RALEIGH, N.C. -- In any other time there would have been hundreds of mourners gathered here, in the shade of the trees where Cleora Mann spent most of her 104 years.
For a long time, she liked to garden at the edge of the woods. She planted turnip greens, beets, tomatoes. She found solace working with the land, in a land that didn't always love her back.
She'd had 16 children, and outlived four of them. When her husband died, in 1954, she was pregnant with her youngest. She never did remarry. Her sons and daughters grew up in an era when walking down the country road at the end of the driveway tested their courage. People drove by and threw eggs at them. A neighbor's dogs put the fear in them.
"Those dogs would come out," said Robert Mann, one of her sons, "and he wouldn't ever call them back."
Now Robert Mann is 78, and last Friday he stood near the oak tree that for decades offered he and his siblings the kind gift of cool shadows. They'd grown up without running water or indoor plumbing, let alone air conditioning.
He wore a dark suit and a face mask. Soon the Hearse turned between the black iron gates and slowly moved up the driveway. Cleora Mann was coming home.
She was born in 1915; she would have been 3 or 4 when the Spanish flu killed millions. She lived through two world wars and the Great Depression. Mann, who was black, survived the horrors of the Jim Crow South. She was in her 50s during the civil rights movement. She lived long enough to vote for America's first black president.
And then, after a century of life, she died quietly and alone of COVID-19.
The day of her funeral, her family was still reconciling how quickly everything had turned. Robert Mann received a call from the Louisburg Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center on a Wednesday, informing him that his mom had tested positive for the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. By Saturday, he learned that she wasn't eating. The next morning, he learned she was having difficulty breathing.
That afternoon, she was gone.