My mom’s family was very poor. There were a total of 15 children in her family, so there was never enough of anything to go around. Their Christmas gifts? Apples, oranges, nuts and peppermint. They lived off the land. They ate what they grew. Their meat came from the backyard – pigs, cows and chickens. There were never any new clothes. Hand-me-downs were what they had, so you can imagine that by the time those clothes reached the younger kids, they were pretty much shredded.
While some of Mama’s cousins and friends were in school, she and some of her sisters were building railroad ties. That’s right, they were building crosswise. While the other girls were getting their education, my mom was outside working. Her formal education stopped in the 9th grade. This was also the time that she became a teenage mother. She was barely 14. We all know the taboos of that time period, so Mama was always behind the 8-ball. She was put back even farther when her mother died at the age of 38 and at 18, Mama took on raising her youngest siblings.
When I was in my 20s, she often said she never knew what “fun” was because she had always had to take care of kids, work and just try to survive. I didn’t appreciate her struggle back then. I couldn’t fully appreciate her struggle because in essence, all the things she did before I came along and while I was growing up was so that I wouldn’t have to feel what she felt. Despite all the things I’ve dealt with, despite all the hell I’ve experienced here on earth, I still got through a lot easier because of the path that she pioneered. She made sure that we all got our educations, especially her girls. She never wanted us to depend on anyone for anything.
Despite all the shame she faced for becoming pregnant at such a young age, despite the fact that she was uneducated (book-wise), and despite the fact she wore second-had clothes most of her life, she became a woman that many, many people (men and women alike) admire. They constantly went to her for advice because she had been through it all and lived through it all. Dementia doesn’t allow for very many lucid days anymore but the lessons she’s taught over the years are ones many people still abide by. Most people tell me I act just like her. Very few things warm my heart like hearing those words. I do my best to pass on the things I’ve learned and the things she’s taught me. Had I listened to her, I probably wouldn’t have gone through as much heartache as I did, but I wouldn’t have my own story to tell. God willing, she will be 85 on December 16th. She is what I want to be.