Last Friday would have been Mama’s ninety-eighth birthday and I was remembering two years ago when we had our final celebration with her. It had gotten harder over the preceding years because she seemed barely aware that we were having a birthday celebration; dementia had changed her so much. But at the last celebration she did enjoy the hugs from her grandkids and watching their kids playing all about the large living area at Parkview. It seemed to me that we did the party as much for ourselves as Mama– noting that we’d made it through another year, keeping our mother in as good of health as possible, working together for her well being.
Some of my fondest memories of her last years were of taking her to visit her brother, Joe and his wife, Ann. Those Saturdays were spent driving them to their hometown of Lillington where we shared meals together at Kentucky Fried Chicken. We always knew that was precious time because we didn’t take for granted that there would be a ‘next time.’ They were all in those latter years with multiple health problems but with tenacious spirits that wanted to be together.
On that last trip when I was able to take Mama, before it became impossible for me to transfer her from the car to her wheelchair, it was a beautiful fall day. She had lost most of her ability to carry on a conversation, only answering in short responses or pointing to something and saying a single word. She loved riding down the country road and it reminded me of how she never napped on a long road trip during our family vacations because she said, “I’m afraid I’ll miss something.”
We passed a billboard and I glanced at it enough to see a grouping of people, who were not well-dressed and of different races. I don’t know what the sign was advertising, what group had paid the fee to publicize its message.
But Mama evidently got some message from seeing the sign and said, as clearly as I’d heard her speak in a long time, “I’ll stand with the poor.”
I was surprised by her declaration and I had no way of looking at that billboard more closely to see what Mama might have been responding to. We were moving fast down Hwy 421 and I couldn’t turn around and drive past it a second time for some clue; we’d be late to Joe and Ann’s.
“You have always stood up for the poor, Mama” I said, trying to make conversation. “You knew what it was like to be without.”
Mama was one of eight children and we’d heard their stories of losing their farm, due to the poor soil quality, during the Great Depression. Fortunately, their family was able to move to the other grandparents’ farm and start over with land that was more fertile and a community with better schools. My aunts and uncles agreed that while they were poor in money, they never lacked for love or for the necessities of life.
Mama had always had a heart for feeding people– whether it was her family or friends, or strangers stopping by. She was quick to make something delicious to carry to those who were sick or bereaved. I more fully appreciated Mama’s generosity after a ‘chance’ conversation with one of the nursing assistants at Parkview.
That middle-aged black woman was getting Mama up to go to the dining room one day when I was visiting. The assistant asked me where Mama lived before she came to the nursing home. When I told her the location of our farm on Broadway Road, the woman stopped what she was doing and got a wistful look in her eyes.
“Oh, she’s that Mrs. Rosser,” she said. “When me and my sister were little girls, Mrs. Rosser and Miss Rosetta put on a summer day camp. We went down to your house and played and your Mama had the best food for us.” She smiled and put a pillow to Mama’s back in the wheelchair. “Those were some of the best times I remember.”
Mama had worked at the Lee County Extension Office during the seventies as a program aide– teaching families about nutrition and working with the summer camp. She was always a patient teacher and I’m sure she taught those kids a lot about how to gather vegetables from the garden and make them into healthy meals.
She was featured in the April 2, 1977 edition of the hometown newspaper–The Sanford Herald. In going through my boxes of photos and momentos during my move, I found the copy of that article.
Reading it now, I can hear her saying, “I just wish I had more time to work with people, especially the youngsters–helping them to learn the importance of good nutrition.”
I was delighted that the Herald had published some of her recipes that I’ve lost over the years– especially her light and delicious Angel Biscuits. The Magic Casserole was a mainstay of what she taught the 55 families she served– helping them to adapt with whatever groceries they had in stock to stretch their food dollars. Mama was all about stretching the dollar, being thrifty– her Scotch-Irish roots at play.
Another way I learned more about Mama’s generosity and care during her later years, was the day I organized her file cabinet. I dreaded the task because I’ve never liked going through paperwork. It was hard enough to go through my own, but to make sense of Mama’s files when she couldn’t help was quite another thing. Mama was never one to throw anything away–and that included getting rid of cancelled checks. The file was filled with them and they dated back to the sixties. I wished I could just shred them by the hand fulls but instead I had to check each piece of paper to be sure she didn’t have something important mixed in with the old checks. That dreaded task eventually became a time of knowing Mama better. When I got to the more recent years, I saw checks that had been written to organizations as well as individuals– many whom I didn’t know. They weren’t for large amounts but given some of the “Thank You” notes it seemed they were given to folks going through hard times– paying for essentials like medications, food, emergency needs. I was struck by how many checks there were given Mama’s limited finances.
Now, remembering Mama’s birthday, it occurs to me that she has left behind a legacy of caring. We three daughters witnessed her example of “Standing with the Poor,” whether it was poor in spirit or poor in finances–she was always more aware of another’s need than her own. I’m so grateful that she was my mother and I was the recipient of her love and care.