This motorcycle-riding Big Mama might have had a 7-Up cake in the oven or seven people sleeping on floor pallets in the safety of her home.

Delcine Collins Massey died June 29, 2011. She retired from Howey Brothers Cleaning Service in 1989 and had just turned 77 on June 6.

She was a wonderful cook and her Red Velvet or Pineapple Upside Down cakes were in great demand. Family and many others often requested her delicious cakes and pies.

“She was a wonderful cook,” said Joyce Dunn, a friend of 35 years.

Joyce had worked with Delcinie at Howie Brothers for 25 years. Delcine’s barbecued chicken was Joyce’s favorite.

“You could go to her for something and if she’s got it, you’d get it,” Dunn recalled. “And if she could help you in any way, she was there.”

Delcine met Isaiah Massey in July 1951 through his sister, Zeollie Morgan. Their marriage welcomed Isaiah Jr. and daughter Christine. Her minister husband died in 1997. When the first of their 10 grandchildren arrived, Delcine decided she would be “Big Mama” instead of “Grandma.” She is also “Big Mama” to her three great-grandchildren.

A time of motorcycles and roller skates

From the time when son Isaiah was four, they rode their Harley Davidson – all three of them – to New York, Florida or Philadelphia to visit family. Isaiah, in his little leather outfit, rode between the handlebars.

Back in those days, the family lived in Double Oaks apartments on Statesville Avenue and paid their weekly $4.95 rent money at the downtown office. Rather than take a bus, Delcine walked so that Isaiah could roller skate beside her.

“From Double Oaks, she walked to the rent office on Trade Street downtown so that I could skate,” he said. Isaiah Jr. always requested – and got – a Pineapple Upside Down cake for his birthday.

Daughter Christine said, “She could cook anything, and every Sunday we had pies or cakes. I loved her sweet potato pie or Friendship cakes.” Another favorite was her mother’s vanilla wafer cake, in which the crushed wafers replaced flour.

“It was rich,” Christine said. “Everything she made was rich.”

A good role model

Christine is now a professional counselor and credits her mom for her career choice.

“I’d wake up and there would be somebody in pallets on the floor,” she said. “I later found out that several women who were in abusive relationships would seek refuge with Mom. People came before there were drug rehab centers, and she told me they were trying to get clean and needed someplace to stay.

“I was exposed to social work before I knew what it was,” Christine said. “She took care of everybody’s kids. Daycare was expensive, so she told the mothers, ‘Bring ’em on over here.’ There was always somebody here. She was one of the most beautiful people you’ve ever known, always giving and doing. If people were evicted, she told them, ‘Don’t pay me, buy your food, save money and get back on your feet.’ That’s the type person she was.”

And that’s exactly the type person we need more of, don’t we?

Editor’s note: This is our series called Lives That Matter. Written by Charlotte writer Gerry Hostetler, this weekly feature will profile individuals, recently deceased, who had a positive impact on those around them.

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