Today is the anniversary of the birth of my grandmother. Born December 4, 1901 to two middle-aged farmers in Mecklenburg County, Virginia, Anna Florette Sayles was a bit of a miracle girl.
Her father, Clifton Duvall Sayles, had five children from his first marriage to Anna McCullough, both Yankees drawn to the south after the Civil War. After Anna died sometime during the year of 1900 Clifton paid court to his first love, Miss Rebecca Eulelia “Lilly” Dodson, a spinster who lived down the road near Butchers Creek on the family’s farm with her two spinster sisters.
Lilly and Clifton had fallen in love right after his arrival in Mecklenburg County in 1870 but James and Sarah Jane Dodson would not accept Clifton’s proposal to marry their daughter. Feelings ran high against Yankees for the Dodson’s had lost both a son and a brother to the Cause. So Lilly lived her life, without ever marrying. Clifton met and married Anna in 1879. They had five children, two of whom were still at home when Anna died in 1900. Clifton set out to complete his family.
In January of 1901, no longer needing anyone’s approval, Lilly and Clifton were married in Chase City, Virginia. Just twelve months later, the forty-five year old bride gave birth to her only child. Anna Florette grew up pretty much an only child, for all the McCullough Sayles had married or moved off the farm by the time she was a young girl.
In 1920 George R. Strickland, who had been adopted by Lilly Dodson Sayles’ sisters and unmarried brother, hitched up a wagon and drove his team to the Sayles’ house to pay court to Florette. They were married September 28, 1921 in the Baptist parsonage in Chase City, Virginia by the Rev. H. L. Williams. Four sons were born to this union: George Sidney, Clifford Ricks, Paul Warren, and Norman Scott. The family survived the depression by returning to the Dodson farm.
By 1951 all the boys had left Mecklenburg County, and my grandmother and grandfather lived in Chase City, keeping up the farm with the help of tenant farmers and the like. My grandfather ran several school buses for the Chase City district and was landlord for several city properties. My grandmother kept George straight, and the home running smoothly.
Florette Strickland loved music; she made sure all of her boys could play an instrument, and that they played together regularly. She played the piano; my granddaddy had purchased this big old piano which sat in the living room of their home. Her pile of music contained anthems for her church choir, as well as popular ballads and tunes. One of my favorite memories is of me on the bench, playing Clair de Lune, by Claude Debussy. Grandmother sat on the couch, crocheting another blanket. When I finished I turned to see her smiling and she said, “I believe you just made that piano sing.”
Anna Florette Sayles Strickland died in March 1981, leaving behind a rich legacy of music loving family.
Anna Florette Sayles Strickland shares a chuckle with her husband George Ricks Strickland, circa 1951