The last 10 years of her existence, Mama once said, were the happiest of an extremely happy, fulfilling life.
Daddy had “made his way to the Lord” a decade before Mama did, so for the final chapter of her life, Mama was able to “loafer” and do whatever she pleased, whenever she pleased.
She no longer had to rise at dawn to make a pan of buttermilk biscuits and cook a full breakfast of eggs, country ham, grits and gravy. And when the time came for supper, she no longer had to cook a meal. Instead, she either had a bowl of cereal or fried up a pan of cornbread and enjoyed that with a glass of sweet milk or buttermilk.
Make no mistake about it. Mama treasured her years of staying home to raise four children and diligently looking after her husband.
On the day before her sudden death stunned us all, she talked about the 87 years that had gone before.
“God has been so good to me,” she said. “All I ever wanted was to be a wife and a homemaker. As a little girl, that’s all I wanted — to grow up, marry a good man and have children. God has given me everything I’ve ever wanted.”
Mama was good at being a homemaker. Our little house was always dusted and neatly kept. Her morning routine included cooking breakfast, making beds, washing dishes (she never owned a dishwasher though I longed for one my entire childhood), sweeping floors, and in summer, watering her flowers before the heat attacked in a wave of humidity.
Probably because I witnessed daily the joy of Mama’s homemaking, I wanted to be a homemaker. I think that’s one of the loveliest words in the English language. To me, the noun “homemaker” is glorious and one of life’s most important occupations.
Mama taught me housekeeping — though on any given day you’d probably dispute that given what a mess my kitchen is, with mail strewn from one end to the other — how to sew, cook and bake.
I often think of her sternest commandment: Scrape every drop out of the bowl and waste nothing.
To my joy, these lessons of Mama’s were magnified by the home economist of our electric membership corporation. She was the wise woman who oversaw home economics for the county extension agency, three incredible home economics teachers, 4-H and Future Homemakers of America clubs.
All these women beamed with happiness as they explained gardening, canning, how to put in a concealed zipper, custom sizing a pattern and knitting a sweater.
Jean Trotter, Gloria Ray, and Lydia Daniels Park were instrumental in my learning. Mrs. Ray sparkled with delight as she taught us how to fold a fitted sheet by tucking the corners together. I think of her every time I wash linens.
My grandmother taught me to crochet, but Mrs. Trotter taught me the more complicated art of knitting. Mrs. Park, who was always laughing, introduced me to cooking foods other than Southern cuisine.
All three women are still investing in me by supporting my projects and cheering me on.
Even dearer to my heart is that they all knew and loved Mama. Once, while in high school, we had two student teachers from the University of Georgia. As the time neared for their return to Athens, Mama cooked a big Southern country meal and hosted all of these dear teachers.
Now, when Mama cooked to impress, it was indeed impressive. Fried chicken, roast beef, huge platters of vegetables, a pie and a cake.
One of the young teachers, whose name was Arilla, wrote Mama a beautiful thank you note and used the occasion to teach our class the importance of writing “bread and butter” notes.
“Whenever anyone hosts you in their home, you must write a thank you note,” she said.
This is my bread and butter note to these wonderful women. Thank you very much.
Ronda Rich is a best-selling Southern author. Visit rondarich.com to sign up for her free weekly newsletter.