Time – 199 years, more than 72,635 days, 1,743,240 hours and 104,594,400 minutes – that’s the time two sisters have spent together helping one another, their families and friends.
If you were asked to describe your life, what would you say? Almeeds Bratton and Geneva Archer of Salem have one word – BLESSED!
Ms. Bratton was born October 11, 1917, and Mrs. Archer on March 28, 1923. They are two of 12 children born to Jessie and Betty Bratton in Catawba. They have lived through the Great Depression, five wars, the Civil Rights Movement, and took part in electing the first black president. Both say their proudest accomplishment is raising families and living long meaningful lives.
So how did I come to know these lovely women?
One day while working at a local grocery store, a woman drove up in her car and asked me to get her sister a shopping cart so that she could use it to walk into the store. Mrs. Archer was driving, and Ms. Bratton was the passenger. By the time I returned with the cart, Ms. Bratton already was walking into the store with Mrs. Archer right behind her. I placed the cart in front of Ms. Bratton and the sisters then stopped to talk to me. Mrs. Archer’s first question, “Who are you kin to?” I shared the names of relatives and she told me she knew my uncle and went to church with my aunt. She then asked me how old I thought she and her sister were. My mother always told me never to guess a woman’s age, but since I was asked and they insisted, I decided to guess. I posed late 70s for Mrs. Archer and early 80s for Ms. Bratton. Man was I wrong. When I met them Mrs. Archer was 90 and Ms. Bratton, 95. Their older sister, Ethel Freeman, passed away in 2014 at the age of 98.
At that moment they adopted me into the family. That’s just the type of people they are. Family members call Ms. Bratton Aunt Teen, describing her as the best example of dedication and sacrifice a family could have. Ms. Bratton is truly an extraordinary woman in her own right. As the elder sister, she took on the role of second mother to her younger siblings, including Mrs. Archer. Those responsibilities included fetching water for baths and combing hair. Mrs. Archer said Ms. Bratton would pull her head while combing it and it hurt. Ms. Bratton, a lover of the outdoors, also would enjoy doing things around the house including mowing the yard. Ms. Bratton would finish the seventh grade and from there would continue to work around the house until moving out and beginning her career at Catawba Hospital. She started working at the hospital in 1936 as a member of the cleaning staff. She worked at the hospital 42 years and is proud that she retired as a supervisor. She never married, but helped to raise Mrs. Archer three children.
The family calls Mrs. Archer, Gents. She, too, is a phenomenal woman. She claims she was “mean as a snake,” and her sister and children agree. However, that is not the impression she presents because even at her age, she still tries to help someone. “I just didn’t take nothing off of nobody,” Mrs. Archer said. The 11th of 12 children, she was called the baby. Early in her life she made the decision to do things her way. When she was just five, she told her mother that she was going to marry a boy by the name of Harry Hunter Archer, AKA Happy.
A mother of three girls, Mable Lewis, 77, Brenda Jackson, 70, and Joyce Grogans, 65, Mrs. Archer said she never changed a diaper or made a bed. Those tasks were done by “the love of my life, Happy.” She was 19 when they married in 1942, and she said Happy was the best man in the world. “I never had to lift a finger to do anything. Happy did it. He treated me so well and was the best husband and father.” She used to love to dance and would spend a lot of time at parties on Henry Street in Roanoke.
Mrs. Archer shared a funny childhood story. She said she was baptized in a creek that people used as an outhouse pit. “That’s why my hair grows so well,” she joked. That same creek would flood during heavy rains and their uncle would come to get them on his horse to take them to school.
Mrs. Archer also worked at Catawba Hospital. She retired after 37 years and was the first black supervisor at Catawba. The proud grandmother of five, great-grandmother of nine and great-great-grandmother of one, Mrs. Archer enjoys traveling with her daughters to North Carolina because that’s the only place she will get fish. She also relies on her daughters to take her to “any” gospel concerts.
Ms. Bratton is an avid fan of wrestling and Mrs. Archer a fan of Family Feud. They pass time by playing solitaire together in their apartment.
They are “simply amazing women,” said Brenda Jackson. Two God-fearing women, sisters, friends and family matriarchs, loved by family and friends.
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