The beautiful music of heaven poured out from the living room by the talented fingers of the crippled twelve year old girl. Her grandfather and others who gathered around the piano smiled in delight.
A knock at the door interrupted the moment. “I’ll get it.” The girl’s uncle walked over and opened the door.
It was his brother. “Who’s that playing the piano?”
“Your daughter. I can’t believe you don’t even know your own daughter!”
The girl’s father, a stranger among his own family, joined others around the piano and listened to the stunning performance from the lovely young girl.
He didn’t stay long, but before he left, perhaps out of guilt, he reached in his pocket and gave his daughter $10 which was a lot of money back in 1935.
It was the first and last time that Harvey Sills paid any kind of child support. And, it was the first time that he had seen his two girls in ten years. The youngest was but a toddler at the age of two months and Virginia was only two years old when their dad abandoned them. It was the last time that they would ever see their father again.
Sills disappeared into smoky gambling dens of iniquity throwing away his money and running with wild women eager and ready for a “good” time. He abandoned his family leaving his wife a single parent with a two month old baby girl and a rambunctious two year old girl.
Many, many years later, Virginia learned of her father’s death. He died in North Carolina from cancer that had eaten away at his face. There was no mention in his obituary of the two daughters he had left behind in Georgia. Someone told her that he had started going to church shortly before he died.
To this day, Virginia Moody hates cards and all forms of gambling including the state lottery. She has lived through the losing hand dealt from gambling away the children’s milk money and leaving families penniless.
She detests the unfaithfulness of spouses that destroys families and too often leaves little children without a full time mother or father from divorce.
Harvey Sills never apologized to his children for leaving them. He never visited them nor did he ever invite them to come and see him. There wasn’t even a birthday card or phone call from him. He never told them how to contact him.
His abandonment forced his wife, Louise, and their two precious daughters into a life of abject poverty. After Virginia suffered a terrible accident at age 7, Louise looked and looked for him to at least help with the sky-rocketing medical bills. He was not to be found.
Virginia recalls, “We were so very poor, but we were rich in love. We had each other, and we had the good Lord looking out for us.”
On a freezing January morning in 1930, seven year old Virginia slipped on a patch of ice that had formed on her front porch in Thomson, Georgia. Her right leg was sore from the fall, but she walked on to her first grade class limping along the way.
Strangely, she soon developed a fever with no outward signs of infection, cold, sore throat, or flu. But, the pain in her injured leg worsened into excruciating, unbearable agony.
Panic stricken, Louise took Virginia to University Hospital in Augusta, Georgia. Virginia was diagnosed with acute osteomyelitis caused by staph infection and internal bleeding around her bruised bone. The treatment included an incision over the area, removing the dead bone, and draining the area. After her surgical wound was wiped with iodine and alcohol, she was wrapped in a body cast that covered her from neck to toes.
Virginia remained in the hospital and the cast for thirteen months and fourteen days in an era before infection fighting antibiotics.
Louise didn’t have a car and was forced to move to Augusta and find work there. The Enterprise Mill near the hospital hired her for 50¢ an hour to work a twelve hour daily shift. She worked the long hours on her feet in the weaving and drawing rooms. The Mill provided a three room rental house in their adjacent mill village called “Horse Gully.” It was less than a mile to the hospital.
Louise’s widowed mother, Mary Easley, moved in with them to help care for Virginia, her sister, and their mother.
The operation and the seemingly unending confinement in the hospital and being bound in a body cast cured the osteomyelitis. But, her right leg atrophied and began to curl underneath her.
Louise contacted Dr. McShell who also had a small children’s hospital near University Hospital.
Dr. McShell was a dedicated, compassionate Christian doctor who was a faithful member of a downtown Catholic Church.
Virginia remembers his kindnesses. “Momma tried to pay him for his services and to pay on her bill. Every time, Dr. McShell refused payment. He never took a dime from my Momma.”
Dr. McShell would say, “Take that money and buy shoes for your children.”
Virginia recalls having holes in the soles of their shoes. Their mother took cardboard boxes and cut them into inserts to place in the bottom of their shoes.
Dr. McShell provided medicine for Virginia at no charge. Her first doll was brought to her by the doctor’s daughter for a Christmas present.
The Salvation Army also made sure the girls had Christmas. “They would always bring us a little sack with bananas, apples, oranges, and brazil nuts. “We were so very grateful. Fresh fruit was a luxury that we couldn’t afford very often,” Virginia remembers. “Without their Christian kindness and the kindness of Dr. McShell, we would have never had anything for Christmas.”
Virginia’s right leg continued to degenerate. By age 9, it had completely curled under her and was sapping her life. Her weight had dropped to a mere 50 pounds.
Dr. McShell recommended that she go to the Shriner’s Children’s Hospital in Greenville, South Carolina, which had opened in 1929 and specialized in children’s orthopedics. They prayed together in hope that the hospital’s skilled orthopedic surgeons could somehow straighten her leg and save her life.
Shriners Hospitals are the largest philanthropic organization in the world. When a child is accepted as a patient, all expenses are paid by the Shriners. Children are admitted based on their health problems and not on the family’s financial status be it rich or poor.
Dr. William White performed the operation on Virginia’s crinkled leg . Her anxious mother waited and waited for the results. Finally, Dr. White came out of the surgery room to meet with Louise.
“We’ve done all that we can do. Your daughter isn’t going to make it.”
Attendants rolled Virginia into her room to die.
After receiving Dr. White’s hopeless prognosis, Virginia’s godly, praying mother, looked through her tears into the face of her ashen, dying daughter and told the doctor, “If it’s God’s will to heal her, she will be healed. I will pray and call my church to pray for her healing.”
The good Lord slowly and surely answered prayers.
Augusta Shriners and firemen from the Augusta Fire Department faithfully provided transportation for Louise and other family members to travel to and from Greenville, about 120 miles northwest of Augusta to be with Virginia during her recovery. They continued their kindness taking Virginia to and from Greenville for her follow-up appointments after she was discharged from the hospital.
Tears of joy and prayers of thanksgiving flowed when Virginia was finally released from the hospital’s care. Her care was turned over to Augusta’s medical team. It was a miraculous recovery under any circumstances and especially since the year was 1933. Medicine was primitive compared to today’s modern medical technology.
Times were hard, real hard during the Great Depression in “Horse Gully.” One out of four Americans were out of work. At least Virginia’s family had a roof over their head and her mom had a job.
If they had enough money to buy some fatback meat, Granny would also make gravy from the meat and serve it up with hot biscuits for breakfast. For dinner, it was a regular diet of beans and rice.
“I can see my Granny now. She wore her long hair in a ball on top of her head and never wore make-up.”
Their only heat in the winter was from the fireplace in the living room. Baths were taken in a tin #10 wash tub with water having to be drawn to fill it. In warm weather, the front and back porches served as bedrooms.
Virginia said, “We didn’t have to lock our doors back then.” She laughs, and says, “I guess it was because everyone in the mill village was so poor that no one had nothing worth stealing! But really, folks were decent church-going and God-fearing people back then.”
Virginia remembers having no food in the house and her mother praying on her knees crying out to the Lord for help. “Lord, You know that we need it. Please help us.”
More times than not, Virginia remembers a knock at the door from someone in the neighborhood or from their church with food. “The Lord was good to us. People were good to us,” Virginia testifies. “Mrs. Norma Moss in the adjacent Harrisburg mill village would let Momma charge groceries and pay when she could at her store. Momma taught me through her faith and prayers to “keep looking up and give God the glory.”
“God never failed us,” Virginia says. “Those trials and tribulations proved God’s faithfulness to us.”
“I had one little Sunday dress that Momma washed every Saturday night. We knew on Monday that we would go to church on Sunday. We never got up on Sunday morning asking if we were going to church. We walked as a family to St. Luke’s Methodist Church every Sunday in Harrisburg. The church didn’t have a nursery or ‘children’s church.’ We worshipped together as a family in the way it should be without the children being herded off to another room without their parents for “children’s church.” We were taught to sit and listen to the sermon and sing the hymns which I came to love. If me and my sister started getting fidgety, Momma gave us that look that meant “Wait until we get home, and I’ll take care of you.” One look was all it took, and then we turned into little angels. I cherish those days sitting beside my godly mother in church.”
The tiny mill house got even more crowded when Virginia’s aunt, uncle, and their daughter (her cousin) moved in with them. Even in their financial straits, Louise took in her family members stretching even further their scarce resources. It was the Christian thing to do.
They came to Augusta looking for work, and fortunately, Enterprise Mill eventually hired both of them. Later, a mill house next door to Virginia became available, and they moved into it.
Another cousin moved in too. Granny’s daughter, Virginia’s aunt, had asked her to keep her daughter and provided a small stipend for her expenses. But instead of spending all of that money on expenses, Granny used some of it to send Virginia to a piano teacher on Central Avenue in Augusta. She also was able to buy a player piano on credit and paid $2 per week on it. Virginia still has that old piano and played it until her health declined to the point that she can no longer play it.
“I took lessons for seven or eight years. I was so badly crippled that my teacher, Roberta, pushed me up to the keyboard. I used to make a piano talk. I was the pianist for many years at Curtis Baptist Church downtown on Broad Street. After we moved out to Columbia County, I played many years for Damascus Baptist Church. Oh, how I wish I could get to the piano and play “He Touched Me” one more time.”
Virginia went to high school at Tubman High School for girls on Walton Way. They lived just below the Augusta Canal spanned by the Archibald Butt Memorial Bridge.
Virginia lived about a mile from the school. Determined to get her education, she traversed the bridge’s incline and continued her route on crutches with her legs in a brace during all kinds of weather. Her right leg was 5½ inches shorter than her left leg.
Virginia said, “I found a house where they let me sit on the porch to rest each day to gather my strength before I climbed the hill for the final segment of my journey to get to school.”
Virginia made it through the 11th grade and was finally able to put down her crutches. She wore a built up right shoe which enabled her to walk, but she still had a noticeable limp.
In her final high school year, her mother was able to buy a brand new 1939 Chevrolet for $720 on credit. Louise worked all the over time that she could get. Mill wages had improved as America had come out of the Great Depression, and she pinched every penny. The family was thrilled to finally have their own transportation. But, the joy would be short lived.
In August 1940, a deluge wrecked neighborhoods along the Augusta Canal and low lying areas along the Savannah River including Augusta. A category 1 hurricane struck Savannah and moved inland. Flood water from the canal covered their new car ruining it and everything in their mill house.
The tremendous loss didn’t stop Virginia from enrolling in Hurst Business College located in the Southern Finance Building (now the Lamar Building) on Broad Street.
After graduation, she secured employment as a cashier at Atlantic Ice and Coal.
World War II caused the government to crank up operations at the Augusta Arsenal, and Virginia did her patriotic duty working there during the war.
After the War, the Arsenal began winding down production and Virginia was hired as a secretary for the Augusta plant of Babcock–Wilcox. The company has plants throughout the United States and provided components, materials and process development for the Manhattan Project. It was the Manhattan Project that developed the atom bomb that ended the War.
She was there for only two weeks when her boss, Ford Conger, called her in. “Miss Sills, there is none compared to you. I’m giving you a raise and promoting you to traffic manager.”
Many years later, she retired from Southern Wood Piedmont after she was stricken with a stroke in 1982 at age 54. The company carried her for 5½ years so that she could get full retirement and Social Security at age 59. She worked 37½ years total.
“People have been so good to me,” Virginia says. “The Lord blessed me over and over, and I give Him all the glory.”
Virginia met Jimmy Moody at the Augusta Exchange Club Fair, and they exchanged vows at St. Luke’s Methodist Church in 1947.
Jimmy was a native of Rhode Island. His mother was a Congregationalist and sang in the church choir. Jimmy played in the band for the local Catholic Church.
When Jimmy proposed marriage, Virginia told him, ”I can't marry anyone who is not a Christian.” Even though Jimmy had attended church and participated in the band, he never professed faith in Christ.
His love for Virginia caused him to change his life. He received Christ as his Savior and stopped drinking alcoholic beverages. His life from that point forward revolved around the Lord, Virginia, and the church. He went on to heaven in 1997.
On every anniversary, he gave Virginia red roses and a love letter.
Virginia remembers, “People said Jimmy could sing like George Beverly Shea. He loved to sing. I think he knew that he was going home to Jesus. The Wednesday before he died on Monday, he sang at our church “Soon and Very Soon, We’re Going to See the Lord.” I know he’s waiting there for me.”
Virginia and Jimmy retired to Columbia County and built a beautiful home on Lake Thurmond, the largest man-made lake in the Eastern United States. They joined Damascus Baptist Church and faithfully served the Lord through their church.
Virginia testifies, “With the life I’ve had, I know God answers prayers.
“And yes, I long ago forgave my father for running out on us. Forgiveness released me from bitterness and feeling sorry for myself. I could only forgive through Christ’s forgiveness of my sins through the cross. Forgiveness is for the one forgiving and not for the one forgiven. Forgiveness liberates the soul from the power that the offender has over someone. Those who refuse to forgive carry animosity. Why carry that burden when Christ can set us free?
“Living for Christ is more than adding Christian to your name and joining the church,” she says.
“I love Jesus. He’s my Savior. I’m not ashamed of Him and wish that all loved Him—really loved Him with all of their heart, soul, and mind and loved one another.
“I have always thought of others and tried to be there when they needed me. I counsel them, encourage them, even lovingly rebuke them when necessary, and pray for them always that God will help them and keep them on the straight and narrow way. That’s why the Lord has left me here. After what God did for me, I can do no less. I’ve been down that road of a broken family and poverty to know what a person is going through, and I know that I serve a Savior who can do anything.
“The benefits of serving the world are temporary. The blessings of godly obedience is forever!
“Unless the Lord chooses to heal me again from these physical problems I’m now having, I know my time here won’t be long. I’ve already written out my funeral and want the congregation to sing, “Victory in Jesus!”
"I heard about His healing, of His cleansing power revealing How He made the lame to walk again and caused the blind to see. And then I cried, 'Dear Jesus, come and heal my broken spirit.' I then obeyed His blest command and gained the victory."
Rev. Dan White is a free lance writer and pastor of North Columbia Church, Appling, GA. Contact him at email@example.com
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I like your well done biographies. You give us a life story that lets the reader know and appreciate an individual, without having to take time to read many pages of an entire book. From a reader who will never have time to read all that I want to read, I thank you!