Growing up in a small church was great for my self esteem. I was the giant whale in that backyard pond! The star in every Christmas and Easter play, and lead singer to boot. Ok, so maybe I never played the role of Jesus on the cross–but still, I shouted “CRUCIFY HIM!” louder than anyone else. I even caused some to pray for my soul as a result of that.
When I got too old for the children’s productions, I began directing the plays. Nothing like a bossy, nasal-voiced 15 year old telling a young mother, “The angels simply HAVE to have white turtlenecks or risk ruining the show altogether!” to spread the joy of the season. Ah, precious memories, how they linger–and fester and rot.
We didn’t only do pageants for Christmas and Easter, though. I remember several Mothers’ Day performances. Our pastor at the time, before my dad’s head was placed on the platter, always made a big hoopla on Mothers’ Day. The little kids in Sunday school would all write little tributes and read them aloud in front of the entire congregation. The pastor then grandly presented flowers to the youngest and oldest mother in the room.
Even at a young age, I felt this tradition was awkward at best and offensive at worst. What if your 13 year old just had a baby? “Here you go, here’s some flowers!” That didn’t seem to gel too well with all that preaching against fun-orcation. The oldest mother in the church? He’d call like an auctioneer from the pulpit, “30? 35? 40? 45? 50? 55? 60? 65? 70?” And all the mothers would sit down as he passed over their current age. I’ve never known a well-bred southern women to give an actual account of her age after 30, so I don’t know why they would drop the sham to vie for a five dollar potted plant. Hell, I’ll be 30 forever and buy my own damn plant.
This one elderly lady “won” it every year. What kills me is how surprised she acted every. single.year.
“Who? ME?! Well, bless my soul!”
My paternal grandmother was a couple years younger than the plant winner, and she hated it. I remember sitting in the car with her after services like these and she’d bitterly complain about the unfairness of it. I’d sit perched on the hump in the middle of the backseat, the place regulated to the least of these. My legs brushed against her rough lavender polyester suit as she detailed her list of grievances.
“It ain’t right to get a flow’r every year for her. T’ain’t no one near as old as her, bless her heart. But, it just ain’t right.”
“Naw, I reckon in ain’t, Granny.”
“He orta get a little flow’r for all the mothers or not get none at all, that’s what.”
“That’s a good idea, Granny. You orta tell’im.”
“Heh! I ain’t-a-gone do it. They’d just think I’s upset over not gettin’ a flow’r.”
I can vividly recall reading my epic Mothers’ Day Poem that I wrote in Sunday school. All of the other, much less literary kids wrote pitiful verses like:
“Roses are red, violets are blue.
You are my Mama, and I love you.”
“Twinkle, twinkle little star.
Mothers are the best things there are.”
Yeah, that extra syllable makes me cringe too.
I must’ve been in 3rd grade, so 8 or 9 years old when I stood proudly before the church with my three page poem complete with illustrations. I can’t remember all of it, but it was beautiful! I moved everyone to tears!
Oh, you want to read it? Well it seems that I’ve lost it through the years.
What I remember of it? Well–ok, sure.
“Mama–something magical when a baby says the word.
Mama–when she hears it, it’s the best sound she’s ever heard.
Mama–wiping away the tears when I fell of my bike.
Mama–reassuring me when I step up to the mic.
Mama–baking cookies and letting me lick the bowl.
Mama–and I always loved those stories that you told
Mama–looking back on all the things you’ve done.
Mama– I love you for each and every one.”
Ok, so it isn’t bloody Shakespeare. I was 8 for Christ’s sake! My Mama loved it and maybe even kept it, who knows?
My mom is the most practical person I know. She takes no flights of fancy, avoids sentimentality, is a hermit who hates leaving home and hearth, and doesn’t want to own anything that isn’t useful in some way. That last character trait I thankfully inherited from her–along with her fantastic hair and flawless skin. Our house is rather small and we’ve no room for the superfluous. I do possess a weakness for Christmas decor, quilts, and books and have more of those than I need. For the most part, though “can we use this?” is the base motivator for all purchases for the home.
My Mom is also one of the strongest people I know. She’s the oldest of six kids, and tells stories of living in a house with gaps in the floors so wide that you could feed the chickens through them, and growing up with only two dresses–both of which were hand me downs. She regretfully had to quit school in eighth grade to help at home. I’ve always thought that was a shame because she played basketball–despite her short little legs–and was student council president. You really have to BE somebody to be elected student council president, especially if you only have two dresses!
I’ve been thinking a lot about her lately, with regard to her education. Around the time of my epically moving Mothers’ Day tome, (folks were moved to tears, I tell you!) she went to night classes and took her GED test. I remember not being very sure about what that meant, but knowing that we were proud of her. As an adult now, I’m fully aware of how challenging that is. I’ve heard many people say that the GED test is harder than the ACT. Learning four years’ worth of high school in a few months time is pretty impressive too. My mom is a rockstar for doing this. She taught us that it was never too late.
When I finally graduate with my B.S. in August, it will be because of that lesson I learned from her. I hope that my own two children will learn it as well. It’s never too late to be what you might have been.
I wonder if the MTSU president gives out flowers to the oldest graduate. I may admit to my actual age for that honor!