My problem will be there’s too much to say about my mother. Since everybody else will surely have the same problem, and since the teacher will need some time to teach, maybe I should only tell that my mother birthed 17 children, and let it go at that. Besides, it will take 5 minutes for the class to get over their disbelief.
Apart from her splendid character, my mother Levie was known for the number of “kids” she had. We “kids” simply learned to live with our number being so often mentioned by friends and neighbors. Actually, it was a source of joy.
One of the most interesting reactions I had regarding the matter was in high school. Two friends and basketball teammates, Jimmy Carr and Waldo Pryor, were walking with me to the gym. Jimmy Carr’s mother had been our science teacher in junior high school, had learned about my big family and told the class about it. The classroom became deathly silent.
For some reason, Jimmy was recalling that incident. Waldo, who already knew about my family, still stopped in his tracks and said, “Man! Sixteen brothers and sisters!” To which Jimmy added, “But ya’ll aren’t Catholic, are you?”
In college I gave a talk about my brothers and sisters in a speech class. When I finished, the legendary professor, Mr. Ovid Vickers, said, “Roger, do you know all of ’em?” Instead of being amused by the question, as I was, the class stared at me, seriously awaiting an answer.
Of course I do know all of them: R.C. the farmer; Paul and Pete, the soldiers; Ida, Jewel, Authula, Margurette, and Carolyn, the homemakers; Walter, Jr., the pastor; Durwood, the mail carrier; Minnie and Tressie, the registered nurses; Almedia, Ruby and Janelle, the secretaries; and Carlton, the accountant.
Ponder how a mother from the age of 17 to 47 could thrive — and thrive she did — while bearing and rearing 17 children to adulthood. What could have been a more historically significant or interesting context for their rearing than World War I, the Great Depression, Roosevelt’s New Deal, World War II, the Korean Conflict, the Civil Rights movement and Vietnam?
To describe and honor her, I’ll stick to facts. She laughed much. She sang to herself. She embarrassed us singing loud in church. She loved having the preacher come for “dinner” (the noon meal). She could predict with nearly total accuracy when any of the “out and married older kids” would come home for the weekend. She read haltingly, but read still. She had a special fondness for all of her sons-in-law and daughters-in-law. She honored her husband. She loved gathering eggs. She preferred the scorching fields over housework, and she said “Bless its heart!” whether referring to crying grandchildren, stray cats or deformed baby chicks.
One reason the very thought of abortion grieves me is I know that if my mother’s childbearing years had been 1973-2003 (recall Roe v. Wade) instead of 1917-47, she would have been counseled to have abortions. Think about it: the rural poverty, a tenant farmer husband, no running water except for a 6-year stint in one house and the plague of kidney stones. Neither Planned Parenthood, the federal government nor the United Nations committee on … something or another … would consider that a “quality of life” situation.
To the contrary, I wish for others only half the quality of life we children had: the faith, the fun, the much learning, the “family altar” (bedtime Bible reading and prayer), the elites in town who knew our father and respected him, and a mother who reigned with the scepter of joy, peace and love.
We called our mother “Mama.” She had a habit of saying, “Just go on.” Quite uneducated, she little understood what she was teaching us with those three words. Whether a skinned knee or a broken heart, her response — her deeply held philosophy of life, no doubt — was “Just go on.”
Hey, that’s what I’ll tell my Sunday School class. I’ll tell them what our mother always told us to do.
Happy Mother’s Day! And remember: “Just go on!”
Roger Hines is a retired high school English teacher in Kennesaw.