I sit here looking at my hands idle on the keyboard as I try to frame my thoughts about my mother in this, her 83rd spring. My hands look like hers, and that reminds me of biscuits.
Ours was a farm family in those lean years of the early 50′s. Ten acres of cotton, a herd of Jersey cows, and whatever other income could be gained from the land – pulpwood, staves, handle wood, etc., put food on our table. Mother worked along side Daddy, and her slender hands had surprising strength. They squeezed milk from the Jerseys twice daily, grasped a hoe handle on muggy June mornings, plucked cotton from the boll on hot September afternoons, pulled one end of a saw on frigid February days, cultivated and gathered garden vegetables each summer, helped butcher hogs each fall, patched torn work clothing, and grasped a pencil to correct my school work at the tag end of many a weary day.
When I began school in 1953, my usual footwear was a child’s version of the brogans, or “plow shoes” like Daddy wore. The only concession to the extra demands of youth was a double toe – an extra layer of leather over the toe due to the tendency of young boys to spend a lot of time on their knees. Before I caught the long bus to Woodland each morning, Mother patiently covered all scuffs with a new coat of Griffin’s Liquid Wax.
My clothes were the usual denim overalls or dungarees and cotton shirts of that pre-”Perma-Press” era. We had no indoor plumbing, so wash days involved heating water in wash pots, loads of sudsy clothing in the old wringer-type washer, and numerous rinses in #3 galvanized tubs. There would be starching and bluing for the white clothes. Wrung out clothes would be hung on a line, and the pants stretched on metal frames. (Do they make pants stretchers anymore?) The stiff dry clothes would then be sprinkled lightly with water as Mother’s hissing iron smoothed out wrinkles and creased pants and shirts. The Census Bureau classified us as “poor,” I’m sure, but thanks to the hard work of my parents, and Mother’s care to see that I always looked “presentable,” i.e., hair trimmed and combed with Wildroot Cream-Oil to hold it in place, shoes polished, and clothing pressed – I never felt poor.
On Sunday, there was “The Suit.” For a school program in the fall of ’53, Mother bought me a suit. It was heavy woolen flannel, gray, with padded shoulders, double breasted, and had cuffed trousers that were straightened the second winter to accommodate growth. A white cotton shirt and green checkered bow tie completed my costume. It was hot and itchy, and the starched collar chaffed my neck, but Mother thought I looked darling in it, so I wore it to church…every Sunday for the better part of two years. It earned me the hated sobriquet of “Preacher,” which took years to live down.
Oh, the golden biscuits
Oh, and the biscuits? We usually had a cooked meal at noon, but sometimes if field work was especially pressing, we might have leftovers, and cold cornbread and sweet milk for supper. But we had a hot breakfast every single morning, Sundays included. Eggs, meat, and Mother’s golden brown, melt-in-your-mouth flaky biscuits started my day every day until I left for college – except for the winter that Dr. Edmundson thought she might have TB. Daddy’s biscuits were good, too, but they looked rough – “like a bull’s rear sewn up with hickory bark,” he allowed. He used a spoon to mix and drop his, but Mother worked flour, grease, and milk into a smooth consistency, and squeezed each biscuit off, shaping it by hand. She placed it on the pan, patting it on the top with three fingers. Each golden brown “cathead,” as Daddy called them, bore the print of Mother’s hard working fingers.
Come Sunday, I’ll put on my suit, with a starched white shirt, and a shine on my wing tips. Mother has taught by example that striving for order, harmony, and beauty is worthy, and that love seeketh not its own way. Besides, she still thinks I look darling in a suit. As I sit on the pew with the Presbyterians, I’ll be thanking God for a mother who taught me that love is a verb.
Contact community columnist Sonny Scott, a Chickasaw countian, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
NEMS Daily Journal