AUTHOR SUNDAY: Mama’s Hands were not beautifully manicured or . . .

Not manicured

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.hand iron

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.hand wrench

Picked Cotton

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 stained

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.hands cooking

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.hands school

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.

mama's hands heart

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.nickel

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.ingalls

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.mama's hands sick

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.

mama's hands bible

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.

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  1. I miss my Mother, Mary, who died September 2012 and my Grandmother Donnie Patton Rodgers who died in November 1978. This story of “Mama’s hands” reminds me of my Grandmother. Almost everything that was mentioned in the story, I either saw or heard about what my Grandmother did to ensure the raising of 8 children and taking care of herself and husband. I was very lucky that my Mom asked Grandmother before she died, to write some stories of her young married life and of her growing up and her parents. We should all write and save stories, of these most unforgettable stories, for future generations as they have no idea what our forefathers went through.

  2. This story parallels my own mother’s life. She too was a strong Christian influence not only to our family, but to counless others. And no her hands were not manicured, but they served God, her family and friends well. Miss you today and every day.

    1. The story tells of many Moms, like mine who was an Angel on earth.

  3. This sounds so much like my Mama. I had the honor and privilege of meeting Mama Annice one time and that one time filled my heart with so many memories of this dear sweet lady. She made sure I and the others visiting her home had some of her plants that grew around her home, the food was wonderful and as others joined us for stories of long ago, the room was filled with laughter and a few tears. Dorothy Gast describes her Mom very well. When Dorothy’s Mom passed away, the world lost a true treasure from God and I feel the same way about my Mom who left us to grieve a precious warrior of God and a wonderful Mother.

  4. Oh Dorothy, what a sweet, sweet “honor” story to your Mom. It paralleled my Mom right up to the point of death. Sometimes we do not know how precious they were until they’re gone, when we sit still and remember. Here’s to all the wonderful Alabama mothers from the depression!! (And to all the others!)

  5. So beautiful…

  6. Thanks to Alabama Pioneers for giving access to those who requested a copy.I am honored by readers who read and pass it on.

  7. How beautiful, and my lovely Mother, was reminded by her father, “Annie”, when you come home, don’t forget your music. I am hungry to hear you play. How gifter and giving are our hands!

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