9th Annual Essay Contest Winners: Honoring Special Mothers

By NEMS Daily Journal

For the past nine years, the Daily Journal has asked readers to submit essays on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, telling us about great moms and dads. Each year we have been touched by the words written and we wish we had the space to publish every essay.

FIRST PLACE: Mammie, Mother, Momma

By Marilyn Breedlove

My mother’s name is Bennie Spradling. It is really hard to put into words how much she means to me and to everyone who knows her but I am going to try.
She grew up in a large family of 10 children and they were really poor. She had to pick cotton to earn money and had to take care of the younger children. She is 92 now and the oldest of the five sisters and one brother who are still living. She has two children and many grandchildren, great-grandchildren and even great-greats. They all call her Mammie.
My brother and I call her Mother but sometimes, during times when I feel like a child again, without realizing it, I call her Momma.
I remember so many things she did for me when I was growing up and how she put others ahead of herself. Once I was going to get on the train by myself in Mississippi where we lived and go to Wisconsin to visit family. I was probably around 12 years old. There were some people on the train who we knew who were going to make sure I got there OK.
But as we waited at the train station, I became more and more frightened of making the trip by myself. Although my mother had not planned the trip or packed anything at all, she got on the train with me at the last minute to keep me from being alone. Later, I felt really silly that I had been so afraid but so grateful my mother came and it is something I never forgot.
My children love their Mammie and I am so glad they have a special relationship with her. When they were little she would keep them for me sometimes and show them how to cook and play cards with them. Now that they are grown, they still love spending time with her as much as they can.
I have faced many trials in my life and she has always been my strongest support and comfort. Seven years ago when I was diagnosed with cancer and had to endure months of treatment, she was there for me when I needed her most. I could see how much it hurt her to see me suffering, and I think that is the case for most mothers.
Through the years I have noticed how our relationship has evolved. At the beginning of my life, she took care of me. Then there came a time that I felt we were equals and related as adults. Now it seems I am the one taking care of her when I am with her.
One day a while back at church I noticed she was not very steady on her feet so I offered her my hand and memories came flooding back to me about how as a child, I would ask her to hold my hand. When I was scared or having trouble going to sleep, I’d reach out my hand for hers and it was never far away. Even though it is for different reasons, I still want to take her hand as often as I can and hope it brings comfort to her now as it always has to me.

SECOND PLACE: ‘Give 100 percent to others’

By Rhonda Shaw Haynes

You may have heard the old saying that you never truly appreciate your mother until you get older.
I have realized the truth of this now that I am married, and have two children of my own. Please allow me to tell you how special my mother truly is.
My parents were divorced in 1978. This left her alone with four children. She had two boys and two girls, ages 7,8, 9 and 13. With the wolf at the door and four mouths to feed, our situation changed.
My mother hired Ms. Doris to help with us and the house, and she got two full-time jobs. She began working at Kroger and also became night auditor at the Hilton. Needless to say, we didn’t get to see Momma much, except when she was sleeping on the couch. Time passed, and we all got older. This means expenses went up. Like any other teenagers we desired clothes, jewelry, cars, etc.
Christmas would come, and Momma always made sure we had plenty of presents. We usually spent Christmas in Tennessee with her family. Santa Clause always knew what we wanted and always found us wherever we were. Never figured out how she did that one.
My mother never complained about how hard she worked, or about how little we had. Many times we would open the fridge and the pickings were slim. On occasions Momma would go grocery shopping and buy us Little Debbie cakes. We all loved them. Cindy and I would hide them all over the house. Otherwise, Ken and Stevie would eat them all. They would always taste better when just Cindy and I got to eat them. (Sorry, guys.)
Momma would usually get a third (part-time) job for vacations. Momma wanted us to be able to look back at good experiences from our childhood. Momma and Mrs. Miller, a dear friend, would load the van and take off. Two women, two girls and five boys. We went many places: Disney World, St. Louis, Gatlinburg and Florida. Momma working for the Hilton was able to get free rooms, cutting down the cost of the trips. That third job was just for us.
We were all involved in playing sports. Ken and Stevie played baseball and football. Cindy and I played softball and were in the band. You can imagine with all Momma had to do, getting us to and from was a chore. Somehow she pulled it off, though a tad late on many occasions, but we knew she would be there. She could not get off work to see us play much, but when she was there you knew it! She was cheering louder than anyone there.
Our mom Sandra is still working at Kroger – for 34 years now. She is the proud grandmother of eight grandchildren, two girls and six boys. My siblings and I have all grown up to be good people and hard working, thanks to our mom. If we have learned anything from our mom it would be don’t expect anything to be given to you, expect to give 100 percent to everyone else. Even if you have less doesn’t make you less of a better person just more appreciative.

THIRD PLACE:: Musical memories

By Bessie Martin Stafford

April 22, 2008, was the day my mother went from this life to heaven. She had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 1990, and while the disease progressed slowly by most standards, my mother only remembered she had one grandchild when, in fact, she had seven and two great-grandchildren at her death.
She had three children, all of whom she forgot at least seven years before her death.
She forgot her husband who had died in 1998. He had been her marriage partner 46 years and he gave the credit for loving him through Jesus. At the age of 55, he became a Christian himself.
She forgot she was married the day after the funeral. Her life was new every day in Alzheimer’s, and I was her caregiver and her middle daughter.
There were days, weeks and years that I asked God why she lingered and lost all her life functions and I learned a little during her life, but her memories have taught me more.
My mother lived her life listening for the opportunity to help others. She got up each morning making three or four cakes, double batches of yeast rolls, cakes, pies or casseroles.
As she went through the day, she would talk to her friends or her church family and find someone who had experienced a need – a sick child, surgery, lost a job, etc. She would load up us kids and off we would go to deliver a sack of groceries from our shelves, some frozen baked good, etc. It was always accompanied with smiles, hugs and a card of encouragement.
The people she could not drive to, she sent a card or made a phone call.
On my mom’s death, there were over 200 cards in her home that were ever ready for her to use to try to encourage others. People today tell me of cards they have saved that she sent or that she was the only one who ever sent them a card and that they still miss her. So do I. What follows is what I learned.
She started every day with a song and a prayer. My earliest memories of her singing while hanging the wash out on the line – “You Are My Sunshine” or “Climb Climb Up Sunshine Mountain.” She had the hymns and gospel songs all in her head and as Alzheimer’s took her mind, the songs remained the longest. When we no longer could talk, we could sing every word of any song. She still smiled with every word and looked to heaven.
When she forgot her songs and became bed bound, her heart was still happy and she smiled and hugged anyone who would get close enough for a hug. Her eyes had no recognition for faces, but she from her heart had always loved all God’s children and still did.
When she drew her last breath, she smiled. My sister and I sang to her her last hours all the songs we knew that were hers until we could sing no more. Then we cried for the reality of the finality of that day in this life.
What did I learn from her? All the regular things, how to cook, clean, sew. I have given up most of them as convenience has outlasted most of my homemade anything.
What stuck? Love everyone. Everyone is worthwhile, love them in their pain and celebrate their happy times. You will go through pain and happy times also. Never give up on the love God places in our heart and he will see us through. Hold nothing back to show people love.
I believe God allowed my mom to stay so long in her physical state to help me learn to keep loving and never give up. Smile through the pain and God will smile on you so you can smile on others. The greatest lesson is the easiest to say and takes a lifetime to prove: Love, for God is love; show him by love.

HONORABLE MENTION: Mother of many

By Kendra Sanders

It was 1997 when my mom had her first baby.
Now the year is 2010 and she has seven girls.
Mom loves my sisters and I very much, and that’s why she works hard every day.
Of course, we help out too, but nothing compared to what she does.
My mom homeschools five of us and the other two play together and sometimes try to stay out of trouble!
The first oldest is 13, 2nd is 11, 3rd is 10, 4th is 8, 5th is 6, 6th is 4 and the 7th is 1 1/2 years old.
My mom can handle us because God has given her many wonderful gifts.
My mom is very thoughtful, patient, willing to serve others, helpful, smart, beautiful, filled with kindness and is loving.
God has certainly blessed me with the absolute best mom in the whole world! My mom is a fantastic “Mother of Many.”! I love my mom so much.

HONORABLE MENTION: Why my Mom is marvelous

By Eryn Sanders

Every child thinks their mom is the best, but my mom is marvelous.
All moms are different: Some may have a lot of children and some may have a few, but my mom is great.
There are two reasons why I think my mom is marvelous. These reasons are because she is a great teacher and a wonderful cook.
The first reason I think my mom is marvelous is because she is a great teacher. I have six sisters and my mom homeschools five of us. All of us are in different grades, but no matter what, my mom will never give up.
The second reason I think my mom is marvelous is because she is a wonderful cook. Each night we get something different to eat and each night it tastes really good.
My mom is different from every mom and my mom is marvelous!

HONORABLE MENTION: The wombless mother

By Dessie Woods

The twists and turns of life, oh how at the time, if one allows them, how they can make life’s situations seem unrewarding and final.
Having to have a hysterectomy during a woman’s youth can be devastating when one loves children and wants to love and care for her own children.
As fate would have it, Odessa Carr, at 45, was without a womb and had no children. But the story does not end there.
She was given the opportunity to bring home her deceased sister’s child of 2 months old to care for as her own – the child who was her name sake, Dessie.
The task of raising this child was put into action. A woman and her husband of meager means were determined to provide a loving home where faith in God, love for education, neighbor and community were taught. I now remember so many of my aunt’s sayings and a few that come to mind now are:
“Look at a person’s character not their skin color.”
“It is better to be asked up than asked down.”
“You can always learn something from someone else.”
“Just because you know a lot does not mean you have to always show it.”
“Smile.”
“Out of all your getting, get understanding.”
“Take care of what you have before you try to get more.”
“Don’t let nothing shake your faith in God.”
She taught me the love and pride of keeping a home and that it will never be out of style or old-fashioned, because your core values develop first at home. From home is where you learn to love and communicate – something you will need when you establish your own home.
A great teacher, without a formal education but a woman of great wisdom, that was my Aunt Dessie. She knew that formal education was the door opener for future generations and that learning was an obligation not a choice.
As the years passed and maturity developed in me, thoughts of my aunt’s mortality would enter my mind. The reality of her aging became more and more real.
At 921⁄2 her mental decline became apparent and all of what she taught me from her adult life was passed to me as I became the adult for her and she became the child. I discovered her strength was now in me.
The cruel beast of Alzheimer’s disease took over her mind as I nurtured her body until Dec. 4, 2009.
It is indeed strange, the twists and turns of life. I applaud a life – the life of Odessa Carr – not of celebrity status, but a life of truth and virtue, well lived.

HONORABLE MENTION: Everybody calls her ‘Mama T’

By Shirley Lorraine Taylor
Born in 1914 in Brookhaven, my mother was fortunate to have a very far-sighted father. He strongly encouraged Mama to not only finish high school, but to finish college and advanced degrees.
She graduated from Mississippi State College for Women and then commuted to Columbia College in New York on a bus in the summers to obtain her specialist’s degree in business. Papa-Luke always said: “You never know when you will have to take care of yourself. You may not always have a man to depend on.” How wise this statement would prove to be.
Lorraine taught several years at Co-Lin Junior College before marrying my dad in 1946. In the late ‘40s, my brother and I were born. Within eight years of their wedding, poor Daddy was gone – stricken by lung cancer.
Since she had been prepared to be the provider, Mama got to work rearing us by herself. In the ‘50s, it was unusual for someone to be both Mom and Dad. But she filled both roles very well. She taught school, played piano for church and was church treasurer. Bob and I were given opportunities to play in the band, take piano lessons, be involved in many organizations.
Every Sunday night after Training Union and church, all the gang would come to our house to play Rook, have a jam session and eat snacks. Our house was very warm and welcoming because of Mama T. She was the most active band booster parent. Even when Bob and I were in college, she never missed a ball game to see us march in the Famous Maroon Band, give a recital, perform a Madrigal Dinner or choir concert.
Since Bob and I both became music teachers, Mama T followed us again to Winona, Amory, Tampa, MSU, NEMCC, ICC, Baldwyn – wherever we were on the conductor’s stand – to support us. Her two grandchildren, Claire and Robert, wanted to call her Mama T and the nickname stuck. Since they both became accomplished musicians, that doubled her opportunities to see family performances. Everyone we know calls her Mama T for her nurturing and sense of humor.
I’ve been in an elevator with her when she will know a stranger’s life story before we get to the top floor. I’ve told her many times she should have been a psychiatrist. (She even bonds with tele-marketers!) Since she moved to Booneville, she has played organ for church, volunteered as a Pink Lady at the hospital, played mini-concerts for the nursing homes and made many new friends with her bubbly and optimistic personality. Her friends are all ages ranging from 9 to the 90s. Young and old alike enjoy her old sayings like: “You can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar.”
My high school students loved interviewing Mama T for their history reports on The Great Depression.
Since she just turned 96 a few weeks ago, she has curtailed most of her activities. Several health issues have kept her at home most of the time. But age has not broken her spirit or her interest in friends and family. She watches videos of the grandchildren’s concerts, sends cards of encouragement and telephones friends. After family meals, we clear the table and play several rounds of “Catch Phrase” (her favorite game.) She loves her family (including daughter-in-law Jan) and has made us the focus of her life.
Mama T lives with me – I retired one year ago from teaching to spend more time with her (one of the best decisions I have ever made.) We like to cook, sit on the porch, read, play cards, work puzzles and watch TV. She says we have reversed roles, but I could never pay her back for all the years of support and love she gave. It makes me feel so blessed to have a mom who everyone considers their Mama T.
Happy Mother’s Day to my hero and best friend.