It was in June of last year that Sarah Sue Collins Cleghorn agreed to participate in the oral interview project being conducted by Cherokee County Historical Society and Preservation Woodstock.
Simultaneous interviews were held in rooms in the Georgia Dawson Fellowship Hall at what was then the Woodstock First United Methodist Church, which has since merged with another church body to become The Way UMC. The location was appropriate for Sarah Sue. She had lived on Mill Street within a stone’s throw of the church for much of her life, having moved to Woodstock from the Collins homestead in Salacoa Valley with her parents Tom and Willie Collins when she was 6 years old. For a few years they rented the 1880s Perkinson house, site of today’s Ozark Bank, later purchasing a home on Mill Street where Sarah Sue and her twin Mary Lou and their big sister Pat enjoyed their growing up years. Later Sarah Sue and husband Bobby built a new home close by. Their daughter and four sons would grow up in the same neighborhood where she grew up, go to the same school, and the same church, Woodstock Baptist, and enjoy the same small-town life that made Woodstock their true “ hometown.”
And so Sarah Sue felt right at home for her interview, and was quite happy to share her thoughts on any subject presented to her. In fact, as she herself admitted, “talking” was her profession, what she liked to do. It was her response to a question about why she loved Woodstock so much and was sad when they moved away. The interviewer asked if that was because of her profession. She quickly set him straight. “I loved Woodstock. I cried and cried when I left. I knew everybody’s business here. And I knew everybody. It was my home.”
But she did have a real profession. She tells it thus. “I worked. I had five kids. So that was work. I never had help. I had a beauty shop in my house. We were getting hungry, and I needed to go to work. And I didn’t want to leave my kids. So I went to beauty school about a year and Mrs. Jacie Ingram was the only one here in Woodstock who had a beauty shop at the time. And she encouraged me to go and she said. ‘You’ll love it.’ When I get to heaven, I’m going to tell her I didn’t like it. It ruined my legs!”
Sarah Sue did not mince words when questioned about any good stories she might have heard as a hairdresser. “Oh, yes. They come to unload on you. I found that out. Beauty shops and barber shops are good for that. They gotta be good for something besides trimming the hair. And I didn’t make any money, by the way. I did it for 50 cents a head part of the time and a dollar for others. If I really liked ‘em, it was 50 cents. That was back in 1960.” But she did refuse to share with the interviewer any secrets told to her. (I’m glad to hear that! She was my hairdresser, and I hope she charged me only 50 cents.)
Along with the majority of Woodstock’s citizens during those years, I knew and loved this remarkable woman. There must be a thousand Sarah Sue stories, many of them good for a chuckle, others more serious, but always inspiring. After all, a good life is one that blends laughter and tears. She somehow knew how to laugh at herself, at least in the telling. She was constantly at odds with her diet. She told me once that she purchased a box of chocolate candy and hid in the closet to eat it. She was a good cook, and my own children recall her hospitality in inviting us to their home for supper where she served beef Stroganoff, a dish that we had never had before. I was fortunate for one year in which I was her Secret Pal at our church missionary circle. One of my gifts was a homemade cake. How lucky could I be.
No doubt Sarah Sue was sad in leaving Woodstock, but those she left behind were sad as well. Her home and her family were as much a part of Woodstock as its shops and school and churches, and its hometown families. The interstate highway that displaced the Cleghorns took not only some families, but our very way of small town life.
I covet the memories of Sarah Sue. She had not been well since an accident in her home a few months ago. She left us, once again, last week. We are all better for having known and loved her.