ETHELEAN CAYCE LOVES THE
Ethelean Cayce was born in Farmington, MO on October 4, 1905. Her
father was Parnell Cayce, one of fourteen children born to Geter Cayce and his wife, who
came with their family from Virginia soon after the Civil War.
Geter had been a slave, property of the Cayce family and, as was customary at that time, he took the name of the family who had owned him, when he was set free.
"I'm proud of my grandfather and the heritage he left us," Ethelean says, "with almost nothing at all, he brought his family to this community and purchased land in the vicinity of First and Washington Streets, where the St. Francois Co. Abstract Co., the Knights of Pythias Hall and the American Beauty Academy now stand. This plot of land cost him $450 dollars and I have no idea how my grandfather managed to have that much money but I saw the deed. He must have been saving all of his life for the time when he'd be free. He stayed in Farmington and raised his family and Parnell was his son. He was also my father and his wife was Nellie Mae Bridges. I was their second child and our home was where the Presbyterian Children's Home now stands."
The love she has for her father is the first thing one senses as she talks of him and his work as custodian of some of the Farmington Churches, for which he was paid six to seven dollars per month and "my mother always worked as a laundress," she adds. "My dad rang his first church bell in October, 1904, as custodian of the Presbyterian Church and he also served the Baptist Church for 25 years and was custodian at the Methodist Church, too."
Today Ethelean's home stands on the same plot of land that used to be her grandfather's garden when he first emigrated to Farmington as a free man.
"Even as a child, Farmington people never made me feel anything but welcome," Cayce says, "and the years that followed have all been good to me. I attended school at the Douglas Grade School, where my teacher was a woman whom I admired a lot -- Miss Dayse Baker. She taught me a lot and I went eight years to that school."
"I started 'working out' when I was ten years old. My first job was for Mr. and Mrs. Will Wade, where I had to stand on a box in order to wash dishes; I was that small. And when I was sixteen, I went to work for the Will Harlen family. I did just about everything there from cooking to laundry and whatever else. Grandmother Harlen taught me lots of things while I was there, especially about cooking, and from that I just used my own ideas, mostly, and they always seemed to turn out pretty well." One of Cayce's treasures is a note of reference from Mr. and Mrs. Harlan, which reads: "This is a note of reference for Ethelean Cayce. She is a fine christian character, an expert cook and housemaid, loyal, reliable, and in every sense, worthy of confidense." It was dated June 1st, 1944 and signed by Mr. William and Mrs. Helen Harlan.
Ethelean smilingly remembers that she was one of the two highest paid domestic maids in the town of Farmington at one time. "I made $7.50 a week," she said, "I kept $2.00 of it and gave my dad the rest for household expenses."
She received an opportunity to work for a family in St. Louis and for a number of years, she worked for three different families in that city, consecutively, until her mother became ill and she returned home to care for her. Ethelean's nephew, Tillman, made his home with his grandmother and at her death, in 1965, Ethelean had another room added on to her house and took Tillman home to live there. They work together making [a] garden and taking care of the flowers and upkeep of the property. He is a strong arm for her and she has worked with him in the Home For The Retarded for many years. Cayce is also a member of the United Memorial Methodist Church and the 55 Plus club. She sang in the church choir for years and even now, she enjoys playing the organ in her living room, as she sings old familiar hymns.
Cayce is a woman of strong religious beliefs and much faith, and she credits this mostly to her father. "We used to attend three church services each Sunday," she says. "Dad used to give each of us a penny, and sometimes, a nickle, to drop into the offering plate, and once, he sold part of our land for $40.00, to the St. Paul's Methodist Church which served much of the black population of Farmington, so that much needed room could be added to the church."
Cayce says she would not change anything about her life and at this time of her life, has no regrets.
"I don't even know my color is different until I look down at my arm," she smiles. "The people of Farmington are wonderful to me. They are my people and have always been. Why, in 1986, members of the United Methodist Men's Club, here in Farmington, donated their time, skills and labor to put a new roof on my house, which was built in 1932. They had so many nice things to say about me. One man even referred to me as "a pillar of the community." and another recalled "that Miss Cayce (at the time, eighty years old) had always given tirelessly of her time and her talents to help others in the church and community. And now, "he said, "it's our time for the church to help her."
The Men's Club bought the materials for the job and spent most of the day tearing off the five layers of old shingles, replacing the deteriorating wood beneath and then, applying the new roof. More than 20 men, from all walks of life, both black and white, helped with the project.
Cayce said "Thanks" to them in the only way she knew -- just praising the lord. "The lord has truly blessed me," she said, "to give me friends like you."
"There are only a few black people living in Farmington, and I am now, the oldest black person living in this town, who was born here. I hold no prejudice about being black," she says. "It [does] grieve me to know my people were treated so badly as it says in that book, ROOTS, but I can know about it with no anger because those days are over. Neither my father or grandfather ever talked to us about slavery. I suppose they just wanted to put those days as far in the back of their lives as possible and as I said before, the people here in Farmington, and also, the ones I worked for in St. Louis, have all been so good to me. I'm just glad all that prejudice is in the past and people can live together in peace."
What Cayce does not tell is that all of her lifetime, she has been helping others and serving the Lord in the many ways she finds to serve him. In October, 1986, she was presented a plaque by the Parent's Association for Touching the Handicapped (P.A.T.H.) for her outstanding work as a fund-raiser for that organization. She is active in a number of worthwhile organizations as well as in her church. She and her sister, Theola, once baked and sold enough angel food cakes and cupcakes over a period of time, to purchase a much needed piano for their church in Farmington.
"It took a lot of bakin' and a lot of sellin'," Cayce smiles, "but it was surely worth it!"
The walls of Ethelean Cayce's home are covered with family photographs. She treasures boxes of family memoirs of her ancestry, including the marriage license of her parents, and her one hope is that all of this priceless history of her family will one day be preserved and appreciated by others as it is by this remarkable lady -- granddaughter of a slave -- Ethelean Cayce.