This day in History...My most unforgettable Character
July 29, 1909, Searcy County, Arkansas, my mother was born.
Those are the first words my mother taught me to memorize. She defended the weak and innocent and respected the honorable among us and believed first, above all things, that all men are created equal, that they deserved respect, but only when it was earned.
Until I was about 7 years old, before television came to our community, we listened to the radio.....Edward R. Murrow and the Great Gildersleeve, Inner Sanctum , the Korean war. When TV came to the West Coast, I watched the civil rights movement of the sixties sitting beside her, watching her sorrow that in parts of her beloved South such discrimination yet existed. Mama told the story, with horror in her voice, of the hanging of a black man during her childhood in Arkansas. Together we watched the first televised images of the death camps of the holocaust as tears streamed down her face.
She lived through the poverty of the South, the depression, W.W.II rationing, and unimaginable personal sacrifice and physical hardship as she admonished,
She was proud of her Irish immigrant ancestors, who came to this land before it was a nation and fought in the Revolution and as Union soldiers in the Civil War and her brothers and uncles who entered World War I.
She was an original ‘ feminist’ , leaving her Ozark home for California, a single woman who dared to wear slacks and smoke cigarettes and teach her daughters they had value as long as they earned the respect they received. She dreamed of being a teacher and a nurse, while she spent every day of her life teaching and healing without pay or appreciation.
She was a true ‘environmentalist’. The greenie radical enviros could have learned a great deal from Mama. She hung her clothes out to dry. She walked to town to do her shopping. She raised the chickens, chopped their heads off, stuffed our pillows with the feathers and made the best southern fried chicken in an iron skillet that anyone ever tasted. She sewed our clothes and never wasted anything, thanking God before each meal for our bounty.
She never learned to drive a car, but never forgot to vote and often walked miles to never miss an election, warning us to never vote by party, but by character and never forgetting that she was the first generation of women to earn the right to vote in this country.
When I was about 5 years old we lived near the railroad tracks. My father, too often abusive, who she ordinarily dutifully obeyed, warned her to stop giving the Hobos food. But when he was at work, she still fed the hungry with homemade biscuits and watered the thirsty. She also warned them to not enter her yard or get near her children, she had a gun and knew how to use it. She gave freely, but despised those who decided what they could take that which didn’t belong to them ..... to not abuse her good nature and that home was sacred ground.
I will leave you with her favorite poem, still on a tattered sheet of paper nearly 75 years old.
Three monkeys sat in a coconut tree
Discussing things as they're said to be.
Said one to another, "Now listen, you two,
There's a certain rumor that cannot be true,
That man descends from our noble race -
The very idea is a disgrace.
No monkey ever deserted his wife,
Starved her babies and ruined her life;
And you've never known a mother monk
To leave her babies with others to bunk,
Or pass them on from one to another
Til they scarcely know who is their mother.
And another thing you'll never see -
A monk build a fence around a coconut tree
And let the coconuts go to waste,
Forbidding all other monks to taste.
Why, if I put a fence around this tree,
Starvation would force you to steal from me.
Here's another thing a monk won't do -
Go out at night and get on a stew,
Or use a gun or club or knife
To take some other monkey's life;
Yes, Man Descended - That ornery cuss -
But, brother, he didn't descend from us!"