Sunday, May 8, 2016

Mother's Day

My mom was Marion Cleo Jones Bradley. Everyone called her Cleo.

She was 38 when I was born--unusual in 1947 in rural West Virginia. My mom and dad's friends were my friends' grandparents!

And I was their only child.

Being an only child could take up a week's worth of posts. But I am, on the whole, satisfied to be one. I am more independent and never bored, I think. Only children learn to fill the time of life in ways that are fulfilling. Since I never had brothers or sisters I can't very well 'miss' them.

My mother's family was rural poor--one of the most draining forms of poverty. My Grandfather, Eli Jones, couldn't work in the mines because he had lung issues and nothing else paid very well in McDowell County, West Virginia.

There were lots of stories (apocryphal or true) about their bitter poverty. Picking the slate dump (where all the 'unusable' stuff from coal mining was piled) for fuel; Aunt Elsie wearing galoshes to school because she had no shoes; having to wait until the tenants in the boarding house my grandmother ran for several years had eaten and eating what was left for supper; sharing coats in the winter; walking long distances to school--on and on. My grandmother never had indoor toilets until she moved into a trailer at 66 or so. I remember the outhouse well and having to chase away the chickens and ducks who piled up against it in winter because human waste produces warmth.

In spite of that, three of the Jones girls got Master's degrees in Education during summer school and at nights at Concord College and Bluefield State College. My aunt Elsie, who died a few months ago, eventually got a Ph.d.! Their only brother who survived childhood (2 didn't) raised 8 children in a fine house in Falls Mills, Virginia. Nearly all my first cousins (14 of them) went to college and did well in life.

I'm both proud and humbled that from such modest beginnings, my mother pulled herself up and was a first grade teacher for 30 years.

I can't remember her voice--she died a few days after my 25th birthday--but I remember her smile and her gentle, patient nature. (You don't work with first graders for that long and not develop gentleness and patience!)

She was a kind woman, I remember how she looked out for people who hadn't made it out of poverty, and a generous woman as well. I know she and my father gave away 10% of what they had, and not to the church, to people in need.

I suspect she was a woman of faith, but she never talked about it in those terms. And she was a woman of deep loyalty--to her family, especially.

Here's the only story I'll tell about her. It is story enough to know something of her character.

We attended (my mother and me) the Pilgrim Holiness Church of her family in Conklintown (I don't make these names up, by the way!) My father was some vague form of Baptist if he was anything and would drive us to church but stayed in the car to read the Sunday edition of the Bluefield Daily Telegraph and smoke cigarettes.

One Sunday, Preacher Peck, who, as I try to remember him, looked a lot like Ted Cruz ('nough said), introduced a time of prayer, which meant kneeling on the floor and resting your elbows on your pew and all praying out loud (some louder than others) until somehow everyone stopped praying. Preacher Peck said, "today let's pray for that sinner out in the parking lot smoking cigarettes and reading the paper."

I was sitting with some cousin or another and my mother stood up, came and took me by the hand and we left that church forever.

I don't remember her telling my father why we came out early and went home. It would have just been like her to never tell him, not wanting to upset him.

We became Methodists. My father often said, "Methodism won't hurt anyone...."

Happy Mother's Day, Mommy. I've lived much longer without you than with you. You never met your grandchildren, but you would have loved them and been patient and kind and gentle and generous with them. And they would have loved you greatly.

I know that and hope, in whatever way might be possible, that you know that too.

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About Me

some ponderings by an aging white man who is an Episcopal priest in Connecticut. Now retired but still working and still wondering what it all means...all of it.