Pansy Dodson shares life story with granddaughter

Apr. 05, 2014 @ 03:06 PM

Do you remember Pansy Dodson? I wrote about her last year and the letters she and her sister send out monthly to about 200 friends, in a June 2013 story headlined “Verses of Comfort.”

Dodson’s “Blessings and Hugs from the Sisters” and “Dear Alison, The Road Long Traveled” are published through Westbow Press, a Thomas Nelson self-publishing imprint. Her full name is Pansy Ferrell Latta Dodson, and “Dear Alison” was written for her granddaughter, but there’s more to it. Dodson’s memoir shares her life stories with her family, and through the book, you. She grew up in Durham and now lives in Chapel Hill. It’s also a reminder that your own family – and others – might want to have your life stories written down for posterity.

In “Dear Alison,” Dodson, 91, writes about growing up in Durham and shares little details that don’t make it into history books. The PTA then was much different than the committee meetings and big fundraising projects of today. Dodson went with her mother, who visited students’ homes for the PTA to find out what they needed -- things like food, fuel and clothes.

One time Dodson was hanging on a sycamore tree and playing with neighborhood kids when a boy offered her chewing tobacco. She tried it, and it made her sick. In Dodson’s details, readers also learn about death by childbirth, smallpox and even an infection that started with just a scratch. Things were different, then, Dodson explains to her granddaughter. She keeps a positive outlook on life even after sorrow.

People worked in the mill. Punishment from parents came with a switch from a tree. There were no school buses -- you had to figure out how to get to school. Doing laundry was quite the task. They cleaned clothes by boiling them with lye soap in a pot, scrubbing them on a washing board, rinsing them, whitening them and starching them.

Some of Dodson’s stories are funny, like being a little girl exploring the church and accidentally walking in on someone in the bathroom reading the newspaper. Some are heartfelt, like her stories about her first and second husbands, who both died. Throughout, Dodson writes messages to her granddaughter, like this one: “I am happy that the choices for women are much better for you than they were for women of the late [1920s].”

Dodson’s first job was at Charles Department Store selling candy, then at S.H. Kress on weekends and holidays as a teenager. Then during World War II, as men were drafted, women replaced them and Dodson went to work at Liggett & Myers. She stayed there her career, becoming floor supervisor when she was 34 and retiring in 1980 in management as coordinator of seniority control, Dodson wrote. She also tells Alison – and us – that her younger, male assistant made more money than she did. Even with the gender disparity in pay, Dodson writes that it was a good place to work. Another thing about Dodson you should know: She gives out coupons for hugs.

To meet Dodson and learn more of her life stories, she has two local “meet the author” events coming up. On April 11, from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., she will be at the City Kitchen in University Mall in Chapel Hill. Then from 2 to 4 p.m. April 12, Dodson will be at her church, New Hope Presbyterian in Chapel Hill.

Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan may be reached at or 919-419-6563. Follow on Twitter: @dawnbvaughan.