Posted by: Dr. Grover B. Proctor, Jr. | 28 August 2018

Sorry, Ma-Ma, but Happy 122nd!

Even though she would not have wanted you to know it, today would have been birthday number 122 for my maternal grandmother — Bertha Gertrude Holland Hooks Edgerton.
(How’s THAT for a venerable, Southern name?!)

Bertha Gertrude Holland Hooks EdgertonShe was born on 28 August 1896 in the tiny town of Apex in Wake County, NC. She was always known to her children and grandchildren as very sensitive about her age. She would never discuss how old she was, and when grandchildren came along, she absolutely forbade being called “Grandmother.” So the name “Ma-Ma” was adopted, and that’s how we grandchildren all knew her.

So sensitive was she about her age that she even let it be known she didn’t wish the year of her birth to be engraved on her tombstone. As such, absent any official or written family records, there was for many years general uncertainty in the family as to when she was actually born.

When I finally began the ardent study of my family history, one of the first great finds I made was in the 1900 Census. There, with no ambiguity, it showed that Ma-Ma was born in August 1896. So exactly when did she become coy about her age?

1900 Census

The 1900 Census, showing Bertha’s birth date as August 1896.

That sensitivity about her age may have started at the time of her marriage to the 22-year-old Bennett Hardy Hooks. On their 1912 marriage license, she gave her age as 18, when she was in fact 16 years old. The official Wake County Marriage Registry shows her age as 16 (which confirms her birth in 1896); so we have to wonder: was that corrected later?

When her first child Mary Louise was born, 13 months later, Bertha was asked her age “at last birthday,” and she gave it as 17 (also correct based on the 1900 Census record).

However, 2 years after Mary Louise was born, at the birth of Alma, Bertha gave her age as a year older than she really was. By the time Edna Ruth (my mother) was born, 9 years after that, the age she gave was once again correct.

Tragically, Bertha was widowed in 1929 by the death of Hardy Hooks at the age of 38. She was alone, 33 years old, with four children ages 4 to 15 to support and with just a sixth-grade education.

Her oldest child, Louise, quit high school and became a stenographer in an Apex doctor’s office, and Bertha became a domestic, cleaning other people’s houses, in order to put food on the table and to pay the $5 a month rent on their house on Hunter Street. (In the 1920 Census, Hardy Hooks and family were shown renting a house on Hunter Street, so in 1930 the family was probably living in the same house.)

Hardy, Bertha, & Harold

Hardy Hooks, Bertha Holland, and Harold Edgerton

Sometime after 1930, she met the handsome new butcher in town, Harold Edgerton, and in November of 1933 (Thanksgiving Day), they were married. In the early 1930s, it would not have been unusual for Ma-Ma to call him “Mr. Edgerton,” and in fact, she did. What’s interesting is that until the day he died, 35 years after they were married, she continued to call him “Mr. Edgerton.”

There was initially some push-back and resentment from Bertha’s children about this “new daddy.” But over time, his sweet demeanor and unconditional love for his new family won everyone’s heart. So to us grandchildren, it was just natural to call this wonderful and loving man Pa-Pa, and in fact we did.

Though the last years of her life were beset with myriad debilitating medical issues that forced her into a nursing home, she bore up as well and feistily as she could manage. Ma-Ma lived to be a venerable 95 years old and died in 1991.





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