Panzie Lyttle celebrates a century

Wednesday, May 3, 2017
Lewisburg Mayor Jim Bingham proclaimed Wednesday, May 3, to be Panzie Lyttle Day in Lewisburg, celebrating the occasion of her one-hundredth birthday.
Tribune Photo by Scott Pearson

The way we teach history -- names, dates and a quilt of millions of people’s individual stories -- can make it a boring subject, but Lewisburg’s Panzie Lyttle brings it to life.

The United States had been involved in World War I for less than a month when she was born in Belfast on May 3, 1917.

She was three years old before women were allowed to vote.

She lived when you could still take a train from Belfast to Lewisburg, and even on to Chicago and Detroit, like so many did looking for a better life.

She lived through the Depression when Christmas meant a pair of new shoes for the year for her brothers and sisters.

She lived through World War II, in which three of her brothers served, and still has strong opinions about the local draft board at the time.

She lived through Jim Crow when it meant using the side door at the Dixie Theatre and sitting in the balcony for a movie.

Panzie Lyttle has lived a lot in her 100 years.

She is the third of 14 children born to Otis and Bessie Lyttle in Belfast, seven girls and seven boys. One of her sisters, Willa Dean Richardson, is still alive as well.

Her father farmed and worked for the railroad that ran through town.

“All we had to buy was corn meal and flour,” she said, “because you could grow everything else.”

She didn’t work in the fields with her father, though.

He told her she wasn’t any good on the farm, she said. She was afraid of worms.

So she ended up helping her mother in the house.

Maybe that’s why she made a career out of cooking, working at the hospitals in town when every doctor had their own; Brown’s, Gordon’s, Taylor’s, and Lewisburg Community Hospital.

Maybe that’s why she has so many stories about food.

One of her favorites meals was always a glass of buttermilk and cornbread, even when her mama had cooked a big meal with a little bit of everything in it, she said.

She only eats pork, recalling the days when her daddy would slaughter hogs to provide meat for the family for the year.

Her daughter Martha recounted all of the baking her mother would do, especially fried pies and tea cakes.

She cooked by experience, without recipes, and academics who study food history would love a chance to sit down with her to learn things barely remembered or forgotten entirely.

She’s not afraid of salt, either.

“I can’t eat food if it’s not seasoned,” Lyttle said laughingly.

Pork and salt. Fried pies and tea cakes. A hundred years old.

If Lyttle wrote a cookbook, it would be a best seller for sure.

A century demands more than one party to mark the occasion.

Lewisburg Mayor Jim Bingham signed a proclamation marking Wednesday, her birthday, officially as Panzie Lyttle Day in town.

A Wednesday reception marking her birthday will be held at noon at Ransom Chapel Presbyterian Church.

On Saturday, another party will be held at Dr. Taylor’s barn on Cornersville Road. The family wasn’t sure the house, Jubilee Hills, would be large enough.

She has seven children herself, 16 grandchildren, 39 great-grandchildren and 11 great-great-grandchildren

And for a hundred years of family and friends and history, they are probably right.