Conversations with Mama: You never know what she will say and more… #1

Conversations with Mama… and more

Helen McKinley Bryan

You never know what she will say ~ #1


My mother (left) always remembers this photo – Aunt Emma McKinley took the picture and she didn’t want her picture taken; she remembers standing there twisting her dress. (You will find many photos I post cut like this. One year, mama decided to put them all in an album – and she made them fit! I was not happy when I discovered that, but at least I have them!)

I began Conversations with Mama in 2008 because I realized that through our nightly phone chats, she was telling me more stories that I had never recorded. She was now also relating to me her daily activities – that I found sometimes amusing, and that led to always having paper and pen ready when I called. As she chatted, and she can be long-winded, I  scribbled and often asked more questions. Sometimes I even initiated the conversation to draw more information out of her – and once in awhile she’d ask, “what are you doing, writing down everything I say!” Yes I was mama!

But I’ve never told her about my new book project – all about her daily life. I ask you – “should I share a copy with her?”

Mama’s life always fascinated me – I certainly don’t have the stories or lived through those life events she did; she has seen and experienced many life changing events. Mama was born in 1930, during depression-era times, growing up poor on a Southern farm in rural Georgia. World War II began when she was a teenager; her brother, Leroy, was drafted and died shortly after landing in Germany. She was then left an only child – and with a mother grieving for her son. Times were tough during the war years, people barely scraped by, but from her stories, her father kept the family well fed. Food was always on the table.

My grandfather was a dirt farmer, planting cotton, having black and white hands in the field picking it, to take to market. He used no machinery for harvest  – all picking was done by hand with the help of a large cotton basket dragged along as they picked. Even my mother picked cotton, until she found the, well thought-out, moment to faint!

Mama grew up in the South, where there was a difference of black and white. There was no choice for her, she knew where the lines were drawn and that’s the way it was in the deep South. She went to school in an all-white school, restaurant, church, and even the movie theater. Everything was segregated – even the doctors office had two separate waiting rooms. Whether you feel this was right or wrong, in this politically correct world we now live in – this was how it was back then; as a child you had no say.One of mama’s favorite sayings that was used when she was a child was – “children should be seen and not heard.”

As you read through the conversations you will understand her life and what she lived through as I’ve recorded the years of her life here in bits and pieces Many stories are written about in more detail in Down on the Farm – a book I dedicated to her and all the stories she told me through the years.

These conversations are treasures for my children Stephen and Melissa – who know their grandmother (Angel) very well, but I’m sure they will learn many more things after they read; Mama’s words are preserved for all to read many times and never tire of. You’ll have to wait to find out why my mother is called “Angel.”

I’m beginning Conversations with Mama on Thanksgiving – Why? Because I am very thankful for my mother and that she’s still here on this earth with me – even though we are over 900 miles apart – I can still call her.


On my ‘almost’ nightly phone conversations with Mama, I’m often treated to a new tale that I’ve never heard before. So anytime I chat with her, pad and pencil is always close by.

I didn’t always call Mama in years past as I do now. After her surgeries, I began calling almost nightly and it soon became a habit with me – I looked forward to our chats. One night when she wasn’t answering the phone by 10 O’clock, I called the police department and asked if they would check the house. They went over and when she came to the door they told her that I had been trying to reach her by phone all day. In checking the phone lines, they found the line dead. The officer called me from his cell phone and let me talk to her to verify that she was OK!

Many of our late night chats are often after I’ve gotten comfortable in bed to watch TV, but sometimes we often chat during my  bubble bath-time.

Mama has told me through the years about her life growing up, and the family stories so often, that I can close my eyes and visualize them. But I still enjoy hearing them over and over again. Even Stephen and Melissa are treated to her tales and often has them in stitches; she loves to entertain them. Mama hasn’t forgotten her life growing up in “Down on the Farm” and loves to tell the stories. She can’t understand why I do not remember my childhood, like she does hers. I don’t think I’d even have memories of my life growing up if she didn’t tell them to me. It’s funny now how my daughter, Melissa, says the same thing, but Stephen remembers much of his early years.

 And from those conversations on the phone, I’ve learned a few more tales…

“Mama and Daddy never had an icebox or refrigerator until after you were born (1952). Anything that needed to be kept cold was put under the sawdust pile with a block of ice. Daddy kept the milk and cream in the well – you had to pull up the bucket to get the milk or cream bottle when  needed.”

Helen new_0018 (345x414)

Helen McKinley

“We had a horse apple tree in the field that had the best apples – they were so good! Leroy and I would hide them green and wait for them to mellow – turning golden. He loved to try and find my hidden apples and eat them – it made me so mad. I don’t ever remember eating an apple that tasted as good as Daddy’s horse apples. One day I found the most perfect mellow apple on the tree, but it was all the way at the top – that didn’t stop me – because I wanted that apple really bad! Daddy was plowing in the field as I was trying to get that apple, and told me not to climb that tree, but, I didn’t listen! I climbed all the way up, got the apple, but then the limb broke and down I came – straddling across the barb wire fence. Daddy didn’t say anything, but I ran crying all the way back to the house where I sat on the back steps crying – but eating my apple!”

Mama tells people that she never knows what she’ll say or do – her mouth just opens and whatever is in her head – pops out! And at her age of 79, (2009) she says or does pretty much whatever she wants. I keep telling her, I’m waiting for a phone call from the police- she laughs!

“Daddy had a rooster once that had what was called the “limber neck.” That meant he couldn’t hold his neck up to eat, so he would eventually die. Daddy took him out behind the barn and threw him out in the woods; later we went to town.  After returning from Siloam, Mama took the bucket of chicken feed and began to throw it out to feed the chickens. She couldn’t believe her eyes – the first one to come running in the yard was the rooster Daddy called “limber neck” – with his neck standing as straight as any other chicken. The very one that Daddy had thrown in the woods, seemed to now be alive and well. He couldn’t believe his eyes either and whenever Daddy told that story, no one believed him. We could only surmise that when Daddy threw him, he must have hit something and knocked his neck back in joint – who knows – but that rooster lived a long time.”

“I remember seeing an oily skim on the creek that ran through the fields back behind the barns. It was a marshy area where the cows liked to gather, but Daddy never let his cows drink from that creek. There was also another stream, across from our house, on the other side of the road that Leroy and I often played in. Many times I found the water there also having an oily skim on top. I’ve always said, that one day, someone will find oil on Daddy’s land – but I hope not during my lifetime, as I’d hate to know I sold the land, only to let someone else discover oil. Leroy found a white bullfrog there once in that small stream where we played. I liked to catch tadpoles and bring them home to put in an old cast iron pot and watch them grow legs and become frogs.”

“For entertainment, I would  pile bricks around ant hills to make them a home. We had both black and red ants on the farm. I could lay for hours watching the ants work as they dragged flies back to their nest and take them apart – piece by piece – and carry them down into their nest. And when I was bored, I’d put some red ants over in the black ants home and watch them fight.”

“And when I was really bored, I’d climb up in the tree and hang by my feet – Daddy would be out in the field plowing – and he never told me to get down. I guess, back then, they didn’t think about kids hurting themselves. I did some pretty dangerous things when I grew up and would never have allowed you to do them.”

“Another thing I loved to do was to climb up on the roof of the barns and slide down to the ground. The roofs were made of tin – and if your pants were slippery, it was just like a slide, but it was a long drop to the ground. And if the sun was out – that roof was HOT!”

to be continued…


© 2015 Jeanne Bryan Insalaco




About Jeanne Bryan Insalaco

My blog is at:
This entry was posted in Conversations with Mama and more and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.