The day was always extra-special when she was around. She loved a party — any party — lots of people, lots of laughs, lots of good food. And when she was the honoree, she loved it even more.
I was her only birth child, but she mothered anybody who would submit to her particular brand of mothering. She practiced on me and perfected on others. Her niece, Mickie, whose birth mother died when Mickie was 4 years old, joined our household a couple of years after her mother’s death, and as time went by it became apparent that destiny had intervened when Mickie was born and was named for her Aunt Mildred.
It was a match made in heaven. The two Mildreds were as close as any child and parent can be. Mickie just had a Friday-the-13th birthday. Mama was somewhat superstitious, but I don’t think she was ever anxious about Mickie’s date. A birthday is a birthday, after all, and a reason to have a party.
I must confess that I may have taken my mother for granted as I was growing up. She was all mine. I didn’t have to share her with siblings or her spouse (she didn’t have one), and although we lived with her parents, her world seemed always to be centered on me.
I was engaged to be married when Mickie moved in, giving Mama a fresh start at mothering. Of course, when I married I made sure I wasn’t too far away from her — from her love and advice, her enthusiasm and concern.
Years later, when her own mother died, it just seemed natural that she join the Hughes household. She was with us for 13 years, leaving us to marry and run her own home, something she had never done in all of my memory. Even then, she was mothering.
Her husband was the “helpless” type, and she thrived in seeing to his every need. And there were always visitors in her home — neighbors, family and extended family, nieces and nephews, many of whom she had mothered through the years.
She loved her three granddaughters. One of them, Sarah, was a namesake as well, and aptly named with the same enthusiasm and love of life as her grandmother. Sarah and Mama were “suite-mates,” so to speak, during much of her time with us.
A few years after the death of her husband, she made her way to a nursing home. Happy person that she was (a perfect example of the Apostle Paul’s “I have learned in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content,”) the nursing home became her home, literally.
When we visited, she apologized for not having supper on the table. “Why didn’t you let me know you were coming? I would have cooked some fried chicken and biscuits and gravy.”
Before entering the nursing home, she had lived with granddaughter Beverly, so most of the time at the nursing home she imagined that this was just Beverly’s big new house. She often told me that she didn’t know why they wanted such a big house. There were always so many people coming and going. But she loved that aspect because she loved nothing better than an audience.
During some of the years that she lived with us, she worked at a nursing home. It was there that her mothering skills were honed to perfection. She loved those residents as devotedly as she ever loved me or Mickie. But it was a different kind of love. Perhaps she was beginning even then to relate to their needs.
She was always aware of the fact that her life had a purpose. She believed that she had survived her own birth for a specific reason. When she was born in 1916, doctors were sure she could not survive. Nurses fed her with an eye dropper since her mother was critically ill. When they finally weighed her and gave her a name at the age of two weeks, she was a hefty one-and-one-half pounds.
She was truly a miracle. Her descendants try to remember that because it gives us a sense of purpose as well. As we share memories of her, we realize that while she is not here in body, she has left a part of herself in all of us.
And how blessed we are.
Juanita Hughes is retired head of the Woodstock Library.