Scarlett had her “Tara” and Ashley his “Twin Oaks.” The Sweat family had “The Sycamores,” and it was there I find my favorite Mama memories.
Travel down a flat, sandy road 15 miles south of Waycross, Georgia, until you come to a cluster of sycamore trees. The structure visible there belongs to the early American or “let’s-get-a- roof-over-our-heads” era.
The unpainted six-room house has a porch across the front and down its left side. The outer wall of the living room is made of chinked-together logs. As you enter the house, its scant furnishings are evident.
There are two worn upright chairs, a small table, and on the wall, a 30-inch portrait of Daddy holding his Bible.
The door to the left of the living room leads to Mama’s bedroom. Her iron bedstead with it two high-rise feathered mattresses is covered by a handmade Dutch Girl quilt. A massive long dresser made of ornate wood and housing a mirror stands against the wall.
Go back into the living room and through the door opposite the front door entry and you’re now in a pantry-size room. Like all of the rooms, its floors are bare and unpainted.
From here, you enter the dining room, where two wooden benches offset its eight-foot plank table, covered in a red-checkered oilcloth. Against the wall stands a wooden safe for baked goods.
The dining room opens into the kitchen where pine lighter knots, dipped in resin, make the cast iron stove turn crimson.
A chubby, five-foot lady with dancing green eyes and a ready smile holds center stage in this bleak setting. She wears a flour-sack print dress and almost always has on an apron.
I love this picture taken at Haywood Baptist Church, a community about 5 miles from our farm site. I particularly like Mama’s smile. Mama loved to laugh and could tell whooper stories. Left to Right: me with my siblings Herbert, Kathryn, Chandos, Harold, Darcile and, of course, Mama.
A widow with eight children, she is in perpetual motion. Whether baking doughnuts, wringing the neck of a chicken, standing guard over a cast-iron wash pot filled with dirty clothes, washing down the front porch with a corn-shuck mop, overseeing weekly baths in a zinc tub, chasing down and killing a huge rat snake, telling ghost stories that made you pee in your pants, or peddling away on her prized sewing machine, Mama knitted life into forever memories.
Mama, who as a child grew up being catered to, adjusted in her adult years to poverty and hard labor. No job was too demeaning if it would keep her family fed, clothed and housed.
Modern conveniences during my childhood were what other people had, not us. Cleaning the globes and trimming the wicks of kerosene lamps, picking cotton in the blazing sun, canning, cooking on a wood stove — these were everyday “Mama” jobs.
Mama took what life dished out and turned it into ambrosia.
-Excerpt from Chapter 3 of my memoir Tarnished Haloes, Open Hearts. Find more information at my website or purchase from my publisher’s website, Nurturing Faith.