By Lucia Holloway
For a lady just past 98, Antoinette Edrington is a remarkable study. As she makes her rounds of stores, the bank, and the post office, she still drives her green 1970 Ford Fairlane. At each place, she greets clerks and owners by name, asks about their family members, and knows much about their interests. In her friendly fashion, she takes time to visit, calling each “darling”, giving a hug, and planting a kiss on the cheek.
On Sundays, she can be found at the First United Methodist Church, where she has belonged since she and her late husband, Ernest, retired to Water Valley from Whitehaven, Tennessee in 1968. Like the Pied Piper, she has a following of church kids who flock to her side to dip into her big bag of candies and suckers before the service begins.
Often, she will stand up during the announcement period to thank the congregation for various kindnesses like singing “Happy Birthday” to her a few Sundays ago and delivering her meal on Wednesday nights. Members and friends are likely to receive a telephone call or a card from her on their birthdays and in times of sickness or sorrow.
Stacks of seed catalogs and magazines in her den suggest her interest in gardening. A perfusion of plants and blooms occupy spots both inside and on her patio. During his lifetime, “Ernie” and Antoinette grew over 100 rose bushes, fertilizing, watering and mulching them weekly. “During the hot summer, we watered ever day,” she recalls. A member of The Garden Club of Water Valley for over 20 years, she served a term as president.
Even now, she still cleans her 2,500 sq. ft. home on Blount Street, a home she and Ernie built in 1970 using basically the same floor plan of their home in Whitehaven. Also, she is an avid reader of recipes and watches cooking shows on television.
“I never miss seeing Emeril,” she said. She enjoys experimenting with new dishes. The grocery store is one of her customary stops, as she plans her meals, which she prepares for herself regularly.
Recalling their long years of marriage, she said that she visited her Water Valley cousins often but did not meet Ernie until he moved to her hometown, Durant, where he worked as a clerk at the roundhouse for the Illinois Central Railroad.
Railroading was part of Antoinette’s family too. Her father, James Moorehead, was the bridge and building foreman for the Illinois Central Railroad. (ICRR). He also owned a local general mercantile store, selling everything from clothes to saddles and gardening supplies.
In the summertime, when Antoinette, an only child, was out of school, she and her Mother would join her Father in the ICRR camp car on the sidetrack. “We were like family,” she said, referring to over 20 men who put down rails and made repairs on bridges. “All of them called me ‘Baby’.”
After attending a two-week summer session for high school students at Gulf Park College, she rode the train to Jackson where she was met by Ernie and the Cowans, with whom he lived. Ruth and John (who was employed by the ICRR in Durant) Cowan were also Water Vallians. “I remember the Cowans drove us to a Methodist Parsonage in Canton where we were married,” she said. She did not tell her parents about her marriage. Several months passed before her Father heard about their wedding and asked her if it were true.
Initially, the Mooreheads were unhappy about their elopement because Antoinette was so young. However, later they invited Antoinette and Ernie to live with them in their large home.
Because he lacked seniority, Ernie was bumped from this job during the depression in 1930. They moved to Memphis where he was a clerk in the ICRR car shop. Soon, he was offered a position in the accounting office at Grand Central Station. Their only child, James, who like his grandfather was called Jim, was born there. After her Father died, Antoinette’s mother moved to Memphis to live with them and to help care for her grandson.
Prior to Ernie’s retirement and their move to Water Valley, he commuted to Chicago where he worked in the ICRR Accounting Department. Although both husband and son have died and most of her family has moved away from Water Valley, Antoinette is not lonely. Three years ago Corinne Trusty, her sister-in-law, moved to Batesville and her niece, Nettie Nell Richmond, moved to Jackson. Her daughter-in-law, Betty, and her two daughters, Elizabeth and Jamie, continue to live in Memphis.
“Water Valley people are caring and wonderful to me,” she said, reflecting her usual happy disposition. Now her many friends drop by to visit, bring her roses, food, carry her out to eat, and service her car.