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.


The Birthday Mother’s Day Mix

Today was a mixed bag of worries and blessings. People I love are sick and facing hospital stays and tests and unknowns and it is hard to be on the sidelines watching helplessly as the clock ticks by.

In the midst of the craziness that made up my day, my husband told me to check my phone. We were on our way out to run errands and I didn’t give his words a second thought. As I walked to where my phone was, I saw two boxes. One was a long box and a separate box, square and nondescript. It took a minute, but it hit me that this weekend is Mother’s Day.



I opened the boxes and found beautiful long-stemmed roses from my daughter and daughter-in-law. They were gorgeous. In the other box was an ice-pack and a box of truffle cookies.  Each were packaged with lovely notes straight from the heart. I immediately took a couple of pictures and sent a text thanking them for the thoughtful gifts. I am so blessed to be loved and remembered. The gifts are nice, but it’s really the love that means everything.



DaddyLater in the day, as I checked my phone for messages, I noticed the date. Tomorrow would be my father’s birthday. He would be turning 89 tomorrow if he were still here. 89. Wow. That seems so hard to fathom. Time has gone by so quickly and I miss him so much it guts me. I had a special connection with my Dad – one that I never apologize for even though some people make me feel I should. Dad wasn’t perfect, but to me, he was everything. He loved me – he loved all of us – and that is what I miss. The talks, his deep bass voice, the way he said my name – the advice I never wanted to hear but repeat to myself over and over now. He was my Dad and I miss him.

IMAG4468-1Re-enter Mother’s Day. My mom would also be 89 this year. She was so young when she passed away that 89 doesn’t even seem possible. She will always be young and vibrant to me. She had a smart-assed way of saying what was on her mind and she was SO strong. My sisters got her strength and her wit. I think I got her way of turning inward to process thoughts and feelings. I rarely feel strong. I remember my first Mother’s Day without her. I was living away from home and at the time, long distance calls were quite expensive. I was walking through the mall and passed a group of short wave radio people who had come together to help people make calls home for Mother’s Day. One of the young women asked me if I wanted to call my mom. I just said “No thanks” and walked on. Then her words – “Why, don’t you love your mother?” I wanted to lunge at her and take all my anger out on her, but I didn’t. I just walked away – hurt and feeling lost in this world. It would take many years before I could get through a Mother’s Day without feeling broken.

Now I have the blessing of children and grandchildren and extended family. I am not sad – I am blessed. The timing this year is unusual – Dad’s birthday and Mother’s Day together. So, today I process and just put aside the little girl and remember that I am now the mom and the grandmother and the JOY comes right back.

Tonight I shared my truffles with my husband with a glass of wine. I sent a Snap Chat to thank my girls for the gift. SO MUCH JOY!

I will stay up until midnight, and wish my Dad a Happy Birthday and wish my Mom a Happy Mother’s Day.

Saturday we are meeting my son and his wife and two of my beautiful grandchildren for a sweet Mother’s Day dinner. We will laugh and celebrate this holiday together for the first time in 20 years. It will be perfect.
Today was a day of reflection mixed with JOY and a little worry, but it brought me to a place of gratitude for all I have been blessed with in this life. We are who we surround ourselves with and by those standards, I’m pretty perfect.

Happy Birthday, Daddy.

Mom, Happy Mother’s day a little early.

Thank you for everything but most of all thanks for the love and the memories. I miss you both and only hope I can somehow in some small way fill those giant shoes for my family.


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.