Saying Goodbye to Granny

Betty Jeanne Howerton Adams


The dates above are important – they are the bookends of my mother’s life. They mark a beginning and an end of her physical existence.

But her life was lived out in the dash.

Today will be filled with dozens of these stories. Family and friends are gathering from near and far to celebrate her life. In those stories, Betty will be known by many different names.

Of course I knew her first as Momma. My earliest memories are of soft, soothing words, and a loving touch. That’s natural for a child.

But in the last few months of her life, as my brother and I prepared for the sale of our home place and all the “treasures” inside, I discovered more about her – a life seldom spoken of, but one that was rich in adventures and a person known by many names.

In particular, I discovered pictures from the 1940s and 1950s that I believe have not been seen by anyone in the family for over 65 years. Pictures that tell more of the story of the life of Betty as we knew her.

  • Born a few years before the Great Depression, Betty grew up with a brother and a sister in northeastern Missouri.
  • Her father (and later her brother) were involved in construction and car dealerships and other things mechanical. That becomes important later.
  • A few images of Betty Jeanne and friends in her senior year of high school in Kirksville, MO speak to mischievous teenager.
  • A love of music lead to college at what was known as Northeast Missouri Teacher’s College after high school.
  • During those post-WWII boom years, her time in college included football games and homecoming parades and band concerts and musical productions.
  • Fresh with a music education degree, she headed out in 1950 to begin several years of teaching in Missouri and Iowa.
  • Always the youngest teacher, and often the only female on the faculty, her bright eyes and big smile among a table full of dour, unsmiling men invites speculation as to how her classes went.
  • In the fall of 1953, along with several of her teacher girlfriends, they went to a teacher’s convention in Florida. The images show happy friends in the surf, on the beach… and then a young man from Tennessee began appearing in the picture.
  • That week at the beach led to “courting” by mail, a couple of visits to Missouri, and then a proposal and a ring.
  • At a small ceremony in Bowling Green, Missouri, H.D. Adams and Betty began their married life in January 1954.
  • “Doc” Adams was a WWII veteran who returned home to help his father for a few years, taking care of the livestock on the Hermitage, home of Andrew Jackson.
  • In 1949, he and his brother built and opened a Gulf gasoline station on the family property in Green Hill, TN – about halfway between Nashville and Lebanon on Highway 70.
  • As Doc and Betty began their family, first Ray and then Bob appeared within the first few years of marriage.
  • As the owner of his own business, Doc was busy six days a week, but his wife and family were close by – their home was only about 100 feet from the gas station. Images of those mid-50s to early 60s show lots of boys running around the gas station, out in the garden with their dad, and always nearby – Momma.
  • When the boys began school at Mt. Juliet, attending the same school as their dad (and in one case, having one of the same teachers), Miss Betty appeared on the scene as a “room mother” for both the boys.
  • School friends of both boys, from first grade through twelfth grade, were the beneficiaries of cupcakes and cookies and picnic lunches and more, as she began to expand her cooking abilities.
  • Always active in church, Miss Betty taught dozens of children over the years in different classes.
  • After the boys’ high school graduations, they both attended Tennessee Tech. For the next few years, it was not unusual for food from cakes for a few to full meals for 50 to make the trip from Mt. Juliet to Cookeville.
  • In 1981, Bob and Anita started their family, and Granny became the family name Betty was known as for the rest of her life.
  • Over the next few years, six grandchildren spent time from a few days to a few weeks with Granny and Grandpa. Adventures included working at the gas station, playing around the yard, cooking, exploring the house, and various trips in and around Mt. Juliet.
  • As retirement neared for Doc, Betty became more and more involved in civic groups, including the American Heart Association and National Cancer Society.
  • She had also begun working with longtime friends the Moss’ in their greenhouse, arranging and delivering flowers.
  • The churches, especially the various music programs, were an important part of her life. Somewhere in this time period a new name appeared – Sarge.
  • Whatever mental picture friends and family have when they hear the name, they are probably right. In her golden years, it seems the Missouri “Show Me” characteristics appeared full force, and she was always ready to give people a piece of her mind – but with a smile.
  • Retirement meant a lot of travel – around the U.S. visiting places, family, and friends. Closer travel meant driving – and she was always the chauffeur.
  • In 2011, Doc suffered a series of strokes, which eventually took his life in early 2012. Betty was resolute to stay in the house she called home since 1954, but after about a year, she moved to an assisted living facility in Mt. Juliet. Sarge was the nameplate on her door, but even then her demeanor had slowly begun to change.
  • After a couple of years, Granny made the big move, to live in an assisted living home near Ray in Lenoir City
  • In her final months, Granny had retreated into her memories, mostly of growing up in Novelty, MO. No longer concerned with everyone else’s going on’s, she was content to sit in her chair and watch the birds.

On July 15, she slipped away peacefully at the hospital in Knoxville.

Many family and friends picture her telling heaven what to do.

Respectfully, I disagree.

I think she was finally in a place where she was speechless… and then she began to sing.


5 thoughts on “Saying Goodbye to Granny

  1. Bob,
    What a great, loving tribute to your Mom!

    I am thankful to have met this lady who raised a strong, loving son. I am so thankful for the Faith-filled legacy she and Doc passed through you and Anita to Jason and Jaime! We are blessed men, my Brother!

    In His Grip

  2. Those years Ray, then Bob were at Tech open a door of ministry to college students, especially members of the BSU Choir. She touched the lives of countless students. I first got to know her and Doc soon after I arrived there as director in 1975. In addition to her own grand children she included my son Nathan who was just 6 weeks older than Jonathan. She and Doc always extended special love and hospitality to Donna and me.

  3. So many thoughts and memories. As one of my “church grandmothers”, I always had a special relationship with her. She would always stop by my class on Wednesday nights to say Hi or just talk small talk. She was the one that told me to “just give up and do it myself” when I would ask the new church of Victory Baptist that we needed a volunteer to start a youth program. I was blessed to lead Youth For Victory for 3 1/2 years. She had an insight to my abilities I didn’t know I had. I’ll always be grateful for that. Loved Mrs. Betty aka Sarge!!!!

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