shrugged her shoulders.

While Ms. Egerson spoke, two other relatives came in the door to see what Big Mama was up to. Whether it was telling her they were about to hop in the car for a drive or to discuss the weather on an off day, the love and respect for their matriarch ruminated in the panel-lined living room. During Christmas, fifth Sunday dinners and other holidays, presents are exchanged. Food is savored. Company is welcomed. Thanks is given.

Yet one person remains the reason for each and every season in the extended Egerson family.

“It’s not about the gifts…it’s all about Big Mama,” Shaw said.

Hairston said her family has endured many trials and tribulations in life, but because of their faith in God they are still standing.

Egerson gave a deliberate and long head nod when her daughter made that proclamation. She pulled up her pants leg, revealing her right leg from the thigh down – a prosthetic replacement she received in December of 2016 after an old ankle injury led to an amputation.

“Eh,” she said, rapping the plastic with her knuckles. “Still going strong.”

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