First, she produced a carbon copy of herself in my mother. Second, the example she set with her hard work and how she lived her life have stood me in good stead lo these seven decades and, thankfully, still counting.
She and my parents always impressed on me, by words and example, that “hard work never hurt anyone.”
While I have written about her before, I have never devoted an entire column to her. She deserves at least one such missive.
In previous mention, I pointed out that, as a teen and young man, I regularly ran errands for her as she lived most of her life on the farm with no transportation except, as she put it, “afoot” or in earlier times, by her horse-and-mule-drawn wagon. I could just see that wagon with Conestoga fabric over it, moving across the plains as I kept a lookout for outlaws or Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull or Quanah Parker.
MAMA NEVER drove an automobile but she sure handled that wagon well. And, she even had the mule, Kate, pull a plow, which Mama guided, while doing her enormous garden.
She outlived two husbands. I never knew my natural grandfather, Chester Thornton, since he died when Mother was three. Mama’s second husband, Dan Mandeville, died when I was two.
Mama’s parents, Ann and Arthur Thompson, lived about three miles from her “up the road toward town” (Teague) and she regularly walked that distance to “tend to chores for Ma and Pa.” Age and Great Grandpa’s necessary use of a cane since a fall, at age 20, from a hayloft injured his spine, required Mama to do things at her parents’ home. Afterward, she did her own considerable chores.
I NEVER saw her lose her temper or raise her voice. As hard as she worked, I suspect she didn’t have the energy, although that lack would be uncharacteristic of her.
She spanked me once (I deserved many more). I think I was about eight at the time and I said something terribly hurtful to her after she finished the punishment. That I said something bad to her pains me to this day. Mama didn’t deserve it, ever.
While her formal education was spare, she was as knowledgeable as any preacher I’ve ever heard when it came to the Bible. She read it daily and was always able to dissect and discuss any Sunday school lesson (or sermon for that matter). Her shyness kept her pretty quiet most of the time, but when you heard her soft voice, you listened because it was meaningful.
Mama never had an ounce of fat on her. Physically, she might have been described as “hard as a pine knot.” Physical labor every day will do that to you. I’ve done it often enough and not so long ago that I can’t remember.
She was mentally tough as well, but not in a mean way and her voice never indicated that toughness but her mindset and determination to live her life “right” were clear indicators of steeliness.
Since she was never employed by anyone or doing anything other than running her self-supporting farm, she never earned wages thus did not pay Social Security taxes and couldn’t, as her generation phrased it, draw “an old age pension,” something paid after one’s active years.
SO, WHEN she sold the farm, she “moved to town” and bought a small house with the proceeds of the farm and banked the rest to live on until it was exhausted and she qualified for a government-tax funded “pension.” What she actually received was a more stop-gap measure for a generation or so and called “Old Age Assistance,” paid to those who never paid into Social Security and, thus qualified for nothing labeled pension.
While she handled all of that with a quiet dignity and grace, it angered me that trashy folks unworthy of casting eyes on Mama, drew government assistance. Her longevity of 97 years is a testimonial to faith, hard work and determination.
There’s no better tribute to Mama than a very tried but most fitting phrase — “They don’t make ‘em like that anymore.”
Willis Webb is a retired community newspaper editor-publisher of more than 50 years experience. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.