By Shirley Taylor © 1990
Issue: July, 1990
Ida was my mother. The grandchildren who she loved best, and who loved her best called her Ida. None of her children would have dared call her Ida - she would have slapped us in the face if we had. We called her Mama, because Mother was, "Too big headed a word," as she was fond of saying. And she was so hard headed! She loved to argue. She was always right, and I, or anyone she was arguing with, was wrong. The highlight of her day was for my brother-in-law to come by the house. He liked to argue as much as she did, so they would find something to argue about. Then it would be on! My sister Gladys, would get tired of hearing them, and say, "James, if you don't hush I am going to leave!" They'd go on as if she had not said a word. After a while she would say, "I told you I was going to leave if you don't hush." But she never did.
Mama was born in the mountains of North Carolina, near West Jefferson. Even as a child she had a hard life. She had only two dresses a year; one for school and one for work. I remember her telling me when she came home from school she had to take her dress off and hang it up. She had one pair of shoes a year; and they were for the cold winter months. One year in the spring or summer her father gave her a pair of red shoes. They had biscuits once a year on Christmas Day; the rest of the year they ate cornbread. For Christmas she received no toys, only some stick candy. As an eight year old she went to the fields to hoe corn, and pick beans - and whatever a small girl could do. They were poor, but so was everyone around there, so there was no shame in it.
When she was sixteen she ran away and got married. Some years later her husband died leaving her with three small children, a cow, and a small farm. Somehow she raised her children with next to nothing. In 1932 she went to Fries, Virginia, where she got a job in the cotton mill. It was there that she met and married my father. Her children came to live with them until they were married.
When I first remember Mama she must have been forty-five, a lovely woman; with dark brown hair and eyes as dark as her hair. I remember watching her making a pillow, and being afraid she would die; hoping her death would be a long time off. I remember her sitting me on her lap and reading to me - her singing only once and crying three times.
I was born handicapped and she blamed herself for that. She believed God was punishing her for marrying my father who was divorced. She always said she wanted to live longer than I, because she wanted to take care of me as long as I lived - she was so afraid I wouldn't get good care when she could no longer do it. She didn't want to get old and sick and to have to live with her children. She didn't want to be a burden to anyone. Nor did she want to go to a nursing home; she wanted to die at home.
She did grow old; and she had not been well in years. At times it seemed as if she was living on will alone. Then my brother died and that broke her heart and her will. I think the saddest sound I ever heard was Mama crying then. A few weeks later she went to the hospital, and while my sister was rubbing her back - she smiled at her, and Mama's heart stopped.