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.