Shouldn't it be Mothers' Day? Probably.
If my mother were alive today she would be 102 years old. She was born on July 9, 1910. It's a little sobering to realize my mother would be over a century old if she had lived until now. Most likely because it reminds me that I am older than she was when she died. She died the day after my birthday when I was 25, that would be in 1972. She never met her grandchildren. Josh was born in 1975 and Mimi in 1978.
She had a hard life. Marion Cleo Jones Bradley was one of four girls and three boys born to Lina Manona Sadler Jones and Eli Jones. Two of the boys, Leon and Ernest, died in childhood. The Jones family were dirt poor during the Depression. My mother and her sisters would go to the slate dumps, where the trash from the coal mines was put and pick the slate for stuff that might burn. Elsie, her youngest sister, who is the only one still alive, wore boots to school for a while since she had no shoes. My grandmother ran a boarding house for a while, cooking and cleaning for single coal miners who needed some place to live. My Grandfather--mother's father--was sick from working in the mines and unable to work for much of his life.
Three of the Jones girls somehow went to college and became teachers. My mother was a teacher just after high school and took summer classes at Concord College in Concord, West Virginia and Bluefield State College in Bluefield until she had a Master's Degree. Aunt Georgia did much the same thing. Aunt Elise, the younger one, helped by her family had a proper college education. All of them taught all of their lives. My mother most often taught First Grade, imagine that. Mostly, during my growing up, at Pageton Elementary School. I went to school in Anawalt, where we lived. Pageton was about 8 miles away so my mother never taught me.
I'm not sure I remember the sound of my mother's voice since she's been dead 41 years. I have pictures that can remind me of her face. She was a consummately pleasant and gentle woman. I don't believe she ever raised her voice to me in all my life. At least I don't remember it. We were common people with common interests: family, church, education, mostly that.
The thing I admire most about my mother and remember most fondly happened when I was quite young. She and I went to the Pilgrim Holiness Church in Conklintown with my grandmother. My father waited out in the car because the Pilgrim Holiness people were too extreme for his Baptist tastes. And one Sunday, when I was 5 or 6, Preacher Peck asked for prayers for the sinner out in the parking lot smoking cigarettes and reading the Bluefiled Daily Telegraph.
My mother came to find me in the middle of the prayers since I was sitting with some small kid friends, took my hand and led me out of the church to the car where my father was, indeed, smoking and reading the paper. We drove away together and never went back.
I've defied authority a bit in my life and I like to think I got that from my mother. But I don't know.
This Mothers' Day I'm wondering what she would have made of my life after she died. I'm wondering if she would have loved our children and approved of my becoming an Episcopal priest. (We became Methodists after Preacher Peck's discretion and she knew I became an Episcopalian, but she never knew I became a priest.) She expected me, logically, to become a teacher--but on the college level, not first grade. My parents were of the generation that believed each succeeding generation would 'move up' from them. And I truly wanted to fulfill her dream for me. I wanted to get a Ph.D. in American Literature and teach in some small liberal arts college and write the Great American Novel. But somewhere in there God got in the scrum and I got side-tracked.
One vendetta I will share. When Bern and I got married, I started growing a beard. I have it still. The first Christmas we came home from Cambridge, late into the night, and my father opened the door, embraced Bern and then me and saw may beard and wandered off, in his bedroom slippers, into the snow in tears, my mother welcomed us into the house and said, "Nevermind, Virgil will get over it....it's an interesting beard."
He came back, and, as Mother predicted, got over my beard and we had Christmas.
Happy Mothers' Day, Cleo. Wherever you are....
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