43 years ago, “Daughter Salutes Mom on ‘Her’ Day” appeared on the Hickory Daily Record. Conover’s Linda Moretz had written the article in honor of her mother, Ceda Melinda Killian Lail, who was 80 at the time.
The story began like this: “It wasn’t until I was married and had children of my own that I could appreciate what my mother had done for me and the other 11 children in our unusually large family.”
It’s correct. Twelve children. Also, nine of them were still at home when Ceda’s husband, Eston A. Lail, died suddenly of a stroke. Linda, the penultimate child, was 5 years old. The youngest was 3 years old. Linda wrote, “Since Father was a farmer and never worked under Social Security, he received no compensation to pay for books, clothes, or medical bills. Some of us went to work early to support each other.”
Ceda’s children weren’t the only children she worked hard for every day. After Eston’s death there were about 40 boys at Sipe’s Orchard Home who enjoyed Ceda’s cooking three times a day, seven days a week.
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Linda wrote, “Mother never sat on a committee meeting, never held public office, was never a school housekeeper, or attended a PTA meeting. But for a very large family in Catawba County, and for many of the boys who have lived at Sipes Orchard Home for the past 30 years, she will forever be a woman of excellence to all who affectionately call her ‘Mom.’
On April 24th, I shared the news that Vernon Otto “VO” and Viola Sipe’s home on County Home Road was being renovated to become the residence of the CEO of Sipe’s Orchard Home and his family. It was VO and Viola who started the home for boys (now girls too) in the 1940s. When speaking to people who had many memories of growing up in or near Sipes Orchard Home, the name Ceda Lail came up. Decades later, praise continues to go to the woman, who walked the half-mile to and from the home’s kitchen in all weather conditions and in the early morning darkness.
I recently spoke to Linda about her mother, her family and VO
Linda said VO’s vast properties also include the Catawba Springs golf course and housing development that is now located. “It was called Sulfur Springs back then,” Linda said. “My father farmed all the land for VO—fields of cotton, corn.”
VO let the Lail family live in the farmhouse that stood near what is now the Catawba Springs clubhouse. Also on the property before Linda came in 1941 were the remains of an abandoned hotel. Linda said when her big brothers and sisters were children they played in the 19th-century structure, which had housed people who came from far and wide to bathe in the Sulfur Springs – then said to have healing powers.
When Eston died, VO offered Ceda an opportunity to buy some of his acreage on Herman Sipe Road. She accepted the offer, but there was a problem. There was no house in the country. Linda’s three older brothers, all WWII veterans, along with family and friends, built the small house that Ceda and her children moved into.
VO also offered Ceda to cook for the boys at Sipe’s Orchard Home.
Linda said, “I’m sure he looked at my family and thought what can I do?”
While Linda’s older sisters took on chores at home, such as taking the younger ones to school, collecting eggs produced by the family’s chickens, and milking the Lails’ cows, Ceda wanted to continue being the one who made sure that there was food at the table when her family got up in the morning. “I think this woman has been making homemade bread her whole life,” Linda said. She would get up well before dawn and make bread, often biscuits, and sometimes chocolate pudding for her children for breakfast. Around 6 o’clock in the morning she started her walk to Sipe.
Linda added that the land VO Ceda sold was in the middle of a peach orchard. Ceda and her family picked peaches, which Ceda sold from home. Also at that time Sipe’s had large peach orchards behind it. During her “free time” at the boys’ home, Ceda preserved peaches in pint-sized mason jars. She also preserved vegetables grown on Sipe’s property.
Ceda has cooked at home for 35 years. At the age of 80 she still cooked for the boys two days a week.
You’d think Ceda wouldn’t have wanted to set foot in a kitchen after her retirement. Not so. Linda wrote: “Cooking for large families is the joy of her life. Every Saturday night she begins to prepare Sunday lunch for her family – because although there is only one daughter left at home, she knows that many of her children and grandchildren will be there for Sunday lunch and the rest will probably be over for dinner.” 1979 Ceda had 28 grandchildren and 20 great-grandchildren.
In 1983, Ceda died of heart failure at the age of 84.
“She was an amazing woman,” Linda pointed out. Ceda had married at the age of 15; Eston was 23. Their first child was born in 1916; the last in 1943. In Ceda’s home, Linda wrote, “there was never much rigid rule or nagging to get the job done—obedience was the only strict rule of the house, and when Mama said something we knew she was.” meant seriously.”
With the exception of one son who died of leukemia at the age of 26, all of the Lail children lived or are living long lives. Even the three who were in the army during WWII who saw all the action when one was shot in the Philippines and earned the Purple Heart lived many decades.
“And they called my fourth brother,” Linda reported. “But someone went to the district court and said, ‘You have three sons. You can’t take anyone else.’” And they didn’t. Ironically, he was the one who died from leukemia.
Linda believes the person who spoke up for the Lail family at the courthouse may have been VO Sipe.
Linda ended her story by saying, “None of Mama’s children have a job – we are glove makers, cabinet makers, bricklayers, tilers and secretaries – all knowing that we have life in abundance and that God has provided for each of us – and the example of this one woman has helped make our lives happy.”
Share story ideas with Mary at email@example.com.