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Memories of Big Mama: Weaving Together the Story of a Lifetime
We will all spend a lifetime weaving together the experiences, adventures and accomplishments that will illustrate our life story. Each year that we grow, we add a new ring to our own tree of life. And, when we have exhausted our years on earth, our story will be left behind for others to share.
That’s why it’s so important that we try to live a meaningful life; cherishing and encouraging others. It is a quality that I observed in the great lady that we called “Big Mama.” My grandmother didn’t have a fancy life. She lived simply, and enjoyed friends and family to the fullest. You won’t read about her in the history books, but her story is an indelible part of our family heritage.
Born Into Duty
There are those of us who are born into duty, and Big Mama was in that number. She was baby #1 born to Pa Jim and Granny Rose. They didn’t stop till they reached 11, so she was like a second mama to many of her brothers and sisters. How beautiful and distinct they all were, but they came along during a time in U.S. history when love and acceptance of ”their kind” wasn’t in plentiful supply.
“Gert,” as she was called, had her share of chores to do, helping to care for her siblings. She would learn to cook, to iron and clean and generally how to “mother” her brothers and sisters. Hand-me-downs went as far down the line as they lasted. There were so many children that by the time the last one came along, Gert was old enough to be the baby’s mother.
When she was “grown,” Gert gave her hand to a young country preacher. She was 22 when she married Rev. C.A. Underwood. He was a “good catch,” they would say: handsome, smart and industrious. Of course, Gert considered herself just as a good a “catch,” with all the life skills that she brought to the marriage, and she was beautiful to behold. She had wavy, black hair that flowed down her back. Gert had a daily ritual of twisting her long hair and pinning it into buns. Matrimony for her was not going to produce a life of privilege, but it would mean a union of love, purpose and service.
A Church A Week
Rev C.A. followed his “calling” and pursued his dream of spreading the gospel to country churches in S.C., and he was spread pretty far and wide, pastoring 5 churches at the same time. They liked to say that he had a church for every Sunday of the month (though the 5th church didn’t always get a fair shake since there’s not always a fifth Sunday).
C.A., Gert and their six children would travel around to the churches on Sunday, where he would bring “The Word.” The children were directed to the front pew when Daddy preached. “You better mind!” Big Mama the disciplinarian would say. Too much wiggling, talking or chewing gum and the guilty party would be sent outside to break a hickory switch off the tree for punishment to be rendered. Sometimes mama's love is best administered by not sparing the rod.
Guest preachers would come for Sunday supper, usually consisting of southern staples like fried chicken, collards greens and sweet potatoes. The children would have to wait on the front steps until company was gone, and often there wasn’t much left for them to eat, but they made do as they learned the importance of putting others first.
Toiling for a Quarter
Gert took in the laundry of white families to help make ends meet. She and the children would walk a mile to get water, boil it in a pot, hand wash the clothes, hang them out to dry and then iron them on a wooden ironing board. On a good week, she made a grand total of 25 cents.
Keep On Preaching
Rev. C.A. sweated, preached and sang so long and so hard in the pulpit, that he worked himself into a stroke. The doctor told him to take it easy, but he said God wanted him to continue preaching. So, as soon as he was able to climb back into the pulpit to get cranked up again, he worked himself into another stroke. Rev. C.A. didn’t preach anymore after that. He would listen as others read the Bible to him. Sometimes he’d sit outside as Gert did laundry. He’d watch the kids free-wheeling about and feel the warm sunshine on his face.
He couldn’t do much of anything near the end, I’ve been told. But God had allowed Rev. C.A. many years to bid a long farewell to his family. When the end did come, it was a little easier to say good-bye.
A Bigger Love
After C.A.’s death, The family took such good care of Big Mama that she lived another 42 years. We doted on her and she loved us back like nobody’s business.
She lived to see her children have children, and her children’s children have children. Big Mama was so proud of the achievements of her offspring and the fact that we heeded her edict to get the best education that we could. I remember asking her at the dinner table once – - as the macaroni-and-cheese casserole was being passed around – why had she never married again? “You wouldn’t let me!” she replied, as everyone exploded into laughter. She said she had a suitor once, but family had wrapped her so tightly that there wasn’t room for anyone else. Well, that may be so, but I know that Big Mama would have been hard-pressed to find a bigger love than the one she had at home.
What kind of life story will you leave behind for others to share? Are you living a meaningful life in which you cherish and encourage others?
Examining Your Legacy
What will be your life story?
Listen to "Memories of Big Mama"
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