They were born in the 1920s. Not just born in ‘20s, they were also all born in their homes right in Chester. None were born in hospitals, all were born in houses right here.
The oldest of what is referred to as the “Six Silly Salliess” just had her 95th birthday. Sara Foy Gay Eanes (called Sara Foy) celebrated her birthday with many family and friends around the family home, the Yellow House, located just next to the YMCA on Route 10. “I remember when they paved Jefferson Davis Highway in 1927,” Sara Foy recounts.
And, amazingly of the Sallies, five are still here and all approaching their 94th birthdays in 2016. Two are cousins and two are sisters. Two married men that took them to other states but most live right within miles of their birth.
The ladies are Sara Foy Gay Eanes , Polly Gay Bennett, Jane Goyne Dean, Peach Goyne Janssen, Helen Curtis Patrick, and Margaret Clark Scott Williams. Think about the sheer history of only their names — schools are named after their ancestors, two have the name of a subdivision, Gay Farms is one, and two have ties to a car dealership.
These ladies have lived history and have airtight minds. They remember details of the town that not many can ever know. The two sisters, Sara Foy and Polly lived here most of their lives. Sarah Foy still lives within a few miles of her original homeplace. Polly moved to Arkansas but returns to Chester every year. “I told my husband I’d only marry him if he let me come home every year,” said Polly.
The Gay girl’s father raised a slew of daughters, five to be exact, after their mother died prematurely of tuberculosis when they were young. Their father owned the land going from Jefferson Davis Highway all the way to Parker Lane and deep back to the end of Gay Farms subdivision. It included 1,500 acres and is known as The Yellow House Farm. The house is a registered historic landmark and Sara Foy’s family has lived almost 100 years on the land.
Their daddy, John Green Gay farmed in North Carolina and married Leigh “Lottie” Parker and bought the family farm in Chester and moved from North Carolina. Though today the house is actually white it is known still as the Yellow House. Gay built and ran the cemetery attached to the farm which was once orchards and all the girls remember fondly playing there.
One of the Sallies, Margaret Clark Scott Williams, has passed now but the ladies all remember her fondly. Back when they were just very little girls the six met at Chester Baptist Church where they all attended Sunday school together. They all graduated from Chester Agricultural High School, now Thomas Dale. “It was just a little building back then,” said Jane Goyne Dean. Jane was born in a little house at Route 10 and Ecoff Road, where a bank is now located.
The women all remember huge events in history. “Polly and I went to town and watched (FDR) Roosevelt’s body going back to the Washington, D.C in 1945,” Sara Foy remembers. Polly recalls a story from 1941. “Daddy and I had gone to church, we were always going to church,” Polly recalls. “At the end of the service, the doors burst open and a figure came running in and announced that Pearl Harbor had been bombed.” She said the minister prayed and prayed before letting them all leave to go and find out about the news of the attack.
Helen Curtis Patrick was born in a house over by the Water Tower behind the current Thomas Dale High School and was a school teacher in Chester. She met her husband through the Gay girls. Her husband was working at the Yellow House Farm and she remembers he had a guitar back then. She lives on Parker Lane and just feet away from the place where she met her husband. “I raised five children right here,” she said. “And we spent a lot of days at Moore’s Lake; had to find ways to entertain so many children.” She laughs as she recalls all the antics they all got into.
They all worked during World War II. Sara Foy remembers that during the war their father was a blackout warden. If they saw planes coming over the corridor from the coast extending down Jefferson Davis they had to report it.
“Our daddy, John, was a blackout warden,” Sara Foy said. “He would lead the efforts but I remember working up on the spotter tower on Harrowgate Road.” She would take two hour shifts once a week to watch for German planes that might fly over the area. “We would have to memorize all the types of planes and if we saw one we would have to call over to Byrd Field (now Richmond Airport) and report what plane it was,” Sara Foy shared. It was an around the clock vigil.
If a plane did come all lights would have to be turned out so the Germans could not see as well. “Every 10 miles or so there was a post set up,” Polly shared. Helen remembers having to climb on a building once during the watches to check on the planes. “I climbed on a chemistry building a time or two watching out for the planes,” she said.
During the depression they all remember travelers on Jefferson Davis. They would travel trying to get to Florida from the North, trying to find work. “They would camp where it is now Bermuda Square,” said Polly. “They would just pitch a tent there on the Pike.” Sara Foy remembers her mother, Lottie, helping them out. “They had no money and back then there were no motels,” she said. “She would go out there with dinner and again in the morning with breakfast to the wooded area because mother knew they were having a very hard time.”
Peach Goyne Janssen lives in Texas now and was not with them this time around but they spoke fondly of her and their own lives. They say that the changes they have seen that are the biggest is the traffic and all the stoplights.
They remember growing up without telephones and playing paper dolls. “We’d cut our dolls from the pattern books and played by the fireplace,” Polly said. “We didn’t have heat back then so everything was done in front of the fireplace,” Helen recalls.
They all remember the first man walking on the moon. “I couldn’t imagine a man in the moon,” Sara Foy said.
They all remember Chester as a wonderful place. “We did a lot of walking back then between each other’s houses,” Jane said, and she still lives not far from where she grew up. “It was just a small little village then,” said Polly.
They said Chester was family then. “The feel of the village was that you knew everyone and everyone was family,” she said.
They remember the Big Band era and the music of the times. But, mostly they remember each other so fondly. “We are all family here,” said Polly. “We belong to the same time.” When asked what they remembered most about Chester Polly said, “Remember we are the living history.” They all agree Chester was a great place to raise a family and they felt so secure in their “nice little town.”