Mama Bess…You live on…
For years I have been quoting Mama Bess. Most people feel like they know her and that they have sat down at her table for a hot buttermilk biscuit pulled through a mixture of sugar cane syrup and real butter mixed to the perfect consistency –you know where the biscuit picks up just the right amount of succulent mixture and then tears off just enough that you have to go back with your finger to swipe up the rest? THAT is where “finger lickin’ good’ came from originally! Food made from love with every touch, stir, roll and pat. That was Mama Bess.
It would probably surprise many that Mama Bess didn’t like to cook much at all. She loved making cakes and candy but she became a famous biscuit maker by default. It is true! She said she learned to make biscuits just like everybody else by Grandma Carroll’s skirt tail. For some reason her biscuits’ were just extra good so they all ask her to start making the biscuits. (She said that was probably ‘cause it was one less chore for them hehe). I know these details because we sat and talked for many hours, me and Mama Bess. She told me things that she might not have shared with just ‘everybody' because, as she explained, “People see you one way, and even if you tell ‘em different, they will always see you that way, ‘cause it makes ‘em feel better”. Those words would ring so true to me later in life. Good or bad, people’s first impressions stick. It was easy to see Mama Bess as a simple biscuit maker and loving wife and mother. She was all those things, but she was so much more.
She was born the middle child of a big family. Her older sister seemed almost like a mother and she felt like the mother to the younger siblings. It was common in her day when families had 10 to 15 children. Often the older children took the role of parent or caretaker, Mama Bess experienced both. She carried the heavy responsibility that older siblings were able to leave behind when they got married or moved away and the younger siblings never had to experience. The middle child, sometimes overlooked, always struggling to find her place. After she had her own family I remember both Grandmas’ calling her to the kitchen to fix the biscuits. Our cousins would show up about suppertime just to get one of Aunt Bessie Lou’s biscuits. It was her claim to fame. What a wonderful compliment-- but still--Mama Bess was so much more. She was a mother, wife, aunt, grandma, writer, singer, seamstress, poet, dancer, speaker, teacher, preacher, Christian, sister, daughter, niece, cousin, activist, warrior, and a friend…the very best friend to so many.
Very few people can leave this world without at least a few bad things being said about them and I can’t prove that no one ever said a negative thing about Mama Bess…but I would bet you could count them on one thumb. So you would assume that she must have been meek, mild and submissive all of her life, and you would be wrong. I can’t remember her ever raising her voice like I do, you know, that high pitched squeal that can cut through glass and shatter a blackboard? But if you EVER and let me repeat that-- EVER EVER messed with someone in her family or anyone in need, she would cloud up and rain a fury on you that makes a hurricane look like a small drip in your kitchen sink. The woman could be vicious when it came to taking care of others. I watched her dress down a prestigious doctor, put a Southern Baptist preacher in his place and drive the speed of a NASCAR champion to get someone to a hospital.
I heard the stories of her hands dried out from the cold, or breaking and bleeding from picking cotton in the hot sun as a youth and helping deliver babies with midwives without a doctor in sight. I heard how she walked for miles just to go to church or school and it was not a joke, she really did walk uphill both ways depending on the weather and over the river and through woods. I heard some powerful stuff about Mama Bess, but let me tell you what I saw with my own eyes:
I watched her taking care of my severely crippled brother until his health demanded she put him in a hospital miles away. I watched her heart break and the tears fall every time we had to leave. Years later I watched her sink to the floor when they brought his casket through the front door of our little house. I watched her say goodbye to her first born son, twice, when he went off to a war in Vietnam that she strongly opposed. I watched her wait for his letters and pray she did not get any other news about him. I watched her see her other son and grandsons go off to serve their country, not knowing what the consequences would be, but she kept the faith. I watched her take in those that others would have never allowed on their property, much less in their house. I watched her witness to others of her faith, not by words but by her actions. I watched her get tough on some people and tell them the truth they did not want to hear. I watched her say goodbye to her beloved parents, her husband and two of her children and over half of her brothers and sisters. I watched her remain a rock for us while she was crumbling inside.
She had a way with words and was not afraid to use them. Sometimes, when I catch myself saying things that I know beyond a shadow of a doubt will tick someone off somewhere I feel like she is softly whispering in my ear, “What the heck do you think you are doing? You know that is just gonna tick people off and they are going to get all mad and bent out of shape and think you are a little crazy. GOOD GIRL! Don’t stop. I raised you right. You know that if everyone is agreeing with you or praising you, you doing a whole bunch of nothing.”
So I may get it wrong many times, no…I DO get it wrong many times but I always speak from my heart and from a place that was passed down to me from a spectacular woman who never saw her name in lights, on a billboard, and never even heard of a “blog” (she would have thought that was something you would need a chain and truck to get you out of) but her name was written in the only place she really cared about, the Lamb’s Book of Life. And she lives on through every life she touched in her kind and lioness way.
On that early morning when Mama Bess left this world in her home with her children cuddled up around her bed and her precious niece singing her into heaven, I took time to look at all the faces of the loved ones who surrounded us. They were sad she was leaving us but there was not a doubt in the room that she had lived the life God intended her to live. That her legacy was not ending but just beginning because of the lessons she had taught us all. We felt we were somehow closer to God from just knowing her and now she was going where she always belonged. There was no estate or money left behind just a simple old house where we had been raised. It may crumble any day, but the foundation she laid for her friends and family will remain forever through the generations. The last lesson she taught us was that the only thing that will be left of this vapor we call life is how we have affected others. So we should never forget we do make a difference every single day and only we can determine if it is for the good.
I saw my mother’s pretty blue eyes again just the other day, when my little granddaughter looked up at me and said, “We should give all these toys I don’t play with to some kids who don’t have any, huh Meme?”
Yes Mama Bess…you live on.
Blessings~ Squirrely Girl