My mother was a plainspoken, simple lady. Not simple as in not smart, but simple as in she wasn’t complicated. No pretense. No frills. No nonsense. She was very real and down-to-earth. She was frugal, too. Having grown up in the Great Depression in a single-parent home, she learned to make do with and be thankful for what she had.
She was an orphan at 16 when her mother died in an accident. She lived “pillar-to-post” she said after that and finally went to live and train at the local hospital in a nursing program they offered to high school graduates. She became an LPN and worked “hall duty” – which meant she worked at the hospital long hours mostly emptying bedpans and changing sheets. She knew how to make hospital corners, for real, but I don’t remember her ever teaching me how.
She met my dad at some point during her nurse years. They got married but foreign wars interrupted their child-bearing years and so their first child, my sister, was born after ten years of marriage. I came four years later.
Mama could sew and she made most of everything I wore – including my prom dress. She could cook but they were simple foods…and they were mostly fried. Anything that took more than two ingredients wasn’t usually served at our table. That would require a recipe, which I never saw her use.
She had thick, auburn hair, which she hated but I loved. She was tall (5’ 6”) and I wasn’t. I got to 5’ 1” and stopped growing. She had big feet – size 9 ½ and I wore a size 6. She called me “shoog” which is Southern for “sugar”, and she would lavish “sugar” (Southern for kisses) on me often. She liked to pinch my nose and make kissy noises (I hated it) when she couldn’t score an actual kiss.
A switch was her preferred form of discipline. “Switch” is Southern for a whip-like limb from a nearby tree that was applied to bare legs whenever a child was out of line. Once when my sister and I were fighting and yelling at each other, Mama got two switches from the plum tree and gave us each one. She told us to work it out! After a few swats each, we started giggling and called a truce, but I ran away really fast just in case my sister changed her mind.
Her name was Eloise. No middle name and she never gave me one. (A southern girl doesn’t need one since she will get married, drop her middle name, and use her maiden name in the middle.) Most of the relatives called her Weez or Weezie, which, of course, she hated. Her last name was Smith and when she went into nurses’ training the other trainees started calling her Smitty. It stuck. Most people who met her after that never knew my mother by any other name.
She was a little superstitious. Don’t let anyone sweep the floor under your feet ‘cause you’ll never get married. If your nose itches, it means somebody’s coming to visit with a hole in her stocking. Chickens flying over your head will cure the chicken pox. (I’m not sure how that one got started with chickens being flightless and all.)
And there were Smitty-isms. Somebody who was upset was pitchin’ a hissy fit or a conniption. Someone crying loudly was bawlin’ and squawlin’. To leave a mess behind means that you’re stringin’ and strewin’. Something that didn’t taste good was not fit to eat and to be tired at the end of a busy day meant you were plum give out.
Home decorating was not her strength although she was a determined do-it-yourself-er. Bad combination. One year “antique painting” was the rage. Every wooden surface in our house was “antiqued.” The upright piano, the kitchen cabinets, every end table in the house, and even some wooden candlesticks I had made in Vacation Bible School. Christmas, too, fell victim to her decorating tastes. Several years in a row she decorated our tree with those little Styrofoam packing noodles. She said they looked like snow. The rest of us just shrugged and went for the gifts underneath the tree. Then one year she bought an all-white artificial tree and found the black light that I was tired of using in my room. Yep. White tree with a black light in the huge picture window…GLOWED like a beacon! My sister and I laughed and said it looked like a UFO landing strip. Mama got her feelings hurt, she cried and threw the tree (and probably the black light) away. Boy, I wish I had that one back. I wish I had a lot of things back. Wish I had known her better and respected her more.
She loved me.
I loved her.
I still miss you, Mama.
Happy birthday, Smitty.