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Lupton looks back at the disappearing past

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Willie Lupton holds a photo of her husband who died several years ago. She still fits into her wedding dress, which is the only memento she has related to her parents home, besides a few photographs. She wore the dress at her "cake cutting," which was held at the home two weeks after her wedding in June of 1948. Magnolia flowers, her favorite, decorate her mantle.


By Deborah Griffin
Staff Writer

Monday, July 22, 2019

Soft-spoken and delicate, “Willie” Mae Moye Lupton has a penchant for magnolias.

This seems fitting since the blooms represent the not only the South, but also stability and grace.

Lupton’s mind remains stalwart, but the Pitt County native has lived long enough to see the landscape where some of her fondest memories lie all but disappear.

At 92, Lupton daily lives out the concept that the only constant in life is change.

She has outlived most all of her family. The house in which she was born and grew up in, that her grandfather built in Frog Level, was lost to Hurricane Irene in 2011.

The school Lupton attended as a young girl in Bell Arthur is gone. The school she graduated from, Pender Lee in Willard, has been torn down. The church where she was married, Piney Grove Freewill Baptist Church, is up for sale.

Even the school she retired from in Roanoke Rapids has been demolished to make room for progress.

Most recently, much to her dismay, her parent’s former home was burned to the ground.

The home, an old farmhouse her father lovingly remolded in 1944, was located on Main Street in Winterville. In February, it was used for an exercise in “live fire training,” according to Winterville assistant fire chief Tony Smart.

Fifty firefighters from several local departments fought the blazes, which were set to simulate situations they might face during during a real emergency.

“We did not know it was going to be burned down until it was too late,” Lupton said in a recent interview. “Now there is nothing.”

At one time, the century-old house, known as the Bill Moye Home, was surrounded by beautiful landscaping, a sprawling garden and stately trees, along with a “magnificent magnolia tree,” Lupton said.

She laments there is not a shred of evidence left on the property proving there was once not just a house there, but a warm, loving home, full of laughter.

“I wish there was something left there, but there is not,” she said. “I couldn’t believe it when I saw it. I can’t imagine what huge thing could pull up a magnolia tree like that. It is completely gone.

“There had been fig trees, plumb trees and my mother had a rose garden,” she said.

Lupton said she wishes she had known it was slated to be burned so she could have possibly retained a brick, or a board — any kind of memento from the home her daddy had put so much of himself into.

“He was a painter and a builder. He was like an artist,” she said. The house showcased his talents.

Her family moved into the home in 1944 and two years later, Lupton left for college.

She said she remembers the home had eight rooms, a knotty pine porch and cornices over the windows, hand-carved by her father.

It was here she and her newly betrothed husband held their “cake cutting” (much like a wedding reception is today) in 1948.

After her parents died, she and her only sister inherited the home. Later her sister bought her out, with plans to renovate it and make it into a showplace, Lupton said.

But, her sister’s untimely death prevented that, and after some time, her brother-in-law sold the house to a neighbor when he moved to Wilson. That is where Lupton’s knowledge of the home’s ownership ends.

“I’m sure it must have fallen into realtor’s hands,” she said. “I’ve been told the land it was located on is worth a lot of money. I should have bought it back from my brother-in-law. I lost all the way around.”

But she said she is not pining away.

“I look at things in a different way. I am still joyful — that is my life” she said.

Part of what sustains her is her faith. Lupton still teaches Sunday School and is president of her Christian Woman’s Club.

Even though almost every point of reference from her childhood and young adult life has been erased — razed, burned down or rebuilt — she takes it in stride.

“But it is a strange feeling,” she said.

Two of her three children are still living — a son, who lives in Nevada and a daughter, who lives eight miles from her with Lupton’s two grandchildren.

Lupton has inherited all her family’s possessions, antiques and heirlooms, scattered throughout her apartment, along with a sprinkling decorative magnolia flowers. A magnolia wreath welcomes guests at her front door.

She has been told her apartment is like a museum.

Fittingly, one of Lupton’s favorite photos is of her and her father standing in front of a huge magnolia tree.

But much like the scenery from her childhood, the photo is slowly fading away.