A Well-known Storyteller, Author and Inspirational Speaker

A Mother’s Day Tribute

TENDER RECOLLECTIONS

  The words to an old song came to my mind this morning, and I suppose it has been hiding there behind all these other thoughts I have been entertaining. The minute it popped up I sang all these words that have kept themselves in wraps for quite a while. This is the way it goes:

I’ve a tender recollection I’ve cherished all my life,

And age but makes it dearer day by day.

It’s the memory of a mother whose smiles in days gone by,

Drove all my little childhood cares away.

She was gentle, she was kind,

I shall ever bear in mind,

The many golden lessons she taught me.

I have wealth and earthly power;

I’d trade all for an hour,

Of the evenings that I spent at Mother’s knee.[1]

Of course, I have neither wealth nor power, but the meaning is no less true for me. I learned that song as I learned all the old mountain ballads and dozens of great hymns that are no longer in the hymnals, simply by hearing them over and over as Mother sang them, for she sang about her work, and I adopted that habit from her example.

A tale is made for telling and I have a few tender recollections that might serve to bring a few to your mind. Everyone remembers great stories from their childhood, and I promise you, if you don’t tell them, don’t expect that they will be engraved on your headstone. So be a storyteller.

At age twelve my sister, Josephine, was at home and I was turning somersaults on the front lawn. She called and said, “Mac, you are too big to be turning somersaults. You will soon be a young lady. You are not to do that anymore.” Then I burst out crying. I went running to my mother and said, “I don’t want to grow up!” Mother then asked, “What’s wrong, Mac?” I told her all that had happened and she took her apron and wiped my eyes, and held me close to her. She laughed, and lowered her voice, “Now, Mac, listen! When you and I are here all alone, and the boys are in the field, I will let you turn somersaults again. Shhhh! Now don’t say anything to Jo about this.”

You see, Jo was her first born and she was allowed full authority to run the house and the younger children when she was at home. It was an unwritten law that anything Jo said was A-OK with Mother and Dad. We all knew that Jo held that position, but that time, Mother gave me permission to turn somersaults again, and that was a privilege I indulged in many times, after that. In fact, I recall that I said to myself, “I will never turn my back on childhood. I want to stay a child forever.”

I am glad that God gives us time to “become” a child again, for the childlike spirit is the one that has special eyes and special ears! I thank the Lord that my child-spirit is always in the wings, watching the act, ready to dance out on the stage at the slightest cue.

Oh, yes! I went along and grew up. I loved school days. It was a joy to be learning new things and that is still true today. I have not changed in that way. I have retained the curiosity and wonder about the “why” of things.

Here is a recollection about our rose-covered smoke house.

One day when I was five we were sitting by the fire and Mother was browsing seed and planting catalogs. She gave me several to look at and said, “You pick out two that you think are the prettiest ones and I will order them for you.”

I picked out the red Baby Rambler and the pink Dorothy Perkins rambler.

When they arrived she said, “Mac, here are your roses. Where do you want to plant them? Remember they are climbers, so think about it. I could ask your father to have a trellis built for you over one of the gates to the property.” I went out and looked all around, came back in and said, “I think one on each side of the smokehouse would be the best place.” She went out, looked around, and then said, “Mac, you are right! That is a perfect place for those two rose bushes.”

Then she had the brothers dig deep holes and she layered each hole with rocks and cow manure that was aged two years, then a layer of top soil. At that spot she put the root of the rose on that top soil, filling it in the rest of the way with our rich new ground, and pouring about a gallon of water in on the plant at midway, then more of our rich new ground was tamped in firmly. The smoke house was the showplace of our home site in the summer. When Mother gave cuttings she would always say, “Now these roses on the smokehouse are Maxine’s roses.” Then she would tell them the name of each rose as she gave a root cutting.

One day I heard her voice calling, “Mac, come up here.” She was in the smokehouse. I went running and entered the dim coolness of the smokehouse. She said, “What do you hear?” The humming roar overhead was what I heard. “Oh, it’s the bees!” I said, and she answered, “Do you remember what I said to you the day we planted the roses?” I said, “No, Ma’am.” She reminded me, “I said, “Mac, you are making a feast for the bees!” I then remembered, and said, “They are really feasting.”

My mother always shared words with me that I loved hearing and then saying them myself. She was a poet and in her world the bees were “feasting,” the brook was “singing,” the dove was “mourning,” the squirrel was “chattering,” the calf was “bawling,” and her roses she would sniff and say, “Heavenly!” She loved planting and growing things, then she would stand on the porch, take my hand and exclaim, “Mac, look at the garden! Is that not a sight in this world!?” It just looked like a garden to me, but at this moment the feel of her warm, strong hand in mine brings a tender recollection!

She planted many varieties of roses, and was, in fact, famous in the community for her roses. One thing we all loved to see was the smokehouse in full bloom. The beautiful pink Dorothy Perkins rambler rose grew on one side and on the other the Baby Rambler, crimson in color. They completely covered the roof of the smokehouse, intertwining and falling down the sides of the house in great profusion; mixed pink and red loveliness and the bees were not alone in their feasting.

What pride and joy to hear Mother say, “Maxine’s roses” and when we brought large bouquets of roses in for the house, her voice would carry special meaning to me when she said, “Put a vase of Maxine’s roses on my kitchen table.” In our old fashioned country kitchen that was her work table. When she went in to start dinner she would say, “Maxine, the scent of your roses has filled my kitchen.” In those days the roses all sent forth a heady sweet perfume, but it is faint or absent from the roses of today.

Mother knew how to make my heart glad at every turn. I loved being careful as I set the table to do exactly as she had taught me, arranging the silverware precisely, salt and peppers at each end of the table, sugar and creamer at the end nearest Mother’s plate. There would be the jams and jellies, pitcher of molasses, and a honey dish. The glasses for milk had a shaping about 5/8″ from the top, and I poured milk to that line, exact look-a-likes. These were placed the same distance from the top of the knife. When her words of praise came for several days I would walk around on cloud nine setting the table as if we were expecting the Lindberghs[2] for supper. My efforts to please were rewarded by her smile and the words, “Well done, Mac.” Then she added, “No excellence without great labor, Maxine.”

You see she used those words to correct me when I had not done a thorough job on something, and repeated them as praise when I did the job well. That was an extra compliment and showed that she appreciated the pains I took to please her and pleasing her was my greatest delight… The words of the song, “Just a wee bit of sugar makes the medicine go down in a most delightful way,” makes me think of Mother; a great proponent of that philosophy.

I can add all these lines to the poem that says “Richer than I you never could be, for I had a mother who read to me,”[3]

I can say, “Who laughed with me, who praised me, who corrected me, who sang to me, who told stories to me, who recited poetry to me, who doctored me, who talked with me, who played games with me, who walked with me, and most importantly, prayed with me.” Every one of those added lines have tender recollections that go along with them! That’s why my book of memoirs is full of stories about her.

Here is another precious recollection about our place, Rose Hill Farm.

Our house had a large yard that was fenced to keep the pesky hens out, and Mother planted roses all the way around the section that bordered the lawn. There were white, yellow, red, pink and even variegated. She built a circular flower bed with bricks around it and planted cannas, elephant ears, snap dragons, dahlias, four o’clock, scarlet sage, petunias and two or three other varieties that grew close to the ground such as marigolds. In the middle of the right side of the front lawn there was a huge tree stump. I don’t remember the exact measurement but Mother wrote it down in her journal and it was something that she loved to point out to visitors.

When my dad first saw the stump he was grieved and told Mother about the loss of such a tree. He said, “I put a red tag on it but I tied it to a branch and they said they didn’t see it.” When my mother heard that she said, “Surely they saw that red rag hanging from that branch. It was the greed of the big lumber men who wanted the wood from that tree.” She always held that belief. She asked dad to be sure that the stump was not blasted out of the yard. For that reason the stump was a conversation piece for Mother planted roses all around it and let the flowers cover it. People were amazed when she told them the size of the stump. Then Dad and Mother, while sitting on the porch in the evening, would recite in tandem the poem, Woodman, Spare that Tree,[4] in which the poet begs, “Woodman, spare that tree! Touch not a single bow! In youth it sheltered me, and I’ll protect it now.” There were several verses that they recited with great expression.

When we grew tired of playing hide and seek, or it grew too dark to play, we would go and sit on the front steps and listen as they sang the old songs, or recited the poetry, for in their school days they had to memorize everything! My father, though ten years Mother’s senior, was a school “Master” as the teacher was called. I believe he said that he taught school about five years before he was married to Mother. He always knew all the songs and poems that she knew.

The name, ROSE HILL, is emblazoned on my mind. Years have done nothing to mitigate the homesickness that sometimes stabs the soul. I thank the dear Lord for the gift of storytelling that has allowed my childhood memories to stay intact so that others may share vicariously the freedom of mind and spirit that was upheld and enjoyed by our family.

I want to paint one more little scene out of thousands that I hold in Technicolor.

We loved to have company and because of that our home was nearly always filled with people on Sundays in the summer. There was one time that we counted just for the fun of it and there were thirty-nine guests for dinner. That means there were forty-eight people for dinner that day! That also means umpteen trips to the garden for more veggies, and many trips to the hen-house for more chickens! These represent hard work in summer heat over a kitchen stove that burned wood! The women were all fully occupied in preparing and serving the food.

This is a story that I will always love.

As the hubbub of activities would wind down, then one by one each family would leave. However, there was one family, a double first cousin of Mother’s, who would always give in to the children’s pleas added to Mother’s and they would stay to watch the sunset. Remember our dirt roads were narrow and winding in the twenties, and people wanted to get home before dark, but these brave souls would stay and be rewarded.

Mother had a heart of generosity, and she enjoyed going to the garden and cellar to fill their car with gifts. Then as the sun gradually sank behind the mountains, we would all go down to the fence and stand there transfixed at the spectacular sight—a West Virginia sunset! How breathtaking to watch! The scene is indelibly fixed in the mind and the melody lingers on in the spirit making it true that a thing of beauty is a joy forever.

I have always wondered why we walked down and stood at the fence? Why did we not stay on the porch where there were at least half dozen rocking chairs? There were the steps that the children loved to use. No, when it was time for sunset, we went down to the fence for some strange reason! I can feel the breeze in our faces as we children went running ahead. I can see the adults following in their leisurely way, pausing a second to say something special, talking as they walked, and then standing there at the fence to watch.

If I were an artist I would love to show that family lined up there in various sizes and ages, with awe struck expressions of wonder on each face; before them a tree covered forest, beyond that a series of mountain ranges and a sky made up of an impossible array of colors to stagger the mind with the glory of God’s great creation.

Then we walked with them down through the second gate where the car was parked and finally they would start the motor and get away. We stood there and waved, calling last goodbyes until we lost sight of them down the hill.

Then Mother would bring us down to earth with, “Now, you boys get the milking done and you girls fix supper; there’s plenty of left-overs. Mr. Johnson and I are going to walk around the orchard for a bit.”

Now it was time for the girls to shoo me off to the back porch swing while they busied themselves with supper and girl talk. There I would prop myself up on the cushions and watch the stars appear one by one, while the cicada and the tree frog filled the air with their concert, and the whippoorwill repeatedly called for the whipping of poor Will, while I was left to wonder what poor Will had done to deserve such punishment.

Well, you can plainly see that the Lord has given me, in these recollections, a safe and sure retreat should anything upset the apple cart to threaten my peace of mind,

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[1] I Google the words, “I’ve a tender recollection” and up came the page with several websites, and I scrolled down to the one that looked the most likely which was American Old Time Song Lyrics and these words were shown, so I clicked on it and there it was and it shows a second verse which I remembered the minute I read it, but it did not come back to my mind completely as the first verse and chorus did, so I will let you Google that website and also there was one line that differed from mine but that is common to the old ballads, for people changed the wording to suit what they remembered, and my mother always said, “little childhood cares” and this one has it “troubled childhood thoughts” so you see the meaning is the same. I imagine you could also find the melody. I did not take the time to search that far, but it has a sweet plaintive melody.

[2] We had two or three records singing the praises of Charles Lindbergh, who flew the first solo flight from America to Paris, about 1927 or 28 I forget which. One of the songs was my favorite. I went around singing it all the time and every time a plane flew over, (very rare in those days) I would run out to wave and the pilot would dip down and wave to us. Then I would sing, “Lindy, oh what a flying fool was he, Lindy, his name will live in history! Over the ocean he flew all alone, gambling with fate and with dangers unknown. Others may take that trip across the sea upon some future day, but take your hats off to Lucky, Lucky Lindy, the eagle of the U.S.A.!” This was hero worship, and I loved to imagine that he would find a place to land on our farm, and we could all visit with him. He would take me for a ride in his plane. These little planes were called “Piper Cubs” and had a single engine.

[3] Strickland Gilliam 1869-1954

[4] George Pope Morris. 1802-1864