The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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Heart of the Blue Ridge

Mama's Not There Anymore

By Rose H. Ridgway © 1985

Issue: March, 1985

mamas not there anymoreIcy Love Doran (left) and her two sisters, Roxie Dove (right) and Nancy (front). Photograph was taken when Icy was 16 in 1911.While deciding upon a paperback at the airport newsstand, I found myself rejecting those with flashy covers, thinking "No, Mama might not like that." Later on the plane, I ordered a vodka tonic instead of the usual Scotch and water, thinking "Mama is less likely to notice."

But then I would remember, "No - Mama's not there anymore."

My husband and I were en route to Roanoke to attend the funeral of his, mother. Now none of the four daughters-in-law would need to hide from her again these little imperfections we knew would distress her. We had hidden these little things through the years because we did not want to be less than she believed us to be. Duplicity perhaps, but also love.

We four recognized that our husbands' mother was of that "other" generation, and we respected those conventions that had guided her life. Her philosophy was that of kindness and service to her family, a kind of personal commitment too often misunderstood in our equal rights climate. In her world, she, and other women like her, felt self contentment in their roles, notwithstanding arguments that they had little choice. While she might have wished for a broader life - more travel, for instance, that wish did not cancel the fullness of her caring.

The family always said, "If you can't get along with Icy, you can't get along with anyone!" Christened "Icy Love" Doran, no one was ever more inappropriately named. She was warm, thoughtful and generous in the manner Southern ladies have always had naturally. In her case, it was characterized by sharing her butter and eggs with a neighbor, helping with chores when there was illness in another household, or "carrying" food to the home preparing for a funeral.

She never tried to express her creed other than in softly-spoken positive Christian statements, while she patterned her life in a friendly fashion. Never would she cause pain or embarrassment to anyone. Her sense of humor was delightful, and although she thoroughly enjoyed discussing the latest news about the lives of friends and neighbors who lived up and down the road, no one ever heard her belittle anyone.

I can see her tall figure now, standing as she waited to greet us whenever we came home. Her clear, fair complexion, protected by a sunbonnet throughout her life, would be dusted with a trace of face powder. Worn hands would smooth the fresh, crisp printed cotton dress, the pocket of which always held a white handkerchief to wipe across her lips. Long braided hair, twisted into a coil at the base of her head, was held by large white hairpins as she grew more and more gray. At the same time, the bright eyes sparkled with a youthful soul.

When we would arrive, and after the flurry of greetings and our being settled into the front bedroom, the time would come when we'd all sit on the front porch to visit.

Robert, my husband,, would say, "Well, Mama, what's new around here?"

"Oh, nothing much, Robert," she'd say in her soft voice.

Then he would start asking about certain people and the families he'd known in his childhood and gradually she would warm to the subject. Then we were delighted at the things she would remember: nothing malicious, just friendly details about marriages and new jobs and vacations and children.

While caring about others, privacy was sacred. We were never able to tell her that her occasional morning lectures to Pop while she prepared his breakfast were overheard. Somehow her voice carried through the walls of the kitchen, and then the stairwell, to be clearly audible in the guest room!

Icy was born and raised in Franklin County, Virginia, the sixth child of seven. An early picture of her and her two sisters shows bright, alert eyes in a pretty face, crowned by a mound of feathery soft brown hair. She married a handsome, hard-working young man who courted her by riding a train from Roanoke to Boone's Mill and then walking a mile across the mountain each Sunday in time for the morning church service.

They moved to Roanoke where modest prosperity seemed to promise a good life, but their lives were touched by tragedy. Of the first three children born in the little frame house, two died in infancy, and the big trunk in the attic still holds little dresses and shoes and bonnets, tiny mementos of their only daughter.

When the Great Depression changed their world, they were fortunate enough to acquire a farm just outside town, and Icy reluctantly went back to the isolation and hard work required by rural living. There, in a white frame house without running water, they raised their four sons. Pop worked in town, so Mama and the boys were responsible for the corn, the fruit trees, the hogs raised for meat, the milk and the butter, and for the wild blackberries they picked and sold "on the market." Those were the years when she would cook in quantities’ of two or three chickens, four pies, and huge pans of biscuits per meal.

Later the boys went away to war, and, thank God, there were no Gold Stars in the window, and only one Purple Heart to be put away in a drawer. War-time prosperity brought them a brick house which they built down close to the road, and which included the much-awaited convenience of an electric range and central heat. The boys' married, two moving away to distant states, while the other two stayed just a few minutes away. Eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren were born, and now we had begun our journey back to see Icy for the last time.

I remember the first time I saw her. As a young bride from Southern California, I considered myself somewhat more sophisticated than I imagined my peer group to be in Roanoke. Robert and I were married at his military base in Michigan at the end of W.W.II, and the hectic train ride south on a crowded overnight coach produced neither confidence nor rest. Daylight brought us with our sand-filled eyes and grime-washed clothes into the city, where my husband had splurged on a room at the impressive Hotel Roanoke, still a favorite location for honeymoon couples.

A telephone call to Mama gave her the news of her first daughter-in-law. When my husband told her we had been married as we had planned in a general way for several months, she replied: "Oh, no, Robert, you're not!" Even so, it was not until arrangements were made for a brother to come pick us up, that I became particularly nervous.

The drive into the country wasn't far in miles, but every turn through the trees made me more and more tense. Finally we turned into a drive and up a hill to stop in front of a white two story house.

There was a figure in a crisp cotton dress standing, waiting, on the porch at the top of steep stairs. I couldn't look up at her face while concentrating on climbing the steps, hanging onto Robert's arm. When I reached the porch without mishap, I looked down a little into the bluest, kindest eyes I had ever encountered. Her voice was melodious and warm as she gently put her arms around me and said, "Hello, Rosie." When I put my head on her shoulder I knew I was "home", and that feeling has never left me in 35 years.

We buried her on a glorious October day when the sun shone on the most vivid fall foliage Roanokers could remember. Her worn, weary body is there, close to those of her mother and two sisters, her two babies, and her husband of over 60 years whom we had buried less than seven weeks before her. Even at the end, she waited until he no longer needed her. She has earned her eternal rest, and her soul is with her Lord.

But, for those of us who knew her, our world will never be quite the same. No, Mama's not there anymore, and people who have not known her kind of gentle, loving woman have been deprived of an exceptional experience.