What: Flowery Branch First United Methodist Church
Where: 5212 Spring St., Flowery Branch
More info: 770-967-3441 or www.fbumc.net
Laura Ramey’s Southern accent — punctuated with “honeys” and “bless yous” — practically invites you to sit a spell while enjoying some sweet iced tea.
It’s difficult to imagine someone so soft-spoken, with such a positive outlook on life, has lived through some nearly unimaginable difficulties and horrors that would knock down many.
Dropping out of school in the eighth grade. Getting married for the first time at 15. A second husband stabbed to death. Divorcing a third husband. Battling both breast and ovarian cancers.
“By the grace of God, I’m still here,” the Alto resident said. “Because if it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t be here.”
Originally from Rabun County — “it was a nice place to grow up,” Ramey said — she was bullied in school and said she finally got to the point she no longer wanted to attend.
“It was awful,” she said. “So this young man came along and I thought that would be great, just to go ahead and get married. At that young age, you don’t know much about anything.”
She had a son and a daughter, but after nine years Ramey and her first husband were divorced. She remarried about a year later.
“My second husband was really a great marriage,” she said. “We didn’t have any children, and he was killed, believe it or not, one week before Christmas in 1983.
“After he was killed, I spent another year by myself and then I remarried. He and I were married for close to 20 years, and we got a divorce.”
It was around the end of her third marriage when Ramey was first diagnosed with breast cancer in May 2001. She didn’t have health insurance and just expected she wouldn’t survive.
Her niece encouraged her to sign up for disability benefits. Ramey initially refused to do so, saying she enjoyed working. At the time, she was cleaning houses and also providing routine maintenance work for homeowners.
“She said, ‘Well, cancer is a whole new thing,’” Ramey recalled her niece as saying. “She said, ‘It’s dangerous and it’s threatening and you may not be able to work.’ So I sat down and I said, ‘Lord, if you want me to have it, I will.’
“So in three weeks I had my disability (benefits), and that’s unheard of. I know where it came from. It was a blessing from the good Lord.”
She then began visiting The Longstreet Clinic in Gainesville, where she began chemotherapy shortly after her diagnosis. The treatment initially worked, but then stopped.
“I looked like I was about ready to have three or four children,” she said. “My stomach was huge.”
Ramey was diagnosed with second-stage ovarian cancer.
“I had 20 pounds of ovarian cancer,” she said. “(I was) carrying 10 pounds on each ovary, and breast cancer, all at the same time.”
After surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatments, Ramey was declared cancer-free in 2002 and has been so ever since.
“I feel good,” she said about her health nowadays. “I have bad days. I had back surgery in 2003 ... that was more horrific than the hysterectomy and the cancer surgery.”
Ramey has always enjoyed working, particularly outdoors with landscaping and gardening. But the combination of poor health and lack of education has been prohibitive in certain situations, particularly now that she is 63. To help her over the hurdles, she relies on her friendship with Kathy Prater, a Flowery Branch woman who works with a food ministry out of the city’s First United Methodist Church.
“She has been such a blessing,” Ramey said. “They are wonderful people. They’ve taken such good care of us food-wise, and really morale-wise. They’re just such morale boosters. I can’t say enough good things about either one of them.”
Through the church’s food ministry, families and individuals are given enough supplies to stock a pantry and refrigerator.
“Once a month, we have a big giveaway,” Prater said. “Then we (help) some every week, every Friday. We have some that we’re doing twice a month. And then of course we always have the call-ins. People call the church or people call (my home).”
An entire room in Prater’s home has been converted into a walk-in pantry. She also has two large freezers — those, along with the church’s refrigerator and three freezers, keep the ministry well-stocked to help many area residents.
Monthly, recipients get four boxes complete with canned vegetables, soup, pasta, spaghetti sauce, oatmeal, milk, juice, cheese, bread — a variety of food items that can be found in any typical kitchen. Prater and other food ministry volunteers ensure the food provided suffices for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
“Eggs are really great,” Prater said. “If you have nothing else, if you’ve got eggs and a piece of bread, you’re all right.”
Ramey is one of those monthly recipients; she can’t remember how long she’s received monthly assistance from the food ministry.
“She gives us bread and canned goods and frozen foods,” Ramey ticked off. “She just basically gives you a well-rounded amount of food, and it does last.”
Today, Ramey still lives in her Alto home she shared with her much-loved second husband. She remains friends with her third husband, who lives with her as a roommate and helps take care of her.
She enjoys playing with her four rescue dogs and spending time outside.
“I love my flower gardens,” she said. “But it’s been so hard here lately for me to be able to really get motivated to do much. But I always have been a person who loves landscaping.”
With her second husband dying a week before Christmas in 1983, this isn’t always a time of year Ramey wants to celebrate. But she does enjoy marking the holiday, especially with her children and grandchildren.
“I used to love to put up a tree because for (my second husband), Christmas was special to him,” she said. “In the past few years, I’ve not put a tree up much anymore.
“But I do like to take out my little Christmas Santa Clauses and things like that.”