Helen S. Thomas was born in Albemarle County Virginia in 1918 to James and Minnie Wayne.
She was the youngest girl of thirteen children. Her parents died at an early age and she was raised by her older brother Andrew along with their other siblings. She later married at an early age to Leroy F. Thomas Sr. From this union they had four children, Margaret, Alver, Elizabeth and Leroy Jr. Helen and Leroy raised their family in rural Esmont, Virginia a small close-knit village, called "Porters. " This rural African American community looked out for each other, whether it during hog killing time, revivals or other events, they shared what they had. It does take a village, not only to raise children, but to be in fellowship with one another, and hold others accountable for their actions or inactions. This thought is still upheld true in our community and family.
She was a very resourceful woman, who made clothes, aprons, doll clothes using her foot pedaled singer sewing machine, and making quilts by hand. Grandma raised a vegetable garden and flowers, especially roses. She loved to can fruits and vegetables and also taught us how. Short in stature only 4"11, but, she was strong little woman! She would catch a chicken and with one stroke and chop its neck with the ax! I knew this would be dinner!
Grandmother Helen always exhibited a personality which was, loving, kind, calm , but stern
when needed. She was caring and loved her children and grandchildren. She was the matriarch
of our family and we knew it. She always wanted us to be obedient and do what was right in or
out of her sight! If not there was always the switch which you had to get. Some early mornings
she would be sitting at the dining room table reading her Bible to "start her day off right." She
was active at New Green Mountain Baptist Church as a Deaconess and the Senior Choir.
During Revival time, her baskets were always one of the favorites full of homemade goodies, fit
for a King!
Although she was quiet, she was not afraid or intimidated to walk for several miles through the
"Bottom" a small white community, to visit her brother Andrew, who lived about five miles back in
the woods. They knew Helen and she knew them. It was because she commanded respect by her godly presence and her kind and respectful interaction with others, that no one bothered her or I. Oftentimes she would walk to visit others friends or relatives in the community, and I was her walking partner. During these visits I learned much by listening and watching her as she talked and cared for others. People were always glad to see her coming to visit and often saying "come on in Helen, it's so good to see you!"
I reflect back on how she did for others without murmuring or complaining. One of my favorite
moments was when we prepared the Yancey family's house for their annual summer visit from New Jersey along with my aunt. She worked hard and with diligence to make their home comfortable. I never once heard her complain as we cleaned that old two story house in the heat of summer. She often said in her letters later in years that she wrote to me while I was in College "to work hard and keep my head up." She was the recipient of others giving back, whether it was a bucket of blackberries early in the morning from Ms.Roberta, or a freshly baked Carrot cake or sweet potatoes pie from a neighbor. An important life lesson learned from my grandmother was to always be kind and give unto others. She never expected anything back, except a thank you. Her many life lessons will always remain as nuggets of wisdom to remember and to share with others.
Love always your granddaughter,
Dr. Dale L. Johnson