Thursday, March 18, 2010
Tribute to Mama
By MARY R. GURLEY MINOR
Mama (Mary Lois Nelson Gurley) was always the cornerstone of our family. I was one of 11 of her children, and from my earliest memories, she was always a housekeeper, provider, nurse, confidant, and anything else that goes along with this greatest of titles.
As a child, I remember growing up in a farming family. We lived out in the country, many times in the house with our Grandfather Gurley. He had several children, and there were several houses on the farm, so we rotated from house to house on a yearly basis with different families living in the main house.
There was a large cotton field in the bottomlands on the edge of the Tippah River with a small cotton house in the center of the field. The men worked in the fields. Travel was by horse-driven wagons.
On this farm, we lived in a wood frame house with an open hallway down the middle of the house and another open hallway between the kitchen and Granddaddy’s room out to the side porch. There were two larger bedrooms on the other side of the hallway. There was a long front porch with an icebox, a fence-enclosed large front yard. The housetop was covered with wood shingles and Mama cooked on a wood stove with a flue going out the roof.
Several times the sparks from the stove would catch the shingles on fire, and then Mama would ring the outside dinner bell to call the men in from the fields to help put out the fire. Once, during such a time (I was a small child myself), I went into the bedroom and got two of my younger siblings out of the baby bed and took them outside on the front lawn until it was safe to go back inside.
Once, Margaret (about 8 years old) thought she could put out the fire and climbed up a ladder with a bucket of water and then fell from the roof. The breath was knocked from her, but she wasn’t hurt.
During this time, Mama kept house, worked in the garden, raised several children, prepared three meals each day for the farmers and for her growing family, as well as other things that kept the family going.
Also, Mama canned fruits and vegetables to last the winter, if possible. Ice came by truck, and the driver used tongs to pick up the large block of ice for our icebox. There was no electricity or modern conveniences back then. There was a cellar to keep potatoes and canned vegetables cool. We also played in the cellar.
We had an apple orchard, chicken house, cattle barn, pig pen, horse and mule barn, smokehouse for curing hams, a clothesline for drying clothes, a deep well, and an outhouse.
There was another small one-room house with a fireplace that we used for a playhouse. Water was drawn from the well for drinking purposes and also for washing clothes in an old galvanized tub using a scrub-board to get the clothes clean.
We made lye soap for washing the clothing. This was made from lard from the hogs and was made in a large black iron pot in the yard.
There were cows for milking, swine for bacon, sausage, tenderloin, etc. I remember Mama grinding meat into sausage, frying the sausage, and cooking the tenderloin. Our breakfast consisted of her cathead biscuits, sawmill gravy, eggs, and homemade muscadine or blackberry preserves and assorted jellies.
From the chickens we gathered eggs on a daily basis. We enjoyed Mama’s fried chicken. It was the best ever. She also could make a delicious banana pudding. For Christmas our desserts consisted of a fresh coconut layer cake (the coconut was grated using a hand grater and took a long time), a fresh apple cake with caramel frosting, and a German chocolate cake. We also had fruit cobblers and fried peach and apple pies from her home-dried fruit. She could bake the best teacakes ever!
Mama also had a large garden and helped with milking the cows. As we grew older, the boys in the family helped with the farm chores and the girls helped in the house and garden. We had a good life, and there were always games to play. There was a spring behind the farm shed where we took our milk in gallon glass jugs to keep it cold.
I never remember Mama complaining. Looking back, she did so many things that we take for granted today. She also quilted and made our clothing. As I remember it, we always had plenty to eat and clothes to wear. We took long walks in the woods and visited neighbors on adjoining farms. The Sears, Roebuck Catalog was a given at our house. All of the children were excited to see the catalog come in the mail. We sure had big wish lists back then!
Just until a few years ago, Mama had a garden with plenty of vegetables. She always said that she loved to watch things grow and be able to enjoy fresh homegrown vegetables. Mama also had beautiful gardens of flowers.
When she was no longer able to work outside, she enjoyed having freshly cut flowers in the house. Bird watching was also a hobby. This brought her great pleasure. Some of her hobbies included reading, working crossword puzzles, and receiving visits from the grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Her passion for reading started at a very young age. She would get books wherever possible and spent her entire life reading in her spare time.
When I was in elementary school, we moved to the Winborn community in Benton County on what was then Highway 78 (now Highway 178). This house was located across from the CCC Camp. We attended Potts Camp School.
Mama always had breakfast waiting for us when we got up each morning and after school there was always a snack waiting before our chores were done. Every day there were three meals on the table.
We also lived on a farm and worked in the large garden and in the cotton fields. We would chop cotton and help with the harvest. In this location we also had a barn and farm animals. There was always meat on the table.
Mama was one of nine children. Her mother died when her youngest brother was one month old and Mama also had a newborn daughter (Margaret).
She, along with her other siblings and an aunt an uncle, helped with the rearing of her brother. In my high school years, her youngest brother lived with our family and attended Potts Camp School with us. He was like a brother as he was the same age as my oldest sister.
We lost our dear wonderful Christian mother on Wednesday, March 10, 2010, at the age of 93. She instilled values that we carry with us to this day.
We may not always do the things the way she taught us, but we have learned to live each day in a simpler fashion. I enjoyed living the way we grew up, and because of that, have become a stronger individual. We will miss her. She was a blessing to us all.
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