Nell Sue Monts Byrd (1930 – 2017)
Brett’s Grandmother, Nell, was the last person to live at The FARM. She had grown up in the Wade Monts House with her parents, moved away to start a family, and then moved back after her Mother passed away in 1977. The first time that I met her was out at The FARM. Back then, we even called it that – “the farm”. It was, and always has been, just that simple.
I was blessed to know Nell for ten years before she passed away. I wish it had been longer, but I certainly treasured that decade of time with her. At the time, I didn’t know that she was teaching me things that I would put to use all these years later. But I find her silent lessons creeping up on me when I’m here. I also find myself wondering what Nell would think about all of this. I think she’d just nod her head as if to say, “good for you all”. No pomp and circumstance. Just quiet affirmation that she approved. She never was one for outward praise. She would simply give you a pat on the shoulder without any verbal approval. But you knew what she meant.
I think she learned this from her time on The FARM. She grew up doing the hard work. Whether plowing, weeding, planting, harvesting, caring for the chickens, hogs, cows and mules, etc. Back then, though, women were typically not as active out in the fields as men. So it was a bit of a shock to some people when they saw 10-year old Nell working the tractor around the property. Nell was featured In a 1943 Farming News article headlined “Driving Tractor ‘Old’ for This Farm Girl” where she’s mentioned referring to the activity as “easy to handle”. To her, it’s what you did and there wasn’t a whole lot of praise to go around for what was expected.
Nell graduated from Lexington High School in 1947 where she was a member of the first women’s basketball team. She went on to attend Draughon’s Business College in Columbia and had a successful 17-year career working for Dun & Bradstreet, The US Army Procurement Department, and Southern Radio Corporation. And then she retired to The FARM. And I feel like she’s my spirit animal in that way! She lived a beautiful life and accomplished so many “firsts” for her gender and generation. She wasn’t afraid to push the limits. She always spoke her mind. But most of all, she knew when it was time to slow life down and enjoy the important moments. And that’s what she did out at The FARM in the last years of her life.
And it’s that sentiment and lesson we want to share with the community. We have to know when it’s time to disconnect from the demands and simply enjoy our food, the land, and each other.