Allene White grew up in Littleton, N.C. during a time where farming was big, obeying your parents was a must and you always spent time with your family. “Every evening you would gather with your family on the porch and discuss the day,” White said as we discussed life during that time. “Back then you knew everybody.”
Of course, there was no electricity in this small town at the time so wood stoves were used for heat and you had to walk up a steep stairway lighted only by a kerosene lamp just to get to the upstairs. Since there was no electricity, there was also no television or radio so your “entertainment” came from spending time with friends and family. White had much success through grade school. One such moment of success for her was playing basketball in high school. She filled me in on her playing days as a guard even at a time women didn’t receive equal treatment.
“At that time the girls could only play half court and not full court basketball,” White said. In addition to school, White became fond of a certain young gentleman named Joseph White. Better known as J.T. he lived a good eight miles away from Allene. Despite that, she walked the eight miles with her sister to the White home. “We’d walk there and my sister and I would sit to talk with J.T.’s mother,” White said. “J.T. was busy with his yard work so he wouldn’t even pay attention to us. Then he would take us home when he was done with his work.”
J.T. and Allene began to date and that’s when her story really came alive. My grandpa would often joke that he was the only one who actually had a car at the time and “all her other boyfriends had mules.” Because of that Allene’s brothers would play a trick on her. “Two of my brothers would grab flashlights and walk down the dark road toward our house, making me think it was J.T. I would get so excited then find out who it really was,” she said.
J.T. and Allene were married in 1944. White told me it was a simple ceremony in front of a justice of the peace and there was no honeymoon. She also told me a funny story about when they returned home and what one of her classmates asked her. “She asked me ‘How’s married life?’ and I responded ‘I haven’t had any yet.’ She thought it was pretty funny for many reasons,” White said. J.T. went into the navy in the 1940s and fought in World War II. That led to another funny story that I’d heard one time before from my grandma. “He was stationed in Newport, R.I. at the time,” she said. “The train I took only stopped in Providence so I took a bus to Newport. I was scheduled to visit him and, being a 17 year old, I was lost. I just followed everyone else.”
Here’s the funny part.
“I arrived where J.T. was at right at the time we were supposed to meet,” she said. “I waited and waited until it got dark. He never came.” Worried about him, she called his officers and asked to see J.T., treating it like it was an emergency. “The officers sent him and, when he got there, he said ‘What are you doing here?’ instead of being happy to see me,” she said. Apparently she wasn’t supposed to meet with J.T. until the following day. She ended up spending the night in a beautiful home in Rhode Island where she met a very nice lady from New York. They shared their different backgrounds and cultures with each other and were fascinated by each other’s upbringing.
J.T. and Allene had three children: Larry, Wayne and Greg (my father). She told me the trials they had with Larry regarding his diagnosis and early death and how they moved to Durham. “Larry had leukemia,” White said. “We took him to a hospital in Rocky Mount for treatment. The doctor who was supposed to see Larry was out and had to be replaced by another.” The doctor was from Duke Hospital in Durham. “The Duke doctor practically insisted us to come to Durham,” White said. “He told us he would even be waiting outside the door for us when we arrived.”
J.T. and Allene couldn’t pass up the offer, especially if it meant the well-being of their son. So they packed everything up and moved to Durham. They did have some help from a Navy friend of J.T.’s and took Larry to Duke for treatment. With that, she also told me how she connected with a local church she has now been a member of since she came to Durham. “We had nowhere to stay,” she said. “We were introduced to the pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church and stayed in his home. That’s how I found Immanuel and first started attending services there.”
Larry died soon after the move to Durham. In 2008 her second son, Wayne, also died. Then, in 2011, the love of her life, J.T., died. Despite that she continues to live her life to the fullest. That’s thanks, in part, to me as I take her to concerts and other events to keep her from just sitting in the house all the time. We’ve been to just about anything and have met a lot of people. That includes being audience members at the “X-Factor” auditions in Greensboro (pictured above), meeting Scotty McCreery, Kenny G and UNC Basketball head coach Roy Williams (despite her being a Duke fan), among many others.
I’m thankful to have a grandma that’s lived such an amazing life.