Vera Lorraine Collins was born July 15, 1917. Her parents were James Harrison Collins (4/30/1889 – 12/17/1928) and Nina Mays Collins (2/26/1899 – 3/10/1990). Her parents were married November 30, 1914. Vera had one sibling, an older brother George Blaine Collins (10/28/1915 – 12/28/1975).
Like many of us whose ancestors were early settlers in Union County, Vera traced her lineage back to Thompson Collins (ca. 1785 – ca. 1858) and Celia Self Collins (ca. 1787 – 09/03/1880). These were her 4th great grandparents. Firstborn of Thompson and Celia, Archibald Collins (ca.1811- ?) who married Mary “Polly” Nix (ca. 1818 - ?) were her great, great, great grandparents. Their son, James N., called “Jim Jesse” Collins (1842 - ?) who married Mary Ann Duckworth, were her great, great grandparents. Next in her lineage came their son, William “Bill Posey” Collins who married Margaret Dyer on September 12, 1886 in Union County, her grandparents, parents of her father, James Harrison Collins. Tracing all these roots and their branches can take volumes, and that is not the purpose of this article. We want to look at how the Harrison and Nina Mays Collins family lived courageously through some hard times, typical of many who lived and worked on the small farms of Union County in the early years of the twentieth century before modern conveniences were known and utilized.
In 1923 when Vera Lorraine was six years old, her parents moved to what she called the “Vess Collins Place” at Track Rock (a farm that had belonged to Vester Eugene Collins, who may have “gone west” prior to the Harrison Collins family moving to that farm). Vera recalls that she went to Track Rock School (probably held in the Track Rock Baptist Church building). Her teacher was John Turner. Not too long after the family moved to Track Rock, Vera received a bad cat scratch on her hand. The hand became severely infected and was swollen and very painful. Her parents had no means of transportation to get to the nearest doctor, so a neighbor, Mr. Coker, took Vera and her mother to Young Harris for treatment. Vera remembers that the doctor met them on the steps of his office on the campus of Young Harris College. He took a look at the infected hand, and without benefit of any sort of anesthesia, he lanced the young girl’s hand right there on the steps of his office. We can almost wince at the thought of the pain to this young child. But having the infection released must have eased the pain, for she remembers sleeping all the way back to Track Rock as the mule-drawn wagon rocked along the dirt road toward her home. The hand miraculously healed and she was left with no permanent impairment to it.
Syrup-making was one of the fall activities at Track Rock, and in much of Union County. It was also one of the money crops of mountain farmers. Vera remembers her Uncle Thomas Mays driving a Kissel automobile up from Atlanta to bring her Grandmother Mays to visit them while they lived at Track Rock. He purchased several gallon pails of sorghum syrup to take back to Atlanta with him. Once they were stopped by authorities on the way back across the mountain to Atlanta. The federals were probably searching for contraband moonshine, and seeing that the Kissel was somewhat overloaded in the trunk area, they stopped it. Thomas Mays, however, would not allow “the law” to open his buckets of sorghum until they first got a search warrant to do so. Imagine their disappointment when they found, not moonshine whiskey, but sweet sorghum syrup in the aluminum pails.
From their Track Rock home, the Harrison Collins family next moved to what had been the home of Vera’s great uncle, brother to her grandmother Margaret Dyer Collins. This was the farm home of Narve Dyer who had temporarily gone to Dalton to work at the carpet mills during the Great Depression. At this Choestoe home, Vera Lorraine Collins remembers happily that she attended New Liberty School when Miss Goldie Collins was the teacher, and then Choestoe School where Mrs. Helen Cordelia Collins Twiggs was her teacher.
Vera’s father, Harrison Collins, loved music and was a music teacher by the “shaped note” method. He often used his talent to teach singing schools in some of the churches throughout the area. Then her father became ill. They moved first to Suit, NC to be near Harrison’s brother, Ervin Collins. There her father farmed as long as he was able, but his cancer and Bright’s disease became worse. Neighbors and relatives made up enough money to send Harrison and Nina Mays Collins by train from Ranger, NC to Atlanta for medical treatment. Nina got work at Martel Mills there to help earn a living, for Harrison was no longer able to work. Vera’s Uncle Ervin Collins moved the Harrison Collins’s household goods, and his nephew and niece, Blaine and Vera, by wagon all the way from Ranger to Atlanta, a trip that took several long days. Vera remembers stopping at Choestoe to spend the night with her great aunt Mintie Dyer Souther (and Uncle Jeptha). As they went on, they camped out along the way, and sometimes spent the nights with kind relatives or friendly people in route. The mules pulled the wagon, amidst downtown traffic—much less then, of course—through Five Points in Atlanta to her Grandmother Mays’ boarding house on Bradley Avenue. Then they went on to the mill village house where her parents lived at Hapeville. Her father was so sick, that, while her mother worked, she and Blaine took turns staying with him during the daytime, one going to school one day and the other the next. Her father died there just eight days before Christmas (12/17/1928).
Vera Lorraine Collins married Rev. James Goodwin and they had three children: James Thomas Goodwin, Billy Ray Goodwin, and Nina Lorraine Goodwin. Rev. Goodwin died March 8, 1985 after over fifty years of marriage to Vera Lorraine.
Through the hardships Vera’s parents, Harrison and Nina Mays Collins faced, Vera herself learned much about courage and fortitude and taking the bad with the good in life. “We shall overcome,” was more than a motto; it was a way of life.
c 2010 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published June 17, 2010 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.