“Always be kind.
You’ll live a long life;
and the Lord will see you through.” Mary Eliza 2002
In a voice that sang to me in her own slow Kentucky twang, I’ll never forget that wisdom my grandmother shared with me one day. She said it with heartfelt assurance, peering deep into my eyes as if it were the song of her life. She believed it, and she wanted me to understand its truth.
She was born in 1898 when life was extremely difficult, and if people wanted to eat back then, they had to grow and prepare their own food. In spite of the odds, she grew up through the hardships of the early 1900’s and married “Papa” and bore him 12 children; the first around 1918, a set of twins, and one every year or so afterwards. They raised their children through the roaring 20’s, prohibition and boot legging period, using mules for transportation and for working their fields, doing what they learned as children themselves – raising and harvesting their own food. Although it was during the great depression era, they never lost a child. But Papa died at age 49 and left her not only a widow, but a single mother of 12 with no one to help support them. She had to believe.
I was one of her 75 grandchildren, and I can vividly remember my grandmother’s house. There was one potbellied stove in the center, but the warmth of it filled every room.
All of her children, her grandchildren, and as a matter of fact, everyone in the neighborhood called my grandmother “Mothie.” Mothie’s house was the hub of her children’s families, and it was a place where even the neighbors gathered around her dining table, the “big table” we called it.
Sunday brunch was a full course breakfast/lunch/dinner! The “big table” and the side board were prepared with starched, white table cloths for anyone who came in out of the cold, sat down to enjoy the warmth of the potbellied stove, some hot coffee, homemade biscuits, and she’d never fail to pop open a jar that she’d canned herself – her fresh, berry jam.
Mothie was about 100 years old when her health teetered a little. In her Kentucky twang, she described her ailment saying,
“Ah got this rosin’ in muh head ‘n ah don’ feeeel ez good ez ah use tooooo.”
It was during this time that my son really began to take an interest in the stories she told. He said there was a lot of wisdom and insight in her experiences. One occasion in particular stood out when she said,
“Tell the boy to com ovuh heah.” (She had too many to remember his name.)
She reached up and hugged his neck and told him about picking her own berries and learning to prepare and preserve fresh jam with them. And with her subtle wisdom, she told him to,
"Always put some back." Because, "when nobody else in the nay-buh-hooood had any thang, ah always had som’ fresh jam in thuh wintuh!” He understood.
Mothie died at 104 years old. She just turned over on her side one day and went to sleep. There was no medical reason for her death; just old age. As difficult as her life was, people wondered why she lived so long. Some thought it was because she never took medication; she’d just
“Go out inta the back yaaahd, get som’ fresh greeenz and cut back on muh eatin’” she’d say.
Some said it was because she honored her parents until they died; hard work; resourcefulness; good luck; or maybe she was just blessed.
I believe it was her life’s song - the wisdom she spoke to me that day. She believed the Lord’s promise specifically to her during a difficult era as a widow, and a single mother of 12. She had no one else but him. And she believed his promise so much, she lived it.
Although she had many children and grandchildren, Mothie was kind to the poor. She always had something “put back” to share with whoever sat at her table.
When it was bitter cold outside, and “they” didn’t have anything, she dressed her table and sideboard with her best starched white table cloths, and believing God would see her through, she’d share what she had; the warmth of her potbellied stove, hot coffee, home made biscuits, and some fresh jam in the winter.
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