May 06, 2005


I wrote this a couple of years ago, but as with some of the stuff I write, I can't think of anything different or better to say than I would have said then. A few of the details have changed due to the passage of time, but it's mostly the same, so here it goes again:

My mother was born in Walker County, Alabama in August of 1929. She was the youngest of six children (three boys, three girls) born to a shopkeeper who lost his store and his livelihood only a few months later as the Depression swept the United States. They moved from a comfortable home in town to a windowless, dirt-floored, two room dogtrot. One of her first memories (she couldn’t have been more than about three or four) was of her brothers cutting a small hole in the side of the wall of the house and filling it with the glass from a junk car. She particularly remembers how excited everyone was. A window, finally!

Her father went down into the mines. When she was still young, her mother died of breast cancer, and she was more or less raised by her oldest sister. She and her father and her brothers and sisters grew most of their own food; hunted; fished; and got by. They never asked for anything, but she tells me of one family they looked on with equal parts awe and pity who received government clothes. They would leave these outside on their fence until the clothes literally rotted away. What could not be eaten of the government food they received was thrown out to the dogs. “Sorriest bunch of people you ever saw. None of them would work; never would take care of what they had. We sure could have used those clothes. But Daddy didn’t believe in that.”

There were no toys, but she knows how to whittle a hickory whistle, and knows how to make a click and wheel, and once she even built a playhouse with her siblings out of pine logs. And very nearly lost part of her foot to the axe that slipped as she was cutting a notch in a log. There was no card playing of any sort. My grandfather was a religious man and believed card games led to trouble. The only game her brothers and sisters were allowed was checkers. She can whip anybody at checkers. Later, as an adult, she learned to play canasta. She’s pretty wicked at that, too.

She went on to school, and excelled. When she graduated in 1948, she even got a small scholarship to the University of Montevallo. But they had no way pay for her to live or buy books or pay for the rest of her education. She went to work as a bookkeeper at the commissary in Praco, where she met my father, who pumped gas there.

They married not long afterwards, and had a little girl in 1954, and along about 1955 or ’56, they moved to a neat little cedar-shake-covered house close to the western side of Birmingham. At the time it was still pretty rural, but it was right on Highway 78 and close to the steel mills where my father had started working. This is the house where they brought me in 1962, and where I spent the first fourteen years of my life.

She has seen a World War, a Korean police action, a Viet Nam, and two Persian Gulf Wars. She has buried two sisters, two brothers, her father, and her husband. She has seen men walk on the moon, and has seen a moonshine still. She has seen thirteen men serve as President of the United States. I just got off the phone to confirm this with her, that of those, her favorite is Ronald Reagan. Her least favorite is Bill Clinton. “He’s a sorry piece of sh*t.” Make no mistake, my mother is a very devout, God-fearing woman, but she has seen her share of presidents, sorriness, and sh*t, so I wouldn’t try to suggest an alternative wording if I were you.

She has lived through the Depression, the Cuban Missile Crisis, Bombingham, the Cold War, and Watergate. She raised a doctor and an architect. She has seen her daughter through a bitter divorce, and continues to see her son through a wonderful marriage. She saw herself through a marriage to a husband she loved more than any man, and late in his life managed to change him into a man truly worthy of her love.

She has four grandchildren. They like to look through her old pictures and listen to her tell stories about their daddy when he was three, coasting a ’59 Mercury down the driveway in Neutral, straight toward the highway, and how at the very last moment the car swerved into the ditch. They giggle bashfully when they hear her tell about looking up one day in study hall and seeing a handsome young Navy man just back from the Pacific, standing there in civilian slacks and a light blue shirt that matched the bluest pair of eyes she had ever seen. They tell her about school, and she always tells them to read and study hard. They tell her about their bumps and bruises and hurt feelings, and she tells them that all that stuff is a learning experience. My mother has always been big on learning experiences.

She'' be 76 on her birthday, but she still works a full forty hours a week as a bookkeeper and office manager for an electrical contractor. She drives an Eldorado, mainly because it’s American and it has a V-8. “When I mash the accelerator, I want to GO!” She has moved twice since the old green house on the highway, and works outside in her yard just about every day cutting grass, pulling weeds, picking tomatoes and okra and squash from her little postage-stamp sized garden in the back. We always try to get together and do something with her, and I suspect this year we'll go over to her house and sit and talk for a while. I'm hoping she doesn't want to go to Golden Corral, but if she does, we'll take her and have a good old time.

I love my mother.

Posted by Terry Oglesby at May 6, 2005 08:46 AM

She sounds like my mom. They are about the same age and they seem to be two very independent and loving souls.

Posted by: Sarah G. at May 6, 2005 09:09 AM

I just wish I could break her from eating at the Gilded Feedlot--just called and looks like she is dead set on eating there.

Posted by: Terry Oglesby at May 6, 2005 09:19 AM

Bummer, at least you get to see her. VT is just a might bit too far away for a any sort of dinning experience.

Posted by: Sarah G. at May 6, 2005 09:32 AM

My eyes are filled with tears as I write this. You and your mother are blessed with each other. Thank you for sharing.

Posted by: Joy at May 6, 2005 09:42 AM

Again I enjoyed the story of your Mom. My Mom would have been 74 today and grew up in very similar circumstances. I didn't know you had a Golden Corral. Maybe I'll have to visit more often.

Posted by: Larry Anderson at May 6, 2005 09:43 AM

Thanks for the kind words, Joy--she's a pistol ball, and I owe her a lot for making me a good man.

And come on down, Larry--the Corral beckons you!

Posted by: Terry Oglesby at May 6, 2005 09:59 AM