This column is written as a tribute on the 15th anniversary of the death of my aunt Rebecca Wilson who was very dear to me.
Rebecca Jane Exley was the firstborn child of Leon Grady and Annie Mae (Reiser) Exley, on Oct. 6, 1919. They lived on what is now Highway 119 north, just above the farm where Leon was reared by his parents, just south of Clyo.
“Becca,” as she was affectionately called, was a happy child. Her first words were “hat” and “go,” perhaps a prediction of things she loved later in life, dressing up and going places.
Rebecca had three brothers: Edwin, Arthur and Preston. Cousin Mary Zoller (Turner) was reared as her sister, having lost her mother as an infant. There were 19 years between Rebecca and Preston. She was brought up a member of Laurel Hill Lutheran Church and attended school at Clyo.
“Becca” was a true Exley, slow but steady at her work. She was neat and tidy with her tasks. She loved to wash clothes and hang them out using starch on shirts, sheets and scarves. When gathering items as a young girl with family or cousins, she loved to put their berries or peas together so as not to show how slow she picked or how little her yield.
Rebecca did not finish high school because she missed a lot of school due to health issues. She wound up going to Savannah to cook for a family named Clark and later also cared for a baby for the Bernard Williams family, living in the homes of her employers.
On Dec. 18, 1941, Rebecca married John Wilson, son of Harold Ralph and Gertrude E. (Gnann) Wilson. The ceremony was held at Laurel Hill Lutheran Church with a reception at her grandparents’ house, Virgil and Ella Reiser’s home.
John and Rebecca lived in Savannah where Rebecca worked for Best Laundry and later Cargill’s. They came back to Clyo for John to farm on his family’s place and being not so successful, returned again to live and work in Savannah where he got a job at Swift Packing Company.
It was during this time that they rented from Mrs. Wimbish, living next to Joe and Jackie Crews. “Jack” became Becca’s friend for the rest of her life, neither having children.
They came back to Effingham where John worked in the cabinet business and Becca worked for Irvin Edwards’ Springfield Trading Company. They were members at Bethel Lutheran Church where Becca and John began to work with the Bethel Parish Luther League. They had no children of their own but helped rear some of John’s sister Christine’s young children after her death.
They loved to go places and Becca loved to take day trips and take photographs.
John and Becca lived in an apartment one block from her parents, who had by then moved into a house by the courthouse in Springfield. John was working for Lawton M. Nease Jr., driving a gas truck when he was killed in an accident in the truck early one foggy morning, Jan. 15, 1953. They believe he dodged a hog in the fog and the truck rolled. It was one of the largest funerals in Effingham at the time.
Devastated, Rebecca moved in with her parents. By that time Leon had had a stroke and she could help see after him. She continued to work with the Luther League but moved her church membership to Holy Trinity in Springfield. The young people brought her much pleasure and she provided many of them the opportunity to travel to events outside the county.
During one of her trips, escorting young people, young Jack Zipperer accepted the call to become a minister during a Luther League convention. She loved events, programs and banquets with these young people. She collected salt and pepper shakers during these years. They accumulated over 400 pairs, many gifts of the young people who loved her. Being much older than Preston, she became a second parent to him after their father died in 1954. She gave Preston her car to drive on dates and helped provide for him in many ways.
Rebecca came to work for brother-in-law Harris Rahn in Rahn’s Feed and Seed in Springfield after John died. She stuck with that for many years. For a brief part of a year, she and her mother ventured into the restaurant business, about 1960, opening “Kopy’s Kitchen” on the first floor of the new Masonic Hall across from the feed store. The long hours and Sundays did not work out so they closed. She returned to the feed store. When the feed store closed, she stayed with Harris as he became a distributor for food commodities in a government program.
Rebecca always dressed well, being very particular with her hair and always had stylish clothing. She loved to get in her car and ride around late in the evening, taking her mother just to get out for a bit.
Active in every aspect of the church, Rebecca loved to go to Lutheran Women’s events and conventions. She was faithful to church always sitting in her pew up front. She vacationed with Arthur’s family through the years and later Preston’s, who usually went to Konjoy Inn at Lutheridge. She loved her nieces and nephews, spoiling them with gifts of clothes and toys and lots of attention.
An opportunity came up for employment as a new dress shop was opened in Springfield. Louise G. Rahn (Zittrouer) employed Rebecca for several years at Rahn’s Fashion Corner. After this, she realized she needed benefits and stood the GED exam, getting her certificate and finding employment at the Georgia Department of Labor in Savannah and later Statesboro. She worked about 10 years, long enough to get some retirement.
Rebecca was a good cook, famous for lemon meringue pies, congealed salads, colorful marbled cakes, salmon balls, hen and rice dressing, roast beef and potato salad. She shared food with many and always had the biggest basket at the dinner she was attending rounded over with food.
She and Arthur built a “Camp” on his land, her idea for a family gathering place that is still used with much joy to this day. She made sure we had pretty napkins or decorations for the occasion and fixed our favorites for our many gatherings. One thing she loved to do was have “beef tongue suppers” where she battered and fried beef tongue, a family favorite.
After retirement she continued to live with and care for her mother who had developed health issues. Rebecca joined the Clyo Homemakers and dearly loved to cook for their meetings and events. Working on one of their cookbooks, helping with a bake sale to pay for their clubhouse or going on a trip with Excursions Unlimited to places beyond Georgia gave her great joy. She loved also to go to Preston’s North Carolina home at Lutheridge, often gathering a van full of “biddies” for him to entertain with a trip and sightseeing in the mountains. Although she dearly loved the mountains, she was prone to “car sickness.”
As her mother’s health declined, she took care of her. Finally there came a point where Rebecca was completely exhausted, and her mother went to the nursing home, first in Pooler and later Effingham. Annie Mae died Christmas Day 1989.
The big old house she lived in was a financial burden and very hard to heat and cool, so she held an auction selling much of her household items (including most her collection of salt and pepper shakers), sold the home and downsized. A nice doublewide mobile home was placed on Preston’s property behind his house, and she lived there comfortably for the rest of her life.
In the late spring of 1996, Rebecca had a detached retina and lost much of the sight in one eye. She continued to drive and go about as usual but we were concerned about the diminished vision.
On Sept. 30, 1996, she was headed to Savannah early that foggy morning to have a mammogram for a lump she had found.
Stopping at the fairgrounds to pick up her cousin Victoria Usher, who was going to town with her, she pulled out in front of a young man on his way to school. She was severely injured, surviving long enough to go to surgery at Memorial. The trauma surgeons were unable to save her.
Ironically, 43 years after John’s tragic loss, she too died in an accident. We all know that Rebecca never liked to be still and had she been impaired would not have adjusted too well to confinement. She died in her tracks so to speak, doing what she loved, driving her car. Victoria, although injured, survived.
Rebecca was always smiling and happy, appropriately dressed, neat and well groomed. She enjoyed people and loved dearly to go somewhere for sightseeing, shopping or a gathering. She loved her family very much and was a good Christian woman and a role model to the many young people of the Luther League for many years. I guess her first words predicted that she would love to grab her hat and go, a beloved pastime that she enjoyed into the last day of her life.
This was written by Susan Exley of HES. If you have photos, comments or information to share, call her at 754-6681.