By Carolyn Bahm

Daily Journal

HICKORY FLAT Sunday's lively reception was a milestone party that few such honorees ever see. About 100 family members and friends gathered at Hickory Flat United Methodist Church to mark Brasca Sweeden Jones' upcoming Jan. 26 birthday. The occasion was first celebrated a century ago.

The 100-year-old is the matriarch of a close-knit family: Four children, eight grandchildren, 15 great-grandchildren and 11 great-great-grandchildren. Jones, a widow, now lives with one daughter, Evelyn Bready of Hickory Flat.

"She has such a sweet personality," Bready said. "She loves to meet people and be with people and have company all the time."

Jones is a native of Cornersville in Marshall County, Bready said, but she has lived in the Hickory Flat area since about 1932 and has long roots in the church and in Northeast Mississippi. After attending Blue Mountain College, she began her adult life as the teacher for a one-room country school.

She married Otto Jones, and the newlyweds drove to Memphis in a horse-and-buggy for their honeymoon, Bready said. "Mama said Daddy fell asleep on the way, and they woke up with the horse on the railroad tracks."

Jones left behind her schoolteacher career for homemaking when she had children of her own. The O.O. Jones family lived in the Holly Springs area for years while her husband worked at unloading railroad cars, said another daughter, Doris Goode of Hickory Flat. They later moved onto his parents' farm between Hickory Flat and Potts Camp, according to another daughter, Ann Mann of Memphis.

Jones lived and breathed the thrift of her Depression-era times. Sheri Gilbreath of Covington, Tenn., her great-granddaughter, said Jones unraveled chicken feed sacks for crochet string. Some of the delicate handmade doilies still survive. One daughter, Jerry Vanzant of Hickory Flat, recalls that her mother handily sewed all of the children's clothes.

Mann talked about even greater thriftiness eked out of her mother's treadle sewing machine. "Back when times were hard, she sewed and remade old clothes for us. ... She could just look at a picture in the Sears Roebuck catalog and she could make it."

Jones also stretched the family's income by hiring out as a seamstress, said one granddaughter, Norma Rogers of Tupelo. A fully sewn dress earned her only $3 back then, but Jones once used all the money to buy school shoes for Rogers' mother, Doris Goode.

Jones even shared her talents outside the immediate family, Mann said: When she heard of a child who couldn't go to school for lack of a coat, Jones got out her scissors and her sewing needles. She redesigned an old coat that had belonged to the child's mother and cut it down to the young girl's size.

"That's just the way she is," Mann said, smiling.

Rogers recalled that Jones was a "wonderful grandmother" who planned picnics in the woods, complete with juicy homegrown watermelons. She also remembered her grandmother's love of trips, both large and small: Around the block to admire autumn leaves, to the store for shopping or to the homes of friends and family. Jones took her first plane ride around age 80 to see a great-grandson graduate from college in Ohio, Rogers said. Jones is still a veteran letter writer who enjoys writing and receiving letters.

Reading is another favorite pastime, and Jones enjoys reading her Bible nightly, Goode said. She also still loves to visit with her relatives and friends.

At Sunday's birthday gala, Jones wore a silk pleated mauve dress and pearl hairpins as she greeted people from her wheelchair. Despite arthritic knee pains and some hearing loss, she enjoys pretty good health, Rogers said. A stroke a few years ago hurt Jones' short-term memory, but it left intact the rest of her mind, her older memories and her personality.

Jones sparkled as she gripped visitors' hands, smiled and soaked up the birthday party affection on Sunday. She laughed and said, "I sure had a celebration today, didn't I?"

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