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;
It 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.
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.