2017 – A to Z… S: Conversations with Mama… The Best of!
I married and moved away from home when I was 19, so I didn’t grow up stopping by Mama’s for afternoon chats. Living almost a thousand miles from home, a nightly phone call is how I stayed in touch, as she’s gotten older, it’s how I check in on her. As I became involved in researching my family history, it was often how I heard the family stories. I recorded the usual dates and names, but all the tidbits of family stories…. well where was I going to put them. That was how Conversations with Mom evolved, and I eventually blogged those conversations. What better choice, than to glean an A to Z of my favorites here to celebrate Mama’s birthday month; she turns a spry 87 this April, but “mums” the word on me spilling her birthday number here!
During the month of April, I’m participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge for my 2nd year… both on this blog. I will post each day, except Sundays… using a daily alphabet letter in my theme of “Conversations with Mom… The Best of.” If you’d like to read more blogs, hop over to their Facebook page.
S… Conversations with Mama – The Best of!
S is for School, Soup, Sewing, Story, Sayings and Swings
“Mr. C.C. Wills taught me geometry… everyone got 100 in his class; the year I graduated Mr. Wills was principal. One day on the bus I sang “John, Jacob, Jingle Hiner Smith all the way to school, with each verse becoming louder and louder. I did that because the bus driver wouldn’t make the boys let up the windows… all of the girl’s hair was getting wet and ruined. As soon as we arrived at school, I immediately was sent to the office! When I told Mr. Wills what I did and that I was Leroy’s sister, he handed me 10 cents to get a Coke and sit down for awhile. Once he heard Leroy’s name, he knew I was Edgar McKinleys’ daughter. He was the very one who pushed for my brother to be drafted into the Army out of school – and he was the one my daddy punched in the nose when word came that Leroy had been killed.”
“I always liked to help daddy in the field – if I stayed inside mama made me churn butter and I hated that; I didn’t like being confined in the house… I liked to follow daddy in the field. My brother, Leroy, spent more time with mama, especially when he wanted money for something at school; mama always gave it to him.”
“School and I didn’t jive very well and I sometimes skipped school. One day the truant officer came around and daddy ran him off, telling him he’d take care of it and never come back to his farm again. The workers in the field laughed when the man jumped over the fence as he ran away from daddy.”
Mama began talking about clothes when I called… “I was a tomboy when I was young – I even wore overalls when I was little, I never liked dresses. When it was really cold mama made me wear long johns under my clothes to school… I hated that. When we got to school, Willie Mae and I would cut the sleeves off our shirts underneath. One time I wanted a pair of white shoes – in as we were lucky to get one new pair of shoes a year, I painted my older black ones white – they looked pretty until it rained.”
“I have never done anything I didn’t want to do – when I was young, I’d just make myself go limp and faint. I often fainted in the cotton field and daddy would just carry me back to the house. Sometimes at school, I’d faint and Mr. Burke, the principal, would carry me to the office. I don’t need to faint anymore, now I just say… I’m not going to do that and walk on.”
In mentioning basketball… “Mr. Burke often said, Helen, is gonna play where she wants to play, not where you tell her. I played guard position, but I always wanted to be the shooter, and if I got a shot to shoot, I took it… no matter what was said to me. Mr. Burke did everything at school, he was the principal, basketball coach and anything else needed; I was his pet.”
I mentioned vegetable soup to mama as I was reading a recipe for a vegetable soup that had cabbage in it, and… “I’d like cabbage in it, but you can keep the spinach, I wouldn’t want that in my soup. You can make some soup and send me”…. and she laughed. “I wonder what the mailman would say if I told him I’m sitting here waiting for the soup my daughter is sending.” Then we began talking about the Poor Man’s Soup she used to make. I make it also, but basically, only Melissa and I like it, especially when I put Butter Beans in it. Stephen and my husband aren’t partial to them, but we did. “They make a good vegetable soup down at the center, but they make terrible cornbread. I want a thick piece of cornbread so I have something to put in my soup and all they give you is was a thin piece of cornbread… I don’t call that cornbread. I don’t know why they can’t make good cornbread. The next time they make it, I’m going to go in the kitchen and ask them for a piece of the cornbread they make for themselves, I bet it’s better than what they’re serving the old folks. I used to make good cornbread but probably can’t make it now. All I used was White Lilly cornmeal and buttermilk; it’s already got the salt and baking powder in it. I have put an egg, but not generally. Now I don’t want to cook anymore, I’d rather just go open an Ensure if I’m hungry.”
Another night I mentioned vegetable soup and in telling her I put Lima beans in… “I don’t like Lima Beans – no way; I do like butter beans though. When I made that soup we call Poor Man’s Soup, everything but the kitchen sink went in – whatever I happened to have on hand. I usually put corn, okra, tomatoes and some potatoes. I used all can vegetables in the soup, except for the okra.” I tried telling mama I thought Lima Beans and Butter Beans were the same, but she insisted No – I’ll have to check them both out.
Mama was sewing tonight when I called, then she asked… “Do you know what flip-flop socks are?” “Hmm, no I don’t I told her unless they are the ones that look like fingers for your toes.” “Everyone is wearing them here and I thought I’d make myself a pair out of these Santa socks I had, but I’m having a problem. The first one came out perfect, but when I made the second one, I messed up.” I laughed telling her, “I bet you made the second one just like the first.” “Yep, that’s exactly what I did.” I told her, “I’ve done that plenty of times.” Mama said, “I’m so mad at myself for cutting it wrong, but I’ll fix it somehow tonight as I want to wear them to the center tomorrow.”
I called mama before lunch… and no answer, which told me that she probably went to the center with her “found” car keys. Later I called about 3:30 and just as I was about to hang up, she answered… out of breath. “I crawled over to get the phone as I’m sitting on the floor sewing bells on the bottom of this curtain going into the living room.” Why I asked? “I’m sewing the jingle bells on the bottom so when Boo walks through I hear the jingling noise.” My husband just shook his head, thinking… another noise for us to hear when we sleep in the living room and Boo walks in. “It’s just something to do, I saw them laying on the bureau and thought I’d sew them back on. The reason it took so long to get over to the phone was that I couldn’t get up that fast, so I just crawled over to grab the phone… I knew it was you.” I told her to take the phone back with her…. “No one will call now, you’ve already called.” (We had a blizzard today, about 14 inches)
“Did I ever tell you that the only sheets we had for our cotton-filled mattresses were made from flour and fertilizer sacks? Mama saved every sack! She bleached and sewed them together to make large enough sheets to cover the mattress. There were no fitted sheets back then – they were all flat sheets. I even had some at our house when you were small – you slept on them, but never knew it. Sometimes she even saved the pretty, printed flour sacks to use for her quilts or sewing. She also made my underwear with them. I never had store bought underwear until much later.”
When I asked Mama who taught her to sew… “No one taught me to sew, I taught myself. I never went by patterns either, I can’t follow written directions on sewing or crocheting. I took old clothes apart and made my own patterns using newspaper or either someone might have given me a pattern. Any clothes I didn’t wear anymore, were ripped apart and the material re-used. That’s probably what happened to your father’s Navy “whites.” They most likely became white slacks for me or you. I re-used everything until it couldn’t be used again – I was frugal then and still that way today! (I watched Martha Stewart show today and they were teaching kids to knit using these words – “Under the fence, catch the sheep, back we come and off we leap. I knew if I didn’t write it down here, I’d never remember it. I told mama and she said, “that would never make me learn how to knit!”
“One time, while attending the Siloam Grammar School, Mr. Burke told the class to write a story. I didn’t like to write, but I wrote one and he said it was the best in the class. It wasn’t a long story as I remember writing it quickly. I can still remember him praising me for it but to this day… I can not remember what I wrote about; sure wish I kept it! That’s like the time you wrote a story about the window fan in our living room, and how we threw it in the dump because we bought an air conditioner. You wrote how you liked the fan and the way it made the house smell as it circulated the smell of coffee in the morning. The fan was later picked up out of the dump, painted green and put in someone else’s house… where it didn’t smell so good. You got an A on that story! I kept it for years and still had it at the farm, but I don’t know what eventually happened to it. In the Siloam School, everyone always said that I was Mr. Burke’s pet.”
In reading through the Greene County book, I discovered a story on the Rat Hole behind the Hosiery Mill – it was something I never knew of, so I asked Mama. “I don’t remember anything called the rat hole.” But once I told her it was behind the hosiery mill and built under the railroad for people to cross through from one side of town to the other when the train stopped on the tracks, she said. “Oh yea I’ve been through that opening there, it separates the town from the other side, but I never heard it called the rat hole. Me and Willie Mae used to cross thru it going to town. She walked through it daily when she walked to school, but she was always afraid and usually ran through it.” I called Willie Mae and asked her and … “Oh yea I remember the Rat Hole – I crossed through it every day when I went to school. Sometimes when I ride by now I stop and look through it.” (While we were in Ga. in June (2010) I rode by and took photos.)
“My mama had no life, she cooked, washed clothes, canned, ironed, quilted, worked in the field and vegetable garden. She had nothing she did just for fun. I remember her reading to us at bedtime. I still remember the story about a cat who lived during the Civil War – his name was Kitty Ken. I got a cat soon after that and named him Kitty Ken, but after I married and went to Memphis he was run over. When I asked Daddy about him one day, he told me that he caught a ride.”
“We used to jump over the barb wire fences like high jumping, it’s a miracle I never missed and cut myself all up. I remember jumping in the muddy water down in the pasture one time and stuck a rusty nail in my foot. They never took me to the Dr., daddy pulled it out and then poured kerosene on it. I remember sitting in the swing on the front porch with my foot all swollen. Daddy used kerosene for everything!”
“I was always doing something, either jumping over big gullies or swinging on vines across deep ditches – it’s a wonder I never broke my neck. Leroy hunted with guns every day but wouldn’t let me go, so I’d sneak and follow him. I’m lucky he never accidentally shot me – maybe he knew I was following! I liked to follow him and the boys… especially when they wouldn’t let me come… I’d write down everything they talked about. One night at supper, when daddy asked what was new, I proceeded to read their news of the day. It wasn’t very nice what they had said, and I didn’t even know what it meant, but daddy wasn’t happy.
“When you and Steve come down, we’ll check out the property where my grandparents lived – it was just down from our cabin on the left going toward Slip Rock. I wonder if the tree where the swing was is still there. That’s where I always played – a swing hung on that tree. The house originally belonged to Dr. Lewis’s father, Judge Lewis. They also owned the log cabin we lived in; it was on the same property as their new house. Daddy sharecropped for him until he bought the farm.”
My mother grew up on a small farm in Georgia and has more memories of her childhood than I can only dream to remember. If you’d like to follow along from day 1, click on 2017: A to Z… Conversations with Mama – The Best of!
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