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Well-lived, well-loved: Phil Campbell’s Elva Lou Stidham marks 104 years

FRANKLIN LIVING—

For more than a century, Elva Lou Stidham has called Franklin County home.

The loving farmwife and mother has spent decades caring for her family. Although she entered a nursing home in 2019, when the coronavirus pandemic hit in March 2020, she had one request of her daughter, Jane: to return home to Phil Campbell.

Jane and husband Tommy Lynn live in Scottsboro, technically, but when her mother asked to return home, to the house where she’d lived for almost 50 years, they couldn’t say no. “She called me one day, and she was crying. She said, ‘I just want to ask one thing,’” Jane said. “She said, ‘Would you please come get me and take me home and let me die at home? I’ll only be there three days. I’m so ready to go home. I just want to die at home.”

Jane and Tommy did the only thing a loving daughter and son-in-law could do: They brought their mother home. That was almost a year ago now. “I have not been home since,” Jane said. “I’m just thankful the Lord gave me that opportunity – to be available to come and take care of her. I just keep praying he gives me the strength.”

Before transitioning to the nursing home at age 102, Stidham had maintained her independence, living at home by herself until she was 98. In the intervening years, Jane and her brother Frank took turns staying with their mother a week at a time. Now, as Jane stays with her around the clock, she said she can see her mother’s life is becoming more fragile. Stidham can no longer walk, debilitating arthritis keeping her in her chair or in bed. She’s grown hard of hearing, and her memory comes and goes – Jane said sometimes her mother knows who Jane is, and sometimes she doesn’t. But whether her mother remembers or not, Jane has her own clear memories, from the stories she has been told and the moments she lived herself.

“They had a hard life. She was one of 10 kids, and they are all gone now, except her,” Jane said. The daughter of Tencie and Thomas Kennedy, Stidham was one of the middle children of her big family. They lived on a family farm in the Hodges area.

Jane remembers family gatherings with her late aunts and uncles; Mother’s Day was always a family-centered occasion, with a houseful coming together for a big dinner. “Mother did most of the cooking,” Jane said – and Stidham would make everyone’s favorites, like poke salad and eggs for Tommy. “She would always make a special effort.” Desserts were a favorite for Stidham to prepare, like “a lane cake for Christmas – she got the recipe out of The Progressive Farmer magazine years ago. It was so good because it was totally from scratch.”

Cooking from scratch has been a lifelong labor of love for Stidham. She and husband Henry – whom she married in 1936 – had nearly everything they needed on their family farm. “We lived on a farm, and we raised everything,” Stidham said. “We had cows and things like that.”

“We raised our own hogs and cows and had our own beef and sausage,” Jane added, remembering her and her siblings’ youth, helping tend the farm. “We raised everything – all of our food. She even had lard made out of the hogs. The only thing we ever really had to buy was meal and flour. Daddy would go down to the gristmill in Hackleburg and buy meal. We raised everything else.”

Cooking for her family was a constant in Stidham’s life – except for each Sunday. “She said that was the the Lord’s Day, and she wouldn’t cook,” Jane said. “She’d always cook her Sunday dinner on Saturday. She was an avid church-goer.” The family went to Phil Campbell Baptist Church, where Stidham was a Sunday School teacher and continued to attend until her later years, when she could no longer walk – and then church members would come to visit her in her home. “Three from church have been very good to come and visit,” Jane said. One of those special friends would often bring Stidham fresh flowers. “Mother’s always had flowers everywhere.”

Sarah Nix is one of many friends and neighbors who cherish memories with Stidham. “I moved there in 1961, and we built a small house next door to them,” explained Nix, who was the same age as Stidham’s oldest daughter, Nancy. “She was just like a second mother to me. Her daughter and I finished school together.” When Nix later adopted a son, Stidham was on hand with plenty of parenting advice and a home-cooked meal now and again. “She was a wonderful, wonderful woman,” said Nix, adding that Stidham was also a mentor to other younger church members.

Church member Ruth Nix describes Stidham as a “godly, precious lady.” “When my children were little, she was so precious to them. She was their Sunday School teacher,” Nix said. Nix added she would often thank Stidham for teaching her children about God, and “she would say, ‘You had such sweet children.’ She was good to everybody.”

In addition to managing the family farm, Henry Stidham worked on the alloys side at Reynolds Metals Company, east of Sheffield. “It was about the biggest plant around, when I was growing up,” Jane said. “It was good if you had a job at Reynolds. He had good insurance. She still uses his insurance.” Henry passed away in 1982 from lung cancer. “They had a good life. They made it on their love,” Jane said. “And they have always taught us love – to love one another and do for one another.”

Jane, 75, is the youngest of Elva Lou and Henry’s four children. Older brother Frank lives across the street in Phil Campbell; older siblings Nancy and Bill have passed away. In addition to her four children, Stidham’s many years have yielded eight grandchildren, 10 great-grandchildren and five great-great-grandchildren. She will celebrate her 104th birthday March 20, 2021. As Jane puts it, “Mother has had a really good life … She’s the strongest-willed woman I have ever known.”

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