MAMA’S ROSES

My mother was neither socially refined nor culturally polished, but she was good with flowers. She was a jewel with rough edges, and her flaws were many. Her domestic talents lay in growing wonderful garden vegetables, making hot biscuits from scratch before daylight on a wood-fired kitchen stove, wringing the neck of a chicken and turning it into mouth-watering chicken and dumplings. She yanked feathers from the bellies of squawking ducks to make us feather beds, and canned homegrown fruits and vegetables using a pressure cooker on top a red-hot, wood-burning stove in July or August with no air conditioning or electric fan. She ordered fabric from the Sears Roebuck catalog to make dresses for herself and her four daughters, using a foot-treadle-powered Singer sewing machine and made beautiful quilts from the scraps.

Mama didn’t laugh or joke a lot. She seldom took it easy. Instead she felt the need to be hard at work. She was socially limited to being comfortable only around her relatives and neighbors. Her self-confidence was pathetically low. She would say “I ain’t goin’ over there and show my ignorance”. She would make herself a new dress, find a new hat, and show up in our one room Methodist church looking great, but she would never, ever speak up in a group.

Mama’s way of speaking was Elizabethan Appalachian Scottish. Her maiden name was McHood. “His’n” was a word commonly used by Mama. “That mule ain’t his’n” meant that mule doesn’t belong to him. “It” was sometimes pronounced “hit” as in “Hit don’t make no difference”. Double negatives were commonly used in our neighborhood. “He ain’t got no sense, and she don’t neither.” The word “reckon” was used constantly. “Reckon it’s gonna rain?” “I reckon so.” “Where’d the bucket git to?” “Hit’s over yonder.” “Them potaters ain’t fit fer nothing”, or if something was inappropriate, “That ain’t fit’n”. When Mama didn’t like some woman, she was referred to as “that old heifer”. “It ain’t riz yet” meant the cream hadn’t risen to the top in the churn full of fresh cow’s milk waiting to be churned for butter.

In the mid 1940’s, Mama participated in the Women’s Home Demonstration Club which was designed to bring modern techniques to rural homemakers. It was part of the Stewart County, TN Extension Agency. I still have a sheet-metal tray she made for me at one of their monthly meetings. She made a tray for each of her four daughters. Mine has a large “P” for Pattie in the center, created by stenciling and etching, then the large, round tray was crimped around the edges. She was very capable and respected by her peers. The era was post WWII and they were using scrap aircraft metal.

A photo was taken of our Standing Rock Creek group dressed in different period styles of women’s wear. Mama, my sisters Dot and Leita, and I are in the photo. My sister, Imogene, was already married and living in Sebring, FL. This fashion display was a Home Demonstration Club project, and we appeared on stage in Dover, TN wearing our period costumes at one of the county-wide meetings. Mama was in a sailor outfit.

Daddy referred to Mama as “The Madam”.  Before he would answer a question about any plans, he would say “I’ll have to check with The Madam on that”. She held the power in their relationship. Daddy was a mild mannered man, likeable, honorable, trustworthy, and well respected by all who knew him. He was a farmer and a school bus driver. He did what he could to keep the peace with Mama, and that was not easy. Mama was annoyed by laziness, and by poor workers. She had no patience with people who didn’t know how to get a job done. She would complain about having to “tutor” them, which slowed her down. My 91 year old brother-in-law, Dudley, still uses that expression in fond memory of Mama when he deals with a person who doesn’t know what he’s doing. It is meant in a derogatory way to say “I suppose I’ll have to tutor him”.

Mama’s father, J. R. McHood, was a trader on the Tennessee River. He would cut trees from his property, construct a raft of the logs, and ride the raft down the Tennessee River from McGee’s Landing at the mouth of Standing Rock Creek, TN to Paducah, KY where he would sell the logs. Using the money obtained by selling the logs, he would buy merchandise and bring it home up river by steam boat. I do not remember him, as he died around the time I was born in 1929.

I do remember Mama’s mother, “Ma”, but barely. I remember walking to her house once with Mama. Our path was a dirt road that followed along Ribbon Branch, a small creek that flowed between the two homes. Mama killed a ground hog on that walk, and I wondered why she killed it. It wasn’t hurting anything and she beat it to death with a stick. That is one of my earliest memories.

When Mama’s mother, Ma, died in 1934, I was not yet in school, but I was dropped off at the one room country school near our house while the rest of my family went to the funeral. I remember watching out the school house window, crying in outrage, as Daddy drove our family car away with everybody in it but me. I still haven’t completely forgiven them for dumping me there, as I don’t believe small children should be excluded from important family events. The teacher was, of course, a close friend of the family and I already knew all the children.

Mama’s manner of speaking always sounded contrary, harsh, and crabby. She was not a gentle person. She didn’t know any other way. She was just being the way she’d watched her mother be. However, when I was fifteen and past the age to start having menstrual periods and it wasn’t happening, she seated me with my feet in a galvanized tub of comfortably hot water and fed me a sweetened hot toddy strongly laced with moonshine liquor. It didn’t work, but I loved the treatment and knew she would do anything in the world for me. A tub of hot water was not easily come by. Water had to be drawn from a well in the corner of the yard, then heated in a teakettle on the wood fired kitchen stove.

Mama survived the death of her only son, Dale, during the bloody 1944 Battle of the Bulge in Belgium when he was fresh out of high school — handsome, smart, polite, beloved, and admired by all. She was tough, but emotionally fragile and insecure at the same time.

My oldest, most tolerant, and kind-hearted sister, Dot, married next door neighbor, Dudley. In later years they spent many happy times with Mama and Daddy taking day trips by car and having adventures. In May 1956 they drove to Paducah, KY in hopes of getting a glimpse of their hero, ex-President Harry Truman arriving for his Vice President Alben Barkley’s funeral, and they did! Both Dot and Dudley were always respectful, helpful, available, and loyal toward Mama and Daddy.

When Mama got older and knew her health was declining, I heard her say “I know I ain’t never gonna be no good no more”. It was heartbreaking to hear her say that, as being a good worker meant everything to her.

After the death of both our parents, we four daughters cleared out their home near Murray, KY and found a buyer for the property. Mama’s roses were blooming profusely where she had trained them to grow on a trellis covering one wall of the screened porch. I asked if anybody besides me wanted a cutting to start a new rose bush at their home. We four sisters, Dot, Imogene, Leita and I, not only took cuttings, but Leita dug up some root and replanted it just down the road at her house. From that, she propagated Mama’s roses, until there were more than enough for anybody who wanted one.

Recently, while going through old files, I came across a Better Homes and Gardens rose book. My sister Leita had given one to each of her sisters. In it, I had kept the accompanying letter from Leita mentioning Mama’s way with flowers. Back when Mama was still doing laundry outside, on Standing Rock Creek, with a fire under an old iron wash pot, three galvanized wash tubs and a scrub board, she had always instructed her older daughters Dot, Imogene, and Leita to pour the used warm soapy water on the rose bushes. The rose book confirms that advice by saying to dissolve two tablespoons Ivory liquid in one gallon warm water and spritz on rose bushes to kill mites and other pests. Mama knew what she was doing with roses.

Mama died at age eighty, having lived from August 1891 to August 1971. She died of atherosclerosis after several years of dementia. Now, in 2018, forty seven years after her death, roses from those cuttings live on, gracing the lawns of her descendants in Lumberton, NJ, Arnold, MD, Nashville, TN, Murray, KY, and Columbia, TN. The one I brought to Florida didn’t make it, even with the help of my rose growing neighbor. One rose expert identified them as a variety of “old rose”. They are small, deep-red roses that bloom in clusters. Sadly, they do not do well in Florida.

We remember Mama with laughter when we use her expression “Ain’t that the beatin’ist thing!” on spotting something outlandish, or when we have to “tutor” some slow minded person. Just yesterday, I thought “Ain’t that the beatin’ist thing!” while watching a political absurdity on TV.

“Mama”, or Hattie Augusta McHood Martin, was aka “The Madam” to our Dad and to a few local men behind her back. She was known respectfully as “Miss Hattie” to younger neighbors, “Aunt Hattie” to many nieces and nephews, and “Mama Martin” to her grandchildren. Mama did the best she knew how. Her core values were good and she was tough.

We appreciated her hardworking, capable nature, and her heart was in the right place. Mama took great pride in her children. We have chosen to remember her through humor and by nurturing and cherishing her beautiful red roses in states throughout the south and east. Any reader who would like a cutting only needs to ask, and “Mama’s Roses” might continue to bloom forever.

Advertisement

One thought on “MAMA’S ROSES

  1. Pattie
    What a great story! In our family, Daddy was the rose-grower. He was so proud of his beautiful roses. Many were grown from cuttings that he got from gardens in the Sacramento area. His favorite was one called “Sutter’s Gold.”

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s