The way it was . ... and is

GRAY — Rilla Bellury and her great-granddaughter, Kortnie Bellury, were born three generations and 5,000 miles apart.

In 1922, the stork dropped off Rilla in Flea Hop, Ala. Don’t bother trying to find Flea Hop on the map. It’s not much larger than a flea.

If you do insist on unfolding the Rand McNally, the bearings on your compass should point north of Frog Level, south of Eclectic and east of Possum Trot and Slapout.

Kortnie was born 74 years later in Pordenone, Italy. She now lives in Great Falls, Mont., where both her parents are stationed in the Air Force. Her mother is now on a tour of duty in Korea.

Rilla and her husband, Blackie, have four sons (Reginald, Mike, Tim and Phillip), 16 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.

Kortnie is one of those great-grand young’uns. During her visit at Christmas in 2007, she was looking at some of her great-grandmother’s books. Rilla has written three delightful books about family life — “Lavender, Aprons and Overalls,” “Six-Part Harmony” and “Memorable Meals” — along with several mini-books. I’ve always considered her the Erma Bombeck of Middle Georgia.

“Mama B., I think you and I should write a book together,” Kortnie suggested.

And so they began their six-month, 31-page journey.

It’s not a book you’ll find on the shelves of your local bookstore. But “The Way It Was ... The Way It Is” became a special project for Rilla and Kortnie.

If anything, it provides a wonderful model for grandparents searching for something meaningful they can do with their grandchildren. Even if it never develops into a book, it could at least be an intriguing assignment.

While Rilla wrote about her life as a 12-year-old girl, growing up on a cotton farm during the Depression, Kortnie compared it to her life as a 12-year-old, 21st-century military brat.

They each devoted a page (or two or three) to cover such subjects as transportation, entertainment, clothes, food, school, health, crime, technology and religion.

When Rilla wrote about her dad’s Model T automobile, Kortnie related her travels in a C-140 cargo plane. When Rilla espoused the virtues of paper dolls, flour-sack dresses and scuppernongs, Kortnie wrote about growing up with video games, blue jeans and fast food.

Rilla’s 12-year-old world consisted of Castor oil and 3-cent stamps. Kortnie, at 12, had known nothing but Tylenol and e-mail.

“When I was her age, I had never been out of my own county,’’ said Rilla. By contrast, Kortnie had flown more miles by the time she was 2 months old than either of her parents — Ron and Rena Bellury — had before they joined the military.

Rilla’s story could and should be a lesson for our times.

“We didn’t know we were poor,’’ she said. “There was one general store, and we sold cotton, syrup, pecans and sweet potatoes to pay our debts.’’

Her family carried butter, eggs and milk to sell to residents of a mill village a few miles away.

She met Blackie, her husband of 67 years and “knight in shining armor,” while attending business school in Montgomery. While Blackie was in the Air Force, they moved 19 times in 22 years. (Blackie, 88, is now a retired minister. They live in Jones County.)

A by-product of the book project has been a timely message for both young and old.

“Kids today don’t sit around and listen to stories like they should,’’ Rilla said. “And I encourage older adults to write their life story. I tell them if it’s not written down, it’s lost. Just get a notebook and start writing. One memory will trigger another.’’

Reach Gris at 744-4275 or