My Mom –
Leona (McGilberry) Wollesen –
A Profile in Excellence
Dynamic Role Model for all Who Knew Her
Woodrow D. Wollesen
Published by American Empowerment dba Operation Veteran Empowerment
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My Mom –
Leona (McGilberry) Wollesen –
A Profile in Excellence
Dynamic Role Model for all Who Knew Her
I have to admit that I come with a number of personal biases:
*I’ve always had a close relationship with my Mom – fully explained as one consumes what will follow – hence I having a tender and loving bias. Whether I have adequately or properly shared her many facets (she was human like all of us and was not perfect – we all make mistakes), I leave to those that knew her over the last 100 years plus.
*This sharing as well has been prompted by another personal bias.
I’ve always taken serious issue with every funeral/memorial service I ever attended.
From my perspective, aside from relatively short time periods with the family/friends of the deceased as well typically less than 90 minutes of services (church, grave side, etc.) the wondrous and multiple facets of the person at issue simply disappear over time (except in the hearts and minds of those that knew/loved him/her).
Think about it – an entire life encapsulated in such condensed structures and memorial time frames for remembrance (as well lasting only as long as the lives of those remaining and only for their lifetimes – maybe?)
It is for that reason that as often as possible (when other events did not intervene or obstruct) I have always attempted (respecting those that have gone before me) to write my own tribute(s). I wanted to memorialize how that person and their impacts upon me as well as others. I believe and pray that in some small measure that such comforts those grieving as well adding some insights perhaps not thoroughly noticed or previously recognized.
In virtually all cases I too was grieving in their absence. I missed them and still do. Writing provided me a positive and therapeutic constructive outlet for my own emotions and loss. If such provided the same for any others, then the Lord be praised.
*That my Mom was the most significant empowering and commanding impact force in/ upon my entire life is beyond question. I have openly shared (for as long as the memory of man runneth not to the contrary) the following heartfelt quotes (reaffirming the views of two of our most famous Presidents – personal tributes to their own mothers) for my love and feelings for Mom:
My mother was the most beautiful woman I ever saw. All I am I owe to my mother. I attribute all of my success in life to the moral, intellectual, and physical education, I received from her. George Washington
All that I am or ever hope to be, I owe to my angel Mother. Abraham Lincoln
For every single achievement, accolade, accomplishment, award, or special recognition that I have ever attained in my entire life (Lord willin’ continuing) I have openly and publicly dedicated all to my Mom (specifically reciting and sharing the above quotes from Presidents Washington and Lincoln)
My two published books/treatises (“Ultimate Financing Guide” http://www.ultimatefinancingguide.com/; https://www.pinterest.com/ultimatefinancingguide/ and “The Killing of America – Murder or Suicide – Crimes in Progress” http://www.americanempowerment.org/book-info/; https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/the-killing-of-america-murder-or-suicide-crimes-in-progress) start with special dedications to and for my Mom with a brief forward/ personal profile.
Aside from excerpts taken from those two books, the majority of what follows are excerpts from one of my next books which was started some years ago (interrupted over the last five years due to 24/7 care giver duties – all blessings beyond measure) and still in progress (hopefully and the Lord willin’ I pray that I might get back to continued writing in due course) – “The Sun/Son Always Rises in Alabama”.
Mom’s Early Life and the McGilberry Clan
For starters and simply put, we all (one way or another) are (have been) directly and indirectly influenced by our early years, the then environments, and close family connections (genetics as well). Certainly the stories of the McGilberry clan, Mom’s father, mother, and grandmother appear to be confirming testaments to that precept. Mom was certainly a product of all of those influences.
On my mother’s side there was the McGilberry clan.
This side of the family traces its roots to no less than two of the most well known figures in Alabama history – Lachlan McGillvray and his son, Alexander McGillivray. The former was a prime figure in pre Revolutionary War times in the early development of the Alabama-Georgia territories and highly prominent and influential in Creek Indian nation affairs. Born in Dunmaglass, Inverness, Scotland in 1718, Lachlan was a highly prosperous fur trader and planter in colonial Georgia with interests extending into now central Alabama. He would become the father of Alexander McGillivray and the great uncle of William McIntosh and William Weatherford, three of the most powerful and historically important Native American Indian chiefs in the Creek nation. A man of considerable wealth holding sway over interests and property throughout Alabama and Georgia, he would eventually settle in Savannah, Georgia. He would marry a high-status Creek woman named Sehoy Marchand, directly recognized by the CreekHers, a politically powerful family of the Upper Creek nation (having a matrilineal system of descent and property). From this marriage, Alexander would be born.
Since Lachlan’s interests primarily rested through British relationships, he tended to be a Loyalist prior to the American Revolution. However, after the 1783 Treaty of Paris, the new US government confiscated virtually all property of Loyalists. As such Lachlan would lose most of his lands, slaves, and property. With whatever he could liquidate, he then returned to clan estates in Dunmaglass, Scotland.
His son Alexander McGillivray (1750-1793) had the benefit of direct tutelage from his father in Savannah, an expensive Presbyterian education in Charleston and Augusta academies, and an apprenticeship in at least one mercantile house. From these beginnings and a mother from the prime hierarchy of the Creek nation, Alexander would become one of the most controversial figures of the eighteenth-century and prominent leader of the Creek Indian nation. His diplomatic skills and acumen would rival the best of the day from throughout Europe and the new Americas. He would personally transform the Creek nation from a decentralized structure to a centralized one, negotiate treaties, alliances, and trade agreements with Great Britain, Spain, and the United States, usually contemporaneously without the other powers’ knowledge, augmenting his own personal estates through signed secret diplomatic deals, and effectively control all Indian trade in the Lower South. Known as Hoboi-Hili-Miko, he personally created an alliance between the Creek and the British during the American Revolution, establishing Creek national identity as a means to arrest all European – American expansion into Creek territories. In the same time period he was commissioned as a colonel in the British army. He became a leading spokesman for all the tribes along the Florida – Georgia border areas.
Participating at the behest of George Washington, Alexander would help to negotiate and be a part of the Treaty of New York (the first treaty negotiated after ratification of the US Constitution establishing the Altamaha and Oconee rivers as the boundary between Creek lands and the United States). As a result thereof, he would be commissioned as a brigadier general in the US Army with an annual salary from which he would acquire three plantations and 60 slaves. The US did not enforce the treaty so Alexander repudiated it in 1792 then negotiating another with Spain, which ruled the then Louisiana Territory vacated by the French. He would become the superintendent-general of the Creek nation on behalf of Spain, Indian agent for the US, a mercantile partner of a large trading firm, and emperor of the Creek nation simultaneously.
Alexander McGillivray would move to Pensacola, Florida for his remaining days where he became a member of the Masonic Order. He died February 17, 1793 then buried at the Garden of Panton Cemetery. Later his sister had his body reinterred at Choctaw Bluff, site of an earlier plantation, in Clarke County, Alabama above the Alabama River. See, e.g., (Lachlan McGillivary) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lachlan_McGillivray; (Alexander McGillivary) http://www.encyclopediaofalabama.org/face/Article.jsp?id=h-2313; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_McGillivray; see also, http://digital.library.okstate.edu/chronicles/v007/v007p106.html;
The Greatest Generation
In understanding Mom and my own family heritage and the influences, one must understand and appreciate the environment within which my parents, grandparents, and surviving great grand parents had to face and endure.
All were part of what many have termed the “Greatest Generation”. All would face the worst of “the perfect storms” for economic and personal adversities. The stock markets would collapse in early 1930’s. The nation’s banks (over 9000 in the decade) and business interests of every type would fail in record numbers causing overwhelming losses to depositors and investors. Factories closed eventually pushing over 122 million Americans out of work – at one point over one quarter of this nation’s families had no working parent.
Then adding to this economic upheaval were unprecedented droughts which coupled with poor agricultural practices, shattered America’s entire central “bread baskets”.
This generational age saw and faced hunger, deprivation, and real threats to personal survival. Yet my parents and grandparents (like all Americans) somehow struggled and survived. They became tougher, more resilient, and resolute in their spiritual faiths. They became dedicated to hard work, resolve with an obstinate perseverance founded upon core values of “right-wrong” and doing the right thing. Family links and kinfolk became essential to finding opportunities, solving problems, and even acquiring new friendships and relationships.
To suggest that the Great Depression molded men and women to become more self reliant, innovative, and focused would be an understatement. This was about fundamentally accessing and maintaining the basics of life such as food, shelter, and heat.
My Mom vividly recalls her youthful years during the Great Depression. Like her mother and grandmother she learned to master cooking, canning, sewing (making her own clothes), cleaning, ironing, and finding ways to cover all the home bases, sometimes in most creative ways. Hunting to my grandfather was not just some idle sport. It was a vital means for sustenance and necessary food supplies. He routinely and regularly hunted and fished. Bringing home squirrel, rabbit, fowl (peasant, quail, dove), deer, wild hog, and/or whatever provided opportunities otherwise for necessary proteins was always a focus. For example, Mom related that catching or bagging a live opossum was not unusual – it was considered a treat. DaddyMac (my grandfather) would cage and feed it ensure proper cleansing of its systems before killing. Both my great grandmother and grandmother could skin, prepare, fillet, and cook anything edible. Fuel for cooking and heating was from coal (kept in a locked covered bin in the backyard). Like most folks, they kept chickens not only a daily supply for fresh eggs but occasionally as a staple main course dinner. Mom distinctly remembers MyMa (my great grandmother) waking up middle of the night, grabbing her shot gun to ensure safety of her chickens and that coal bin from poachers or thieves (hard times often tempt folks with less than admirable intentions).
For the sake of proximity in heritage and influences, I would begin with my great grandfather, Peter Franklin McGilberry (born 11/05/1855 – 02/27/1938, Pine Hill, Wilcox County, Alabama) (wife – Minda Rebekah Morgan) who would head a family and sire twelve children (Carrie E., Onie Rebekah, Emmia, Mary Jane, Jessie Frank, (a son who died in early age in 1886), Ollive Homer, Lucy, John Slyvester, Daniel Pratt II, Ethel (in the early 1970’s I would personally visit this lady who had a passel of kids and her one armed husband (lost to a paper mill saw accident but living into to his nineties)), and the youngest, my revered grandfather, James Bryant McGilberry (05/11/1898-03/26/1963)
I would personally visit in the early 1970’s the dilapidated remains of that McGilberry family dwelling (relatively small and traditional for its day) – a rural all wooden relatively small metal roof structure sitting on a hand shaped stone foundation. It was indeed then hard to believe so many could spring from such humble surroundings. Later in life photos from our visit to this dwelling would be commissioned by my Mom for an oil painting replica, the frame being entirely constructed from pieces of wood from the side of that old house. As well, additional boards would become the face for a couple of other oil paintings (hand water pump and metal container). Last would be a very special Christmas present from my sister, Bonnie and her husband, Vernon – a hand hewed cross from that same wood.
As would be the case for virtually all of the McGilberry’s in every generation all would become frontier hardened country working folks, tillers of the earth, cattlemen, tradesmen, businessmen, and versed in all manner of hunting, fishing, and communing with all of God’s creatures and creations.
The McGilberry men tended to be large in frame, strong of fibre and resolve, as well hardened in dispositions given the challenges of their times and elements. The women tended to be hardy by nature, multi-talented and versatile in every conceivable task required to support their families and husbands when economic and physical survival were necessary – products of determination, focus, and hard work.
Mom’s Father (my grandfather) Bryant McGilberry – DaddyMac
My grandfather (DaddyMac) (James Bryant McGilberry (05/11/1898-03/26/1963))
was a big boned, barreled chest man of firm resolve and absolutely no one to “tangle with”. Finishing only up to the 6th grade he would depart that old original house in Wilcox County to independently seek his fortunes by migrating to live with his Uncle Pratt (Daniel Pratt II) in Huntsville, Texas. In that time and place the only significant source of employment in that locale was a state prison facility.
He would here begin his life long career within law enforcement. Although still a mere teenager he was able convince most to the contrary acquiring a position as a horse mounted prison guard. He would be tasked primarily to watch over and guard convict work parties on lease from the state.
During this employ he would eventually be confronted with an attempted escape/runaway by two convict prisoners. Despite his warnings, they refused to stop or surrender. He killed both which by standards of the day was not a problem in Texas. However, during a routine investigation it was discovered that my grandfather was underage. That was a problem.
To avoid further proceedings and consequences, he was provided an alternative course of action which he readily accepted. In the midst of World War I, he joined the United States Marine Corps with immediate training at Paris Island, SC. The war would end before he would be forced to face an overseas combat assignment.
With the war over and completion of his Marine Corps service obligations, he returned to Alabama. Here he would acquire another horse mounted prison guard position overseeing convicts (on lease from the state) working a coal mine project (also worked as a lead safety mine inspector for gas) in the vicinity of what was then Banner, Alabama (it no longer exists). It would be here in due course where he would meet my grandmother, Mary Jane Wordlaw (MamaMac) (12/12/1888 – 01/04/1959) at a church social. They would soon thereafter marry in Banner.
Mom’s Grandmother – Ellen Leona Wordlaw (my great grandmother) “MyMa”
Certainly one of the most memorable and influential in my early life (aside from my grandfather) was my great grandmother (MyMa) Ellen Leona Wordlaw, the matriarchal authority and influence from every conceivable perspective. I would come to love her dearly despite the “hard teachings” she brought to my doorstep in some very up close and personal ways.
MyMa was of the Sisson family which would eventually have heavy and widespread kinfolk representations throughout the Anniston/Lincoln, Alabama region. However in the mid 1800’s Grandpa Charlie Sisson was then a native of Texas (wounded in the knee, Civil War Vicksburg engagements).
Ellen Leona Wordlaw (MyMa) (08/18/1867 – 11/08/1957), was born in Texas (believed to be in the vicinity of Leona, Texas). Her mother died when she was an infant.
At the time, her father was a travelling medicine man. As a result he often had to leave her with others for proper care which was not always a dependable or positive outcome. On one occasion upon returning, he discovered that all of her hair had been cut off due to lice. He was furious and came close to killing the people involved. Thereafter, he left her with local Indians who treated her extremely well. She prospered and learned a great deal from their tutelage and guidance.
Her early life in Texas would include constant and recurring challenges. She would survive the great Galveston flood saving only two metal trucks. She would encounter repeated cattle stampedes where her home was twice ruined (once the entire front porch demolished). MyMa remembered as a child (3-4 years old) that one drove of horses from Mexico took an entire day to pass their house. When a foal was dropped in that passing and unable to keep up, one of the drovers gave it to her which she personally raised as her own mount.
She would in due course meet and marry her husband in Texas, Charles Thomas Wordlaw (05/16/1857 – 08/08/1919). She would bear two children. The first would be my grandmother, Mary Jane Wordlaw (MamaMac) born in Lampassas, Texas (12/12/1888 -01/04/1959). http://www.lampasas.org/; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lampasas,_Texas
My Mom and I (my own children accompanying) would personally visit Lampassas in the 1990’s seeking to discover and acquire documents or records respecting my grandmother’s birth and/or any other Sisson/Wordlaw matters. Unfortunately due to repeated historical rampant floods (and at least one fire) most of the court house records prior to 1930 had been destroyed and lost forever.
There would follow a son, Thomas L. Wordlaw. He would later perish (July 15, 1918) in WW I during combat in the Adrienne, France area (decorated for gallantry in action, his citation was personally signed by General Pershing). He was initially buried there, then later interred and reburied in Arlington National Cemetery (PFC, Headquarters, Field Artillery, 3rd Division). Thomas Wordlaw, MyMa’s son
During my almost thirty years of residing the in Washington, DC, area I would annually (often many more times therein) visit and (honored to be able) personally tend his grave in Arlington Cemetery (out of devoted respect and love that I had for my great grandmother). As Mom would often share, MyMa never really recovered from the loss of her son – an emotional burden she would carry for the rest of her life.
Tiring of Texas and receiving word from the Sisson’s of a new position requiring an electrical background (her husband’s acquired specialty) at a coal mine “round house” in Lynn’s Crossing, Alabama (near Jasper), the Wordlaw family relocated from Texas to north Alabama (closer to Sisson relatives in Talledega County)
Interestingly Grandpa Wordlaw was also married to a Sisson. As a result my Mom had double cousins throughout Talledega County, not to mention other Sisson kin folk throughout other parts of Alabama.
Sadly MyMa’s husband would pass away in 1919.
Thereafter my grandfather (James Bryant McGilberry) (DaddyMac) would meet my grandmother, Mary Jane Wordlaw (MamaMac) at a church social and in due course they would marry in Banner, Alabama.
Armed with a family inheritance, MyMa (my great grandmother) would become the financial mainstay family member (as well a matriarchal authority and influence from every conceivable perspective). In a time when women were not accorded high legal status respecting rights (especially regarding land ownership) it would be MyMa who would become the financial well from which the McGilberry family would depend for all then and later residences (DaddyMac’s law enforcement careers, especially prison guard positions in those times, were not relatively high paying professions).
In due course, the McGilberry family would move to Graysville. Eventually there would be a final move to the East Lake area of Birmingham, Alabama (8412 3rd Ave. South). DaddyMac would secure a position with the Southern Railway ultimately becoming a detective from which he would ultimately retire after 30 years of dedicated service.
MyMa clearly was a major influence in both my own and Mom’s lives (anyone who has known my Mom would instantly recognize MyMa’s influences).
Myma was lean and sinewy seeming to sort of glide more than walk. She had a natural grace in both manner and style yet most everything was deliberate by design or purpose. Although clearly raised from within hard times and constant challenges (including very real barriers for women respecting rights and stature within our society), she possessed a determination and focus that always seem to provide a clear path for her objectives. MyMa had certain views and standards that would be imprinted not only upon my Mom, but all within her influence.
She was a Bible reading, God fearing Presbyterian who took the scriptures seriously. Class for a woman had nothing to do with educational or financial status. It was about following the “Good Book”, providing foundations for strength and courage for others, and leading by example.
Good breeding was an attitude where actions and pose spoke louder than words. Her views on proper conduct and values matched those of my grandfather, especially when applied to the ladies of proper standing and integrity (no makeup, dresses and hems well below the knees, little if any jewelry, no smoking, drinking, cursing, dancing, or acting in any manner not befitting a lady of proper distinction) – real class was completely unrelated to one’s wealth or position.
Her thin personage and appearance belied impressive powers of charisma and persuasion that never ceased to amaze. I do not recall my grandfather ever once saying a cross word to her or even looking wrongly in her direction. In her presence he was always studiously polite and readily agreeable regardless of subject.
Outside of her presence he was a burly man of power who loved the woods and all things in nature. Daddy Mac was always packing a hand gun, rifle and shot guns for hunting. In his line of work during the Great Depression taking life on occasion became a necessary duty. No one crossed him or engaged wrongly. If so, there would always be consequences, usually of a serious type.
MyMa was an old time traditional Presbyterian who read that tattered Bible cover to cover especially in her final years (living until age 89). She had a power of presence and persuasion that often mystified. When she gazed into your eyes it’s as if she could see right down into your very soul. Attempting to justify a lie or fib regarding anything would be instantly detected. Her adverse look or stare could freeze the Devil himself in place. By the same token, her uncompromising warmth and love could be limitless.
Whether originating from Mom or the McGilberry trifecata (MyMa, DaddyMac, MaMac) and/or re enforced through church and those Bible stories, the standards for “right-wrong” and the entire spectrum of character values existed from any number of other sources.
A firm moral foundation was well grounded from within both the Ten Commandments and Beatitudes:
Mom’s Mother – Mary Jane Wordlaw (MamaMac) (12/12/1888 – 01/04/1959)
Contrasting entirely the dominate presence of my Mom’s father (Daddy Mac) and her grandmother (MyMa) was Mom’s mother, Mary Jane Wordlaw (MamaMac) (12/12/1888 – 01/04/1959). She was the complete opposite in disposition and temperament. She was more the peace maker, always a solid reservoir of love, caring, and consoling.
She was small in stature but always full of energy, resolute in work ethics, and supporting her family. Unfortunately the later age arrival of Marion McGilberry took a terrible toll physically upon and from her. It was a most difficult birth that at one point appeared would be fatal to both mother and child. She really never fully recovered, having recurring and lingering physical issues for the rest of her life – eventually in later years resulting in dementia (in those days referred to as “hardening of the arteries reducing blood flow to the brain”).
Mom and Her Two Brothers
There would be three children or off spring from this McGilberry/Wordlaw union:
My Mom (Mendie Leona McGilberry) was the first born on August 05, 1920 (Banner, Alabama). It became evident to everyone from her earliest years that she had inherited all of MyMa’s attributes and a lot more beside. She was keenly alert as a child seeking to learn at every opportunity (something not exactly encouraged for women in those times).
With a father embedded of strict value sets (double standards when it came to women) there would be regular confrontations as she would openly refuse to be limited or hindered from seeking out knowledge and acquiring skills and talents of every sort. As MyMa would lament regularly, my Mom’s middle name should have been “go”. Whatever the opportunity or destination, Mom was always at the forefront “to go”.
The next would be James Thomas McGilberry (“James Tommy”) (08/04/1922 in Birmingham, Alabama – died 05/11/1970, Childersburg, Alabama). From an early age, James showed himself to be rather independent minded with a stubborn streak – once he set his path or mind on something there woul be no detours – some would lament a recurring McGilberry trait.
Unlike my Mom, he did not seek to follow family paths or every opportunity. He had a mischievous side as well. As a youngster he (no doubt with other boys) once greased the tracks on the East Lake trolley turn around at the 87th Street causing the trolley to entirely run off the tracks. But for my grandfather’s friendship with the trolley conductor and personal intervention that one could have become a serious problem. James Tommy and Daddy Mac’s belt strap certainly had more than a few outings during his early years.
Instead of going to the local public high school in Birmingham (Woodlawn), he instead opted to attend the then Paul Hagan Trade School to learn and develop machinist skill specialties. With the onset of WWII, he would join the Merchant Marine becoming involved in some of the most dangerous fleet missions across the Atlantic (Nazi German U Boat sinking’s created massive losses in shipping tonnage and American lives). http://www.usmm.org/casualty.html; http://ww2.fsu.edu/The-Merchant-Marine
After the war, he would meet and marry a home grown Talledega County country gal (O’Hara) (one of the best darn Southern scratch cooks I ever met) settling in the small community enclave of Childersburg, Alabama. http://www.childersburg.org/childersburghistory.shtml
There he would become a firm and well known community figure working for Alabama Power Company. He would purchase nearby farming acreage in that area (we called it “Kahatchie”) to raise crops, cattle, and hunt/fish. When time allowed I would spend a goodly part of my early years in this area with grandfather, DaddyMac, hunting and just roaming as a wild child within all that was Nature).
James Tommy would prematurely leave us at the relatively young age of 48 (massive heart attack). Quite literally, the entire community of Childersburg would turn out for that funeral service and burial.
He would sire two male children (my cousins) (John Thomas (Tommy) McGilberry (02/06/1951) and James Keith McGilberry (12/08/1956), the former being a career enlisted soldier (US Army reserves), a nationally recognized expert instructor in rifle sharpshooting/marksmanship, superb all around hunter, and Alabama state archery champion. Keith would follow his father’s footprints as an engineer/machinist, bee keeper, building most everything from houses to repairing vintage tractors.
The last and youngest (only ten years my elder) was Marian Bryant McGilberry (03/04/1932 in Birmingham – died 02/20 /2012). http://obits.al.com/obituaries/birmingham/obituary.aspx?pid=156036845
He had an extremely affable disposition easily making friends throughout his entire life (nicknamed “Hap” in high school). He would attend and play football at Woodlawn High School (as well a member of the well known Warblers Singing Group). He would be a regular mentor in my early years given my frequent stays with and at my grandparent’s home in East Lake, Birmingham, Alabama (8412 3rd Ave. So.).
He would in due course marry, have two daughters, and serve in the US Army (Korean War period). Later in life he would become a well known football referee throughout the Jefferson County and surrounding counties, Alabama (primarily high school games but as well part of the referee/linesmen crews for some of the greatest Alabama football battles at Legion Field).
Mom and My Father, Woodrow Wilson Davis
In 1940, my Mom had just finished her studies at Woodlawn High School (perennial and state athletic powerhouse and the only high school for the entire eastern side of Birmingham). She was well read, articulate, quick to grasp and eager to seek new opportunities and knowledge, and most attractive by face and figure. She was highly skilled in every conceivable home making task after being schooled by MyMa and MamaMac.
My Mom tended to be ambitious by nature, always striving for next levels. She was clearly a “people person”, sympathetic to the needs of others, a natural caregiver, gregarious by nature, and well liked. She just loved music and dancing.
My father, Woodrow Wilson Davis) (most calling him “Wilson”) (born 11/09/1916 (Irondale, Alabama) – 12/16/2009) (LaGrange, Georgia) was by contrast, in many ways the complete opposite of Mom. No one is really sure how much education my father actually received. Four years older than Mom, Wilson in his early years was a regular problem for Grandpa Herman Davis (his father) due to recurring unexplained school absences and truancies. Wilson simply did not like school.
He tended to be passive by nature usually preferring fixed, concrete, stable surrounding. Being ambitious, innovative to achieve or advance, or seeking adventure or change were not endemic to his character. He had an affable personality, and sought to please. He was attractive facially with a strong frame. Excesses in anything nor flexibility in attitudes would not be part of his adult character traits.
Ironically he readily adapted to the game of golf becoming (unusual in these times) a “scratch player”. My Uncle Nofie (his half brother and addicted golfer) incessantly tried to persuade Wilson to become a “pro”. He summarily refused all such suggestions. Although he perhaps had the physical skills for precision golfing, being a professional required special attributes for determination, drive, and resiliency – traits not found in my father.
As is often a repeating scenario in real life, time, place, and circumstance (or the lack thereof) can become predominant factors molding choices and outcomes. The meeting between Mom and my father was entirely the handiwork of the interwoven family networks then residing within the 4 block square area surrounding my grandparent’s home – 8412 3rd Ave. South, Birmingham. As usual MyMa was a prime architect and enabler (she would later regret it).
They would ultimately marry on Valentine’s Day, 1941, in a small church ceremony (East Lake Presbyterian just around the corner from their homes – still there). From the Davis and Wideman families (my father’s side) perspectives this was the perfect match for Wilson – my Mom being an attractive, skilled young lady of impeccable background who could support and get him finally focused toward a real future.
One must be mindful that most young folks during the Depression had neither the finances nor resources for big church weddings, expensive wedding dresses, bridesmaid gowns, and/or celebratory receptions thereafter. As such, marriage was usually just getting a license and standing before a Justice of the Peace somewhere – that was it. However, Mom was insistent that she be married in a church with her preacher. So she paid all costs herself. Not being able to afford a fancy wedding dress, Mom wore her Sunday church outfit. It would be a small affair. Her brother, James Tommy, would give her away at the altar. Although her younger brother, Marion would be present, her father (DaddyMac), mother (MamaMac), and grandmother (MyMa) would not attend. It had nothing to do with any protest or objection. Rather they felt it should be done the old fashion way – run away and Justice of the Peace version. Interestingly, Grandpa Herman Davis (my father’s father) was present; the only time he would ever attend a wedding for any of his children.
As for a place to live for the new wedded couple, again relatives would provide the pathway. A relative somehow got my father onto the list for a unit in what was then subsidized housing, Central City – a complex of 2-3 story apartments directly facing the Old Birmingham Train Station (no longer existing) .http://www.bhamwiki.com/w/Birmingham_Terminal_Station
Although my father had been adamant that children would not be part of the marriage the world war changed that perspective instantly. Enter a paternal relative. Through her friend at the Birmingham courthouse, she learned that my father could be deferred if Mom became pregnant. She so directly advised my father of a pathway to avoid service.
Regardless of the motivations involved, I would be born at Norwood Hospital, Birmingham, February 22, 1943 (also coincidentally the birthday of the “Father of our Country”, George Washington) – Woodrow Wilson Davis, Jr.
My father’s complete dislike for children would become evident from then onward. He would rarely if ever become involved with either of his children in their early years (even beyond that). Child rearing, nurturing, and primary care would rest singularly with Mom and our relatives (overwhelmingly the entire McGilberry clan).
On May 30, 1945, my sister, Bonnie Ellen Davis, would be born at Norwood Hospital (natural birth) – a mere 15 months between siblings. Mom finally had her daughter with blonde curls and all. To follow would be all of the pink frills and femininity (she got my original stuff and a lot more besides).
Mom would also have Bonnie in early piano lessons. MamaMac bought an upright piano upon which Mom as a child would train and played for almost ten years. Mom insisted that I also take piano lessons. However, that did not last long given the attractions for other far more fun activities. I did however retain a sense for the notes and music tones which would be later transferred to other musical instruments (trumpet, guitar, composing and singing). Interestingly, Grandpa McGilberry (DaddyMac’s father) loved music and played a right fine fiddle which would get handed down to Mom’s brother, James Tommy. He would be forced to take lessons and regularly played with Mom accompanying on the piano in church (East Lake Presbyterian – just around the corner from their home)). Once old enough to get his way, the fiddle lessons and playing would cease for James Tommy. That same upfront piano currently sits in our living room (here in Marietta) awaiting (one can only pray) a next generation to again learn and start playing (music is assuredly the gateway to one’s soul)
The move to the Huffman/Roebuck area and into a new two bedroom, one bath house (926 Shelton Road – Huffman Road east, then left on Roebuck Drive, right onto Shelton Street) would begin a wondrous and unforgettable period in my life (again from start to finish everything was relatives initiated with financing assistance thrown in).
Situated as the last house on a dirt road basically ending a few hundred feet down the hill, our back yard and beyond was a kid’s dreams come true – wide open with a tree lined barbed wire fence at the rear as a last barrier to hundreds of acres of green meadows filled with milk cows wandering all about (owned then by Fuqua Diary). At the back of the meadows lay Five Mile Creek (spring fed clear water from an artisan well streaming up through a pool of smooth pebbles a few miles away we called back then “Fuqua Springs”) http://www.fivemilecreekgreenway.org/history-of-five-mile-creek/about-2/
Within the trifecta of predominant influences in my early life (Mom, DaddyMac, and MyMa) my great grandmother was a clear standout. Where my grandfather (DaddyMac) projected a hardened robust, manly figure imbuing me with all manner of nature and outdoors, MyMa delivered from a wholly different platform. Where DaddyMac brought brawn and physical power by stature, inflection, and presence, MyMa epitomized a core strength far beyond her slight feminine image and appearance.
Perhaps not wholly unexpected it did not take long for DaddyMac and MyMa to develop a less than acceptable view of my father. He simply fit none of the McGilberry traits and in Daddy Mac’s views was nott his kind of man.
DadyMac and me – Despite Mom’s dislike of firearms (my father would not even discuss), DaddyMac taught me hunting preschool, use of a shotgun, even provided me with my own small carbine – Daddy Mac was all smiles – that was my rabbit!!!
In this life there are parents that become role models for everlasting ethical values for life producing offspring who carry onward in those same traditions. Then there are parents lacking those values in the first place. They tend to propagate their dark sides for the complete opposite. That Mom would become an everlasting role model in her own life is well explained from all of the prior noted family influences.
My own father by contrast was effectively invisible and sadly offered no positive influences whatsoever. Mom therefore had to do double duty in raising her two children. She became indeed my everlasting bedrock for ethical values.
Mom’s views respecting values and character were simple and straight forward. One could start with the Ten Commandments and Beatitudes from the Bible and then work forward. Call it “old time religion” Presbyterian style but it was the McGilberry way.
She would raise I and my sister mostly as a single mother. She would eventually work for fifty-five consecutive years full time employment until she finally retired at age 85 (the last thirty years plus with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia).
In an age when strong women of intelligence were not easily countenanced or encouraged, she would regularly cross and break all barriers with aplomb, grace, and style – always earning admiration and affection in the process. As with MyMa, she was no one to cross or mess with! I have often referred to Mom as a “Steel Magnolia” – exemplifying strong independence and strength with both traditional admirable femininity and uncommon fortitude.
Her well known e-mail handle seems to have been well chosen “Sassy Lee”-saucy, bold, fresh, dynamic, confident, etc.
Mom insisted upon becoming self sufficient in all things (personal appearance, hygiene, cooking, cleaning, washing, ironing, sewing as required, etc.). Working daily she simply could not be there. Whatever it was or needed to be done, my sister and I had to do it. So it was a simple precept. Learn to do it yourself. If you need it done, then self reliance was the key. The guidelines were really simple. Whatever it is in life of real value (respect, love, admiration, etc.) one has to “earn it”.
Mom was always to the point as was My Ma. The world owes you nothing. You are entitled to only what you personally earn. She absolutely detested dishonesty, lying, or deceit. She abhorred anyone who refused to assume responsibility for their actions and/or being fully accountable. I would over time simply label these precepts and values into what I called the “Southern code” or “the Code. I have since added quite few other chapters and enhancements to the Code (all contained in my Book “The Killing of America”)
Mom Finally Reaches her Limits of Patience – Time for New Beginnings
One day, Mom just piled me and my sister into my father’s 1952 Chevy – she just started driving – no lessons, no drivers license. In no time at all she became proficient and got her own license.
Then she took a job at Sears Roebuck in Customer Service (in those days handling anything and everything with customers). Fed up with the lowly pay and a less than intelligent manager, she applied and was hired as the first woman working at then Hayes Aircraft (new contracts) http://www.bhamwiki.com/w/Pemco (modifications to B-25 and C-119) (previously the official name was the “Birmingham Modification Center” or “Bechtel-McCone-Parsons” but locals just called it “Bechtel-McCone) http://www.jeffcohistory.com/newsletter_apr_12_pg4.html.
In the billing and support management side at Hayes, her first desk was two saw horses on a slab of plywood in a vacant side of an aircraft hangar (Birmingham airport). In due course she would personally hire and supervise an entire contingent of seventeen other clerical ladies insisting upon and getting all upgrades for their area.
That my mother worked, could drive, and actually made more than my father was not well received. There would repeated disputes and arguments always out of our (me and my sister) presence and/or hearing.
The proverbial straw that broke the “camel’s back” – my father refused to even consider much less discuss adding an additional bedroom onto our Huffman house on Shelton Street to accommodate the fact that both my sister and I were getting older. We needed separate rooms. Mom had enough.
There would be a mutually agreeable divorce. Begrudgingly my father agreed to split evenly. He avoided conflicts by any and all means. There would be no disputes. He would get two weeks during our summer vacation time with us.
We would quickly move into a one bedroom garden ground floor apartment in Cherokee Gardens (7801 1st Avenue North, Birmingham) http://www.apartments.com/cherokee-gardens-birmingham-al/f5vrrqv/
with Dr. Mahaffey’s (our family and grandparent’s physician for everything) office just up First Avenue and my grandparents within easy access (8412 3rd Avenue South). It meant all of us sleeping in a single bedroom (at least I got a separate bed).
It was a major and challenging transition for Mom, my sister, Bonnie, and myself.
Taken from my wildness paradise in Huffman (my father taking my dog away on a long drive to nowhere), I was not a happy camper. Those almost 3 years attending that dark foreboding mountain of a building, Curry Elementary, on a knoll with a clear view of the Birmingham Airport, were not terribly inspiring. However, my sister and I adapted, made friends, and got through it.
That however would radically change again. My grandmother (MamaMac) and great grandmother (MyMa) were developing serious issues that required daily care and attention. My grandfather, Daddy Mac, was no care giver. He was wholly incapable of caring for anything beyond himself and his hunt dogs. He was continually absent down in the wildness of “Kahatchie” and on his son’s acreage/farm (James Tommy) near Childersburg, Alabama.
Mom was furious and took my grandfather on, frontally, no holds barred. He readily agreed to have major upgrades made in and upon the house at 8412 3rd Ave. South.
So when I was in the 6th grade, Mom moved us into my grandparents home (East Lake, Birmingham, Alabama) in order to look after and care for both her mother (MamaMac) (dementia, many physical problems) and grandmother (MyMa) (debilitating arthritis, rheumatism, etc). Since Mom worked daily she needed help. So she found and brought in a black woman to look after them, my sister, and myself while she daily worked. Unfortunately I would rarely see much of Daddy Mac from then onward.
Mary would become my alternate mother in every conceivable respect. We loved her deeply and she loved us. MamaMac and MyMa adored her. Whatever was needed she took care of them – I do mean everything!
She was never considered or treated as “help”. She was part and parcel of our family. See, The Help, Kathryn Stockett, Berkley Trade (2011); http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1454029/; (Video) (The Help) http://www.dreamworksstudios.com/films/the-help. She sat and ate with us and interacted just like family. I would hug and kiss her regularly.
I would finish my primary school career at Robinson Elementary – in fact the exact same school as had my Mom and her younger brother, Marion, attended as well having the exact same home room teacher – Mrs. Dowling (certainly aged by the time I got there and hard of seeing, but her ears where better than any bird dog – nothing escaped her in class!)
I would upon matriculation start in a brand new high school (just a half mile up the road), Banks High School (ours being the first class to enter effectively meaning being a senior for all four years, as new classes were brought in behind). Having attended three separate primary\elementary schools on the same side of town (Huffman, Curry, and Robinson) it meant I already knew a majority of all those incoming fellow students.
With my sister, Bonnie, at 8412 3rdAve South
That I thrived in this new environment would be vast understatement (academically, as an athlete, socially, and personally). I would here encounter and be personally mentored by the first role model male/father figure in my life – Coach Albert Morton. He took a young inexperienced boy and molded me into a young man with renewed confidence, self awareness, and an attitude to match. Mom could not have been more proud (mothers can only do so much in bringing a spirited son with more energy than perhaps good sense – thank the Lord Coach Morton entered my life and molded me into a positive outlet for all that spirit!
Although Mom worked daily, it was not at all surprising that she found ways to be directly connected to everyone and everything (Bank HS principal (Woodlawn grad), teachers, and other parents – a solid number not only being Woodlawn grads but Mom’s classmates).
She was there for anything and everything at Banks respecting myself and my sister including most every basketball game for four years (with George Morris I would end up playing in every single quarter of every single basketball game all four years – in most as a starting guard) (in those days getting to one’s game either meant hitching a ride with another parent/player or Mom providing)
Mid way in my high school career a new man entered Mom’s life – that would evolve to our having a step father. US Steel had major operations in Birmingham in those days (Pittsburgh of the South, Steel City) with a national fleet of over 72 private aircraft for their executives and accompanying involvements.
David M. (Wally) Wollesen was one of their veteran pilots. No doubt Mom had multiple motivations aside from romantic interests (not the least of which was her complete devotion for her children’s welfare). From my sister’s and my perspective if it made Mom happy we were all for it.
We were prepared to cooperate in any way possible for her happiness (hard times bond families which means sacrifices for each other all along the way).
Mom in due course married. We had a new step father. In order to show our acceptance and cooperation, my sister and I changed our last names to “Wollesen” (it was not an adoption – name change only). Despite the fact that my own father had never been an active part of my life by then, out of respect I kept his name as my middle name – “Davis”.
With the passing of my great grandmother (MyMa) and MamaMac (almost immediately thereafter) our new family moved into a new home in Center Point, Alabama.
Near the beginning of my senior year at Banks High School, the worldwide and domestic markets respecting steel product and sales changed radically in adverse directions. US Steel made a command decision to pull in “its horns”. It consolidated all of its air fleet operations back to the headquarters, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and the Greater Pittsburgh Airport. It meant immediate transfer for our step father. It also meant that our entire family would be relocating.
Fortunately for me, Mom was insistent that no move would occur until after I had finished and graduated from Banks High School (she was well aware that to being there for my senior year (athletically and otherwise) was a very big deal).
As projected, almost as soon as graduation had been concluded, the entire family relocated to Moon Township, Pennsylvania, within a mile of the Greater Pittsburgh Airport. To say that this was a radical transition involving every aspect our lives cannot be understated (going from Deep South living then amidst segregation, radical changes culturally, societal values and mores and ethnic differences, etc.).
I would enter Washington & Jefferson College (at that time all male – one of the most prestigious small colleges in America – 13th oldest in the country, oldest West of the Alleghenies) as the only true southerner among all these northern Yankees (as I was informed the first southern student entrant in the previous 30 plus years).
Mix into that my first time exposures to real cold, brutal winters, deep snow, having to daily work for my keep on campus, living under Spartan like conditions, and attempting to transition academically from high school to college standards, that I made it through and survived beyond my first year (using hindsight) was an absolute miracle. The Lord clearly had my back! I survived, adapted in due course, and thrived graduating with high marks and accolades (with no college debt whatsoever – in part thanks to Mom and her personal sacrifices (as well my sister)).
My sister was equally challenged. She had a hard time adjusting at the local Moon High School. She did survive but not as well adjusted over time.
Mom was also challenged given so many culture and environmental differences/changes. However the Good Lord seemingly had her back.
In one of Mom’s first interviews she interacted with a human resources executive at Mellon Bank from the South no less. She was hired on the spot. Mom tried to explain that she had no experience in foreign exchange and the related accounting. It mattered not. The lady assured her she would get it in no time. In fact, making almost instant friends among co workers and her bosses not surprisingly she thrived.
Around the time as I was approaching graduation from Washington & Jefferson College, matters within Mom’s marital relationship was hitting a “rocky road”. Unknown to me at the time, my step father’s positions within the air fleet operations had been gradually downgraded (whether market influenced and/or self created was unknown) (from pilot, to part of the training corps, then segmented time as a trainer, mechanic and serving as steward on the aircraft for the executives).
He did not react well to the transitions. He slowly developed mental health issues with some aggression tendencies. While Mom was thriving receiving promotions and raises at Mellon Bank his vocational prospects were going the complete opposite directions. The arguments slowly were becoming more heated and hostile (some with implied threats of violence)
By the Spring, 1965 I had already applied to and been accepted by most of the then most prestigious law schools in the country, including Harvard, Penn, and University of Chicago. However without scholarship funding I could not possibly attend. Ohio State University stepped up and offered me a guaranteed full scholarship for my entire law school career. I accepted. I even had an apartment arranged in Columbus, Ohio near campus with some OSU fraternity brothers attending there as well. I was all set to begin classes in late August.
However as the temperament at home became more heated and aggressive, it became exceedingly clear that I could not just leave to attend at OSU. This was a fairly clear cut safety and welfare issue respecting Mom and my sister. I would either have to forego law school and get a local job or find some other option.
The Good Lord again came to my rescue. Miraculously I was able to convince the Dean, University of Pittsburgh, School of Law (knowing that he was also a graduate of Washington & Jefferson College) to not only let me into his Fall classes (had been completely closed for three months prior) but also provide me grant in aid complete funding for my entire first year. I accordingly and respectfully declined the OSU offer.
It meant I would be attending law school the very hard way – entirely computing. I would first have to drive Mom and my sister to work early morning every day (Mom had already arranged a new job for my sister, Bonnie, with the Allegheny County Republican Party (aside from Philadelphia, the most influential in the Commonwealth), remain at the Cathedral of Learning (study in the library as needed all day), then pickup them in downtown Pittsburgh, and return back home in Moon Township in the evening. With my presence it meant Mom and my sister would be protected as needed.
My step father was not at all pleased. It took only another two months for the “boiling pot” to erupt with direct physical threats against Mom – in my presence no less. It became physically confrontational. Thereafter law enforcement and the judicial system would become deeply involved. The divorce was exceedingly ugly. However when the dust settled at least peace and safety of all concerned was provided.
That was a very tough year for all of us exacerbated by the arrival of an elongated and very nasty winter Pittsburgh style. However we all endured stronger for the ordeal and more committed than ever to stay and move forward on all fronts.
I would be offered an extremely attractive law firm engagement (being paid substantially more than any of my peers at the time) allowing me (with Mom’s assistance to purchase my first car and move into a shared apartment (Squirrel Hill area) closer to campus. By my third year (as well making Law Review) I would become financially blessed to be able to help with the family finances and easing otherwise existing burdens. After taking the Bar Exam summer of 1968, I would enter the service (1st Ltn, US Army, Ft Gordon, GA) in September that year.
I would eventually be stationed overseas at a major military command headquarters, Heidelberg, Germany. I would remain there until completion of my service obligations almost 3 ½ years later.
During those years Mom and sister, Bonnie (who lived with her) seemed to thrive, traveled extensively, and expanded individual horizons and experiences. Both would come to Germany to visit with me. I personally arranged a once in a life time opportunity for both to visit The Passion Play, Oberammergau, Bavaria, Germany – performed every 10 years since 1634 by the inhabitants of that village (staging of Jesus’ final period of his life from his visit to Jerusalem and leading to his execution by crucifixion).
Amid the ravages of the Great Plague the villagers vowed that if God spared them they would perform a play every 10 years depicting the life and death of Jesus. Nobody died of plague in Oberammergau after that vow. The villagers kept their word to God by performing the passion play for the first time in 1634
For both Mom and my sister personally experiencing The Play had lasting impacts, both commenting for years on the spiritual benefits. The following year, my sister Bonnie, would singularly take a tour of Europe and visit me as well.
Throughout those years I was able to maintain regular contact to both through military communication networks and recording tapes which we exchanged via mail.
Upon my return to the US and Pittsburgh in the Fall1972 (after an appropriate stay with Mom and my sister) it was my avowed intention to relocate West. I was fully focused upon loading up my 1970 XKE Jaguar Rodster (purchased in Germany) and driving straight to Denver, Colorado (to join my close friend (like my brother) Rob Graft and his wife, Mary Kay) – there to seek my fortunes in the practice of law – most importantly to ski my brains out the rest of my life (I had learned and became an accomplished skier in Europe).
Mom had other ideas. After the absence of almost four years she desired for her son to be closer and more accessible. To Mom there were no real obstacles in life – only the will, focus, and creativity to achieve most any goal.
In typical Mom fashion she arranged for appointments with and made personal visits with Senator Hugh Scott and Richard S. Schweiker (both being the most powerful Congressional (Senate) powers at that time in the country – direct access to the President) (my sister then worked for the Allegheny Republican Party and Mom knew all of her bosses).
With her usual charming persuasive style Mom informed both that her son, Woodrow, would be returning from decorated military service back to Pittsburgh (a very talented attorney) (not exactly accurate at least on the first count?) – could they assist in his placement within the US government?
On my return home to Pittsburgh, I found a literal mound of official letters from every single Federal executive agency within the US government inviting me to arrange an interview with each of their General Counsels upon my return to the US. I was not a happy camper. However I had no choice. I would be required to journey to Washington, DC, arrange and attend every single interview out of respect for the Senators involved. It would take me over two weeks to complete the process.
Unexpectedly I was made an offer by the General Counsel’s Office, General Service Administration, that I felt was just too good to ignore (an opportunity to represent all of the federal executive governmental agencies in their national consumption interests (e.g., oil, gas, electricity, transportation (rail, trucking), airline, maritime, and telecommunications) before every single federal regulatory agency then existing. I figured if I dedicated myself for a couple of years I might just acquire unparalleled specialized legal knowledge and trial experience so that I could “write my own ticket” in Colorado. I could then relocate and “ski my brains out for the rest of my life”!
I would make personal visits to both Senators in their DC offices to profusely thank them for their courtesies and consideration. Mom and my sister were now happy since I would be closer and more accessible (both directions). I relocated to DC thereafter in 1972.
Some grand ironies would ultimately unfold. I would get my two plus years in and become the only trial attorney in the entire country with in depth expertise and advocacy experience with and before every single federal regulatory agency then in existence. The irony – with a new change of Administrations virtually all of those regulatory agencies would be eliminated or made ineffective shadows of their former selves (e.g., Interstate Commerce Commission). So much for my elegant plans to relocate to Colorado and spend my life skiing – “Rocky Mountain High”!
I would maintain my expertise within the oil and electric power rates, regulations, and the like. The Lord again intervened.
I would be offered a position with an existing law firm at most attractive compensation levels top floor of the Watergate Office Building. Within two years thereafter, when a war erupted between the two name partners and when smoke settled, I would be elevated at the age of 35 years to be a co managing partner in a national litigation law firm (at such an early age an attainment un heard of in those times).
From that time forward I would end up in the Washington, DC region for the next 30 years (I would still frequently and annually head West to ski my brains out but only for weeks at time)!!
The other grand irony – Mom and my sister decided it was time to return to the South. Pittsburgh had its good points. However the attractions for warmer weather and Southern hospitality simply had far greater appeals. They simply sold the house, packed up everything and relocated to Atlanta – neither had a job. Taking residence apartment style in the Stone Mountain area, both would begin interviewing to start a whole new life from scratch.
When Mom interviewed at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia she was hired on the spot. She would spend the next thirty years there not retiring until she 85 years old (her BCBS retirement affair was literally attended by every executive officer (past and then present) as well over 300 friends and employees – it would be the last time such a celebration of that type would ever occur at BCBS or with its latter corporate owners).
My sister was able to garner a position at the then Atlanta Blue (reprographic and blueprint services giant) working for what would be her future husband, Vernon Langford (inheriting in the process his two young children – Terri and Scott Langford) (his former wife and her mother killed in an auto accident some years before).
They would settle in the Cobb County area. They would have a daughter, Mendie Langford (herself later marrying Tripp Lange and having two sons, Mason and William).
Bonnie and Vernon would in due course re settle to St Simons Island, Georgia. Most sadly, my sister, Bonnie, would ultimately succumb to the ravages of breast cancer and join our Lord and Savior, September 21, 2016.
That loss was a terrible blow to Mom. In some ways (most hidden from view) she never really recovered from losing her daughter. As she was apt to share “you’re not suppose to outlive your kids”!!
My Mom – A Profile in Excellence
Dynamic Role Model for all Who Knew Her
Knowing and understanding Mom’s heritage (family, the Great Depression, war years, and the like) clearly demonstrates all of the qualities that made her to be loved and admired by virtually everyone who knew her. That she unselfishly exuded excellence and proficiencies in every aspect of moral and Christian molds have left lasting legacies worthy for all to recognize and follow.
She was throughout her 100 years a dynamic role model by simply selflessly living, loving, and caring (always dedicated to her children, grand children, friends and others). Those legacies should stand as a lasting monument to be emulated, followed, and shared.
How many can count the ways Mom positively impacted upon all of us? Certainly at the top of the list would be an unwavering devotion, dedication, love, and commitment for and to her children and grand children.
She was always there, regardless of challenges or obstacles in full support – whatever it might take, she was unselfishly willing to offer and give over – an extremely rare quality. She was a lifelong advocate and supporter for her children and grandchildren to seek out, explore, investigate new horizons, master or become proficient in as many endeavors as possible, and use/devote all of that knowledge and experience to benefit others.
Role Model Qualities to be Emulated
For all that have known Mom, consider the following:
Perseverance, Courage and Moral Courage
Mom was a literal reservoir for perseverance, courage (especially moral courage), strength, and will power, over and over again in her life (respecting major and minor type challenges). Her exhibited abilities to act through adversity for herself and others (especially for the sake of a greater purpose) always stood out.
Ideal role models will often have to overcome poor circumstances. She was able to repeatedly and gracefully deal with problematic situations in creative, intelligent ways to achieve their goals or overcome adversity. Often her abilities to succeed were beyond admirable.
Whatever the need or requirement Mom always found a way to support, provide what was needed often to her own detriment, financially or otherwise. Her children and grandchildren were viewed as paramount – always.
Although I worked my way through college and law school, it also took the
unbelievable sacrifices by Mom (as well my sister) to get there and achieve goals. The same was true for my sister. Mom spent her entire life supporting and creating endless opportunities (her job at the Allegheny County Republican Party was Mom sourced) for my sister to gain self confidence, succeed in anything and everything, and gain for herself desired goals. The same was true for my children, Katie and Matthew. Both were the best dressed and sport equipped in every endeavor due to Mom and her financial support. She was always there for the both in them (in every single sport endeavor, cultural, in their schools, and even there when they prevailed (both won medals) in the US Taekwondo Junior Championships, San Antonio, Texas). She in fact committed her entire retirement savings in support of my children so they could be best they could be in everything (cost for 12 years in the courts exceeding $350,000 for their defense) for the rest of their young lives and adulthood.
In another instance when a neighborhood family (due to unforeseen circumstances) could not make their mortgage payments with imminent risk of losing their home, Mom loaned them the necessary funds (no paper work).
She was never repaid. She never once complained.
Mom continually exhibited instances of simply “doing the right thing”.
Confidence, Focus and Doing the Right Thing
Mom was always a well spring respecting own self confidence and seeking to build it in others – her positive attitude was a light to encourage others to higher expectations and goals. Mom constantly rejected rigid view points and solutions by others. Instead she encouraged and practiced the flexibility to vary and change strategies to achieve goals.
Throughout her many years in the current neighborhood there would be cases (mostly renter or short term residents) that did not exactly keep their properties and residences in the best of appearances (by definition affecting everyone’s property values). Instead of individually confronting, Mom opted for a far more successful strategy. She met with, attended meetings with the head of zoning enforcement for all of Cobb County. In due course he would know her on a first name basis. Whatever her complaint or issue zoning enforcement would provide the means for all offenders to either shape up or ship out – the neighborhood and everyone therein benefiting there from.
The origins and creation of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Retiree Association (The Ambassadors) which Mom co founded (while still an employee) some thirty years ago) was not exactly warmly received when first presented. It took some creative and gracefully maneuvering (as well the enlisted support from other quarters) to make it a reality. That Mom was able to accomplish all of that is a tribute to the very skill sets noted.
Respect, Love, Compassion, and Caring
Another trait or characteristic worth noting – respect for others always responding with genuine love, compassion, and caring.
Little known to most while working full time, Mom was a regular visitor and
friend to a number of senior elderly ladies (in Southern parlance – “shut in’s”) through the Peachtree Presbyterian Church (a member for many years). She fully appreciated that such ladies thrived upon such visits and encouragements.
In that same vein, virtually all of the outgrown clothing of my children, Katie and Matthew, she personally delivered to local orphanages in the Atlanta area (the quality of such being far superior to anything they would receive from any other sources) (no tax deduction – not even a receipt requested).
In another instance (while I was away and overseas) (living in Moon Township, Pennsylvania), Mom and my sister thought to open their hearts and home to three young female children from a local orphanage. By all accounts it was a glorious and very special Christmas for everyone. However, the children did want to leave or go back to the orphanage. It was a highly emotional parting for everyone. Mom and my sister were heart broken in not being able to do more for them. They did not repeat that effort again – just too emotional and without a remedial solution for any of the children involved.
The very founding and continue existence of the BCBS Ambassadors embodied Mom’s belief that caring needed to continue beyond the workplace for all retirees. The old BCBS of Georgia was truly a patient/client centric enterprise – the primary focus was caring and seeking the best health/medical outcomes for all subscribers (caring was more than slogan – it was then a reality).
As a result those that tirelessly worked at BCBS had an endearing loyalty to the company and each other – it was family. Mom always felt that needed to be extended into retirement. She personally sought to stimulate and encourage that whatever the sickness, illness, or demise affecting any of the retirees the Ambassadors would seek to comfort or console. That meant tirelessly maintaining contacts with all of its members and ensuring immediate forwarding of cards, flowers, fruit baskets and the like. For every funeral service Mom attempted to ensure that volunteer members geographically convenient would attend (showing personal support). Countless times it was Mom herself that would personally be there – she cared and it showed!
Rest assured, for Mom and all of us, nothing in this life is ever really accomplished, no goal achieved without the help, assistance, and support of many others all along the way. It will always “take a village”. For all of those during Mom’s entire life that assisted and supported, eternal thanks and gratitude are humbly offered for the blessings that resulted.
Probably unknown to most not long after her retirement from BCBS at 85 years, Mom turned entrepreneurial. She self created her own enterprise (logo, marketing scheme with all the necessary “bells and whistles’) to provide a truly caring private nurse aide placement service. She single handily recruited and personally interviewed every single nurse aide applicant that she would in due course place (full back ground checks, right caring personalities, etc.).
However it did not take long for the realities of this business niche to create problems – despite best efforts nurse aides are not a stable resource, always seeking higher pay and opportunities elsewhere and becoming unreliable. Clients seek the complete opposite hence the inevitable business tension that continues to this very day (most agencies do not succeed for long). It really came down to hours being devoted by Mom and a straight forward cost-benefit analyses – Mom finally decided her time was better spent elsewhere –she was right on that point!
Also not well known and not long after establishing her home base (680 Village Lane Drive SW, Marietta) she initiated a rather lengthy and involved project to completely build in the lower level of her split level residence. In due course that would a fully functional separate apartment (sitting room, bedroom, complete and fully equipped kitchen and full bath with shower. There was a separate entrance at the back lower level and concrete (fully lit 24/7) walkway all the way around that side of the house.
For over 15 plus years (due to a friend’s connections), she privately rented that downstairs apartment to married Lockheed executive and professional engineers that required temporary lodging (limited assignment here or awaiting build/purchase of more permanent housing). In was through this arrangement that Mom would become lifelong friends with one of her renters – Gil Guilliams and wife Paula, now residing in Ft. Worth, Texas.
Volunteering, Community Service
Certainly Mom’s lifelong commitments for service to and for others – service as a community contributor, volunteering, building unity, and teamwork skills are well known.
Mom’s commitments and involvements in the Cobb County Republican Party, her volunteer and active support for virtually every local, state, and national candidate, made her quite literally a Republican “icon” in the State of Georgia. She never sought political power yet she was been well known to every major elected official, senator, congressman, and governor of the last 40 plus years (the latest her photos with GA Governor Brian Kemp and his wife, Marty, at the July 4th Cobb County Republican Barbeque – Mom having attended every single such event since its original; inception 30 plus years ago).
Mom in front of her home, Republican flag, her signature Republican apparel and Make America Great ball cap
As well Mom’s long term involvements and membership in the Red Hat Ladies groups (both locally, regionally, and other states) speaks for itself.
Mom in her hand made signature Red Hat head gear and apparel to match
Expanding Self Improvement for Herself and Others
Mom was a literal paragon over her entire life for continually seeking self improvement, exploring new ways to learn and become proficient in new and exciting areas of knowledge. It carried over by her supporting others in self improvement in learning (most especially her own children, grand children and others)
I could personally write an entire book respecting Mom within this category.
Mom was what I have always termed as “experiential in nature” – she learned and quite literally absorbed, learned, adopted, and enhanced herself via experiencing anything and everything personally – constantly seeking to expand boundaries of learning in all directions.
As observed by her grandmother (MyMa) even as young child and adult, Mom’s middle name should have been “GO”! Mom was constantly on the move and traveling. She was always deeply involved in something. Since her retirement from BCBS at age 85 until her unfortunate fall in July this year she was literally on her computer a minimum of 6 hours daily, 7 days a week. She was constantly exploring, researching, and communicating with others nonstop.
During her life time, she had visited most of the states in our nation as well most every important landmark therein either with family, friends, or the almost continual bus, train, or airline excursions with senior or church groups (e.g., Rockefeller Center NYC, Grand Ole Opry, Kennedy Center, Niagara Falls, White House, Grand Canyon, Great Smokey Mountains, tubing the Chattahoochee, Amish country, virtually everything in Washington DC and Virginia, etc.). The list of her travels and experiences would consume voluminous pages.
In my early years Mom made sure I would be able to see every major Civil War battlefield within reasonable distances (I would expand that list as an adult to most all of the rest). She was there with me hiking Stone Mountain when there was no tourist center and to the very top using an old goat trail. We toured and visited the original Cyclorama in Atlanta. We would also (together with my own children) revisit Lookout Mountain, Chattanooga, Duck/Carolina beaches North Carolina, St Simons Island annually, animal parks in Texas and elsewhere, up close and personal in state/country fairs with every farm animal every known, craft events and fairs, etc.).
Mom was a consummate shopper. If there was a super shopping area anywhere in any state (whether solo, with a friend, or via group/church tour) she had probably been there – often more than once. Due her superb tastes and eye for fashion (always at a bargain), she not only was herself a show piece (the most elegant in clothing and apparel) (all bargains) but as well she clothed my son and especially my daughter to match. They became the best dressed children under her tutelage just about anywhere.
Myself and children regularly attended the Potomac Presbyterian Church, Potomac, in the heart of Potomac Village, Maryland (one of the richest and wealthiest zip codes in America – more ATM’s per square foot than any place in the country). Quite literally Katie became the best dressed young southern lady in that entire Church – congregational women every Sunday would await her arrival and entrance just to see what new outfit, dress she would showing off.
That shopping experience as well always produced unusual (not expensive) gifts for everyone for every conceivable occasion the year round. Bringing joy and happiness for others was always there!
Giving and giving more should as well have been attached as her additional middle name. She unselfishly gave of herself to everyone – a full time nonstop expression for over 100 years.
While Mom attended Robinson Elementary and during the throes of the Depression, she once unexpectedly came home (8412 3rd Ave So.) for lunch (just a few blocks walking distance from the school). MamaMac asked why are you here – I prepared and you had a lunch for school. Mom responded that a girl in her class had nothing to eat so she gave her the lunch. Although MamaMac was sympathetic she was emphatic that she should stop that immediately. She was not to come home for lunch again. Of course, it did not deter Mom in the slightest. She either shared what she had or just gave it all away and went without.
For any that would have looked closely (most too damn busy accepting “the fruits” of her giving to be concerned as to “how”) Mom’s repeated and often habit of giving and doing without was fairly endemic.
My own children are a prime example – Mom quite literally gave virtually all of her retirement savings over in efforts to help save them and ensure a far better and more productive life for them in all things. Yet all remained both unrecognized and unappreciated during her lifetime – no one, any time, any place, either in the past or currently has ever so unselfishly sacrificed so much for these children!
Selfless love is always costly; fear can’t afford it, pride doesn’t understand it but God always remembers!
Favorite Endeavors – Again Expanding Horizons
For as long as she was able, favorite endeavors for Mom involved cooking, sewing, quilting, and gardening (flowers, her property and landscape).
Mom was an ardent collector and regular user of every interesting cookbook and recipe in existence (especially Southern and church versions) (aside from the ones she inherited from her own mother and grandmother). At one time or another there’s a goodly chance she tried most of the recipes if not all of them. She was regularly known for year round making pumpkin or banana nut breads (a couple of times squash bread), and “friendship cakes” all to be given away to friends, relatives, or others. She was famous for making unique cookie and cake creations (e.g., Barbara Bush, potato chip, and peanut butter with chocolate drop cookies for my own children and others – also every version cake and brownie known to the old and modern world – usually all given away as well)
Although not of professional seamstress levels, Mom was an accomplished user of a sewing machine (always Singer – her original with foot pedal version from her mother was in my sister’s room for eons and now in Mendie’s home). For many years, she made some of her own clothing, as well dresses/clothing for others (as well my daughter, my sister, Bonnie, and her granddaughter, Mendie). She in past years quilted and crocheted with some her handiwork still at our home.
When it came to gardening, flowers, planting, replanting, and tending her property\landscape she was an absolute natural master. She had more than a “green thumb”. She knew exactly how to arrange, create best exposures/presentations for virtually all flowers, as well elegant (but natural) landscape designs.
Anyone that had ever visited her acre plus property could see for themselves (in Spring, a virtual miniature version of Calloway Gardens – massive azalea bushes (all brilliant colors), numerous monster hydrangeas, roses of diverse colors and constantly blooming flowers (all with thriving border plants) everywhere year round – quite literally the show piece for the entire neighborhood with an annual open house by Mom to show case).
Whenever possible for the Ambassadors (BCBS Retiree Association) Mom would favor and send “live plants or live flower arrangements” to all regarding special situations (illnesses, funerals, sickness, etc). She desired that the recipients to be able to enjoy for as long as possible (especially if planted outside, then year round blessings).
In the Huffman days Mom was a member of the local garden clubs regularly taking home award ribbons for her flower arrangements (perhaps coming naturally from her child hood – MamaMac and MyMa having flower gardens on the side of the East Lake house (with figurines, miniature figures, castles, crosses and the like for effects throughout – the ole Southern country version).
Mom’s favorite indoor varieties always favored multiple varieties of “African violets” – in and on almost every window sill.
Commitments to Healthy Life Styles (Body, Mind, and Spirit)
Another notable and exemplary facet of Mom’s character was clearly her belief in and constant practice of a healthy life style (body, mind, and spirit).
She was of course petite of stature. Throughout she was able to control her weight as well as all important health indicators (although she never smoked COPD resulted from constant exposures to second hand smoke) (in all other respects until her tragic fall in July, 2021, her vital signs (all systems and organs) were excellent – she had no complicating issues whatsoever).
One of Mom’s favorite retorts – “Gettin’ old ain’t for sissies”. Mom’s abilities and courage to withstand and mentally overcome most all limitations, discomfort, and pain speak for themselves.
With increasing age her sight in the left eye was not the best. As well deficiencies in hearing finally arose (she was apt not to use her hearing aids at all – she claimed she didn’t need them (in my view she in fact had selective hearing in those prior years – she heard what she wanted to hear and ignored the rest!!!)
That Mom attained 100 years plus with amazing vigor and grace stands as monumental statement and tribute to her complete life style in everything (constantly active of body, mind and spirit).
Respecting any and all consumption habits (eating, drinking, chewing, etc.) the commanding description would be measured moderation in everything – there were absolutely no excesses in anything. That approach was endemic to all manner of Mom’s character and habits (elegant fashion, dress, foot wear, makeup, ear rings, jewelry, cooking (she was an absolute stickler for precise measurements of all ingredients and always in the correct order/mixing). In conversation Mom was a master in only speaking as necessary (usually directly on point) and always studiously listening first (a habit most in this country need to immediately re acquire or re adapt). Even when it came to planting, fertilizing, and watering – all measured with moderation, all balanced – it had to be her way if one wanted success!)
Mom did not excise as such. She was however constantly on the move. In a split level house that means going up and down stairs (over, and over and over again) (I can testify over these last 5 years conservatively going and down those stairs reached a minimum for 50-75times day care giving ). As long as she was able she was outside, working in the yard and on the property and her flowers. Until she was in her eighties, she was still mowing her own grass every week (as needed).
Limitations were never viewed as a deterrent for Mom. Many years ago she broke her left leg. She had a leg cast. Not only did she drive and work every day at BCBS, but on one weekend (with my Aunt Helen from Pittsburgh visiting and assisting) she simply crawled around on her side to repaint the entire back outside deck. The stairs – she learned and readily adapted going down step by step on her rear end!
Immobility issues did not really begin until about five years ago stemming from her fall on her rear end fracturing her coccyx (as well there would follow a series of other complicating conditions – infected left leg, edema issues for over 14 months, arthritis in both knees (bone on bone receiving regular Cortisone injections, etc.) Through it all Mom simply carried on (whatever the pain, discomfort, and problem she relied upon her faith and “mind over matter”.
Until two years ago (last year affected by the pandemic) we routinely attended music concerts, special events (especially the July 4th parade and Republican barbeque), Veterans and Memorial Day ceremonies). Mom remained active, alert of mind and function ready to engage and entertain as the occasions allowed. Except for perhaps one or more BCBS Ambassador meetings (that I recall were postponed), I believe she attended and presided over every single one up until the last in July 2021(which was cancelled).
Faith and Trusting in the Lord
Respecting Mom’s faith and religion, she was brought up in the East Lake Presbyterian Church just around the corner from her home (8412 3rd Ave South) (as well my sister and I were also raised within its halls). Of course as already noted previously, the influence of MyMa and her father, Daddy Mac (his of course coming with double standards), both were deeply conservative in Christian mores\behavior.
Over time Mom would evolve to becoming more flexible in views although all were still measured and moderated. Hers was still that “ole time religion” – basically simple, straight forward, solid “right-wrong” (Ten Commandants /Beatitudes for starters) strictures.
She did not attempt to foster her religious views upon anyone. Instead she sought to live her faith by example – a far more empowering presence and model for anyone paying attention. She was not exactly an every Sunday morning regular.
However when work or other situations did not interfere she enjoyed the main services at every Church with which she was affiliated. Throughout my childhood and early years Mom made it a requirement for both sister and I to regularly attend. There would always be an affiliation with a church, services, and youth gatherings.
For some years every summer in our youth, both my sister, Bonnie, and I would spend weeks at a time at Camp Winnataska, Pell City, Alabama (a private, non-profit, interdenominational Christian summer camp providing rustic cabin/ camp experiences).
In her later years and due to limited mobility (as well recurring breathing endurance issues) she used her computer often to live stream services. Mom was an ardent reader, daily and weekly consuming Christian literature and her Bible. Fortunately for these last years, the Marietta First Presbyterian Church came to her on a regular basis. She absolutely enjoyed and keenly looked forward to all of those visits especially with Sue Velardi (our cherished Church lady) and others.
Included herein are some of Mom’s many had written notes, some of which had to be difficult for her to pen since her hands had occasional tremors and a lack of strength to apply needed pressure with a writing pen.
Through all of it Mom’s faith was her prime bedrock for strength and endurance. Mom was fully committed and focused to make her 101 birthday celebration as well to make the end of October BCBS Ambassadors meeting to mark the thirty (30) years anniversary so she could officially retire and turn over the reins to others.
That she was unable to achieve those milestones had absolutely nothing to do with desire, commitment, and resolve. Even amidst what must have been beyond excruciating and unbelievable pain and suffering (compression fracture of the 5th Thoracic vertebrae, two smaller just above and a small in the neck, and multiple compression fractures of the ribs) (with severe COPD every breath a challenge, Mom bravely fought to overcome all of it and be there (I know I was there round the clock for eight consecutive days at her bedside until her very last breath).
The Lord had decided otherwise.
With absolute certainty I can categorically state with any reservations that both I and Mom have been blessed beyond all measures for these last eleven years, the last five during 24/7 hands-on care, and even the extremely emotional last two weeks together . She is in a far better place with our Lord and Savior. For that I (we all are) am exceedingly thankful and grateful.
Direct Belief in and Adherence to Moral Values
Directly related to Mom’s faith was a firm belief and adherence to moral values – honesty caring, compassion, respect, accountability/responsibility, citizenship, and moral courage. It requires no detailed or comprehensive recitation of Mom’s behavior and actions over her 100 years plus in living to demonstrate that she was a monumental example and tribute to all of those moral values – a true role model in every respect.
A prime example of her faith, respect for others (during their lives and afterward) and values was her life time devotion to caring for the well being of others. Whenever she was able (work and other matters did not obstruct) she viewed tending family grave sites of her father and mother (Forest Hills Cemetery, Birmingham, Alabama, and grandmother (her husband next to her) (Lynn’s Crossing, Alabama) to be solemn and honored duties. Whether with close friends (during their lives), my sister, or myself, Mom would annually journey (near or at Memorial Day) to personally affix flowers/decorations in honor of and devotion to their memories (Lynn’s Crossing was always a hard labor effort to clean away weeds and plant new flowers).
She likewise tended other graves of friends where appropriate (her best friend Nedra/Ran Shurbet are both buried nearby in Forrest Hills Cemetery). Sadly these deeply cherished duties and customs seem to have faded away with the following generations (I personally tended graves in Arlington National Cemetery usually multi times annually for almost 30 years while residing in the DC area).
In due course as best I can manage I will continue Mom’s legacies in that regard (even back to Lynn’s Crossing). Sadly my own children seem not to properly grasp the privilege, honor, or importance to such traditions – perhaps in their later years they will re wake, revive, and themselves return to these honored traditions???
Mom’s entire volunteer stewardship heading the Blue Cross Blue Shield Retiree Association (The Ambassadors) is as well a commanding and forth right example of almost thirty years of devotion and caring for others. The members themselves should be able to testify at length on her commitments and service.
Deep Affection for all Animals
Not everyone has either the inner compassion or care giving qualities to be a proper animal/pet owner. Mom of course (as noted herein already) was brought up and raised with animals of every type and variety (e.g., cattle, horses, chickens, dogs, cats, bees (well insects too), etc.). She was completely surrounded with every manner of critter, from cleaning, preparation (during the Depression) to having her own assortment during her life time.
My grandparents (8412 3rd Ave. South) for as long as I can recall had chickens as well as most every relative or kinfolk in South Alabama, Childersburg, and Anniston areas. The Childersburg acreage had horses, cattle, and barn cats (never fed) that live off the land (killing rats. mice, and snakes) – They’d eat your face off if ya got too close.
Daddy Mac (my grandfather) had every manner of dog (all functional – coon hound, hunt dog, bird dogs) and was a devoted bee keeper (On Shelton Rd, Huffman we had five hives right in the back yard – although neither my sister or I were ever stung, Mom was not so fortunate – she eventually made DaddyMac relocate all of them).
During my preschool days in Huffman Mom gave my sister and I some baby ducks. They followed us everywhere – complete adoption. The downside was that after they matured they became highly protective. If Mom raised her voice or appeared ready to bring any sort of punishment (no doubt well deserved) the ducks intervened and attacked her. Mom had the ducks removed (most likely DaddyMac and friends had barbequed duck – in the country animals tended to be viewed as either functional or food!)
During this same time period and early grades at Huffman Elementary I was adopted by a wandering dog that found me out in the back Fuqua pastures. Teddy Bear became my instant companion – he followed me everywhere (jet black mix of a whole bunch of breeds, about 40-50 lbs, fast as greased lightning). Once when an up the road neighbor’s massive police dog German shepherd (the beast was as big as me) got loose and made the mistake of venturing down to our yard confronting me in the process aggressively, Teddy Bear did not hesitate – being more agile and faster he took that beast down and had him running back up the road faster than scared rabbit with a fox on his rear end!)
Then there was the famous goat story. Not long after the ducks departure our sorrows would be quenched with an even greater surprise addition to our household. Secretly DaddyMac with an East Lake neighbor hand constructed a red wooden wagon with elevated side slates and equipped it with a full front harness and straps. To pull the wagon would be our new pet and reliable steed for transport – a full grown goat.
To say that Mom was left speechless would have been a vast understatement. She was not a happy camper. She knew instantly what this addition meant.
And the name for our magnificent new critter – Billy of course!
My sister and I were thoroughly overjoyed. We showered that goat with hugs and kisses petting him constantly. It was love at first sight. He not only cooperated but seemed to soak it up to the obvious consternation of Mom.
From our viewpoints, with his big rounded horns and a thick dingy white coat to match he was the perfect companion and means of transport for new joyous rides. For Mom it was a whole other matter. I suspect DaddyMac was elated at our responses and laughing all the way back to East Lake especially Mom’s subdued grimaces of displeasure.
Of course, my father hated that goat and would have nothing to do with it. It was just as well since I’m pretty sure Billy didn’t like him either(my father was not an animal lover and our pets tended to have same feelings regarding him as well (Teddy Bear, the ducks, even the backyard bees – my father refused to even go deep into the back yard – ever).
Weather permitting we would daily be begging Mom to harness up Billy to take us for a wagon ride down that dirt road – even further afield if permitted. For the most part, Billy cooperated. Mom would walk beside him for extended distances.
However, there were times when Billie’s cooperation in the harness process was not optimum. If facial expressions could kill, Billy would have been history early on. Fortunately of us (and Billy) Mom’s perseverance ruled the day – very grudgingly!
After some months, there arose a dramatic moment when Mom’s self control would be sorely tested. Billy was daily staked out in various parts of the back yard always having the best of green grass to eat (probably the best darn lawn mower in Christendom recycling green grass into natural fertilizer for Mom’s flowers).
One day after Mom had more than her fair share of a hard time with Billy and we had returned from our jaunt, she was in the process of again routinely staking him off in the back yard. As she was bending over to hammer that metal stake (long chain attached) into the ground, Billy suddenly just bent down low, bolted in an instant at full ramming speed nailing Mom in squarely on her rear end quarters.
She went flying “head over tea cups” landing perfectly in a full body layout on the grass a good ten feet away (even the Russian judge would given that one a “ten” for form and execution – both Mom and the goat).
Pausing only briefly to ensure all her body parts were still in place and recovering her breath, Mom was up in an instant. She was headed directly for Billy with that hammer raised to settle this one right then and there. That goat’s life got extended (at least for that day) only because my sister, Bonnie, and I were firmly attached to Billy’s neck begging Mom not to hurt him.
That extension would be short lived. Mom was on the telephone to
DaddyMac. In the most direct terms, she demanded that the darn goat had to go. No doubt DaddyMac was laughing all the way to Huffman at the thought of that goat elevating Mom’s physical person into the air. Despite our pleading, tears, and cries, Billy was taken away for a better home and place to live (so we were told).
The reality was that DaddyMac gave him to a black man who occasionally did work for him. No doubt Billy ultimately became the prime barbeque course for his family’s Sunday dinner. In simple terms Billy himself got recycled!!
In later years Mom was a full-fledged pet owner (in Pittsburgh my sister and Mom adopted a pure breed all white Pekinese (Mitsy lived for eons and when she passed onward the replacement was an identical male, Fritzy) (with nothing but all women surrounding neither animal ever developed a liking for the male scent – it never bothered me – as far as I was concerned these were nothing but furry covered rats (down in the country where I was raised either a dog was a minimum of 40 lbs or it was “dog food”!)). Somewhere in those years there was also at least a parakeet or two!!
Once in Marietta, Mom got a pure breed Irish Sheep dog (Dolly). Following country traditions the dog stayed primarily outside (swing dog door into the garage for weather/temperature protections – however in frigid cold winter with temps to match, Dolly slept on special bed in the kitchen).
There were also cats in this same time frame. Mom had to cease that arrangement as she became allergic to cat hair. After Dolly’s demise Mom got a pure breed Collie (Sandie), That dog absolutely loved the acre plus freedom, chasing everything in sight and providing (as did Dolly) pure unconditional love to and for Mom. After Sandie’s demise with Mom approaching 90 years old, there was a brief lull in any pet arrangements.
Then unexpectedly I received a telephone call from Mom – she just adopted two puppies (brother and sister mixed breed (Lab, Collie, with some Chow thrown in for good measure) that were otherwise headed for the “pound” (Rocky and Rosie).
I vehemently sought to persuade Mom that such was a terrible idea – at her age with puppies running about underfoot plus the “hands on” care necessary (often 24/7) this was in my view a prescription for certain disaster. Mom would hear none of it.
What would almost instantly follow – a simultaneous and potentially life threatening physical and mental challenge for me. The Good Lord provided me with early warnings that saved my wretched self from a terminal ending (despite negative results from every heart disease test on the planet, a “cath” showed major artery blockages). The cardiologist was blunt and to the point. If you had not come in and done that “cath”, with any episode you’d have never made it to the hospital.
That meant immediate emergency triple bypass open heart surgery (heart in perfect condition) and 16 days of hospitalization including initial time in hospital rehab. Living alone in the middle of nowhere (Dickerson, Maryland) I had no choice but to relocate (even while recovering) to Marietta to Mom’s downstairs apartment to properly heal (hell if that damn move didn’t kill me I figured nothing would)!
I’ve been here ever since. With hindsight, my cup runneth over respecting blessings. It also meant that I just got two dogs for both of our remaining lives in the bargain.
Certainly amid and among (as well inter related) the many traits that comprise a genuine “role model”, creativity and ingenuity needs to be inserted. In Mom’s case such was endemic to everything she ever did or accomplished. No matter what the occasion, place, time, folks involved Mom had an amazing ability to always creatively bring class, grace, and uniqueness to the situation (e.g., food, place settings, table cloth, napkins, candles, flowers, music, etc.).
She was an absolute master in arranging with an incalculable ability to impress with less rather than more. It was never about funds or money spent (any one can do that, even hire professionals for the tasks) rather instead she creatively presented effects that pleased, made folks feel at ease and comfortable.
I have more than once remarked that Mom would never have been out of place in or among the very richest, most powerful in any setting in America, and at the same time would have fit right comfortably in the most humble of gatherings (down home in South Alabama and among our country kinfolks things were never fancy) (by the way “country” in my lingo bespeaks more class than a whole lot of wealthy folk gatherings). Her amazing abilities to adapt to most any situation was always impressive and admirable – she was a genuine “people person” of loving, caring, and class – it always showed!
Clearly the story of “Charlie” deserves special mention within this category – creativity and ingenuity. Once Bonnie married, Mom was living alone with of course her dogs. In order to provide a more safe and secure surrounding, Mom created “Charlie” – a full grown male (upper torso only) mannequin provided with male wig for hair, top class dress shirt, tie, blue sports blazer, and a dark baseball cap. Charlie was appropriately placed/seated at the dining room table to ensure from any uninvited outside visitor’s viewing that a “grown man lived in this house”!
During Mom’s constant travels (frequently long distance driving journeys), Charlie would be solidly placed in the front passenger seat (giving the distinct impression that Mom was accompanied by a large male). Just in case, Mom kept a 38 pistol under her car seat during travels. When at home that weapon remained next to her bed stand drawer (always loaded!!!).
Mom’s creation was so impressive to all of her friends that she actually loaned him out for their long distance travels. As such it could be safely stated that Charlie in his own right was not only a “frequent traveler” but himself logged significant miles in the process.
Grace, Charm, and Music (Actually all Inter related)
As I have often shared (from my published books as well) Mom was special a lady with the very best of Southern bearings, charm, manners, elegance, and moral value. In all manner of appearance, movement, and behaviors, she was graceful eloquence in action.
Her sense for practical yet expert tailored clothing and fashion spoke volumes (always a bargain find). She was properly and superbly dressed for any and all occasions (even working in the yard – her choice of planting outfits could have easily made a gardening magazine). She always ensured that makeup and hair were proper and presentable (even for the local grocery story or buying gas for her Buick Riviera).
Think about it. In every single instance involving EMT arrival to the house and her transport to the hospital ER (over the last five years including the fractured coccyx) excepting this last one – still in her night clothing and in too much pain to even move), Mom absolutely refused to leave the house until she had done her makeup and hair properly (I was in every case beside absolutely myself – why I asked? Mom’s response – a lady never goes anywhere unless properly attired and appointed!)
What I can relate is that every single woman with which she came into contact (EMT, emergency room staff, doctors, hospital nurses and doctors) instantly noticed – all openly commented with delight and approvals (few if any patients apparently ever concern themselves with clothing or appearance in these type situations). Mom became an immediate stand out. She accordingly always received extra care and attention. They viewed her as special patient.
Mom was always attentive to her every movement and manner – in her view as a proper lady should. She was deliberate in walk, seemingly gliding without effort, soft graceful steps fitting her petite frame. She always sat upright, shoulders back, poised and erect. Her hands and legs were always appropriately placed.
In every sense Mom could have easily started and starred in her own young ladies “charm school” for manners, poise, and elegance. In business parlance, one walks, talks, dresses, sits, and behaves in a manner that markets, advertises and demands respect and ready acceptance (the younger generations by most observations just do not appear to “get it” – they dress and act like confused ramble from some circus show, clothing being an afterthought (usually in extremely bad taste as well showing excessively more than necessary), manners (all forms) wholly lacking, and their gait more akin to water buffalo than women of proper breeding/class – for a lady of distinction – less is more – in current times the trend seems to display enough make up with jewelry accessory to be easily viewed as “clowns”- a close second as National Geographic primitive cultures on display!!!)
In a manner of speaking observing Mom in my view was a sort of musical master piece of which one never tired. Assuredly Mom loved all forms of music – certainly her favorites were from the forties (big bands and the like).
And make no mistake Mom was a life time lover of dance. For her dancing was an art form. She never tired of becoming a graceful and talented dance partner no matter the music or the dance. In the fifties, when rare opportunities arose, Mom (usually with other couples) enjoyed the complete array of well known “super clubs” in the Birmingham area. In down home terms, she had no qualms as well with an occasional fling to jitter bug and the like in the more fashionable
“honky tonks ” in the area.
Once back down in Georgia she was extremely popular with local dance partners and couples. She would regularly be out dancing most every weekend (she was a Lady Moose as well a dues paying member of the Smyrna American Legion Auxiliary (back then having regular dances and events at the Post)).
Even into her nineties at grand daughter Mendie’s/Tripp’s wedding reception, when the music was just too good to sit there, she just jumped right up (with Tripp holding her hand) – it was Mom dance time to an adoring and clapping audience (it was only interrupted due to a temporary shortage of oxygen – she had to sit down to let her breathing catch up)
Borrowing from a most special card received from a dear and close friend, I would share the following:
God gives every person their own unique song-
It’s one that will play their entire life long,
Through the love that they give and the gifts that they share,
Through the memories they make and the dreams that they dare
It’s a song filled with beauty and day to day grace,
That plays through until they see God face to face
A song that is heard, loud and clear –
A song, if we listen, we’ll always still hear
What a beautiful way to celebrate them –
Through the song they lived,
the song you’ll (we’ll) carry forever in your (our) heart.
To me, Mom was a full orchestrated symphony of music with unforgettable melodies and rhythms.
Her music continually inspired and stimulated to achieve and be the best one can be.
She continually exhibited a vibrant alert mind missing nothing, sharing from a diverse and exciting intellect, with a youthful appearance that carried all the way d through her 100 years.
She was forever giving and sharing of herself for others – always a joy to behold and love.
She has always been and remains my inspiration.
Her life time songs stand as an exemplary role model everlasting.
One would hope and pray that her legacies for actively supporting one’s health along with a solid work ethic and positive commitments to make a difference for others will endure. May she rest in peace having lived an exemplary life always attempting create positive outcomes for everyone she encountered.
I pray everyone that knew and loved her will also continue to hear and keep close her lifetime of unforgettable symphonies, haunting compelling melodies and vibrant legacies forever.
Mom’s Handwritten Personal Notes
When you pray God listens, When you listen God talks
When you believe God works
Your life was a blessing, Your memory a treasure
You are loved beyond words and missed beyond measure
Although it may seem like the pain will never go away
but just know that troubles don’t last always
And joy cometh in the morning
Continue to stand with each other – encourage and love one another
So do not fear, For I am with you, Do not be dismayed for I am your God
I will strengthen you and help you, I will uphold you with righteous right hand
When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.
In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust;
I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?
“Life is an opportunity, benefit from it.
Life is a beauty, admire it. Life is bliss, taste it.
Life is a dream, realize it. life is a challenge, meet it.
life is a duty, complete it. life is a game, play it.
life is costly, care for it. life is wealth, keep it.
life is love, enjoy it. life is mystery, know it.
life is a promise, fulfill it. Life is a sorrow, overcome it.
Life is a song, sing it. Life is a struggle, accept it.
Life is a tragedy, confront it. Life is an adventure, dare it.
Life is luck, make it. ife is too precious, do not destroy it.
Life is Life, fight for it!.” ― Mother Teresa