Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News
May 12, 2002
Sometimes I wish I could remember being cradled in the arms of my mother when I was a baby. I am sure I was; I just can’t recall the experience.
Being the oldest of five children I can remember seeing mama in a rocking chair, singing softly and caressing my sisters and my brother. I can even remember holding my siblings in my arms and rocking them to sleep when they were babies. I was 11 when my only brother, Seth, was born.
I am sure mama must have been kind and gentle with her babies. After all, when she married my dad she gave up her plan of becoming a teacher and chose to be a homemaker.
The two of them turned their backs on city living and elected to make their home in the country. They rented some rich river bottomland in southern Elmore County and carved out a niche for themselves. With a six-grade education and an iron will, my dad bravely believed that he could learn how to make a living by farming that land.
The site dad chose to build on was high ground. Even when the river flooded most of the farm, the water never reached our home. Dad said the ground where he built our house was covered with thick briars. Remembering that, I have always felt an affinity with Brer Rabbit since my mama birthed me in a briar patch.
Dad built the home in which I was born in 1929 and 1930. He had no architect’s assistance and the help of only one farm hand. What amazes me is that the house still stands secure on the Cyprus logs hewed by my dad’s own hands. After 72 years the foundation shows little signs of decay.
Several years went by before dad was able to improve the house with indoor plumbing. I have a treasured picture of my dad and me taken when I was only two or three years old. In the background is the window through which my dad poured bath water into the tin tub where we bathed in the early years.
Some people call those years “the good old days,” but my parents were more likely to call those days “hard times.” Mama never ceased to tell us how wonderful it was to have a toilet in the house. Nobody was ever happier to give up the outhouse in the back for a bathroom in the house. I don’t remember using “the path” when I was small, but I do recall how that throne room smelled long after it was torn down.
I mention all this to explain that people in those days had to be tough to survive. Some folks may have grown up in the lap of luxury but it was not the Albrittons who lived out “in the sticks.”
When I started to school I was dumb enough to feel “deprived” whenever my schoolmates in town laughed about how far out in the country I lived. It would be years down the pike before I realized how fortunate I had been to grow up in the sticks.
But growing up on the farm I began to feel that my mother was the meanest mama in the county. Let me explain why I felt that way.
Mama made me mind her. As far back as I can remember, if she told me to do something, she expected me to do it. She never talked simply to hear herself talking. Obedience was expected and required. I learned that yes meant yes, and no meant no.
If I sassed her I got two whippings – one from her with a switch and another from dad with his big, black belt. I can still hear my dad reprimanding me, “Son, you will not be allowed to talk back to your mother like that.” With that awesome belt he taught me that sassing my mama was not a smart move.
Mama did not wait on daddy to handle my punishment. She was so mean she even made me go cut a peach tree limb for her to use on my posterior. If the one I cut was too small, she made me go back and get a larger one.
Mama made me dress up and go to church. I had Sunday clothes and Sunday shoes. Mama and daddy did this church thing from day one. She plopped me in the nursery when I was but a few weeks old. As a child I hated Sunday school. The other children intimidated me; they lived in town and I was a country boy. But mama paid no attention to my feelings and made me go to Sunday school and church.
Mama was mean because she insisted on my doing chores around the house. I had to take the garbage out to the burning barrel. I had to bring in a constant supply of stove wood. I even had to make up my own bed and keep my room cleaned up. She had the nerve to treat me like a member of the family.
When I skinned myself mama poured iodine on the hurt places. She had no compassion whatever when I begged her not to use iodine because it burned so badly.
During my school days mama insisted that I do my homework when I got home from school. Playing outside was out of the question until my homework was finished. I thought it so cruel of her to demand that I learn to read, to learn my spelling words, and to complete my writing assignments.
Mama was not satisfied with my doing only the basic requirements of school. No, she was so mean that she signed me up for extra stuff. I had to take piano lessons, and voice lessons, sing in the glee club, take “expression” (a speech class), and learn how to recite long poems. I couldn’t understand why she would not just allow me to be a regular guy, just one of the boys.
When I became a teenager mama had not softened up. Like some teenagers do, I sometimes tried to get my way without going to dad, especially when I knew his answer would probably be no. She refused to be manipulated. She would say, “You will have to ask your father for permission.”
She never wavered. If she disagreed with my daddy, I never knew about it. They were always in agreement when I tried to stretch the boundaries they had laid out for my behavior. Their requirements were strict but I knew what they were, and I knew that I would be punished if I failed to measure up.
Mama was mean about the food we ate. She expected us to eat what was put before us. I cannot remember me or my siblings ever saying, “I don’t like this.” What she prepared, we ate, and not just some of it, all of it. You were not free to be excused from the table until you had “cleaned your plate.”
Mama expected us to work hard just like she and daddy did. When there was nothing else to do, there was always work to do in your many flowerbeds. Mama hated nut grass. As far back as I can remember my siblings and I were forever pulling up nut grass so the flowers would have a chance. It was hard work in the sunshine, but mama was unrelenting.
Mama expected me to be home when I said I would be home. She insisted on knowing where I was, and what I was doing. She kept close tabs on her children.
She expected me to be honest too. If she gave me two dollars so I could bring home some bread and eggs, she expected me to give her the exact change. Money was tight in the years following the great depression.
There is no doubt about it. My mama was surely the meanest mama in Elmore County back then when I was a boy. But on Mother’s Day I sure do miss her. I wish I could thank her one more time for being so mean to me.