ORAL HISTORY: A Chat with Alston Godwin

Alston Godwin as a young adult

Alston Godwin as a young adult

January 26, 2014

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Cape Charles Historical Society has for more than a decade been recording oral histories of the area’s earlier days.  In 2008, Bill and Jan Neville interviewed Alston Godwin, who was then 96. Mrs. Godwin lived to be 101, and her obituary may be read by clicking here.

A grant from the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities enabled 15 interviews to be transcribed, and the Historical Society has made this one available for readers of the Wave.  All the transcriptions may be read at the Cape Charles Museum.)

Excerpts from an interview with Bill and Jan Neville, March 12, 2008

Entering the Funeral Business

The Funeral business started, my aunt and uncle [Mills Grey] established that business.  I don’t think Uncle Mills was born here.  But anyway, he and my aunt were very lovable people, lovable to each other and all the people they came in contact with.  He learned people and he worked to do that.  He established himself and his memory was good for everything he had ever heard or seen.  And so then, he got married and established his business.  It was the first black business in Cape Charles.  They had one white undertaker.  This was in 1895.  My aunt stuck right by him.  She learned from him what he was doing, but he didn’t have her embalm and she didn’t want to embalm.  And you know, I didn’t either!  I’d work to do anything but that.  I didn’t care for that.  My daughter, Jennie Marie, used to hang around them.  She wasn’t afraid of no dead people.

Now I’ll tell you how I came to [enter the funeral business].  My first year in college, we were having our Christmas vacation and I came home and Uncle Mills had just died and been buried.  He hadn’t been buried very long and I said to my mother, ” Mama I think I would like to go spend a couple nights with Aunt Jenny.”  She said, “I think Alston that’s a good idea.”  So I went there and I was an excellent driver.  I could drive anywhere.  So then I went and when I got there, sure enough, she had a call out.  And I drove the hearse for her.  And she and I went and got the body.  She went with me.  Because she worked with her husband, too.  She was with him all the time.  So then I saw a need that I had to stay longer.  I was going to stay there until this body was buried.  My aunt wasn’t up to it.

Bill Neville: She didn’t have anybody else to help her after her husband died?

Oh yes, back then that’s one good thing.  There was not a neighbor, white or black, that wouldn’t come if you called and do anything to help you.  And they’d come and cook for her.  I didn’t have to do any cooking.  But I wanted to because I didn’t want to forget how to cook.  Then I used to give them dinners and things to eat. [Read more…]


WEEKEND: Ice, Snow, Water, and Sand


When salt water freezes you know it’s cold — not that anyone needed to be told. What looks like sea foam in this photo is actually ice with a snowy frosting.  The Bay’s brackish water only freezes where it is relatively still, such as around the jetty.

Readers are invited to submit their favorite local photos for Weekend editions of the Wave, when the picture extends all the way across the page. (Wave photo published January 25, 2014)

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