A formula for success for 103 years
She turned 103 years old on January 30. She doesn't remember too much about what she did last week, but ask her about her childhood, and she can recite all kinds of details. Coila Crawford was born to Leo and Checkie Bird in 1909, the only girl, between two brothers. The family raised cotton on land which extended from Adams Street over to where BRAC's restaurant is presently located. Bird Drive is named after her family. The house stood where the Panola College athletic dorm is now. It had 14 steps going up to the front door. The auction barn was located next to their house, and cattle were driven down the clay roads to the loading area at the railroad. Automobiles were rare. Coila recalls, "I never milked a cow and never had to pick cotton. Mother didn't think that was a girl thing to do."
In 1924, just before Coila started to high school, her father was elected Sheriff, so they moved to the jailhouse. Coila remembers, "We lived there all four years while I was in high school. I liked living there. We were just around the corner to the stores in Carthage, and that's when the courthouse was right in the middle of the square. We lived in the back of the jail, and Mother had to cook for the prisoners. My Daddy was a good sheriff—he would go out to where they were making whiskey and put a stop to it. We had a crazy lady that lived in the jail, but Daddy didn't put her in a cell. She talked and hollered all the time, but she was harmless. We couldn't dare get out in the yard, because she would start hollering at us!"
Her best friend was her cousin Josie Neal—they did everything together. The Neal home was on St. Mary Street, just around the corner from the jail, so the two girls walked everywhere together. "We went to every movie on the square. For nine cents you could get a drink and a bag of popcorn. Josie and I were just like sisters." The two girls graduated from the original high school in Carthage in 1928. Mr. Q.M. Martin was their English teacher, and Coila remembers him being a good teacher, but very strict. For the graduation ceremony, all the girls in the class were dressed in blue gingham dresses with white collars, and the boys wore blue shirts and blue and white striped overalls—all made of cotton. Coila's mother, Checkie Bird, thought they should promote cotton, because Panola County had just won an award for the finest bale of cotton in the world. After graduation the two girls were roommates at SMU. Years later at a class reunion, Mr. Martin came and gave everyone in attendance one of his paintings. She also recalls Tex Ritter attending a high school homecoming banquet.
In 1931, Coila married Raphael Crawford. "I got married at home at 7:00 in the morning. We were married 49 years before he died. I've had a good life, and I had a husband that was better than good. He was a good fellow. I don't guess we ever had a cross word. My advice for these young people getting married is to always be truthful to each other. Don't go telling little lies, 'cause they'll make big lies, then you'll be sorry. I never did lie to Raphael. We had one son, Raphael Jr., who was a good boy. Not many boys go out at night and when they come back, they go in and kiss their mother before they go to bed. I had to raise him right."
When asked of Coila how she's lived such a long life, she said, "I was a good girl! I never smoked or drank and went to Sunday School every day of my life. I drink a Coke every day, and that's the only drink I drink." Her daughter-in-law, Rebecca Crawford, tells, " She makes her bed every morning and reads a newspaper front to back. She was always in the Garden Club and won all kinds of awards for her beautiful yard. She exercised every morning and did lots of needlework. She handmade a Christmas stocking for everybody in the family."
One would be amazed to see the memorabilia she has accumulated over her 103 years. She says her mother and daddy taught her to be "saving," and that is just what she did. Scrapbooks are filled with photos, newspaper clippings, and mementos from every event she ever attended. They are history books in themselves, archiving events from the early days in Panola County. Visiting with Coila Crawford is a real treat. She has a beautiful, bright smile with a personality to match, and when there is mention of her family, her face lights up and shows the love she has for them.
Of the scrapbooks that Coila has kept, one is of obituaries dating back to the time of her grandparents' deaths. They were written like poetry and told the story of how the person died. Here's an excerpt from her grandfather's obituary:
John M. Bird, one of Carthage's oldest citizens, received the death summons while in his yard, at about 10 o'clock last Friday morning. Thinking that he was out a little longer than necessary, his companion went to look for him and found him lying face downward in the yard. Eliciting no reply when she spoke to him, she raised his head a bit, pillowing it with his hat, and ran some four or five hundred yards away to get assistance. J.W. Bird and a physician were telephoned for, both arriving before the body had been removed into the house. When the aged wife and daughter returned, death had forever sealed the lips and closed the eyes of the husband and father. It seems but idle words to say "Grieve not," but when one contrasts his cumbersome, enfeebled body, and the pained expression his face bore these many years, with the calm, majestic face,--a majesty which was heightened by the flowing beard of white and the silvered temple locks,--it seems but folly to mourn. He surely looked as though he had lain down his burdens and had already found liberty, victory and eternal life.