Mother’s Day and the “M” Connection

It occurred to me this Mother’s Day that my ancestor mothers names all began with the letter “M”.  Aside from the initial, these women shared few common traits, but each was a special mother in her own way.

Mattie, my maternal grandmother’s life was a testament to survival.

Her mother died when she was a teenager ending her potential for a better life. Her father remarried and abandoned her to the care of a stepmother who sent her to the fields to chop cotton.

Mattie married caring for her husband and ten children in appalling circumstances. Her rural shotgun shack had neither electricity nor indoor plumbing. She cooked on a wood burning stove fueled by wood she chopped.  Clothes laundered outdoors in a cast iron pot with water she hauled from a well. Feeding chickens, milking cows, slopping pigs and sewing dresses for her daughters from feed sacks completed her workday.

Mattie was a reflection of this environment. As a child and the oldest of her twenty-one grandchildren, I never felt loved by her. I was wrong. As an adult, I realized the special teacakes she baked for me were the only way she knew how to tell me she loved me.

Marie, Mattie’s eldest daughter, was my mother.

As a child, coddled and catered, I was the beneficiary of my mother’s harsh beginning in life. Mother chafed at male domination and inequality in the workplace. She had no hesitation about confrontation if she believed she was right. The problem with that was she had full confidence in her beliefs, even if unsupported.  If alive today, she’d most likely be front and center wearing a pink pussy hat.

Mary Ella, my paternal grandmother, grew up in a male-dominated household.

Sent to live with an uncle when her mother died, she grew up without a maternal role model.  She married my grandfather who had a carefree attitude about providing for his family. Despite living in poverty, she was never bitter about their circumstances. She was a joyful soul. They loved each other and their home reflected that love.

She understood the difference between about quality and quantity. This was a good trait to have, as quantity would never grace her life.  She had the ability to make the ordinary seem special. Her cherished “made in Japan” sugar bowl and creamer sit on my desk today. Ancient and fragile, they hold pens, and pencils and are a reminder that she made me feel special.

On this Mother’s Day, I am reminded of the values that my “M” connection moms gave me.

They are hard acts to follow. I am proud of them and hope they would be proud of me too.

Remembering Mother

“The woman was a saint” is a phrase often used to describe one’s mother.

Saints are boring. Are children brought up by saints happier, saner and more confident as adults? I wonder.

 Mother was not a saint; she was difficult; in fact, she pissed off a lot of people.

She could be tactless and inconsiderate one minute and comforting and thoughtful the next. Strong willed and high-spirited, she did not bend; she saw compromise as a sign of weakness. Mother provided many opportunities for personal growth and developing skills in self-confidence.

She was beautiful and had a sense of entitlement that often accompanies beauty.

She dismissed unseemly behavior with a smile and a wave of her hand, “I’ve been that way all of my life” and that was the end of that.

She did not care about social customs; she created her own and followed them.

She did the usual mom things; read to me, baked cookies and sat up all night to finish hemming a prom dress. A teacher who made the unfortunate mistake of treating me unfairly received a scorching diatribe they were not likely to forget. Measles, mumps, and chickenpox were another matter. She got queasy taking care of the sick.

She was a walking contradiction. She hounded city hall until the city provided sanitation services for black homeowners yet practiced selective racism.

She played card games with her grandchildren and delighted in jeering when she beat them.

She braved harrowing rides on her granddaughter’s go-cart, yet refused to get on an airplane.

She discovered a needy and neglected elderly woman in her church and gave her money every Christmas. A suggestion that the woman required funds before Christmas was ignored.

I don’t remember her telling me she loved me, but I knew that she did. It was not until  I reached adulthood, that I realized it is o.k. to acknowledge there were many times when I did not like her, but I always loved her.

Happy Mother’s Day and I miss you.