Monthly Archives: May 2015

A White Corsage

Mother’s Day is all past and here I am doing a Mother’s Day blog. My daughter always gave me a corsage to wear on Mother’s Day. I remember how apologetic she was that first year after Mamma died. She was worried that I would not want to wear a white flower since I’d been so proud of wearing red carnations for a living mother so long. Mamma lived to be 93. But I loved the white orchids Julie gave me and enjoyed honoring my mother that way. Now that Julie, too, is gone I’ve let the corsage-wearing slide. But I determined when I saw others at church wearing corsages for mothers on Mother’s Day that I would write something about Mamma. It’s not an essay, just a collection of thoughts about Mamma. It’s my white corsage for Mamma three days late!

My mother was a census taker for Habersham County in 1940 two years before I, her tenth child of eleven, was born. My next older brother was the baby then and cried incessantly for his nursing mother, says our oldest sister Pat who had to wheedle him into swallowing canned milk. Daddy enlisted Orman, our oldest brother, to be Mamma’s driver as she worked the hills collecting census information. Mamma loved to tell us about the time they were climbing a steep grade approaching a house and could clearly hear voices of folks sitting on the porch. “Here come them lowlanders,” one said to another. Because of the tone of voice she wasn’t sure whether to expect hot water to be poured on her as she climbed the steps but they were really cordial people. Thirty years later in 1970 when I, too, was a census taker in another part of the state, Mamma and I enjoyed exchanging tales.

Mamma made quilts out of old coats, not for fun or beauty, but just trying to keep us warm. She was a very practical seamstress, sewing of necessity on her pedal New Home sewing machine. We little ones took turns pedaling for her. I wonder if she wouldn’t much rather have pedaled herself. She believed every woman should know how to sew. Therefore, there came the time when I, the fourth of five daughters, should learn to make a dress. The resulting dress was so pitiful that even my conservative, penny-pinching Mamma said she’d rather I didn’t even wear it around the house. She said firmly, not unkindly, “You’re just going to have to marry a rich man, I guess. You just weren’t cut out for sewing.” And then she laughed at her own pun.

Mamma loved her garden, really loved it. Wearing a wide brim straw hat she’d start out early in the morning to plant, to hoe, to harvest. Though the sweat poured off her face, I think she was never happier than out there with the smell of disturbed tomato vines and the calls of bobwhites and mourning doves. She kept a little corner of her garden for growing rhubarb so she could make rosy rhubarb pies. She always planted cucumbers, tomatoes, squash, corn, okra, and beans. Sometimes she’d try watermelons or cantaloupe, and pumpkins. It was important to her to keep neat, weed-free rows, as straight as possible.

Mamma was a letter writer. Since my Dad could hardly see, she took dictation from him writing many letters a week in the most beautiful handwriting you will ever encounter. They wrote to all their children who had left home. They wrote to congressmen about issues they were concerned with, and they had several friends with whom they corresponded. Also, Mamma wrote her own letters of encouragement and beautiful descriptions to friends and family. My Dad had died by the time I left home but Mamma was faithful to keep mail at least once a week in my box.

When it came to cooking, my mother had to be innovative and stretch her resources. With ten children to feed, plus in-laws and grandchildren, and numerous friends, making nutritious meals was a constant challenge. I remember the time we had to save up the eggs from our sparse layers so Mamma would have enough for Pat’s wedding cake. I remember the huge potato salad she made in one of those giant dishpans the first time my brother Brantley’s bride visited. Helen was particularly astonished when she realized there was none left over! Mamma’s blackberry cobblers were to die for and her fried apple pies would make you forget all your woes. But whenever I came home from college Mamma knew what I’d like best: turnip greens and cornbread.

Mamma was a homeschool teacher, a killer of snakes who invaded her hens’ nests, and a barber. She knitted sweaters for soldiers in two world wars. In her 70’s she and her sister exchanged crafts, Mamma teaching Aunt Emma to knit and Aunt Emma teaching Mamma to crochet. She then crocheted at least one afghan for each of her ten children, plus many more. She lost one little girl to appendicitis in the 1930’s but nursed the rest of us through almost every known childhood disease. She endured great hardships but on her 80th birthday she called out before breakfast, “Girls, please don’t put my name in the oatmeal pot.”

My mother was a truly beautiful lady. She taught me to enjoy flowers and birds, to look on the bright side, to conjugate Latin verbs, to use dictionaries and encyclopedias, to pull feathers from a hen, to make jelly and bread, to write in cursive, to peel a peach, and to memorize poems and scripture. She taught me that God is love.

Thank You, God, for Mamma.

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May Day

The first of May is here, to some remembered as May Day, to others just another day, to some an opportunity for political rallies and protests. When Charles read the date on our devotional this morning, we exclaimed, oh, it’s May Day! My thoughts immediately flew to the happy times when my little sister and I would create small paper baskets, fill them with wildflowers, and attempt to surprise family members with our flowery donations. A great part of the fun was in sneaking up on someone, setting the basket down, and running before they could see who was there. Of course part of the fun also was in peering from behind a curtain or a barrel to see the reaction, hopefully a big smile, on the face of the surprised recipient.

I remember my mother’s sharing her memory of May Day when she was a girl in the early 1900’s. She and her classmates danced around a Maypole, weaving ribbons in and out. That had to be a lot of fun! Mamma quoted poetry while she churned or kneaded bread. In the spring, her poem was apt to be Robert Browning’s “Pippa’s Song” which says: “The year’s at the spring, And day’s at the morn; Morning’s at seven; The hill-side’s dew-pearl’d; The lark’s on the wing; The snail’s on the thorn; God’s in His heaven–All’s right with the world.”

News of severe riots around the country, the earthquake in Nepal, injustice everywhere, fill the air waves till it seems the television might just explode sometime. Yet–God’s in His heaven, aware of every detail on earth, and will ultimately right every wrong. Believing that, I can take great joy from observing the wildlife celebrating May Day in my backyard.

The mulberry tree is a center of attraction. The mulberries are slowly ripening for the enjoyment of browsing humans. But they are totally tempting right now to squirrels and all kinds of birds. Before I could find even one ripe berry, birds and squirrels were so active in the tree, it looked as if it were dancing. Now, whether or not the wind is blowing, the tree’s light, flexible limbs and branches are a-sway with silent music. I can see as many as four or five squirrels at a time feasting happily. I’ve seen them stretch themselves from one limb to another until I’d hold my breath waiting to see whether they broke in two or fell to the ground. The squirrels have a highway in the trees for crossing the yard but there is one space between trees they haven’t found sky passage for, so they have to scamper across the ground. Then they scale a pine tree, leap to limbs of an Indonesian cherry tree, and from there, by way of a Japanese magnolia, they’re in the heavenly mulberry tree.

The birds have it easier. They fly in and out at will. They do have to keep a close watch because fellow birds and squirrels are not always kind. Each one believes God made that tree for him and only him, or her. When it comes to sharing they’re not always any better than the rest of us. I observed a war take place an hour ago. No winners, that I can tell. One squirrel is still fussing.

From the porch I can also see several bird feeders and a bird bath, all very well used. I especially enjoy the little titmouse with his chip-chip-chipping and the tiny black-capped chickadee. They fly in, grab a sunflower seed and then whir up to a tree bough to enjoy their snack.

Our martin house remains empty for another year. Charles has learned that martins, like many other creatures, are choosy about their place of abode. Given a choice, they have been observed repeatedly to rent more natural places, like gourds, rather than sturdy houses made just for them. Ours is a condominium, just the right height, made to order, but–no takers!

Brown thrashers are nesting here. They love thick camellias. What a beautiful, wise bird is the brown thrasher, a really good choice, I think for Georgia’s state bird. Take my advice, though, and do not ever try to look in mama Thrasher’s nest unless you’re ready for a swirl of angry wings around your head and a scolding you won’t forget. Did I say they are loyal? They are ready to go to bat in a heartbeat!

Cardinals are year-round splashes of cheer and they sing so sweetly too. And then there’s my all-time favorite, the faithful mockingbird that tries to re-tell everyone’s story, or song. And the songbird family would not be complete without little wrens chirping busily and making the cutest dwelling places in old boots, every nook and cranny, even (one year, at least), on the backside of the mailbox.

The other day I saw one of the cats ready to pounce on a baby sparrow who was learning with difficulty how to fly. I stopped the travesty that time but can’t say it didn’t happen later. The food chain is quite evident right here in this small acre. Cramer, another cat, sidled up to the door, proud of the lizard, still wiggling, in his mouth.

The wind is up today and the temperature delightfully cool. A great May Day! A great day for walking with other survivors in American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life.. What a privilege that was, not only to walk with other survivors but also with my most precious caregiver, my husband! And, no, I didn’t mention the other May Day, the one you use when your plane or ship is failing. Let’s stick to celebrating a normal, happy day this May First!

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