Saint Mama

James L. Cowles

© Copyright 2024 by James L. Cowles

Image by Victoria from Pixabay
                        Mama circi 1925

Just about everyone pictures their mother as a Saint, someone who deserves to be placed on a pedestal. When we think of the perfection of motherhood, we of course think of Jesus' mother, Mary, a virgin who gave birth to the son of God. How could any mother reach such perfection, yet we tend to place our mother on such a Holy pedestal, right alongside the mother of Jesus.

My mother gave birth to four children, three girls then me, the only boy. My youngest sister is ten years older than me, which means I was the last of four children she had to bear. She was thirty-six years old when I was born, and I am told the only reason my father and mother “tried” for one more child, was the wish of my mother to have a boy. I must say I did not learn this until I was many years older, and both of my parents had passed, and it touched me.

Sex, and the birth of children was not a point of discussion in my house. My father never had “the talk” with me, and I believe that was about the same for most of my generation. I remember at about age ten or eleven, one of the neighborhood, older kids, telling me how the lady across the street got such a big belly. I was flabbergasted, and denied that such a thing could be true. I didn’t believe my mother and father would do such a thing. Once I heard this story, I began asking other friends about how babies were made, and I got about the same answer as I got from that first kid. Wow. I just remember being amazed. That meant my mother and father had to do this thing at least four times, and I could not imagine my mother allowing such a thing. I learned about sex through street stories, not my father, or mother telling me about love, marriage and children. It may not have been the best way to learn about sex, but I venture to say, many of us were left to let nature take its course, and it did work, eventually. I should add, my parents did set a good example for me, but experience tells me, that wasn't enough.

But I must say, age and experience have given me further reason to nominate my mother for Sainthood, despite the filtered way I learned about sex. Of course, when I was older, in Junior High, my Health class taught me more about sex, at least the mechanical part, and my church taught me the part about a man and woman's love and their desire to have children and build a family. It began to make sense, this “love” thing. My mother had to put up with a lot pain and misery to have four children, although that’s not all she endured. That is pure love, wouldn't you agree?

That brings me to this important fact. Mothers teach us about love and nurturing. In fact, I could argue all women, mothers or not, do the same, but that’s an entirely different story. Motherhood alone qualifies most mothers for Sainthood, especially the ones with four or more children. I'm not saying that fathers do not have a hand in it, but the mother is the center of the family. They are the ones who generally carry the burden of worry for the children. If God is love, and mothers are so loving, then it must follow, they are closer to God, and that alone automatically qualifies a mother for Sainthood. But, there is so much more than this general qualification when considering Sainthood for my Mama.

First, she not only had three daughters, she made most of their clothing, especially when they were young. Mom did not have much schooling in rural Kentucky, and though not encouraged by members of her family to attend school, she managed to finish the 8th grade. In her day, the early 20th century, especially in rural areas, it was more important for boys to finish their education. Now, it is amazing to me that Mama learned to sew, use patterns and make clothing for three girls. This was all self taught with a Singer treddle sewing machine, and adds up to one more Sainthood qualification.

But there is so much more. We lived on a limited budget. My father, who worked hard every day, was an employee of the L&N Railroad, and never in a high paying position. Athough I didn't notice it as a child, Mama spent very little of our money on herself, using all available funds for her children, and I never heard her complain. She just saw to it that her children's needs were met first. The first refrigeration we had in our house was an ice box, requiring frequent visits by the ice man, toting a big block of ice, which he dutifully deposited in the box. He would yell out “iceman,” as he began climbing the steps of our back porch, then entering our kitchen without knocking. I remember the family’s first real refrigerator, a Frigidaire, which had a small freezer which barely had room for two ice trays; it at least gave us the luxury of ice cubes for our drinks. This small refrigerator kept the family’s perishables, and was my mother’s menu tool, along with her four-burner gas stove and oven and various well used pots and pans. Our kitchen had no built-in cabinets, only a small pantry, along with several self-standing cabinets. How she managed it all, I'm not sure, but she could really fry good chicken, and she was a master at baking cakes and pies. She even learned to make donuts, now who does that? I'll tell you. Its someone with a limited budget, with a big family to care for. In my eyes, this all adds up to more Saint qualification.

There's much more, of course. Our heat for our four room and one bath house was a coal stove for many years, then later, a floor furnace. The floors, all of them, were covered by linoleum. Mama did have the convenience of a wringer washing machine, but the family’s clothes had to be hung out on the line to dry, both summer, and bitter cold winters, and she did most all of it herself. I remember helping her a few times, and I'm sure my sisters helped as well, but not often. I remember Mama getting her arm hung in the washer wringer one day, and luckily one of us helped her get it out. It may have been me, but I’m not sure. I know I was tramautized by it all. That was somewhat like the day she ran the sewing machine needle through her finger. More trauma. How about a diswasher? Well, we had a one skirted sink and a lot of hands to help wash dishes, but the girls dated, and us men, dad and I, didn't do what was considered women’s work. This is of course ridiculous, but Mama didn’t demand anything of us, and in fact, handled it without complaint. These are additional reasons for my Mama's Sainthood. I think you are getting the picture now. However, I should continue.

Mama ironed all of our clothes, including my ROTC and Military band uniforms. She even knew how to put the triple pleats in the back of my Military shirt, and she took pride in it. As far as grocery shopping, Dad had an account with our friend Carl McDonald, at his grocery store less than a block from us, and he did most of the shopping. However, Mama made the list for him, and I remember her preparing it. She kept the family fed and reveled in doing so. Later, after my sister and brother-in-law gave me a car to drive, I took Mama to the A&P and helped her shop. Oh, I didn't mention that Dad did not have a car, did I? Everywhere my mother went, she either walked, took a bus, or streetcar, or got someone to take her, at least until I got that car. I am adding this to her Sainthood status, and it is adding up fast.

Sadly, my mother died of stomach cancer at the age of fifty-seven. Every child she had was delivered in our house, and as she lingered with cancer, she lay in bed in the room where I was born, dying. In the end, before hospice, she was moved to a hospital room. I held her hand as she lay there in pain, and she said, “Don’t worry about me. I'll be alright.” Those were her last words.

I remember that she took me to church with her every time the doors were open, and when the doctor told her she should have a glass of wine to settle her cancer-ridden stomach, she replied, “I’ve never drank alcohol in my life, and I see no reason to start now.” Mama held to that, even though I’m sure it would have helped her. She was a proud Christian, and it did no good to tell her that Jesus drank wine, she wanted none of it.

I could continue making my case, because there is a lot more I could use to qualify Mama for Sainthood. However, I think I made my case some time back, a few lines ago. I'm also certain that many more Mamas would qualify alongside mine, and I'm very much in favor of that. This is for you, Mama. A petition for your Sainthood, heartfelt and with much love; Saint Mama.

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