My mom goes down in the Mothers Hall of Fame as one of the best moms in the world. She was born On April 18, 1921 in Pottsville Arkansas. She was one of the eleven children in her family and a twin also. Her father was not a nice person, he actually killed two people in his younger years both times being found innocent of murder by reason of self defense. When my mom was born he was drunk as usual and insisted that the twins be named Wilmer Gray and Thelmer Mae. They went through life as Buck and Thelma both ashamed of the names they had been stuck with. Mom went to school part time through the third grade, she had to stay home and work most of the time so it is amazing that she was even literate. Her punctuation was horrible but her spelling was good and she was a self taught avid reader. Every one of the eleven children left home as soon as they could make it on their own; could find someone to marry or could move to live with one of the brothers or sisters. More than one of them moved in to live with mom to get away from grandpa. By the way my grandma was an abused saint.
Mom found my father so that was her way out of the horror my grandfather created. Little did she know she would live a similar horror for many years to come! My father developed a bad gambling and drinking habit which left my mom in near destitute situations many times. At least he was not physically abusive to her or us children. The best time of her life was probably when we lived in Panama near the end of World War II. She lived on an air force base in the Canal Zone so she had a nice apartment. She made good friends with some of the other families stationed there with their husbands. It was during those years that my father became a bad alcoholic so I guess she had a few good years before that started.
I don’t remember much of my early years so I can only relate to you what I remember from about the age six on. By that time we lived in Arkansas on a cotton farm owned my father’s brother. My father had by this time been in prison five times for forgery, a total of five years, he liked to write checks on bank accounts he didn’t have, in names other than his own when he ran out of money for his drinking. My mom was used to taking care of three children on her own. We had moved to Arkansas when I was seven and my sisters were one and two years old.
Mom lived in a shotgun house on the cotton farm with her three children. It was called a shotgun house because you could shoot a gun straight through the house from the front door to the back door. We had a two burner kerosene cook stove to cook on. Our kerosene was kept in a fifty five gallon metal barrel set on a wooden stand beside the front porch. It had a spout with a turn handle so you could fill the tanks of the stove then shut off the valve. One day mom asked grandma to call the “gas” man to deliver some kerosene. He drove up in the fuel truck and informed her in a very ugly manner that she owed him for two barrels of kerosene already and he wasn’t going to give her any until she paid him. She told him that her husband was gone to another state to work and that he hadn’t sent any money, nor told her he hadn’t paid the bill. She told him that she didn’t have the money to pay him then would pay as soon as she could. She explained that she needed the fuel so she could cook for her little children as she pointed to me. He said some more abusive things about poor white trash being worthless and never paying what they owed. He made a mistake when he did that! My mom told him to load his kerosene barrel up and take it with him before she crammed the G** Dammed thing up his A**. He said “now lady don’t get that way, I will give you some fuel as long as you promise to pay me”. She told him she wouldn’t take fuel from him if he was the last fuel man on earth and again to take his barrel and leave, not in those words but you get the idea. Back in those days her language could become very strong when she was angry. He moved toward her and she stooped and picked up a board that was lying on the porch. I will not tell you what she told him at that point but he loaded up his barrel and he left in a hurry. My mom got an old axe from my grandpa and she cut small trees off of the bank of the ditch that ran by our house. She cut them into fire wood by hand with the axe. Since we had a cook stove and no fuel she cooked in a cast iron skillet on the top of an old pot bellied cast iron heating stove and she made a rack out of scrap iron tied together with bailing wire to set inside the stove so she could bake biscuits. She paid the fuel bill, it took over a year for her to pinch every penny but she paid, rather she had me walk to town to pay the bill, she would have nothing to do with the man or his company. He asked me if she wanted him to bring the barrel back, I said “what do you think.” Pretty brassy for an eight year old but I had not forgotten.
The cotton farm we lived on had quarter mile long rows of cotton and her brother in law left that farm for her to work. She got some old woven wire fencing from grandpa and made a circle with it. She would carry a quilt and some food and water to a big cypress tree that was in the center of the field each morning. She would then carry my baby sisters to the quilt and place the wire circle around them. Each day depending on the season we would chop or pick cotton separately. I would stay with the girls until she was half way to the tree then I would walk to the end and start working. By doing our work this way one of us was within sight or hearing of the girls all the time. That is how she paid the gas man!
One day I was just messing around, being a eleven year old boy, and I weighed a bag of sugar on the cotton scales we used to weigh our cotton sacks. I have no idea why I decide to do that, just curiosity I guess. However it didn’t work, the bag didn’t weigh right, so I went in and asked mom why it wouldn’t work. She went out and started trying to weigh different things that she knew the weight for, none of them weighed correctly. When she looked inside the scales she found lead had been added inside to make the scales weigh five pounds light. Can you imagine her brother in law cheating us out of five pounds every time we weighed a sack of cotton? We were paid three dollars per hundred pounds of cotton we picked so fifteen cents was taken from us every time we weighed regardless of how much was in the sack. Mom never said a word to anyone about the scales and this is the first time this fact has ever come to light. We moved soon after that to live and work on a farm that my mom’s twin brother farmed.
Now she sounds like a saint and to me she was even though she didn’t spare the rod and spoil the child. I never received a whipping I didn’t deserve, a young boy on a farm can find lots of things he shouldn’t do. My mom always made me go get my own switches when it was time to receive my punishment. One day on my way to get a switch I saw an old limb that had fallen off of the tree in the yard so I just picked it up and returned knowing she wouldn’t use it. I handed it to her and turned, bent over and she broke the thing on my butt. When I looked up in surprise she just grinned at me and made me go get the right kind of switch then wore it out on me. I will never forget that grin, she knew it would break!
I remember when grandma gave me a runt pig how mom helped me take care of him as he grew into my pet pig. I remember how she never got angry at me for shooting at the rats in the house at night. I remember how angry she would get every time the owl I had angered would thump her on the head. I also remember that she never gave me the whippings I deserved for causing that problem. I remember a lot of things she did and said. I remember once when a “tramp” came to the house asking for something to eat she told him to sit on the porch, that she had three small children so she wouldn’t let him in the house with them. She then made him a plate of what we were eating and sat and talked to him while he ate. I remember when I was really mad at my uncle’s younger brother in law because he had stolen something from me she sat me down and explained how he didn’t really know any better because of the way he was raised. I can not remember her ever saying a bad word about anyone and I remember her telling me not to do so either.
She always told us children that the best way out of our impoverished situation was education. She made sure we all graduated from high school but couldn’t afford to help pay for our higher education she however supported our decision and let us go so we could make our lives better. One of her children has six years of college, one has five and the other has two, can you imagine how proud of us she was. All of us have lived interesting profitable lives. Every bit of our success is because of our mom, she taught us about pride, honesty, dependability, and love. She worked so hard to keep body and soul together for her children that she went without food, cloths, medicine, and any luxury. When she passed away in June of 1989 she was just physically worn out, her body could no longer stand the stress the hard work and, to her, necessary neglect of medical attention had caused. Medical attention cost money and her children came first. A couple of days before she passed away we sat at her kitchen table and reminisced with laughter about our lives together. At that time Julie and I lived two hundred and twenty miles away from her so I went home the next day to prepare everything so she could move to live with us. It had taken me three days of hard talking to convince her that she would be able to have her own space, time and privacy if she lived with us and that we really wanted her to. My youngest sister stayed with mom when Julie and I left. She called me the next morning to tell me mom had passed away quite suddenly just after getting up that morning. We buried her with her wedding band on her hand; she had never stopped wearing it. The sky that day was filled with fluffy white clouds and I knew as I drove to the cemetery that I would think of her every day I saw such a sky for the rest of my life and I have.
Finally to sum up this story check the link below.
What is a Mother by Julie Langford.
If I told all it would be a book instead of a short story. Sorry that this is a long one.