Caring spirit lives on
by Juanita Hughes, columnist
August 06, 2014 12:00 AM | 899 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Juanita Hughes
Juanita Hughes
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I have withdrawal symptoms when I fail to visit Tea Leaves & Thyme for a while. During a visit there in January 2010, in the midst of a frozen winter where a cup of tea and a friend‘s smile were needed often, Suzanna Spollen greeted me with what seemed like an extra-large dose of her usual enthusiasm.

She couldn’t wait to tell me that during the holidays, she had read the book I had written about my mother, “Tie Me to Your Apron Strings Again.” As she began to read, she said she kept thinking that parts of the story sounded vaguely familiar. Turns out she knew my mother many years ago, but neither Suzanna nor I had made a connection about that.

Not long after my mother made her home with us in 1973, she went to work at a greenhouse in Cobb County. She loved her job; her green thumb was like a four-leaf-clover to that company.

She made friends there, as she did everywhere, touching lives with her bubbly personality and winning ways. Later, she found other jobs, leaving tracks wherever she went. She left Woodstock when she married in 1986, and a few years later, a neat little tea room opened on Woodstock’s Main Street.

Owner Kim Jordy and her sidekick Suzanna Spollen became best friends to hundreds of Woodstock ladies who hadn’t known what they had been missing for all too long. The business soon outgrew its walls and relocated — oddly enough — to the Dawson house, a beautiful old home where we as a family had lived for our first 16 months in Woodstock in the 1960s.

I saw Suzanna often, since she was the face of the tea room’s gift shop. My winter visit was just another day until Suzanna’s story turned it into a very special day.

She began by telling me that when she went to work at a greenhouse in Cobb County, she was a newly-wed Northern transplant. She knew little about the South, little about housekeeping and, according to her, little about cooking. But she met this lady named Mildred who became the mother figure that guided her with :hints,” wrote out recipes in longhand with tips and secrets about ingredients and measurements, gave her much-needed advice and even brought her home for sneak previews of flower beds and old-fashioned shrubs.

They lost touch somewhere along the way, and decades later, Suzanna found time to pick up my book, and her memories returned in detail.

Other folks have shared “Mildred” stories with me, but with most of those stories, I could make a personal connection. With Suzanna, I don’t recall, at all, hearing her name or meeting her when Mama was here. Mama lived in a dozen different worlds, as most of us do, and I could hardly keep up with those worlds and the hectic activities going on around us with school and teenagers and weddings and jobs.

But Suzanna has shown me yet another side of my Mama. Not a surprising one, but one that touched me by confirming that my mother’s influence is still felt today.

As I was growing up, I was always aware that my mother had dreams of becoming a nurse. Those dreams never materialized for her, but as a 16-year-old high school graduate, I went away to nursing school to try to fulfill her dreams second-hand. It didn’t take very long for all of us to realize the futility of that plan. I would never become the nurse that my mother had hoped for.

As our daughters became young adults and began to make career decisions, one of them tried nursing school as well. Her heart was in it, and her caring spirit survived. She is a nurse at heart, but did not enter the profession. Another daughter, terrified as a child at the sight of hypodermic needles and blood, became a medical laboratory technologist. Go figure.

The third daughter’s special talent of tending four-legged sick has changed in the last few weeks to tending her father, whose illness is making nurses out of many of us.

As new generations of Mama’s descendants grow up and choose different paths of life, perhaps some will pursue medical careers.

They just need to be lifetime learners, like my mother, and realize that the importance lies in their real education and not just the piece of paper that declares their graduation from an institution of learning. I wish they all could have known their Grandma Mildred when she was at her best. We can keep her memory alive by sharing her stories.

Thanks, Suzanna, for helping us.

Juanita Hughes is retired head of the Woodstock Library.
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