100 years of strength, perseverance
by Sherrie Norris
While Winebarger might not have made national headlines, she has had an impact on many people in Watauga County.
A lifelong resident of the Meat Camp community, Winebarger reached her 100th birthday on Tuesday, Jan. 22, within the same week, two of her sons also celebrated birthdays -- their 80th and 81st.
Defying the odds is nothing new for this matriarch of five generations, who was widowed as a young mother of eight and while anticipating another child. Her husband was killed in a 1947 thrashing machine accident, at the age of 42. Winebarger, 35 at the time, had earlier lost an infant son to whooping cough.
Despite relatives offering to take the children into their homes, Winebarger kept her family together.
Today, the bonds remain strong, although caregiving roles have reversed. While the wise centenarian is still alert and aware of what's going on around her, her physical mobility has declined, as has her ability to see and hear. She needs assistance with activities of daily living, but it's an honor, her children said, to help her maintain her independence at home.
Winebarger has had a good life, overall, she said on Monday, but admitted to "a lot of hard times, too."
The deaths of her loved ones have been difficult to bear, she said, including that of her first grandson and the more recent cancer deaths of two of her daughters.
From a very young age, Winebarger said she worked "like a man," spending many hot days in the fields -- hoeing corn, cabbage, potatoes and tobacco.
She was the oldest of five children (and one of four still living) raised on the Greene family farm in the Hopewell Church neighborhood. She said she walked "about two miles" to school each day, referring to Green Valley Elementary; she also attended Appalachian High School in Boone.
Since childhood, she said, she knew an older Albert Winebarger, who lived "just over the hill."
The two became sweethearts when she was a teenager, "courted for three or four years" and were married in Mountain City, Tenn., when she was 18.
Having always lived within two miles, or less, of her current home -- where she's been since 1939 -- Winebarger said she never wanted to go "too far off." She visited relatives in Maryland several times and went to Myrtle Beach once, but that was enough, she said. "It was just a crowded mess, is all I can say. Out on that pier was the stinkin'est place I'd ever been."
Among her fondest memories was "growin' up with my young'uns," she said, describing them as "good kids and hard workers" who never gave her any trouble. "I took them all to church with me, as long as they'd go."
After working outside all day and doing inside chores at night, she said, "There wasn't much time for playin.'"
The family kept a cow for milk, from which she made butter and cottage cheese; chickens and pigs provided their meat, and large gardens supplied abundant produce. "We always canned a lot of food -- hundreds of jars at a time," she said.
She followed "the signs" for gardening and preserving; she used the tiller until she was in her 80s -- stopping only when her son, Steve, disconnected its starter, "to keep her from killing herself," he said.
She was an accomplished seamstress and quilter who made clothing items and keepsakes for her family -- and sewed for others, too.
She remembers well the tedious chore of washing their clothes "on an old scrub board."
Winebarger has been "a wonderful mother," her children said, and one who always put the needs of others before her own.
Affectionately known as "Granny" to her 20 grandchildren, 34 great-grandchildren and 27 great-great grands, she loved babysitting the ones who lived nearby; she has memories of their "devilment," she said -- from riding a hog to nailing a frog to a pole.
Winebarger has been known for her good cooking; fried chicken and cornbread among her specialties, with fried potatoes and pumpkin pies -- prepared best on her old wood stove.
She doesn't cook anymore, but, she dreams about it, she said.
Sunday has always been pinto bean day at her house, a tradition her family continues.
Winebarger has always been healthy and hospitalized only for the birth of her last child, 65 years ago. "Even when I had my eyes worked on, I was in and out the same day," she said. She takes "a little blood pressure pill," but needs no other medication.
She's never liked television, but enjoyed working puzzles and reading -- especially her Bible.
The town of Boone once seemed far from home, Winebarger said, and required "two or three hours on old dirt, muddy roads to get there by horse and buggy."
Special occasions called for a trip into town, such as Independence Day celebrations, when the wagon train came through.
At 23, she saw her first airplane, grounded at Pond Bottom, near present-day Brookshire Park. Her papa "went up in it," she said, but she didn't have $5 for the ride. "Even if I'd had the money, I wasn't interested in leaving the ground."
Her first automobile ride, in the early 1920s, was in a Ford touring car, driven by a family friend.
"He let me and my brother, George, ride down to the school with him, but he made us walk back," she said.
Her single attempt to drive, in her son, John's car, landed her in a haystack.
"I didn't know how to stop that thing," she said, with a chuckle.
During the war, a peddler brought his "rolling store, an old covered truck" -- over the mountain from Tennessee routinely, she said, but her family bought most of their supplies at the nearby general store.
She vividly recalls when three of her sons served in the military, stationed in Korea, Germany and Vietnam; she especially remembers when Steve returned from Vietnam, earlier than expected.
"I had gone to Boone with Mary Sue (my daughter) and didn't know he was back," she said. "We pulled in at John's and there he was. I couldn't get outta that car fast enough."
Winebarger has enjoyed life, overall, she said, and never wanted or expected anything extra.
Ronald Reagan was her favorite president; the vote she cast for him was her last. She had little else to say about politics.
Asked if she had ever considered remarrying, she replied, "I never saw anybody else I'd have. Anyway, if I had ever brought another man in this house, these young'uns would've scratched his eyes out."