A Century of Living: Pickens Co. native Bess Moon turns 100

By M. Karen Brewer
Special To the Courier

LIBERTY — Longtime Liberty resident Bess Moon turned 100 years of age on Sunday, February 13.
The afternoon of her birthday, hundreds of well-wishers celebrated with her at a birthday party held at Liberty Presbyterian Church’s fellowship building. The event was planned by her daughter, Beth Mahaffey, as well as by Roselle Garrison, widow of Bess’ late nephew, Bill Garrison.

Two days earlier, Bess also had another type of birthday party — a slumber party. She recalled that, once, while she and family members were returning home from a trip to the beach, they discussed what kind of celebration they would have for her 100th birthday.

“In fun, I said, ‘I want a slumber party,’ and I got it,” she said. “They brought finger foods, and everybody wore their pajamas and gowns. It was a lot of fun.”

The all-girl party was ‘crashed’ by Bess’ brother, John.

“John was so funny,” she said. “He dressed up like a woman, with a wig on, and burst in the door. It was lots of fun.”

Bess was born on February 13, 1911, the fourth of 10 children born to John Esley Holcombe and Della Alexander Holcombe.

“There were five girls and five boys,” she said.
Her brothers and sisters, from oldest to youngest, were Etolia Holcombe McDonald, Leola Holcombe Satterfield, Jessie Mae Holcombe Garrison, Earl Holcombe, Walter Holcombe, Harold Holcombe, John Holcombe, Jr., Anita Holcombe Green, and Bobby Holcombe.

Bess grew up in Easley, Liberty, and Central.
“We had a good time,” she said of her childhood with her brothers and sisters. “We had freedom. I mean freedom. We could go out and play all day, and nobody worried about us.”
She and her brothers and sisters walked to school.

“I guess we walked about two miles to school, cold, raining, and all. And we played on the way to school. We had a good time.

“We did not have everything we wanted,” she said of her childhood, “but we always had good food and clothes to wear.”

Her family grew their own food, she recalled.
“They talk about organic food now,” she said. “When we were little kids, that’s what we had.” She added, “One thing I can definitely remember is that we always went together to the table to eat.”
Her father was first a farmer and then served as a police officer in Liberty and as Chief of Police of Easley and of Central.

Bess graduated from Easley High School in 1928. At that time, seniors finished high school in the 11th grade.

Her only surviving siblings, John and Anita, were born after Bess became an adult.
“I was married before they were born,” she said.
Bess’ husband, Mickler Moon, a Lieutenant in the United States Navy, was in service for more than two decades, during which time they lived in Norfolk, Va., and then in San Diego, Calif., for 23 years.
Family has always been important to Bess.

She and her husband, who married in the 1930s, had two daughters, the late Mickla Moon Mortenson, who passed away January 9, 2010, at the age of 70, and Beth Moon Mahaffey.
Bess has six grandchildren: Barry Benjamin and Matthew Benjamin (sons of Mickla and the late Jerry Benjamin), and the sons and daughters of Beth and her husband, Rich: Christopher Mahaffey and wife Heather, John Mahaffey, Mary Bess Mahaffey, and Lindsay Mahaffey O’Dell, married to Ben O’Dell.
Bess has three great grandchildren: Grant, Ella, and Patrick Mahaffey, children of Christopher and Heather Mahaffey.

Bess remembers her oldest daughter, Mickla, as a talented artist who also loved books and who was actively involved in the Pickens County Library System as a board member of the Friends of the Library. In addition to the Liberty Women’s Auxiliary, the Liberty Women’s League, and the American Legion Auxiliary, Bess also was involved through the years with the Friends of the Library. She always loved reading, including in her Bible. She has been a member of Liberty First Baptist Church since joining shortly after moving back to South Carolina about five decades ago after the death of her husband.

Bess’ youngest daughter, Beth, now lives in Decatur, Ga. She was only two years of age when she was struck with polio at the time of the polio epidemic in our country.
“Both of her legs were broken and reset so that she could walk better,” Bess said. “She went through a lot of pain because there was a lot of bone work.”

Bess remembers historic events that happened during the 20th century.
Although she was too young, at 14 months of age, to remember when the Titanic sank, she remembers seeing photographs of the Titanic and hearing people talk of the ship’s sinking a few years afterward.
She remembers World War I, although not in detail, because she was only a young child.

By the time World War II began, Bess and her husband, a pharmacist and a member of the U.S. Navy, were living in San Diego. She recalled when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, in December 1941, and how it was believed that the Japanese might attack the American mainland.
“My husband went with the first medical unit before they hit,” she said. “He was already overseas at that time. They had called him one night and said, ‘Be ready to go tomorrow morning at such and such a time,’ and that’s all I knew for almost a year.

“We didn’t know where he was until a friend who came home told us. Where they went was an island. They had set up a hospital. It wasn’t long after that the Japanese struck. Mickla, who was almost two years old, and I were by ourselves, because he was gone.

“The next night, friends of ours in the Naval district took us home with them, and we spent the night with them. They knew how close the Japanese were in, because the district kept a real close watch on that. They called and said, ‘Get your baby. Get your important papers together. We’re going to pick you up at such and such a time.’ I said, ‘Okay.’

“We stayed with those people that night. We had a complete blackout that night. They were expecting the Japanese to come in any minute, and they could have. They could have come in there and wiped that town off. It was God’s workings, I know. They could have come in, but they didn’t know it, see, and they turned around and went back, and that’s how close we came to getting wiped off.
“I remember the day the war ended. We all went to Point Loma and celebrated it.”

Another historic moment she remembers is when the President of the United States, John F. Kennedy, was shot, in November 1963.
“I guess I heard it about as quick as it happened,” she said. “That was flashed on the news the minute after it happened.”
She remembers feeling how the rest of the country felt when hearing the news announced by Walter Cronkite.
“I wondered, ‘Now, what are we going to do? What’s going to happen?’”

She remembers that, when the first man, Neil Armstrong, walked on the moon, in 1969, she watched the event unfold live on television. The Russians, she noted, were the first in space, with the launch of Sputnik, but the Americans were the first to land on the moon.
“I never thought that we could do it,” she said.

Closer to home, she remembers when Pickens County’s history and its 100th anniversary were celebrated in 1968, and she has seen the growth of the county over the past half century since she returned to her home state from California.

The changes in the world she has seen in the past 100 years have been phenomenal.
“The change I have seen is just unreal,” she said. “Just unreal.”
Bess has seen quite a change in technology in her 100 years. When she was growing up, her family did not have a telephone, but in her lifetime she has seen the advancement of technology with the invention of computers and the Internet.

She has also seen changes in entertainment, especially music, she said.
“I liked Sinatra. He was good. Elvis was good, too. There were so many good singers then.

“We didn’t have movie houses when I was growing up,” she said. “When the Depression came, we didn’t have money to go to the movies. The movies I’ve seen have been mostly on television.”
She counts The Waltons, Little House on the Prairie, and Bonanza among her favorite television shows.
“They had some meaning to them,” she said. She also likes Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy on television today.

Before retiring, Bess worked for about 15 years at Robinson’s Department Store in Easley and also worked for her nephew Lloyd Garrison as a dental receptionist in Easley.
She taught herself how to drive around 1965 and drove herself until a few short years ago, when she was in her mid-90s.

The residents of Liberty and all of Pickens County wish this remarkable woman much happiness and blessings from God as she celebrates her 100th year in 2011.