Every community needs a Mama

Since we are at the Ides of March in a month to celebrate women’s history, let me offer a brief glimpse of a woman who almost everyone in a small community in southwest Georgia called “Mama.” Not that they were related, but Mama was a health care giver for the community, a self-appointed nurse who helped many while the regional doctor was away.

When the doctor was in the area for his monthly visits, Mama would accompany him on his visits to hear and see what he had to say, but also to share her thoughts. She had such a good rapport with the doctor, she named one of her twelve children after him. In the interim, Mama would make sure the patients took their medicines, rested and did what the doctor asked. Since this was in the 19th century, many of the cures were home or natural remedies.

I have shared the story before about how her youngest boy loved gymnastic type exercise and would tumble or use any prop for his swings and dismounts. One day, he fell and knocked his two front teeth out of his mouth. He gathered them up and ran in with his bloody mouth. Mama sat him down and boiled some water while she cleaned his mouth. She then dipped the end of a dish towel in the hot water and rinsed it quickly. She told the boy to put the towel in his mouth “as hot as he could stand it.” She cleaned the teeth off and then shoved them back into his now-swelling gums and they held.

I love this example and have heard and told this story many times. Her name was Carrie Jane and she was my great grandmother. Since everyone called her Mama, my grandmother’s children included, they would call their own mom “Mother” in deference to Carrie Jane. I never got the chance to meet Mama, but I do know her children grew up as both characters and with character, my grandmother included.

As an example, she called one of her daughters Carrie Bell, but my grandmother would not call her sister that. Instead, she would call her “Cow Bell” as a means of teasing. And, when Carrie Bell would come to visit, she would ask us kids if we wanted to play “marbles” which was her name for the board game Aggravation.

Growing up in a rural area (using town would be inappropriate), people formed a kinship and helped each other out. These folks could not pay Mama for her services, but would bring the family fresh produce as a means of recompense. If a baby was coming, everyone would go find Mama. I think there are mamas like this in every small community.

These are the kind of women I wish to honor today. People may not have been related to them, but they touched many lives. Thanks Mama and all of the mamas in our history. Tell me about the mamas in your history.

True story of a community health care provider 100 years ago

I have shared before stories about my maternal grandmother’s family. She grew up in southwest Georgia in a small community along with her thirteen siblings, with one passing at birth and another dying as a young adult. My grandmother shared that her Mama was the chief health provider in the community and would accompany the visiting doctor when he would make his rounds once a month.

The following two paragraphs were written by my third cousin based on interviews with his grandmother (a sister of my grandmother) and her brother who was the youngest of the surviving children. It is further evidence of their Mama’s health care role, using a very appropriate historical marker in one episode.

“There was a bad flu epidemic in 1918 and five of the children were in the bed with the flu at one time. People all around were dying, and my great uncle tells me he vividly remembers the hearse passing their home several times during this flu epidemic. The hearse was a glass enclosed carriage drawn by big white horses. My great grandmother was able to get her children well by using a home remedy of kerosene, turpentine and tallow. She made bibs, soaked them in the above mixture and placed them on the sick children. Also, they had cedar water buckets that were smaller at the top than bottom. They would fill the eight-to-ten- quart bucket with water and put a little fresh turpentine in it and drink it for colds.

Other home remedies included using the gland from a hog and placing it on the clothes line to dry out. When it dried, my great grandmother would boil the gland and remove the jell which was used for arthritis. She called this jell ‘pizzle grease.’ She did not understand or have the education to know why it worked, she only knew it did. Today this ‘pizzle grease’ is know as ACTH which is a polypeptide hormone of the anterior part of the pituitary gland that stimulates hormone production of the adrenal cortex and is used to treat arthritis.”

Let me add one more story that I have shared earlier. The youngest sibling noted above liked being a gymnast. When he was an adolescent, he was swinging his whole body over a single bar like the male gymnasts do. He fell and knocked out his front teeth. Mama asked him to sit down as she cleaned the teeth and boiled some water. Once boiled, she put a clean towel in the water and rinsed it with cold water. She said put this in your mouth as hot as you can stand it. This was to swell his gums. Once swollen, she jammed the cleaned teeth back into the gums and the teeth held.

These stories amaze me at her ingenuity and practicality. A couple of sidebars to this story, my great grandmother married when she was only fourteen, begetting fourteen children. My third cousin also writes the family survived the depression, as did many farmers, by growing their own crops, raising their own meat sources and making their own soaps. He noted they only bought sugar and coffee. They had no electricity using kerosene lamps and wood stoves (in a separate from the house kitchen). And, water was stored in two 66 2/3 gallon barrels they called Hogsheads, which sat in the covered walkway to the kitchen.

We should remember these stories when we complain the wi-fi is down or the power goes out. Please feel free to share your reactions and own stories in the comments.