Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News
May 9, 2010
She was the meanest mama in the county
Memory is not perfect. There are some things I wish I could remember – like being cradled in the arms of my mother when I was a baby. I am sure I was; I just cannot push my memory that far back.
Being the oldest of five children I do remember 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. The youngest of us, my brother Seth, was born when I was eleven years old.
I have no doubt that mama was kind and gentle with her babies. She wanted a family. Becoming a homemaker was a destiny she gladly embraced.
The two of them, Walter and Caroline, turned their backs on city living and made their home in the country. They rented some river bottomland in southern Elmore County and carved out a niche for themselves. With a seventh-grade education and an iron will, dad bravely believed he could make a living by farming.
Dad built a home on high ground less than a mile north of the Tallapoosa River. When the river flooded most of the farm, the water never reached our home. The site he chose was covered with thick briars. I have always felt an affinity with Brer Rabbit because my mama birthed me in a briar patch.
Dad completed the home in 1930. He had no architect’s assistance and the help of only one farm hand. The house still stands secure on the Cyprus logs hewed and put in place by my dad’s hands. After 80 years the foundation shows little signs of decay. My sister Neva and I were both born in that home.
Several years passed 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 years old. In the background is the window through which dad poured water into the tub where our family bathed during our growing up years.
Some people call those years “the good old days,” but my parents called those years “hard times.” Mama was mighty proud to have a toilet in the house. Nobody was ever happier to swap an outhouse in the back for a bathroom inside. I don’t remember using “the path” when I was small, but I do recall how the site of the throne room smelled long after it was torn down.
When I started to school my schoolmates in town laughed about how far out in the country I lived. “They have to pipe in sunshine out there.” Years would pass before I realized how fortunate I had been to grow up “in the sticks.”
It was while growing up on the farm that I began to realize that my mother was the meanest mama in the county. 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. Obedience was 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. 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 behind. If the one I brought her 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 only a few weeks old. 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 church.
Mama was mean because she insisted on my doing chores. 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 expect me to become responsible.
When I skinned myself mama poured iodine on the hurt places. She had no compassion when I begged her not to use iodine because it burned so badly. She said it would feel good when it quit hurting.
During school days mama insisted that I do my homework when I got home from school. Playing was out of the question until my homework was finished. She was so cruel that she demanded that I learn to read and how to spell.
Mama was not satisfied with my doing only the basic requirements of school. 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.
When I became a teenager mama did not soften up. I sometimes tried to get my way without going to dad, especially when I knew his answer would be no. She refused to be manipulated and 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 crossed the line.
Mama was mean about the food we ate. She expected us to eat what was put before us. What she prepared, we ate, and not just some of it, all of it. You were not excused from the table until you had “cleaned your plate.”
Mama expected us to work hard just like she and daddy did. The flowerbeds always needed work. Mama hated nut grass. My siblings and I pulled up tons of nut grass so the flowers could grow. 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 brood.
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 and every penny was needed.
There is no doubt about it. My mama was the meanest mama in Elmore County 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. + + +