February 24, 2021


Celebrating Granny Hurst’s 100th Birthday (2/25/1963)
Blanche, Charles, Harriett and Nannie Belle

FAMILY THAT IS NOT YOUR KIN

Emily Belle Wheeler Hurst (1862-1963) was a force of nature!  Born in Virginia, she had eight children and outlived four of them. She said she remembered when they got the news of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. She was a lifelong Democrat (only breaking the cycle once when she voted for Eisenhower), Methodist and a member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.  She said anyone who wanted to go to heaven should read the Bible every day, the Reader’s Digest every month and grow strawberries (to cultivate patience, she said). And at 100, she still stayed awake every evening to watch the 8 o’clock news.

Harriett loved this mother-in-law of hers and the family continued to count her as “family” after Robert’s death.  When she and Arley were planning to marry, they visited “Mother Hurst” in Morristown to ask for her blessing.  She loved Arley and would come spend a week with us every summer.  Jerry, Joe, Bill and I felt sure she must be our Granny, too—and sat charmed as she told stories of life long ago and read Joel Chandler Harris’ Uncle Remus tales in dialect.  

Harriett was especially close to Robert’s sister Nannie Belle, and Granny made her home with her in Morristown for many years.  Aunt Nannie Belle was a schoolteacher.  After she had her family and was widowed, she remarried Mr. Owen.  They had a large rambling house with wraparound porches. Children and grandchildren were always around for picnics and fun. We spent many Sunday afternoons visiting there.

As Robert’s only child, Glenn always held a special place in Granny’s heart.  He named his only child Emily for her. And he died three years before Granny did, which was yet another heartbreak for her.

The family had a grand celebration for Granny’s 100th birthday!  She was confined to bed her last few years but was still very alert and outspoken.  Bert Vincent, a popular Knoxville newspaper columnist, interviewed her for a story.  He made a comment about the recent Cuban missile crisis and Granny said, “Old Khrushchev. There’s one man I wish the Lord would take from this earth!” She was thrilled to get a congratulatory birthday letter from President John F. Kennedy.

Harriett, Katie and Emily and Tootsie drove to Morristown for the big birthday celebration.  Harriett made one of the many birthday cakes for the occasion—and I think Tootsie helped her make it fancier for the special occasion.  The photo shows Harriett with two of Robert’s sisters—Blanche Hurst Pangle and Nannie Belle—and his brother Charles. Another brother Bill was also there. Since we were living in Houston, I missed the celebration but over 230 guests dropped by for the Open House on Granny Hurst Day the Tuesday after her birthday. On her actual birthday the previous Sunday, February 25, Aunt Nannie Belle hosted a dinner for over 30 relatives including Harriett, Katie and Emily, and Tootsie.  All were family—even if not kin.  

Tomorrow will be the 159th anniversary of the birth in Virginia of Emily Belle Wheeler Hurst!

Nannie Belle Hurst Gilbert Owen (1980)
“Harriett’s other sister”

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