Nina Abbott: Townsend’s Teacher

My first Whispers of the Past story will be on my great-great Aunt Nina Abbott. I’ve titled this post Aunt Nina, because this is what everyone in my family called her. She was unmarried and had no children. But she had plenty of nieces and nephews, cousins, and students. I guess if she wasn’t Aunt Nina, she was Miss Abbott. So many of you knew her so much better than I did. If I run into a person that lived in the Townsend area at any point in their life (who was born 1960-ish and earlier) they will tell me they had Miss Abbott as a school teacher. They would say she was a sweet lady and a great teacher.

Aunt Nina died when I was eight years old. I have a few memories of her. She couldn’t see very well because of her age, but she always asked if I liked school. She would hug everyone. I remember going to her house and even visiting her at the nursing home. My memory tells me that she was a caring person who loved visitors.

Aunt Nina was born Nov. 8, 1902. She was the second child of Levi Perry and Minerva Headrick Abbott. Her older brother was my great grandad, Carl. They moved in to the house she grew old in when she was six years old. She attended Coker Hill school as a girl, and then waited until she was nearly 30 years old to finish her high school. She then went to school for her teaching degree. In those days, teachers were required to be unmarried! She taught school at Coker Hill, Red Bank in Dry Valley, Cades Cove, and finally at Townsend, where she retired in 1967. She taught first and second grade at Townsend for 28 years.

September, 1932

Mrs. Lois Caughron, my husband’s great grandmother, was one of Miss Abbott’s students in Cades Cove. In those days, teachers would board with their students’ families during the week. Lois remembers her staying with her family, the Shulers of Cades Cove. Teachers might travel home on the weekends to spend time with their own families. Lois speaks fondly of Miss Abbott.

Earl Adams, Jr., my dear sweet friend, told me a story about his school days. He said he had a teacher at his former school that he just didn’t like. He didn’t do well in school because of it. So, his mother, Cora, sent him to Coker Hill to be taught by Miss Abbott. (Who happened to also be his cousin.) Little Junior never had another problem. Miss Abbott was good to him and he started to like school.

Education was pretty important in the Abbott family. All of Nina’s brothers and sister made something of themselves. They grew up before and during the Depression Era and were raised to work hard and do well. Generations later this is still true of Perry and Minerva’s descendants.

“Even after she retired, she never quit being a teacher. She was always reading; history, biography, and Christian books. She loved children. She always asked us intelligent questions and always checked to be sure we were getting good grades in school. In the Southern Baptist Church in the 60’s and 70’s, you left the nursery at 3 or 4 years old and went into Beginners Class, then to Primaries, then to Juniors. Aunt Nina was my Beginners teacher at Bethel Baptist Church. Her sister, my Aunt Louella Farmer, was my Primaries teacher, and their brother Perry’s wife, my Aunt Jennie, was my Juniors teacher. The Beginners and Primaries would assemble together before Sunday School to sing, and Aunt Louella’s daughter Laverne would play piano for us (of course all these were actually great aunts). I learned and remembered a great deal of the fundamental Bible stories in those classes. I would have been four years old in 1969, so that’s probably when Aunt Nina was first my teacher. As Nina aged, she never changed. She always was glad to see us and greeted us with a smile. She continued to read and learn as long as her eyesight would allow.” These were my daddy’s words about his great-Aunt Nina.

Aunt Nina ended up taking care of her aging parents, caring for both of them until they passed away in their late 90’s in 1973. She credited their long life to being cared for by loving family members.

Aunt Nina herself lived up through her nineties, in the same house she was raised in. When she could no longer care for herself, she moved to a nursing home.

From what I can tell from some of her personal journals, she loved to read. She was interested in genealogy where she corresponded and contributed to the Headrick Family history. She loved to write letters to her relatives. (After all, there was no social media…) She liked to keep up with her family members, former students, and friends. She knew when everyone had a birthday and when someone got married. She kept up with people.

Although I didn’t know Aunt Nina very well, for some reason I feel a connection to her even though she’s been gone a long time. I just know she liked to research things, and she might have been the kind of woman that made notes and kept lists everywhere. Kind of like me. She kept a garden, she liked to quilt with her mother, she liked cooking. Kind of like me.

Last year, my sweet cousin allowed me, my father, and my aunt to go through a few of Aunt Nina’s old things. Honestly, the stuff was really old, mildewed, and mouse-eaten, but ya know, I loved it anyways. We walked through the old home place and found some invaluable documents and pictures. (At least, invaluable to ME.) It was really cool to find things that I had pieces of, that completed the puzzle in some way. This might not make sense; let me clarify. I had questions about wedding dates, death dates, or family’s names, stuff like that. Well, I found Aunt Nina’s notebook that had all the family dates and info in it. It was just a notebook with her handwriting. It answered so many questions that were in my head. From her letters she had kept, I learned so many things about this woman who might have been otherwise forgotten. Now, don’t get me wrong, I know my relatives will never forget her. She was a precious someone, and left her mark on her friends and family. But after the older generation is gone, who will remember Miss Abbott? Well, in my book, she deserves to be remembered and I’m determined at least a few people will know who she was.

~Side Note: If I’m correct, a display will be coming to the Cades Cove Museum in Maryville that highlights teachers in the Cove. Miss Abbott will be one of the pictures in the display. I think she would have liked that. Be on the lookout, people! (This is one of my endorsements for the Cades Cove Museum…go check it out!)~

In closing, I hope the first “chapter” in my Read and Remember series has sparked some forgotten memories of family and friends of Aunt Nina’s. Also, I hope it’s inspired some of you to check out your own family history! It’s so much fun and you’ll learn about your family, but also about yourself. I’m not in this blogging game to just further my own agenda or whatever…I want to purposefully tell our stories and honor those who are fading from the world’s memory.

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