Monroe, Georgia Senior Center
I’m back for my sixth year (2021)… can you believe it… of participating in the yearly April A to Z challenge… and I’ve had quite a time in deciding on my “theme.” I had a few running through my head, but after losing my mother last November, I thought I’d honor her through the many photographs I have… and tell the story of the photograph… as every photo has a story.
I’m fortunate that my mother had many photos of herself growing up… and I’m honoring her this year as the theme of my April A to Z… especially as was she was an April baby. Mama would have turned 91 this year… but she’s now back home celebrating this birthday with her parents and brother on the farm… where I believe she was always the happiest. The past few years my mother was fighting off dementia, while still managing to live alone until the last couple months of her life. I miss her every day… thinking and remembering all she did for me. She was the storyteller… She supplied me with my stories… and it’s because of her, that I write!
Mama with best friends Carolyn & Johnny… always together at the center!
Everyday Places that were Mama’s Favorite!
The No. 1 “everyday” place where mama went daily was the senior center in her hometown of Monroe, Georgia. She had been going there for over 35 plus years…. from the time when it originally was housed in the older schoolhouse across from Walton Mills on Rt. 11… later building a new center across from the Monroe Police Department.
Mama working in the “clothes closet” at their original senior center; it was located in an older schoolhouse in Monroe. She enjoyed it there as she could sit outside… and never went without dressing up. I just know she accented those overalls herself… hair to perfection… and always wearing jewelry.
For many years, mama was a volunteer in their thrift shop… the clothes closet! Now you can see why she had so many clothes… she was surrounded by clothes everyday there in sorting through the donations. Many of the clothes mama brought home… even still had tags on them. Don’t we all have clothes still with tags… we never wore and eventually donate!
Mama receiving a pin for her volunteer work!
Mama had such funny stories about her days volunteering there… some good… and some… not so good! I used to laugh at those stories as it sounded more like grade-school shenanigans to me at the time… who said what… or who did this or that! Her job in the “clothes closet” was to sort through the donations ,and hang up the clothes and price. While most things were only sold for a quarter… some newer things she priced higher. It was meant to help seniors who needed clothes and the money raised went to the center to help offset community trips for them. Mama was always very diligent in collecting the money and would tell me stories at night about who liked to try and steal things without paying… it always infuriated her when she saw that. I often tried to tell her… “oh just let it go, maybe they needed it“, but she’d always come back with, “no they didn’t need it, they were just being greedy.” There was no talking to her in changing her mind on things… but I’d listen and laugh… and now I sure am missing those nightly conversations!
Santa came to the senior center… wonder what she asked for?
In belonging to the center, mama took many trips with them. One year she visited the Governor’s mansion in Atlanta… and while she wasn’t impressed, she did stand in the picture they all took together with the governor at the base of the cascading stairs. No matter what I asked about the visit… there was no excitement of enjoying the visit or seeing the building. So why did she go… well because her best friend, Carolyn, was going. It sometimes was hard to find things that she really enjoyed… and often I felt that she just wasn’t going to say she enjoyed it… even when she had.
There were other bus trips she went on with her friends to local shopping areas, but she never came home impressed… especially if she didn’t like where or who she had to sit on the bus! Mama only wanted to sit with her friends, and if that seat wasn’t open… then mama wasn’t happy! She wasn’t a really a shopper either… at least not in regular department stores. If they had stopped at a thrift or antique store… she would have been happy! Anytime she tagged along with us at antique stores, I could always find her rummaging through the costume jewelry baskets. She usually on went on the local daily trips if they were stopping in a restaurant where she wanted to eat. Food she liked… but not all foods! Mama was a picky eater… only wanting what she wanted… and mama wasn’t going to try foods she didn’t like! Talk about a tough cookie… wonder how she was as a young child with those eating habits… although she used to say how her daddy would tell her that if she didn’t eat what was on the table… she could go to bed without supper; she did leave the family dinner table more than once.. going to bed hungry, but not before her mother would sneak something in for her later that night.. and she always felt how her mother didn’t love her as much as she did her brother.
Mama’s trip to Memphis… her good friends Carolyn & Marilyn (twins) are to the left of her.
The longest bus trip mama ever took with the senior center was to Memphis, Tennessee for a few days. One of the reasons she never liked going away was… she worried about who would take care of her cats, especially Boo. While she didn’t really want to go, mama went because she wanted to see Memphis again. My father was stationed at Millington Naval Base when they married… it was just outside of Memphis. She also talked about how she enjoyed just walking around downtown… and remembered the famous Army-Navy store where it was always said that Elvis hung around… strumming his guitar outside. She still swears that she saw him there a couple of times.
The Memphis Queen paddleboat… Mama sailed up the Mississippi River with friends from the senior center… and couldn’t wait to get off!
“The only reason I wanted to go to Memphis again, was so I can ride one of those large Memphis paddle boats that cruise up and down the Mississippi River. I lived in Memphis after marrying your father; he was stationed at Millington Naval Base, just outside of Memphis. We lived in Howland Heights… a part of Memphis. When I was pregnant I used to take the bus down to the park by the Mississippi River to sit and watch the boats cruise on the river. I always wanted to ride on one so bad, but your father didn’t want to. Usually I only had enough money to get there and back… if I had lost my return money I don’t know what I would have done. They have gambling on the boats now, so I’m bringing some money to play the slot machines – maybe I’ll win big!
After mama returned home I called to see how her trip was and…. “I couldn’t’ wait to get home, it was so boring… all we did was ride around while listening to someone talk over a microphone about how… over here is this … and over there is that. I was never so bored in all my life… and I just wanted to get off that bus and walk around and look at things myself… not listen to someone tell me what was on this side… and what was on that side. I thought I’d enjoy the boat ride, but I didn’t like it either, as we had to walk down a steep hill in order to board the boat. I was afraid I’d fall, but a boy, who worked on the boat, took my arm and helped me down. There was no gambling on the boat… just a boat ride up and down the Memphis River… while, again, someone telling us what was on this side and on that side. I couldn’t wait to get off that boat either… but then there was that steep hill to get back up again. Everyone on the boat began helping each other up the boat, and a nice older couple took my arms and we all walked up together. I was amazed how total strangers offered to help the seniors up the hill. I didn’t find any food there I wanted to eat either, and couldn’t’ wait to get home to eat my kind of food I like. I don’t think I’ll be going on any more trips… sure wish I had my 600 dollars back… as I’d rather go shopping at FISH!” In reading this again… it made me laugh. Even though she complained, I know she enjoyed it… maybe just a little!
Mama went on local “strawberry pickings” a few times with the center in the summer, and when I asked if she brought any home… “Why would I pay to bring any home when I can just eat all I want while there! I just ate my way through the rows while everyone picked… that’s all I needed.”
When they moved to their new senior center, mama brought flowers from her gardens to plant around the building… and she’d get indigent when some said that she was planting wrong. She’d tell me… “I grew up a farm, I know how to plant… just look at my gardens!” And naturally on that nightly phone call, I’d hear ALL about what happened. It was funny in hearing her talk about being mad because so and so, said whatever to her! The one time they wanted to have a garden there… well that really stuck a sore thumb with her, as they didn’t like her idea of planting veggies! Those were funny conversations. I guess we never truly “grow up” and still act like children at times!
“Today at the senior center a woman told me I talked too much… and I told her “God gave me a mouth and I’m gonna use it. I don’t understand why people worry so much down there about what I do and say. One day they’re not going to like what I say back to them. They don’t think I have much trust in things, so I told them… I don’t trust anybody and I walk particular around the dead.” Mama never minced her words!
Mama talking about her mother… “My Mama was a loner… she didn’t join in conversation whenever we went anywhere, but when she did speak, which was rare, she meant what she said. I’m more like my father, I never shut up and I’ll argue with the sign post… and I probably would too! Daddy was full of devilment and I am too at times. They get a kick out of my mouth at the Senior Center at the lunch table.”
I remember hearing often about their lunch table at the center… it seemed many groups had their own table and places to sit daily… and if anyone dared to take a chair at their table… well it caused hard feelings. I’m sure mama never held back words when someone came and took “so and so’s” seat… as she didn’t like other’s coming to sit there, when they had their own table. I guess “their” table seemed to be the “fun” table at lunch!
Another activity offered at the senior center was called Brain Power… and it seemed to be an involvement of talking about memories, remembering what they did as children, games they played, and foods eaten. Mama always enjoyed reminiscing about childhood days… she always talked about how they were the best times of her life.
“Brain Power” remembrances from our nightly phone calls….
“The other day at the senior center the woman who runs the “Brain Power” session asked us to recall any favorite foods remembered. The meal I still most remember was at Aunt Chris’s house. We had stopped there and she she felt bad that she didn’t have anything to offer us to eat, but she went into the kitchen and began frying sweet potato slices and fatback bacon, which she called side-meat… then she made homemade biscuits with a pan of sweet milk gravy and cut up a dish of sliced tomatoes. When I sat down to eat, the food was so good that I ate myself silly! I’ve always remembered that meal as one of the best meals I ever enjoyed.”
“A woman came to the center today and taught everyone about making a simple dessert that you wouldn’t have to go to the store and buy a lot of ingredients for. It was interesting as we watched her make it using only 4 ingredients. She took 1 medium potato and baked it until it was really soft… then scooped out the potato pulp for 1/2 cup… adding that to a bowl where she mixed in confectionery sugar and maybe 1/2 teaspoon vanilla until it formed a firm dough. She then rolled it out on wax paper, spread peanut butter on top, and continued to roll it up jelly-roll style… then cutting into bite size pieces. It was pretty tasty! I never made much candy, but I remember making Divinity once and sending it to your father when he was in the Navy. I didn’t have a recipe, someone had just told me how to make it. It came really good, and that was the only time it ever came out right. When I was a beautician in Perry, one of my customers always brought me home-made Divinity at Christmas… and it was the best.”
“We had Brain Power again today at the senior center. The woman brought checkerboards with her and all kind of games. I played against some of the others and won every game. I remember playing checkers with my father… as he so enjoyed playing that game… you used to play with him also. Daddy and I also played Chinese checkers, and the card game called Set Back. When we played tha card game, it was Daddy and me against my mother and Leroy.”
“Today at the Senior Center we had “brain power” exercises, and she asked us all, “if you could go back in time, who would you like to talk to?” I told them I’d like to go back to the farm and grow up again with my mother, father and Leroy… and live again like I once did. I’d like to talk more to them about their lives. She then asked me who would I like to talk to the most… “I’d like to take again to my father.”
Other activities at the senior center were dancing… so I’m sure she showed them all how to dance. From a young child, she loved to dance and told me stories of going to Whit’s Grill in Union Point and watching the teenagers dance in the back room… and wishing she could go back there and dance. She and girlfriend, Willie Mae, often went to Saturday night dances at the local VFW clubs when they were older… what I wouldn’t give to have seen them both in action! When living in Perry, she somehow talked my father into taking “square dance” lessons. They went weekly, and I often tagged along to sit on the sidelines and watch… and wait for the “last call” dance where they’d let me take mama’s place , and dance with daddy or another friend of the family. As mama was a terrific seamstress, she actually made all their square dance costumes… dresses and billowing skirts for herself with sequins sewn on and shirts for daddy to match her outfit. I wish I could remember them… and had pictures!
I would say when mama was around 85 she stopped frequenting the store FISH as often, as things didn’t mean as much to her anymore, but she still was going to the senior center… just not always daily. It often depended on her mood when she woke up, or how cold it was outside. The dementia played a big part on how her life then at the senior center… she wasn’t the same person anymore, and had a hard time functioning with people… and often told me how she wished she could be “the old Helen again.” She once enjoyed laughing and teasing people… and was never without a comeback when they teased her, but that was changing. Mama withdrew from life, and didn’t know how to defend herself in teasing and often became pretty mad at them… sometime storming out and going home. She really only wanted to spend her day with Boo, curled up in bed. That was where she felt safe… and I’m sorry I didn’t truly understand all that until it was too late. Boo would curl up beside her, letting mama cradle him as long as she wanted… while his tail would be thumping away in patting her.
My previous years of A to Z Challenges:
- 2016: A to Z Southern Foods and Memories… they said write what you know… and being a girl born in the South… well this was what I knew.
- 2017: A to Z Conversations with Mama… it was a somewhat easy one for me to write as I’d journaled our conversations for years… I researched favorite topics to write.
- 2018: A to Z All About Nancy Drew… this one has been my favorite topic so far, and I don’t know if I’ll ever come up with another one to equal it
- 2019: A to Z Italian Famiglia Foods and Memories… I felt it was time to finally write the favorites of my husbands family foods.
- 2020: A to Z Family Stories… writing the stories of my husband’s family.
For more A to Z of Mama in Photos… click HERE!
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