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From Spitfire to Eternal Flame

From Spitfire to Eternal Flame — Helen Motley

Born in 1915 in Pennsylvania, 14-year-old Helen Motley moved to DeValls Bluff with her parents and three older brothers in 1929, the first year of the Great Depression, when caring for a family was twice as hard. Helen's father purchased and worked a 50-acre farm in east Arkansas, which the family still owns, but that first year they could not raise one thing. Her father and brothers planted cotton, corn and anything they could get their hands on they thought would grow, Helen explained, "but none of it came to anything. It was so hot-110 degrees-and there was no way you could get cool. No air conditioning or even fans then. We just had to hope for a breeze."

Even though she says she was spoiled as the baby and the only girl in her family, Helen herself picked cotton and went to high school, but she didn't finish. Her father died in 1930, and the family had to work the farm without his leadership. That same year, when she was 15, she met George Motley, five years her senior and her most ardent pursuer.

As she pours over a black-and-white photo of a family taken during the turn of the 20th century, Helen points out George's mother, father, brothers and grandparents. "He was the baby in his family, too," she said. "All boys. His mother died in childbirth having him." When asked if she married him because he was cute, Helen shrugs, "Not especially."

"He was ... persistent, let's say," Helen chuckles. At 16 or 17 (she can't remember which), she and George married. "Can you imagine getting married at 16 or 17 now?" she asks. "I'd skin my granddaughters if they thought about doing something like that."

At the time, George was working on a river boat on the Arkansas and Mississippi rivers, and he told the captain he was quitting "so I can better myself." He and Helen then moved to Pennsylvania where he got a job in the coal mines but moved back to Arkansas when World War II was at its peak, and George got a job at Camp Robinson in North Little Rock as a paint contractor.

Helen and George had two daughters and a son and lived with their family in and around Little Rock. Helen cooked, cleaned and tended a garden while her husband worked, and together they put all three of their children through college on one income. In 1970, the Motleys purchased a three-bedroom, bath-and-a-half home in southwest Little Rock, the home in which Helen still lives.

George, who never retired because he wasn't making enough for them to do so, had a heart attack, leaving Helen in her home by herself. Today, Helen makes ends meet with a small pension from her husband's retirement and a monthly Social Security check.

"He was a good man," she explained. "I can't think of anything nicer to say about him. When he died, I didn't know what I was going to do. I'd never lived alone before, was never by myself before."

It was this challenge that kept her focused. She kept cleaning, cooking and tending to her garden, keeping herself occupied and putting one foot in front of the other. She still has her garden, hoeing it herself in the spring to break up the dirt, planting okra seeds and tomato plants, weeding and watering and harvesting. "It's hard to find someone who has a tiller so I just do it myself," the 95-year-old said.

When you visit Helen today, she apologizes for the state her house is in, but her home is as tidy and organized as any modern residence. Filled with family pictures and mementos, Helen's home is a permanent record of her life. "My son," she says as she points above the television to a framed newspaper article. "He died of cancer. It was terrible. It was so hard for me."

In the past few years, her daughter Marilyn Sutton became concerned about her mother's comfort in her home.

"I noticed she would keep the house too warm in the summer and too cold in the winter in order to keep her energy bills manageable," Marilyn said. "She always kept on a wrap in the winter, and then I realized when she got really cold, she would go get in bed."

Marilyn began researching ways she could help her mom live more comfortably without worrying about leaving her home or the monetary cost of repairs. She discovered energy audits through a family member and persuaded her mother to have one to see if the older home was leaking as much energy as they suspected. Within weeks a dozen Entergy volunteers arrived at her mom's home to begin making improvements, changing all her light bulbs to energy efficient ones, putting foam sealants behind each light switch and electric socket, and caulking the outside of the home where heat and air were leaking. They even repaired the front porch light.

One of the workers helped Helen get in contact with the Central Arkansas Development Council, which replaced her outdated central heating and air unit, replaced her windows with energy efficient ones, added insulation to her attic and replaced the two exterior doors.

As she made cookies for the volunteers, Helen noted, "It's so nice to see people haven't changed that much. People are still willing to help one another out whenever they have the chance."

With the help of Entergy employees, Helen's home is more comfortable than it has been in years. Her garden is her focus now.

"Last year, there was too much rain," she said, explaining why she didn't get any produce out of her rows. On a recent weekend, she raked leaves from her plot with her daughter and son-in-law. "I could only do three bags," she says, dissatisfaction in her voice.

When asked if she might be better off to give up some independence by moving to a senior living facility, she emphatically shakes her head. "I don't want to live with anyone," she said. "I've got my ways now."

For More Information.

Want to know more about how Entergy's community partnerships helped Helen Motley? Visit the Central Arkansas Development Council site to learn how partner agencies in your community are helping your friends and neighbors.

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