I fully imagine that our mother is poking around in her heavenly attic and living up to one of my favorite nicknames — the “Princess of Pack Rats.” Like so many of her generation who lived through the hardships of the Great Depression, she hung on to things that we today would toss aside with yesterday’s newspaper. She always thought she might need them.
The junk room in our family home provided great fodder for teasing her over the years. It is because of that room that we are each in possession of some very special treasures that might have been thrown away. Our mother started off with challenges when her mother died six days after giving birth in the midst of the flu epidemic of 1918. She was so tiny, it was said, that her head would have fit into a teacup. She never reached a great stature in size, but the nickname “Tiny” stuck with her right through high school, where she excelled at basketball.
What she lacked in size, she made up with perseverance and determination. This trait led to one of her grandchildren giving her another nickname as she announced to my sister loudly, “Stubborn’s on the phone.” As our pastor friend, Michael, said at her memorial service: “The challenges she faced in her life would have defeated many, but she possessed enormous strength and fortitude.”
At the time of her death, she weighed about 95 pounds and was blind. When a friend commented on her blindness, she brushed it aside simply marveling on all that she had seen in her life.
Mother was naturally talented in many ways. She could lay brick, hang sheetrock, paint, plane off a door and refinish floors. On the softer side, she sewed like a professional (although she had no formal training), baked delicious bread, made the world’s best French fries, could solve any algebra problem, type a paper finished by a procrastinating child at midnight and stretch a dollar to the moon and back. Mother devoured newspapers, from which she loved to share clippings, and we all grew up believing she knew at least a little something about most everything. Her beloved sister was the only person in the world who ever dared to call her a “know-it-all.”
She loved to travel by car, and was fascinated with cloud formations and the beauty of nature. She claimed that her middle name was “Go.” Along with family and close friends, we fished and camped on our vacations and had storytelling time around the campfire. I used to tell things that shouldn’t be told, leading to one of my nicknames, “Blabbermouth.”
She and my daddy raised and educated five children. The seven grandchildren we gave them were the light of their life. It amazes all of us that she and daddy did so much on one middle-class income, and throughout her later years she would regularly comment on the wonder of a north Georgia boy and a girl from Seven Mile Ford, Va., producing such a large and talented family.
In her final months, the simplest things made her so happy — clementines, watermelon, Harry and David’s Moose Munch, popcorn from Target, Lay’s potato chips (named “best food on the planet” by the women in our family) and good creamy oatmeal for breakfast. We made sure she had all she wanted.
A special treat was the occasional wine and cheese hour where I showed up with 2 ounces of cold, crisp chardonnay in a stemmed crystal glass and some good cheese with a cracker. We felt a little wicked sharing this behind closed doors at the assisted living facility. One of the last great laughs I had with her was a discussion on what we would do if we were caught.
We were raised right, as we say in the South. The five of us were taught table manners and social graces such as proper etiquette when meeting people, removal of hats indoors, and the writing of thank-you notes. Mother always said if someone made a gift for you, that was pretty special and always required a hand-written thank-you note. She would be shocked by the rarity of social graces in today’s digital and electronic world.
One of mother’s favorite sayings toward my two sisters and me was “pretty is as pretty does.” That one came from her beloved grammaw, who raised her. Another favorite was her response to our pleas to do something inappropriate — “but everybody’s doing it.” She would simply reply, “If everyone else sticks their head in an oven, does that mean you will, too?”
Another commonly heard phrase was: “The Lord doesn’t give us burdens to bear without the strength to bear them.” She always insisted it was in the Bible, but no one can find it — although there are many similar references. “Well, it’s in there,” she would always say when challenged.
Her life exemplified the overcoming of hardships, and to quote our pastor friend again: “Her life was one of courage, determination and faith.”
On this Mother’s Day, if your mother is living, may I remind you to help make her day special. There is no gift on Earth she would rather have than a call or visit from you. If your mother has gone on to glory, use this day to think of some happy memories. If mine were here today, I would peel her a clementine and ice down the Chardonnay.
Cindy DeVane of Johnson City is associate publisher for East Tennessee Medical News.comments powered by Disqus