Ottie Houser Roberson
Aunt Ottie’s 103rd Birthday, March 18, 2014, and celebration at Lake Houser March 22, 2014, was attended by 89 relatives and friends. She was interviewed by Troy Houser, a nephew.
She sat among nearly 90 relatives and friends as they gathered in her honor and to celebrate her 103rd birthday at the Lake Houser Clubhouse in southwestern Cleveland County, North Carolina, just 2¾ miles east of Cliffside. Her demeanor was as all her relatives, children, nieces, nephews and friends had always seen … smiling, friendly, and gracious, a lady of class, meticulously dressed, every hair in place. The March 22nd afternoon had included a covered-dish meal with well-wishers one after another hugging Aunt Ottie and reminiscing about days gone by. There were expressions of gratitude for how she had so greatly impacted lives with her positive mental attitude, good advice, and solid spiritual guidance.
Even at 103 years old, Aunt Ottie (pronounced “Odie”) is remarkable, quickly admitting that her memories about dates of events have faded, but her memories of the events and life occurrences are so vivid.
She married Robert LeRoy Roberson, Sr. on February 2, 1932, “Uncle Bob” to all nephews and nieces. He pastored for 44 years at six Baptist churches in South Carolina and Virginia, and continued his ministry for six more years as interim and supply pastor, preaching for a total of 50 years. He also was member of the Masonic Order, 3rd Degree. He died December 18, 1989. Aunt Ottie described the most difficult time of their 57 years of marriage as being near the end when Uncle Bob was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Tears welled in her eyes and her voice trembled as she recalled: “He didn’t even know who I was. He wasn’t the same person.”
Their marriage brought four children into the world: Robert LeRoy Roberson II, known as Bobby Lee (wife Barbara), born February 4, 1933; Barbara Anita Roberson Williams, known as Barbara Ann (husband Marvin), born October 6, 1934; Arnold Lavern Roberson (wife Alice), born October 5, 1936, and Sybil Virginia Roberson Parsons (husband Lowell), born May 10, 1938. Aunt Ottie would not venture a guess as to the number of her grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-great-grandchildren. She just described the number as “many, many.”
Most of us think of 103 years as a long time. Aunt Ottie said time, even 100 years, goes by so quickly. But in that time frame many changes have taken place. She remembers the emergence of radio in her early life and later the advent of television. She recalls when airplanes first took to the air. Her earliest memories are of travel by foot, or horse-drawn buggies and wagons, and then the first automobiles. As a child, she never heard the word “vacation,” but annually, when the crops were laid by (meaning the field work was done for the season), “Daddy” (Tilden Laxton Houser) and Mother Essie Ramsey Houser would put a cover over the farm wagon and load up with canned meat and vegetables, melons, and other staples and make a journey of about 40 miles to the Chimney Rock area where they would camp by the river for about two weeks, weather permitting. Those were the days before Lake Lure was constructed and the campsites of yesteryear are now under water.
Her love of camping continued into her married life with annual trips to the Great Smoky Mountains. The family camped at what now is Smokemont Campground six miles north of Cherokee. It was a logging camp when she and the children began camping there in the 1930s. Uncle Bob would remain home to carry out his duties as pastor but sometimes could join them a few days during the week. She and the children also had a great love for the ocean and made many trips to the beach to camp near the dunes or rent a cottage. At Hunting Island was an abandoned lighthouse where the children would scurry up the spiral stairs to the top and play on the catwalk surrounded by a metal banister. Hours daily were spent playing and swimming in the ocean and harvesting raw oysters from oyster beds along the shore.
Aunt Ottie was the fifth of nine children born to Tilden and Essie Houser. The first, a girl, was stillborn; the second, a boy, also stillborn; the third, a boy, Huland, died at age 4 of what then was called membranous croup, which today probably would be influenza or pneumonia. Ealon was born in 1909, Aunt Ottie in 1911, Hetty in 1913, Yates in 1914; Lee in 1917, and Maurice in 1922. She is the last surviving child of Tilden and Essie Houser.
When Aunt Ottie was nearly 4 years old, the family moved from a house on the river to a place near Cliffside. She describes it as “a house on the main road.” The house on the river was at the end of the road and they did not see passersby. At their new place near Cliffside, they saw people passing by daily going to and from Cliffside and that fascinated the 4-year-old. Their water was from a deep well. Previous homes were supplied by water from a nearby spring.
Living in the late 1920s when the Great Depression came, Aunt Ottie said times were hard, but not so much for her family. “We always had what we needed. We had two cows. We milked twice a day and always had milk and butter.” The family always had chickens, and therefore, eggs. “Daddy always had bee gums (hives) so we always had honey.” Honey was used when sugar was not available. They also grew corn, wheat, potatoes, much produce from the garden, and cotton. Wheat was taken to the mill and ground into flour. That required no money because the miller would “take his toll” from the flour. The same was the process with the corn. Later, Tilden acquired his own grist mill and milled his own corn. Times were hard, but she said the Depression years came and went with little notice by the family. “We just worked hard like we always had and lived off the land.”
While living at Cliffside the Houser family attended Cliffside Baptist Church. However, Uncle Roy and Aunt Fannie McGinnis Ramsey lived nearby and attended Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church a mile or two away in Cleveland County. (Uncle Roy, Essie Ramsey Houser’s brother, and Aunt Fannie were the parents of Gertrude, R.B., Macie, Guy, Harry, DeWitt, Hugh, and Charles Ramsey. Charles is the only surviving of the eight.) It was during a revival at Mount Pleasant that Aunt Ottie attended. In a service and at age 12 she invited Jesus into her heart. She was baptized at Mt. Pleasant in a spring-fed baptismal pool under some oak trees at the right of the original church. The baptism was in October, the water was frigid and air was bitter and those baptized had to wear their wet clothes home. Her siblings Ealon and Hetty were baptized at Cliffside Baptist.
She remembers one day working in the fields when Cliffside Baptist Pastor Dr. Charles Stevens came to talk with her father, Tilden. The children were concerned because of how quiet Daddy was as they made their way back home. “Daddy was so solemn, but he told Mama that Dr. Stevens had asked him if he would consider being a deacon. It was a serious matter for Daddy and he was overwhelmed at being asked.” But he gave his consent and shortly after was ordained as a deacon at Cliffside Baptist Church.
In 1923 her family name Howser became Houser.Aunt Ottie said until 1923, the spelling of the family name was Howser. That year, her teacher wrote “House” on a paper and “asked me what that spelled. I told her ‘house’.” Then she told Aunt Ottie, “All you do is put an ‘r’ on the end of that word and what do you have?” She answered, “Houser.” The teacher said she believed the family had been misspelling the name. Aunt Ottie told her father, “The teacher said we’re spelling our name wrong.” Therefore, the Howser name became Houser from that time on but some of Tilden’s relatives continued using the Howser spelling.
Throughout her life, Aunt Ottie was the model pastor’s wife. She played piano, worked in the church, taught classes, and generally did anything necessary to promote and support her husband’s ministry. Uncle Bob liked church music and insisted that his children learn to sing. Barbara Ann learned piano and she and Sybil sang soprano and alto; Arnold was the tenor and Bobby Lee was bass. The boys didn’t like to take the time away from their “important stuff” to come in and sing, but Uncle Bob insisted, or maybe more like demanded. Therefore, they all can sing and Arnold and Bobby Lee have been music leaders in some of the churches they attended. All are pleased now that their Daddy pushed so hard to get them musically inclined.
Aunt Ottie said over the years the world has changed. She is not pleased with the way times have changed and how people have changed. She remembers in her earlier years when people cared about each other; neighbors helped neighbors; and the church was the center of cultural, social and spiritual life. “We were so concerned for the souls of people who didn’t go to church,” she said. In today’s world she said people have neither the concern for others nor that very important helping-hands attitude. She believes that in spite of the hardships, economic shortages, and World Wars I and II, that she grew up in the best of times. She said people seem to have lost their spiritual connection “… and to me, that is so sad.”