Published Wednesday, December 26, 2012
For years, I thought that my mother would become a Centenarian, but after 98 years and eight months, she recently succumbed to the ravages of old age.
As it was with my father, her funeral took place in the most peaceful setting of the countryside of rural Washington County. Then she was laid to rest in the cemetery of Beulah Baptist Church beside my dad. Even after my father died, we continued to think of our parents as one. They were a team in the traditional sense. Church and family were their lifelines. They worked hard, never complaining. They expected to earn their daily bread by the sweat of their brow.
Once during a conversation with Tom Brokaw, who wrote the best-selling book “The Greatest Generation,” I told him, “You left out my parents.” They didn’t go off to war, but they belonged to the Greatest Generation. They, too, were part of the foundation that made America truly great. They kept the home fires burning.
Our mother gloried in being a housewife and mother. Having been a teacher in her early adult years, education was paramount, but she gave priority to the joint venture of raising a family. She was an excellent cook, but she had to cook on a wood stove. There was no refrigerator, nothing electric. But nobody was ever better at making do. She did the washing and ironing with a big black wash pot in the backyard and old-fashioned hand irons, which had to be heated in the fire in an open fireplace. She could stitch and sew with aplomb, often in the dim light of a kerosene lamp.
There weren’t many conveniences in her day. She couldn’t do as a modern housewife does — turn on the washer, dryer and dishwasher while chit-chatting on a cell phone and having an automatic coffee maker refill her coffee cup. Her work was never done.
In addition to all the household chores and responsibilities, she went to the fields every day to help produce a crop to pay the rent and to provide for the family. She and my dad would grocery shop on Saturday afternoons with the objective to save every penny possible. If one brand of peanut butter cost 19 cents and across the aisle there was a brand for 18 cents, they saved the penny.
That frugal commitment enabled our parents to save enough money to buy a farm and pay off the mortgage, late in life. It also enabled them to save enough money to live out their respective lives with home care without taking up residency in a nursing home. They were fiercely independent. If you had suggested they accept a government transfer payment, they would have spit in your eye.
They loved their children, but the cornerstone of our upbringing was discipline. They underscored traditional values, like the church and school. When Sunday came around, our parents expected to be in church. They had to be mighty sick to miss Sunday school and church. The schoolhouse was for learning. Discipline was to be adhered to no matter what. If you got in trouble at school, trouble awaited you at home.
Our mother cooked three meals a day most of her life. They were healthy and filling. Those meals of fried chicken, iced tea, peas, butter beans, and corn-on-the-cob—I would prefer such a meal over one at the Ritz.
She never made it to the capitals of Europe. She never saw the bright lights of Broadway. She never marveled at the nation’s landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco or the Gateway Arch in St. Louis or the wheat fields of Kansas or any of Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes. But that was OK with her because what meant the most to her was for her children to be healthy and happy.
Mothers who become grandmothers and evolve into great-grandmothers and great-great-grandmothers — as she did — and provide comfort and direction to their offspring are truly especial.
Our mother was especial, the way old-fashioned mothers have traditionally been. Isn’t it a great American tragedy that not all children can say that today?