Thursday, February 4, 2016

On Birthdays and Deaths, Lessons Learned

Me with my Grandmother, my Mother and my Great Grandmother

Southern women are often portrayed as frail women drinking tea in fancy dresses, they are seen helpless women who seem to need the assistance from men at every turn. Nestled in the Tennessee, we are not exactly Southern and not exactly mountain folk, but we have some common traits. Don't be fooled by the exterior, we are tough as nails and we are devoted to family.

At this point, I had to take a break from writing this story because when I looked up the dates, I realized that I was only four years old when this happened. For some reason, it seemed to me that I was a little older.

The winter that is four was one that I will always remember because it had such a powerful influence on me.

For Christmas, my Grandmother gave me an electric train and she gave me bunkbeds for my room. These were lavish gifts, not the sort of gifts that most children received. The train was a Gilbert Silver Bullet and the track was laid out on the floor in a small circle. It had an engine, a coal car, and two passenger cars.

The bunkbeds were maple and you could have bunkbeds or two single beds. They also had a ladder that you could use to climb to the top bunk and a rail to keep you from falling. My Mother made matching bedspreads from a mattress protector (think of an all white quilt) on which she appliqued puppies and kittens that she cut from a yard of patterned fabric. All was well in my world.

Just after Christmas, everything changed. Both my Grandmother and my Great Grandmother were sick and in the hospital. My Mother was gone a lot and I spent time with other family members and even stayed with a neighbor. I had never stayed with anyone who not part of my family before.

A few weeks later, my Mother told me that my Great Grandmother had died. But when she died, we did not go to her funeral. I was puzzled by this because I could not understand why we did not go. I was angry at my Mother for not going because I knew that when someone in your family died, you go to the funeral. Specially, you go to the visitation at Rose Funeral Home, you go to the survive, then you go to the cemetery. After you have done all of these, the family sits down to a meal consisting food brought by your friends and neighbors.

When my Grandmother died two weeks later, I understood that Mother could not leave her Mother. Well, maybe I didn't actually understand this at the time.

My birthday was just a couple of weeks after this happened. Mother baked a birthday cake for me and I had presents that were wrapped and on the coffee table. At the time, I didn't realize how difficult this must have been for her. It was my birthday and I was five years old!

I don't know if there is a word for this, but I call it doing what is in front of you. If you lived on a farm, you still had to milk the cows, no matter how sad you were. Your family's life depended on your being able to raise food that would feed you family. When people moved to the city, they brought these values and this work ethic with them.

I am not sure if Mother realized the lessons that I learned from her that year. I certainly did not realize how difficult this must have been for her to have a party so soon after her Mother's death, but I do now. They have guided me through some of the most difficult times of life. I hope that I have passed them on to my children.

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