Mama’s hands were not beautifully manicured or white and soft. They could plant a garden, gather food for canning and make a meal for a family. Her hands could soothe a crying infant and smooth a seven-year-old’s cowlick.
Reclaimed feed sacks
Mama’s hands washed the clothes and ironed them. She could sew a dress from reclaimed feed sacks or piece and quilt a covering to keep out the cold. Her tiny stitches held together the baby dresses we had worn. She taught us how to embroider, and sew a straight seam, and how to adjust the sewing machine when we got it out of whack. And she showed us the tablecloth she made for her trousseaux.
Mama’s hands chopped and picked the cotton to pay for school clothes, and handed Daddy a wrench when he repaired the plumbing or a hammer when they built a fence to keep the pigs in. She carried buckets of slop to feed the hogs when Daddy worked out of town. Her hands milked the cow after she tossed down hay with a pitchfork.
Sometimes her hands were stained with muscadine juice when she made jelly or preserves. They were scratched when she picked blackberries for a special pie. Sometimes they burned when she chopped peppers for her famous pear relish that relatives craved for Christmas gifts. She gathered peaches and made cobblers for Sunday dinner guests. Four generations learned about cooking from her busy hands.
Bought food and comfort
Neighbors knew that she would come when death invaded their home and make the routines of life go on when families were stricken. Her hands brought food and comfort and help.
When she helped me with my homework her hands showed how to make a map or chart a graph. When she read our reports, her finger pointed out the errors to be corrected. And found information in books that was just the proof we needed.
Corrected when needed
Mama’s hands could give a pat on the back or a spank a little lower if a correction was needed. They could feel a fever on a child’s forehead and place a cool cloth on the face of the sick. No matter how sick you were, you always felt better when Mama got there even after you were all grown up.
Most of all the hands were open just like her heart and willing to put things right that had gone awry. They taught children to pray and to sit quietly during church service and sometimes pinched a rebellious worshiper who didn’t.
Strong and skilled
Strong and skilled, her hands signaled for workers as they followed her lead preparing school lunches, and signed the beautiful rituals of the Eastern Star while she was Worthy Matron.
No, Mama’s hands were not pretty, but they were beautiful to all of us
Biography of my mother, Annice Deane Barton:
Annice Deane Barton was shy, almost painfully so when she married Lawrence (Buster) Graham during the hard years of the DEPRESSION. In their minds, it was always in capital letters. As many young couples of that time they lived with relatives so share household expenses. When I was born in 1936 the delivery was at Druid City Hospital in the location where the University Health Central was located most recently. Daddy always said that when I was born he had two nickels. One paid for a phone call to announce my arrival to family and the other to celebrate with a cup of coffee.
During WWII we lived in Pascagoula, Mississippi where Daddy worked in the US Corps of Engineers Boatyard, while mama took in laundry and cared for her three small children and provided lodging, food, and laundry for boarders, a common practice in a town that had too quickly outgrown space for the many workers flooding in to work at Ingall’s shipyard. The long hours and hard work were no more difficult than the life she experienced on a farm in Ralph, Alabama.
When my brother John’s asthma grew dangerous, doctors recommended that the family move back to Alabama to a dryer climate, and we returned to the home my parents had built on the Graham home place. Mama worked side by side with Daddy as they scratched a living on the farm and he worked in town.
Since our property adjoined the Romulus School property, she was much involved in P. T. A. and other school support work. In 1959 she was hired to work in the Romulus lunchroom and was made School lunch manager at Myrtlewood School at Fosters when the Ralph, Romulus, and Fosters were consolidated in a new building near highway 11 at Fosters. She loved the school and the students loved her. When my children called her Mama Annice the name spread through the school and community and became her principal address at homeschool, and in the community.
As her children left her nest, she and Daddy enjoyed the Eastern Star, cooking for the Masonic events, church work, and working at Myrtlewood. When Grandma Graham had a stroke, she and Daddy left their home for the big Graham house to help care for Grandma. Daddy had been fighting cancer for several years, working between surgeries and convalescences. After Grandma died Mama Annice and Daddy moved in with Mr. Roy Burroughs to care for him and Billy Oliver, a patient from VA hospital who lived on the farm. Daddy and Mr. Roy enjoyed good times until Daddy’s and Mr. Roy’s deaths in 1976. A few months later Mama moved back to her home.
Her life was marked with hard work and responsibility, but she set an example of leadership and service in her church and community. When someone died she was among the first with food and company for the grieving family. She knew how to quietly do the needed mundane tasks while families struggled with the decisions and grief a death brings. She went to stay with new mothers helping with the tiny babies as the mothers grew stronger.
When the Romulus Fire Department was established 200 yards from her front porch she gave sacrificially to provide fire protection and emergency carefor thee “old folks’ in the neighborhood, though she was older than most. She organized bake sales, and baked many cakes herself to help raise seed money for the government grants those departments depend on.
She started the practice of taking drinks and food to the church whenever there were funerals so the sorrowing family could have refreshment during the difficult time while the grave was closed and made ready for family viewing. When church elders voted to lock the doors when graveside services were held for nonresidents, she defied their ruling by providing hot coffee, sandwiches, and deserts to the next funeral which happened to be with a prominent family on a freezing day. There was such a positive response that immediately the policy was established that the church always provide for the grieving.
When she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at 87, she chose to come home and spend her remaining days surrounded by family. In the 27 days that followed, at least two members of family were near her hospital bed at all times. Neighbors and friends made pilgrimages to visit, and even the preschool great grandchildren were allowed to continue visiting Mama Annice. Visitors whispered that there was a special feeling about her home and atmosphere around the hospital bed. Sometimes she was in pain or cross showing the strong will that she was known for, but she chose her ways of saying goodbye, even resisting pain medicines, so she could be more aware of those around her. On her last weekend family gathered around her bed as a granddaughter and girls trio sang a concert for her and not a dry eye could be seen.
Mama Annice blessed hundreds of lives and set a high standard of Christian service for her descendants and friends.