[Lynda’s note: Tucked away in that same notebook with A Parable for Mothers was a piece that my mother was writing about her own mother. It was definitely a work in progress, written out on old notebook paper with her scratched out words, phrases, and sentences. I can remember her telling us kids some of these stories, both for entertainment and as motherly advice. For me, there’s no better way to remember my mother today than to share her tribute to her mother.]
Mama Was That Way
By: Bonnalee Hunt Hayden Phillips
Mama had arthritis and during the later years of her life she spent much of her time in a big chair rocking in front of a window so she could see everybody coming. She finished sixth grade but had a degree in Psychology (the common sense variety) that any professor would have envied. I went many times “to cheer up Mama” but I always left her knee realizing it was I that had been cheered.
We were very poor, but Mama never told us seven kids. Oh, we found it out when we grew up and had to help with expenses, but when we were little our cups were so full of Mama’s love, we didn’t realize they were so empty of food and material things. Mama was that way.
As a little girl, I remember Mama always made everything alright. “Mama, Mary called me a bad name and I don’t like her.” And Mama would say, “Mary shouldn’t have, but, honey, did you look at Mary’s eyes? Next time you look at them, and then tell her how pretty they are.” When I confronted Mary the next time, I was compelled to look at her eyes just to see if they really were pretty. They were. There is no way you can be angry with someone when you are looking close enough to see if their eyes really are pretty. Mama knew that. Mama was like that.
The day I won “9th Grade Prettiest Girl” Mama said, “Just remember, pretty is as pretty does.” She used all the cliches. And when Alma and I were mad at each other for over a month, and I could have “killed” her for some of the things she was doing to antagonize me, Mama said, “Kill her with kindness, honey. You’ll find it’s much better.” I must have been somewhat of a normal child for my room was not picked up as Mama would have it, and my excuse would be, “But I don’t have time, Mama.” The answer came right back, “If you don’t have time to do it right the first time, when will you have time to do it over?” My next older brother and I were extremely close for siblings, and when he was about to be married, I went to Mama. “But I don’t like her, Mama. She just doesn’t seem to love Jack enough.” Mama said, “If Jack can love her, we can all like her.” And we did. Mama knew that. Mama was like that.
Toward the end of her 84 years, Mama had to be in the hospital several times. Mama was very independent and we never had a car, but this time she just didn’t feel like calling a cab. I was the only daughter that learned to drive and I lived 200 miles away. So she called her oldest son to come after her. He couldn’t get away at the moment, so he called his wife to go get Mother and take her home. Well, she griped while in Mother’s room, and she griped all the way home about everything, including the fact that someone else should have picked up Mother. But she made a mistake by griping that she needed a new permanent but didn’t have the $20. After Mama had her cry from having her feelings hurt, she wrote my brother’s wife a thank you note for coming after her and included a $20 bill for the permanent. Mama was that way.
I miss Mama, but her presence and precious teachings will always be with me. I am a bit heavy like Mama, and many people are always telling me, “You look just like your mother.” I am working on my virtues –patience, loving kindness, joy, peacefulness, and love– so that they will say instead “You sure ACT like your mother.” Then, perhaps, my children can say, “Mama was like that.”