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Remembering May Exley

POSTED: September 5, 2013 8:34 p.m.
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A young May Carter advertising for Wilson’s Brand Margarine.

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May Exley died Aug. 30, 2012, and on the anniversary of her passing I wanted to share her life story as a tribute to my great-aunt. This information came from a journal she kept during the years of her husband’s illness. Her daughter Julia Rahn put it in a narrative form and shared it with her family.


May Quint Carter was born to John Edward Carter and Clara Mae DeLoach Carter on March 2, 1918. He had worked in South Carolina and fought in the Philippine Insurrection. After he married, they moved to Savannah, where his mother and two sisters lived. They settled on what was known as “The Ford Place” on what is now Courthouse Road in Effingham County. Her siblings were born there and Clara’s mother lived with them.


When the Brinson Railroad came to Springfield, her father got a job as Depot Agent in Newington. Her mother helped raise funds to build a Methodist church there. He then was sent to work in Sylvania for the railroad and he also worked for the Express Company which took them later to Florida. They got sent back to Savannah. Clara had gone back to Savannah ahead of him, expecting a baby, so that she could get care from her family.


Baby May was born healthy on March 2, 1918, and her mother did well, contrary to the doctor in Florida who predicted Clara Carter and her baby might not survive.


May described her life, “The first 15 years of my life were like riding a Greyhound bus from Savannah to Atlanta before there were expressways — a stop in every little town.” She lived in 10 different houses in various parts of Savannah and attended seven different schools and made new friends often. Her parents were involved with sales in grocery and retail stores. Cute little May became a local celebrity advertising for Wilson and Company.


In March of 1934, just after her 16th birthday, her family moved to Effingham County. They, like so many others, had met the difficulties of the 1930s in the Great Depression and their former lifestyle was unable to be maintained as jobs dwindled. As her father became depressed, they found through her Aunt Allie and Uncle Jim Shearouse a farm for rent. They moved into a house near Springfield at what would now be the corner of Pleasant Acres Road and Shearouse Spur. Life there consisted of hard work, an old house, no electricity, no running water, no bathroom — a far cry from city life. They began to farm with some credit and a mule and seed they bought.  They managed to get by. May took over the housekeeping and cooking and her mother worked the farm with her father.


May had to walk two-and-half miles to school as there were no buses and take lunch in a paper bag as there were no lunchrooms. May says, “I was the new girl in town so I was not lacking for dates. I was even invited to the junior-senior prom the first spring before I started school. I graduated 5th in my class of 23 in May of 1936 (there were only 11 grades then).”


She spent the summer after graduation away staying with relatives. May took a part time job at “Bob’s,” an eatery and filling station operated by Bob and Bertie Lee Brogdon (the location of the former Blocker’s Fine Foods in Springfield.) They offered curb service to your car.


May had attended Sunday School Convention every year after she moved to Effingham. The year that she was a senior she and Christine Shearouse attended a baseball game after convention. (The convention was on Wednesday and the ball game in Springfield was an old tradition.) They met Barnard Exley and his cousin Edmund that afternoon and she had a date with Barnard and Christine with Edmund. Barnard and May dated a few months and then each dated others.


Barnard came where May was working at Bob’s and they dated again. By spring they were going steady and she met Barnard’s family at his sister Faye’s wedding in February of 1937. Dancing at Oaky and Log Landing were some of their dates.


May married Barnard Rahn Exley at her home where she had lived for three years on Wednesday night, Dec. 1, 1937. The pastor of Laurel Hill Lutheran Church performed the ceremony.  Punch, pound cake and fruit cake were served. They moved in with Barnard’s mother, Ora Exley, just south of Clyo. This was a working farm.  May learned quickly to cook (and became one of the most excellent in the county).


The farm raised row crops as well as produce for sale on the market like Irish potatoes, beans, peas, dasheens and artichokes. For many years they raised chickens and sold eggs. Barnard also had livestock. They worked hard facing crop failures through the years and a disease that the hogs got requiring about 100 of them to be killed and buried to prevent the spread throughout the county.


They reared four children: Julia Exley Rahn, Alfred Carter Exley, Delora Exley Williams and Edmund David Exley.


The Exleys were members of Laurel Hill Lutheran Church where May taught Sunday school, was active in the Lutheran Women’s organization, was leader for the young people as well as Bible school and anything else that came along. She updated the church history through the years. She and Barnard were church custodians for many years.


May helped care for her mother-in-law Mrs. Ora after a stroke left her paralyzed in 1939. Grandma Ora lived seven years and did a lot to help out like shell vegetables, shake a jar of cream to make butter, dry dishes and much more even with her paralysis.


May worked hard at home feeding many including family, farm workers and often entertained. Some things she was known for were Raisin Bread, pies, cakes, fried chicken, chicken pie and glorified squash. She worked briefly in the lunchroom at school, for Mr. Sweat at the Café in Springfield and for a short time worked for Effingham Hospital cooking in the cafeteria. May and daughter Julia ran a catering business for weddings, rehearsal dinners and civic organization dinners.


In June 1971, May and Julia opened the Tuckaseeking Restaurant at Clyo. This only lasted through October, as both needed to give more attention to their families.


May and Barnard were active with the Springfield chapter of the Farm Bureau and were very involved workers at the county fair, even managing the food booth concessions at one time.


Through all the years her children attended school, May was very active in PTA.  She was a member of the Clyo Chapter No. 27 Order of the Eastern Star holding many positions including Worthy Matron four or five times. Barnard and May were active in the Georgia Salzburger Society. May was involved with the Home Demonstration Club of Effingham County and later after the local chapter disbanded, became active in the Clyo Homemakers Club and worked hard to build their building. She loved quilting and quilted at home and at the Homemakers where they made a quilt annually to fund two scholarships. If someone in the community or family passed away, the couple was among the first to bring food and offer support and rarely missed a visitation, funeral or community event.


May stood by Barnard taking care of him when he developed Alzheimer’s in 1985. She cared for him at home for as long as she could until 1988 when he went to live at “Home Again,” a facility for that kind of patient. He lived four years until his death in December 1992. They were married 55 years.


May enjoyed traveling with the Homemakers and visiting relatives out of town. After early years in many places, she spent the majority of her life in two houses (the old Exley home built about 1900 and the new home built in 1945.)


In August 2008, with deteriorating health, May went to live at Lakeview Manor and still enjoyed getting out for church, club and to play cards.


By June 2012, she moved to Effingham Extended Care because she needed more assistance and passed away on Aug. 30, 2012, after a little over a week in Effingham Hospital.  The oldest member of Laurel Hill, at the time of her death, was buried beside her husband in the church cemetery following a visitation and funeral there.


May enjoyed her family and extended family. Daughter Julia Rahn was her main caregiver over many years. She left four children, five grandsons, seven-great- grandchildren and two great-great children.


A Christian woman who worked hard and made the best of all circumstances summed her own life as, “All in all I would say my road of life has been a pleasant ride — no bad accidents, a few pot holes but no major catastrophes, compared to some other people, my highway has been a beautiful scenic highway.”


This was compiled by Susan Exley of Historic Effingham Society. If you have photos, comments or information to share, contact Susan Exley at 754-6681 or email her at: hesexleyherald@aol.com.

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