I am mortified by the news that some parents have abused, sometimes fatally, their own offspring. Surrounded by nurturing mothers in the human and animal world, I am always reminded of my own mother and hope you would enjoy the account of her short life.
Born in the shadow of Mt. Mitchell, N.C. in 1905 and the third of 11 children, she spent a great part of her younger years in caring for her siblings and attending school through the ninth grade. A typical farmer's daughter, she milked cows, hoed corn, fed the chickens, gathered the eggs and “slopped” the hogs. She canned produce from the little farm and helped in the butchering of animals for the family table. Born with a heart defect, she sometimes had a hard time keeping up with the other youngsters in their daily chores, but reportedly never asked for favors.
When she was 17 years old, she married my father, then 37 years old and the widowed parent of three children, a son almost as old as my mom. Following my father in his line of work, surveying, she sometimes lived in a tent with two of his children. By the time she was 22 years of age, she had three children of her own, me being the youngest.
A victim of an abusive marital relationship, she never lived in but one family-owned home and that was for a period of about six years. She raised five children without the benefit of running water, electricity or an indoor bathroom. She cooked on a wood stove and washed clothes in an outside “wash pot.” She usually served as a “grade mother” for all three younger children at the same time, and was considered the “practical nurse” of the community, tending to the sick, helping in childbirth and teaching first aid to the high school classes. She had an allowance of $60 per month at the local country store to feed her family anything not raised in our garden, and she struggled to find enough in the budget for an ice cream sandwich for her youngsters every week or so.
During World War II, she saw her family spread all over the globe, with three sons and a stepson in the service and my dad at Camp Davis, N.C., working German war prisoners. She finally packed everything she owned in a single-seat Chevrolet and drove to Washington, D.C. to live with her sisters and keep their home while they worked in the War and Navy departments.
Following the war, she returned to Hickory, N.C., took an interest in ceramics and spent countless hours teaching others the skills required. During the Korean War, she volunteered at the Red Cross in Hickory, folding bandages and teaching first aid.
In spite of her imperfect heart, she spent a good part of her later life surrounded by her grandchildren and considered it a duty and blessing to help guide them to do the “right thing." After suffering a number of heart attacks, she finally agreed to open heart surgery at Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem, N.C. With mixed results and still faced with a failing heart, she was scheduled for more surgery but died on the eve of her next trip to Winston-Salem. She was 59.
When I see people complain about their lot in life, I'm always reminded of this industrious, caring and fun-loving woman who was content with the cards fate dealt her right to the end. Sometimes, she administered discipline with a peach tree “switch," but that, too, was a way to insure her children kept to the “straight and narrow” path.
Life with my mom was exciting, healthy, and above all, filled with undying love. I only wish that everyone could grow up with a mother like mine.