By Linda Cicoira — The best memory 102-year-old Dolcie Godwin ever had was 86 years ago.
It was June 2, 1932, when the 15-year-old Saxis Island native filled a suitcase with wedding clothes, her best church outfit, and then threw the bag out her bedroom window to run off with her 19-year-old boyfriend, who brought along his church suit.
The two eloped to Snow Hill, Md. They were married by Justice T.F. Bishop, who Godwin remembered had told her, “If he’s not good to ya, come back.” She thought for a second this week while telling her story just before her milestone Feb. 9 birthday, and laughingly added, “I don’t know what he thought he’d do.”
Godwin, then Dolcie Martin, was named for a maternal cousin who lived in Baltimore and who “used to send me things.” She had never been farther away from home than the northern town of Pocomoke, Md., or the southern town of Exmore when the couple took the big step. Snow Hill was an adventure for a couple of reasons.
“When I got married, I’d been to Pocomoke two times. I went on a hayride on a Halloween and I went to a dentist. I had a sister who lived in Exmore. So I used to go down there and spend weeks with her.”
She went to Saxis School. “I passed for the sixth-grade and quit like a silly girl.” She regretted it but never went back.
The newlyweds came right back from the wedding to tell her parents what they had done. Her father’s response was to tell the groom, “I have a great mind to lock you up.” But her dad was joking and the newlyweds spent the first night of their new lives at her parents’ house before Winfred Godwin took his bride to Sanford to his parents’ home on the mainland.
“I lived close to the water and I stayed down to the water a lot,” Godwin said. “I had a playhouse down there. At night, when I went to bed, I could see the water out my window … They teased my husband, he would have to throw a bucket of water on the side of the house to get me to sleep.”
“In early years, there was a bridge” to the mainland. “I guess, I was about 12 when they put the road there,” she said referring to the causeway. That was around the same time she got her first job. “I worked at Taylor’s canning factory, in Hallwood. Peeled tomatoes. When you filled the bucket, you carried it up and got a 5-cent ticket. I worked the whole week for $7 … I loaned it to my two (watermen) brothers … they had their tongs and all, but they didn’t have the money to buy their groceries to take with them” on the Chesapeake Bay. When they made some money, “They then send me $10 in place of the $7.”
Godwin was 14 when a boy asked for a date. He had been sent by Winfred Godwin and was supposed to be asking if she would entertain Godwin, not him. The boy never came back because the next night Winfred Godwin came to her doorstep and asked for himself. After that, “He just came by and visited. I wasn’t allowed to go out. There weren’t cars like there are now. If you had a boyfriend, he’d come to the house and sit and talk … We were together for eight months and then we got married … He’s been gone 33 years.” They were together for 53 years. Dolcie Godwin has never remarried and said she doesn’t have any boyfriends but she loves to read “Love Inspired,” a series of fictional Christian romance novels.
Godwin was born Dolcie Ellen Martin in 1917, the year WWI was declared. Her parents were Mary Stant Martin and James T. Martin. “My father worked on the water. Of course, my mother, she had her hands full. She had eight children, I was the youngest.” Godwin had four brothers and three sisters. “They’re all gone.” She says she wasn’t spoiled, despite being the baby of the family.
“My mother was born and raised on Smith Island,” Md., Godwin said. “Father was from Saxis. Where he worked on the water, he used to take his oysters and things that he caught” to many ports. “He used to visit Smith Island and he met her there. My mother’s people would come from New York and Baltimore and spend weeks at a time” to enjoy the Saxis beach. “They came in on the train.”
Godwin’s chore as a kid was “to run back and forth to the store for one thing. We lived down this lane and … everybody on the lane would call me to go to the store for them … That’s all washed away, even the house I was born in is gone. It’s nothing but water. It was a pretty sandy beach. There’s a lot of people who would come right through our yard to go swimming.”
“We had our first child after three years, a month, and 20 days” when she was 19, Godwin said. That baby is 83 now and was born at Sanford where they lived with her in-laws for nearly five years. The youngest of her five children, Brenda (Godwin) Carey, was born in 1956 when Godwin was 39. Godwin lives with that daughter in Parksley these days as she has for the last seven years.
The Godwins had three girls and two boys. Now there are 17 grandchildren, 23 great-grandchildren, 16 great-great-grandchildren, and one on the way.
“I had a lot of good days,” Godwin said. “I had a lot of bad ones.” The death of her son was one of her worst days. “I lost my youngest boy. He fell 21 stories to his death. He was working on one of the condominiums in Ocean City, (Md.). He was 28. I never got over it,” she said.
The Godwins lived in Baltimore for four years, worked at Glen I. Martin’s airplane factory, which was not named for a relative, came back, and built a home. It was 1946. “My husband and his father built our home in Sanford, our Shad landing home, brown house on the left, the year my youngest son was born.”
When the couple married, they didn’t have a car. The first vehicle came after the house. Godwin said it was blue and white, but she couldn’t remember the make or model. “I didn’t start driving until I was 50. Didn’t have the nerve to try. I was 96 when I quit driving. My hands were getting so I was afraid I would hurt someone else or hurt myself. The last car I drove was a van.”
She learned to drive when she drove “that little truck” at the airplane company’s warehouse. “They had air holes in the floor. If you were wearing a skirt the air would blow it up. When that would happen the men would all holler. I started wearing pants,” she said.
The family’s first TV was purchased in the 1950s. “I had all my children before I got one,” Godwin said. She didn’t remember much about the world wars except one of her brothers was in the WWI and she lived in Baltimore during WWII. “When I worked to Baltimore my best friend was Sybil Cannon. We stayed in touch for a long time. Then she moved and I didn’t hear any more from her. Her husband was Ernest.”
Godwin had many other jobs over the years. “I worked to Birdseye in Pocomoke, to Holly Farms (now Tyson), the shirt factory in Parksley” where “I sewed cuffs on men’s shirt sleeves. When I went at Dulany’s (in Exmore), I worked on the line. I worked at night. I didn’t work there too long.”
Godwin wasn’t up on the political issues in Virginia. Her favorite president was John F. Kennedy. “I just liked his looks,” she said. The first time she voted, “I guess I was 25 years old.”
She laughed when it was suggested she could do commercials for “Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes” since that is what she eats for breakfast. She said she had “no idea” about the secret to a long life. “I’ve always eaten healthy.” She likes to drink iced tea, Dr. Pepper, water, and two cups of coffee a day. Godwin answered, “Nothing special” when asked her secret to look younger than her years.
Godwin’s mother died at 73. “My father lacked a few days of being 80. They were born April 12 and 13. I can’t remember which was which.” The 102-year-old, who has a strong faith in God, doesn’t wonder how she survived so long. “I don’t know what he’s keeping me here for, but he knows best. It’s all up to him,” she said. The best lesson she learned in life was “Be good to everybody. It’s God’s way.”
So much has changed on the Shore, “I don’t know where to start,” she said. “Change in the land. Water has taken over. I’m afraid in not too many days there will be no Saxis. There’s water on both sides of Saxis, down to the creek, all the places down there and restaurants and all.” Godwin said of the dockside areas, “They used that for a dump. That’s been built up. The road people have filled that all in. That was all water where the crab houses and all are now.”