For all of my life, June 29 has been a red-letter day. It was the day, in 1916, that my mother was born. In my growing up, I had begun to listen more closely to the oft-told story of her birth, and those details gave new meaning as I came to understand how special she was. Her mother had been told after the birth of her last child that there would be no more pregnancies, but she proved them wrong. The pregnancy was anything but normal, and the delivery left the mother in a body cast for weeks. Doctors expected the infant would not survive, and she was not weighed for two weeks. She was a whopping one-and-one-half pounds at that time, having been nurtured and fed with an eyedropper by nurses. They changed the name on the birth certificate to Sarah Mildred. It had been entered with names of doctors and nurses, and I have a copy of the original showing those names marked through and corrected. Tiny little Mildred grew up,but lived a sheltered life in spite of having four big brothers. Her mother seemed determined to shelter her from a normal life, and an arranged marriage when she was 17 would be followed by a return home when Mildred’s baby (that’s me) was almost three years old.

I probably took my mother for granted sometimes. It took some adult experiences to give me a deeper appreciation of her. Looking back, I now can begin to understand how difficult it must have been to be a “single mother” even before the term came into common usage many years later. Although we were in the household of her parents and were entirely dependent on them for everything, she seemed to be determined to give me a kind of life somewhat different from the one she had had.

She was blessed, herself. I used to think there was nothing she couldn’t do. My earliest memories include listening to her read to me. I have wondered over the years if anyone ever read to her. Her mother was illiterate, and I can’t imagine Papa, or any of her brothers, reading a fairy tale aloud to this little girl. She encouraged me to memorize … everything from the 23rd Psalm to epic poetry. There was a weekly publication called GRIT which was delivered in person, and we read every word, always making sure there was money to pay the GRIT delivery boy. As I got older, we played a lot of word games. Our Sunday afternoons were devoted to the Sunday crossword puzzle. She was involved in every activity possible in my schoolwork, even to crafting projects and putting crepe paper costumes together. We sang in harmony while doing the dishes, and shared a love of gospel music that has remained with me throughout a lifetime. Her parents were Hardshell, or Primitive, Baptists, a denomination that looked down on musical instruments in church. In spite of that, I was required to take piano lessons. Mama had learned to play by shape notes, and, as best I remember, Papa and Grandma accepted that. Papa sang in a quartet, having learned music by shape note. At some point, Mama ordered an accordion from a Sears, Roebuck catalog. She taught herself to play, not only gospel, but other not-so-gospel, such as “Beer Barrel Polka.” I learned with her, but never became so accomplished. I was too lazy. The thing weighed a ton!

A few minutes spent with old photo albums refreshes my memory and reminds me of good times together. Perhaps my favorite photo is of her and the 22-pound catfish she helped to pull to shore on the banks of Chickamauga Creek in the early 1950s. We had camped (and I use the term lightly) all night, sleeping on old quilts on the ground and checking lines throughout the night. Grandma and her brother Bill were the ringleaders, but we all took credit. It was one for the history books.

Mama was a wonderful cook and I will be eternally grateful for the 13 years she lived with my family in Woodstock. We were truly blessed to sit at her table. She also had a way with a sewing machine and needle-and-thread. I still shed a tear as I recall a bedspread she created. It featured hand-embroidered Bible verses in red and black, divided by a type of needlework where embroidery threads ware pulled through the length of the spread. The spread was nearing completion when it was destroyed in a house fire soon after I married and left the home. There are no photos.

She was, in my mind, the perfect mother, and she could easily qualify as the perfect grandmother. Her influence on our daughters can be seen, even now. Our household was truly blessed with her presence. She was never happier than when the house was filled with teenagers, card games in progress, a Braves game on TV, and plans for a Scrabble game with neighbor Mary Howell in the offing. I told more of her story in “Tie Me to Your Apron Strings Again,” published by Yawn’s in 2009. I may just read through it again on June 29. It will be the next best thing to a visit with her.

Columnist Juanita Hughes is retired head of the Woodstock public library and a local historian.

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