The Making of Me – My Grandmothers

On this Mother’s Day, I began to think – Just how did I get here? It’s a very long story, genealogically, but for me, personally it started in the late 1800’s when my grandmothers were born.

I knew my paternal Grandmother as Mam-Maw, but her name was Bertha Rosetta Blevins Short. She had long gray hair that she always rolled into a bun at the back of her neck. Her home meant everything to her. She cared for it lovingly. She was a very meticulous woman and a staunch Christian. She was an amazing cook, loving grandmother and furiously loyal to her family;

My Grandmother ShortIt wasn’t until I started to dabble in photography that I discovered an old faded negative of her. Suddenly I saw her differently. She had rolled up jeans and her long hair was dark and cascading down around her shoulders. She looked fierce and fearless and oh so young! I realized that this woman I called Mam-Maw must have had a life before me that I would never know or understand. It would be one of the first photographs I would hand-color and one that I cherish the most.

We lived with our grandparents for a time and she was an amazing woman. She loved her family fiercely and her four noisy, rambunctious grandchildren were no exception. We were part of her tribe.

Country women work hard – gardening, canning, cleaning and weathering the storms of every day life. I learned so much about life and the importance of making a way for yourself that I will never forget. She sang when she worked and always had a way of producing some sort of delectable treat from literally nothing. She made an amazing one-egg cake with a black walnut, butter and brown sugar glaze that I would love to have ‘just one more time’.

Even with all the challenges she had in her life, she stayed a dedicated and honest Christian woman. Every day she read her Bible. I remember watching her underline meaningful passages – I have a Bible with which I tried to emulate her behavior – I think I underlined the entire New Testament!

Even now I can hear her playing a ukulele singing The Little Mohee or washing dishes singing Peace in the Valley. She wore platform heels, and a single strand of imitation pearls. She had hats with netted veils and was always immaculately dressed. It was from her I learned to always stay true to myself – a lesson I would forget at times but somehow I would always find my way back to those deep principles.

My Grandmother Swift

Granny was a different grandmother altogether. She grew up in Tennessee and was also a hard-working woman. She married my grandfather and joined him in the Philippines. There she would have her first child and carry back stories that I loved to hear over and over again. She was tough in my mind and I imagine she was always strong. My cousin recently shared this picture of her holding a monkey in the Philippines – it has also become one of my favorites because it allows me to see her differently.

Granny, Leita Effie Cole Swift, was a firecracker. She was strong and able and wise. She, too, was a strong Christian woman, but she carried it differently somehow – more matter-of-factly. Granny and Granddaddy lived on a farm and she, too, worked hard. She milked cows, raised tobacco, raised a garden and canned food for the winter months. She made the prettiest apple jelly I have ever seen – it was as clear as glass. She taught me to piece a ‘Gentleman’s Bow’ quilt because she said I was smart enough and capable enough to make my own quilt.

When I close my eyes, I see her sitting in a rocking chair by the window. Her gray hair is slipping out of its confines around her face. She is barefoot and reading a book – a definite Swift trait! She saw me through some tough times and always had a way of spinning a difficult situation into a positive viewpoint. For that I am forever grateful. She sat with me when my mother was in the last months of her life and helped me see my mother in a completely different light. I never once thought how hard it was for her to watch her own daughter suffer so much – because she was there for me.

But these two women are just a fraction of who I am – there is much more to come. Next up – my beloved mother.


Multiple Facets of Mother’s Day

I have been blessed with the best mother anyone could ask for. She was tough and smart and matter-of-fact. I watched as she sacrificed and understood early what it meant to be a good mother. Watching her succumb to cancer was a different lesson all-together, and one unfortunately, many children have witnessed. My strong-willed mother became weak as she fought with everything she had to give. It would take years before I could handle Mother’s Day. I remember my first one without her and it was beyond painful. I was 20 years old, away from home in the Air Force and devastated. It had only been 8 months and coming to terms with her being gone was more than I could bear. Somehow, in some way, we find the ‘thing’ that pulls us forward in life. I think for me it was becoming a mother myself. I still cried for many Mother’s Days and birthdays that followed, but I was on my way to healing the wound that losing my mother left behind.

I am now a grandmother. I have been blessed with years that my mother never got to experience. I am reminded with every call, text, email and FB message how lucky I am. My sister, Rosie, passed away almost 7 years ago, and my sister, BJ, just last year. We talked almost every day when they were alive and in many ways, they were my mothers as well as my sisters. I know the heartache and the healing that lies ahead for their children and grandchildren, and I only pray they realize how fortunate they are to have had them for their mothers.

For the next generation of mothers in our family, I hope you learn things that it sometimes took me too long to master. The things like unconditional love for your children are easy. But I also hope you learn to step back when you should and step up even when you haven’t been asked. I hope you look hard in the mirror and understand your responsibility to try and heal what is broken. We all play a part in family and loving and forgiving are the fibers that weave motherhood together. I hope you always laugh hard at the things that could normally stress you out. I hope you learn to wipe the tears that you yourself have cried. I hope you lean on someone’s shoulder when you need to and lean in when your child loses their way. Most of all, remember you do not need to be superwoman. Rather, it’s much more important to be there. If you’re ‘too busy’ or ‘too stressed’ or ‘too tired’ your children will look elsewhere for what they do not get from you. I hope you are always, always proud of every accomplishment and of every lesson that losing teaches. We don’t always win and we don’t always lose. Mom always told me to look around – there is always someone who has more and there is always someone that has less than we do. When we feel that we are on the top or on the bottom, trouble lurks just around the corner.

My family is so beautifully diverse and blended. I am SO PROUD of each and every person in my family. We all come from different places with different experiences but we blend together beautifully. I hope it is always that way. Acceptance and understanding are huge parts of being a family. Maybe some of the most important parts.

I also hope you remember and honor from whence you came. Our family made sacrifices for generations just to get us all to this place. There were long hard lives and battles fought and tribulations overcome. But time is fleeting. What is today will not be tomorrow. Enjoy every moment and talk about where you come from. Give your children and your grandchildren the foundation of knowing where they come from. We all only live on if we are remembered. I hope I am remembered with kindness and forgiveness for the things I did not know and the mistakes I made. One thing I promise you, is that through it all, I loved you with everything I had to give. I hope you can do the same.

For those suffering loss today, I hope you find comfort in your memories. I hope you find the path to healing and reach out when it becomes too much to bear. We were never intended to walk through this life alone – and I guarantee that no mother in our family ever wanted to see their children sad or in pain.

On this Mother’s Day I am filled with joy. I come from strong examples of motherhood and mothering. I know those that came before me are honored to see their legacy in action. I do not worry about any of my grandchildren and granddaughter-on-the-way – for they have the BEST mothers. For my nieces and nephews who lost their moms, I know we never have enough time. Your moms want you immersed in JOY and loving your children fully just as they loved you. For my great-nieces and great-nephews, I love you to the moon and back again. For we are all one. One family, one heritage, one blood.


Happy Mother’s Day.


I Will Not Always Be Here

 photo of roses and candyToday I sit between Mother’s Day and my birthday.  I suppose it could be the resting place between two pinnacles on the roller coaster of life. One day filled with love and acknowledgement from your children and the other coming face to face with how fast life is passing. 

Age is a funny thing. You go along and your mind’s eye still sees you as the same core being. Mentally you are the same. Spiritually, you may have grown within your core values, but essentially the same. Still young at heart – you are, after all, the same person you have always been. Then you catch your reflection in the mirror and wonder about the face that returns your stare.

I tease my daughter that I have ‘chicken neck’. It is true, though, and thus the slow adjustment to the new you begins. How do I ease into the new me?

So many things have changed inside me since I started my genealogy work. I have become more aware of how precious life is and more aware of how much easier our life is than it was for our ancestors. Still, we find so much to complain about. 

I started this blog by saying I will not always be here. It is the truth we do not face when we are young, but it is the truth that motivates us to lead a simpler life as we age. Things become less important and people become the most important. We are able to feel the effects of anxiety much faster and self-correct our path.

  As I write this I am sitting in the auto mechanic’s waiting room. The news has been on the TV for two and a half hours. I notice the rhythm of my breathing change as I am being incited to into an environment of fear. It is ok to turn off technology. There is no requirement to watch the negative news stream constantly. Anxiety comes when we are overwhelmed with situations out of our control. I will not always be here, so how do I want to spend my life?

I want the people I love to know it!  I want to laugh and talk and reminisce and experience joy. I want to breathe easily, hold babies and experience endless sunsets. I want to support causes that make a difference. 

Age is such a state of mind. The lady sitting beside me the waiting room is having her oil changed before she leaves on a trip. She easily talks about being 87 and evaluating whether it was time to buy a new car. Perspective.

“I may not always be here.” So what? It is the truth that keeps us on an equal life-playing field with everyone else. We are promised nothing, yet have EVERYTHING available to us. 

I will not always be here, but while I am here, I get to choose. And I choose happiness. I hope you do, too.

 happiness photo 


Mother’s Day – 2013

Tonight I sit and think about the women that influenced me in my life.  I was one of the fortunate ones that had many, strong-willed, loving and determined women in my life.  Tonight I hope that in some small way, they understand the path I have traveled and in some small way they are proud of me.

My Grandmother Swift (Granny) was bigger than life.  If I close my eyes, I see her with her gray hair pulled up in a bun, falling around her face.  I see her in a house dress, barefoot.  It’s funny that I don’t think of Granny wearing shoes unless she was in the garden or going to Church.  Maybe she’s the reason I kick my shoes off as soon as I walk in the house.  As a young child, I think I was always a little apprehensive around Granny.  She wasn’t one to hug and kiss us a lot as I remember.  She was determined in every movement.  I remember her singing songs, reading poems, rocking in one of the rocking chairs that GrandDaddy made.  She was fiercely independent and steadfast in her faith.  It was very early in my life that she taught me how easily people can twist the Bible to make it say what they want it to say.  I’m so thankful she got to see my daughter and so sad she never got to see my son.  She was a rock to my mother when my mom was sick and it’s only now I think I fully understand how hard it was for her to watch her daughter dying of cancer.  I cannot imagine a pain greater than losing a child.

My Grandmother Short (Mam-Maw) raised us for many years.  We lived with her and I now know and appreciate how hard it was on her to raise her grandchildren – to balance discipline and love and feel the responsibility for more children when your own were grown.  Mam-Maw made elegant deserts and set a beautiful table.  It was the memories of her Blue Ridge dishes – that somehow disappeared – propped up in her china cabinet that made me always want to make a celebration at the table.  Pretty linens, and pretty dishes.  It is her voice I hear in times of sadness or despair – singing Peace in the Valley.  It calms me.  Today, I think of her every time I make a bed.  Maybe she would smile as I throw the bed together and don’t make perfect hospital corners on all those sheets because she would never have done that.  Keeping her house was her life work – no, not keeping a house, keeping a home.  That white house was the home she built for us and I was devastated to lose it.  Maybe that’s why I understand so well how my Grandson feels.

My mother was the rebel in the bunch.  She played semi-pro basketball.  She always wore jeans and cut offs.  She hated housework and loved being outside.  She would rather play a game of touch football than wash a sink full of dishes.  Mom had a spark in her that could not be diminished.  I remember my grandmother telling me that while she was pregnant with my sister, Barb, she put two horses side by side, with one foot on the back of each horse and rode standing up – now this was not something that pleased my Dad at all.  But everyone survived.  Mom loved to read – I think it was her escape and her way of traveling to all the distant places she never got to see.  Once she was in the story – you did not get her out.  “Mom, the house is on fire.”  “Um huh.  That’s good.”  It was so hard to see this woman who was so strong and so independent suffer so much.  We lost her much too early.  She never got to see her grandchildren and I know they would have brought her the same great joy my grandchildren bring to me.  She taught me what it means to be family and the importance of dancing in the living room.  Maybe that’s where I get my silly streak – who knows?

Mary married my Dad after we lost mom.  I don’t refer to her as my step-mother.  She was always Mary – Susie’s mother.  Mary was my friend, my advisor, my long-distance phone call on many, many long and lonely nights.  She taught me what it meant to forgive and to move forward and never look back.  We watched soap operas together, spilled spaghetti on the floor, secretly poured gravy that refused to thicken down the drain all the time swearing we never made any!  She reminded me of the value of family and face to face conversation.  It was my time with this remarkable and faithful woman who helped me untangle the most difficult time of my life.  I don’t think I could have ever forgiven myself without her there to guide me.  Thank you Susie and Tommy for sharing her with me.

That brings me to the two remarkable women I was fortunate enough to have as sisters – Rosie and BJ.  Rosie had the fiery temper – she spoke her mind and never looked back.  She was ALWAYS there.  Not just for me, but for anyone that was down on their luck.  She had a heart bigger than anyone.  I remember how much I always envied her talents.  She made her own clothes, she taught herself to play guitar and she knew more about politics than I will ever know.  BJ was my big sister with the big, beautiful laugh that never met a stranger.  She, too, would give you the shirt off her back if she thought you needed it.  She was there for my daughter during one of the hardest times of her life – when I could not be there – and for that I will be forever grateful.  We were young moms together when neither of us had our own mom to lean on.  We lost Rosie much too early, and I refuse to let go of BJ.  Rosie always lives in our conversations and memories.  And there will always be the cabin…

So many strong beautiful women in my life – this just scratches the surface.  I have been blessed with such good role models and friends.  Throughout my life I have tried to honor them by telling their stories and keeping them all ever-present in my life.  On this Mothers’s Day I am thankful and proud of my history and the legacy of such rare breeds of women.   I would not be who I am without them and I feel grateful that they loved me throughout my life even with all my quirks and faults.  I know I am a very, very lucky woman.

I want to say Happy Mother’s Day to all the women who continue to love, nurture and support the lives of others.  To me,  this is the true spirit of motherhood.   I have been blessed to have so many of these women in my life.  I am also blessed to know that all my grandchildren have these same types of strong beautiful women as their mothers.  And to my grandchildren yet to be born – you are already loved.  You will be born into a family of fabulous women and I can only hope that one day, they tell you the stories of those who paved the way for all of us.