(Graphic by Donna.)
Some of you may remember the entry I did back at the first of the year featuring some memories of my Daddy. My niece, Paige, read that entry and sent me an e-mail saying how nice it was to hear about her Paw Paw she remembered so little of. Then she went on to say how much she'd like it if I did a similar one on Mama. Sounded like a good idea, and with Mother's Day fast approaching, I thought I would.
Jesse Ruth was the oldest daughter of four. Named after her daddy, hence the male spelling, and her mama's middle name for her own. Her daddy, Daddy Jess we all called him, had rode to Texas in a covered wagon as a boy. He was one of the first people to own a model T in this rural part of Southeast Texas, and from that became one of the first mechanics at one of the oldest dealerships in the area.
Growing up on the heels of the great depression, Mama always knew how to get the most out of anything. She told me many times of how her Mama had to wash one dress on a rub board while she wore the other to school, as she only had the two. Once while growing up, their house burnt down and the family had to start all over. Had nothing but crates for furniture for some time. So, even years later, we had to turn inside out and save every empty bread bag and twisty tie as they might come in handy. I learned you just cut the mold off of cheese or pinched it off of bread and ate it anyway. Cereal gone stale? No problem, toast it a little before you put it in the bowl. And substitutions, like one tablespoon vinegar in a cup of sweet milk will sub for buttermilk in a pinch.
She attended school back in the day when the later years were aimed at schooling a girl in how to be a good wife and homemaker. So, if you knew how to write a proper recipe, Mama could cook it. When we'd go clothes shopping, she'd often shake her head when she looked at the inside of the clothes with raw salvage edges and un-hemmed seams. That was no proper way to make a garment! So, she sewed as many of mine as she ever bought. I can still smell the fragrance of new fabric. Each one was an original. Never had to worry about running into my twin.
I still have Mama's original Josie Party dress in the cedar chest. That's what they called it when the older folks would chaperone and let the younger folks get together for some square dancing. The other great entertainment she enjoyed was taffy pulling's. She'd tell of getting partnered up with buttered hands to pull and twist the taffy. I always wanted to have one. But we never did it.
I think Mama loved music very much. Her own voice was an alto. Nice to the ear, though not real solo material. But to me it was heavenly! She'd rock me and sing old songs she'd learned in school. I entrusted my sister not long back with Mama's original songbook. See, before Ipods and such, they simply wrote the lyrics down in a book, memorized the melodies and got together to sing the latest tunes. Most of what Mama sung to me were songs from this book, many originally in popular movies of the day. "Will You Love Me When My Little Ford Is Through?" & "Red Wing" being two examples.
I remember going to see the movie "Reds" with Warren Beatty when I was just out of college. Thought it was a very grown-up thing to watch. But was bored out of my mind. There I was half asleep when I heard "Once there lived side by side, two little maids....." coming over the sound system. I was so surprised, I jumped to my feet and squealed, "Mama used to sing that to me!" My date knew I was odd already, but then the whole theater knew.
Mama married and started housekeeping with the boy next door, so to speak. I have her Woman's Home Companion Cook Book from 1943, which includes a post script "As this book goes to press our country is at war. Inevitably certain food shortages will develop....." and when I sew, I still sew on her old cast iron Domestic. Modern machines can't do near the quality stitches, especially button holes, as that old relic.
In between Quinten in the Navy, Mama gave birth to two girls. Edna and Sarah. Two years apart. The war over, he came home and eventually went to work at a car dealership making $40/week. They thought they had it made! But marrying young and the war brought change. Especially to him, in what he thought he needed and wanted. And Mama ended up with two tow haired girls to raise in a garage apartment while she walked to the doctor's office she worked at each day. For all the pain and hardship those years must have been, mostly Mama talked about how Edna and Sarah would devise some play or skit while she was gone and give her refreshment while they put on the show when she returned. If they ever gave her any worry or trouble, she never related it to me.
Then in 1959, she was introduced to Daddy. They dated. She fed him buttermilk biscuits. I suppose that was the clincher. They wed in fall of '59. The next year, they got me! I was the first for Daddy. The third for Mama. Edna was 18 and Sarah 16. And Mama was back at what she wanted most in life to do......be an exceptional homemaker, wife and mother.
As her grand kids started coming along, I think that being in her 40's and having a young child of her own, kept her in some ways from spending all the time and attention on them that she would have otherwise.
Mama enjoyed folks and enjoyed being a good hostess. She was in PTA, she taught VBS, she was in WMU. In many ways she as very close to June Clever. Her and Daddy together, raised and canned and blanched many a vegetable. (Pete & I were still eating out of it when we married!) I remember ladies (mostly aunts or neighbors) coming over and sitting outside under the large shade trees in those old metal lawn chairs, each with a pot in their lap, chatting, shelling or snapping. Laughter was frequent. It was work, but they enjoyed themselves.
Mama is why I know church is important. She's why I even know God. (Oh, I still remember how my hiney stung when once I told her Superman was stronger than God! I think I was 4 or so.) In my teen years, Mama and I would often have devotions together.
After Daddy passed away, Mama was in some ways lost. She'd turn to me for my opinion on which air conditioner to buy or what to reupholster the couch in. She took that part time job at the library for financial reasons certainly, but also to get out and about and around people, I think. When I went off to Nacogdoches for college, I swear she knew the instant that Mustang turned off onto our little farm to market road, as she'd greet me most every time I came home in the front yard, arms wide open.
She was lonely. Singles groups, even Christian ones, often led to disappointment. Just turned out to be dirty old men every where you looked. Think cause they bought you a nice supper you should put out.....just like some younger jerk. Or they'd be convinced a widow just had to have it. Then, Mama was fortunate enough to meet Polk. Finally, a gentleman to treat her like a lady again. I was thrilled to see her happy. Not, necessarily to see a new man in her life, but to see her happy.
Then, she lost Sarah to that awful snake bite thing. I think she never knew hurt so very deep. I thank God she had Polk. I don't know if she could have lost a child without a husband beside her. Now, some in the family mouthed later that he caused her to work too hard. Back in the garden. Canning and blanching. But I don't think she would have had it any other way. And Lord knows that all she ever had to do was mention something once in passing and Polk did it! A far cry from Daddy. They'd sit and plan and daydream for hours, often never taking it one step further. One day Mama told Polk she thought corner cabinets might be nice in the dining room and next week she had them. She learned to keep a lot of passing thoughts to herself.
Then that awful lupus reared its ugly head. She wanted to fight it bravely and boldly. She didn't want to sit back and watch it take its toll like Mama Ruth did. Although, in that day, there wasn't much Mama Ruth could have done. So, Mama purposely set out to find an aggressive doctor and treatment. Everything seemed to be going so well. She felt better. But no one knew there was a weak spot in a vessel in her brain. No one knew an aneurysm would burst and she'd be gone in just hours. But she leaves her legacy in little strawberry blonde children and the richest desert recipes around.
I pray everyone is blessed with good company and warm memories this Mother's Day. Thanks for sharing mine.