Her name was Winabel.  It was a combination of two names—her Aunt Winnie and Aunt Belle.  Her mother’s aim, I think, was to honor both in one fell swoop.

 But she was Mama to me.

When my daddy was courting her, he wrote her a poem, “To My Winabel.”  I wish I could remember all of it, but the first part went like this:

I’d like to win a belle,
A belle so dear to me.
A belle who in my loving eyes
Tops all the belles I see.
A belle whose ideals so match mine
With her in conversation
I lose all sense of time and place
In my supreme elation.

This poem to me is beautiful because it is so earnest and sincere.  And I’m sure my mother found it to be the loveliest poem she ever heard.

Mama died 22 years ago today.  If she had lived three more days, she would have been 65 years old.  Everyone said it was a blessing she was taken.  And they were right—she had lived and suffered for six years with ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) .  I helped take care of her in her later years, so I know what she endured.  But she endured with great strength, grace, and dignity. 
“She is a queenly woman.”  That’s what people often said about my mama.  She was tall, five-ten, and she was proud of every inch.  She had the confidence of someone who knew exactly who she was and what she believed in and where she was going.  In fact, if you questioned her about that, she would probably smile and say, “I am a child of God, I believe in His divine love and grace, and I’m going to heaven.”
But she was no fundamentalist.  She was a free spirit—in the days when women weren’t always encouraged to be so.  She and my daddy used to joke that they didn’t know why they bothered to vote since their votes just canceled each other out.  Daddy was a “Jesse Helms” Republican.  Mama…wasn’t. 

My children both remind me of my mama.  Ariel has her easy confidence, Benjamin has her gentleness, and they both have her boundless creativity.  But they never knew her, nor did my husband.  She died the year before I met Tom.  I can just picture them all watching animal shows together.  My mama loved animal shows—especially Wild Kingdom.  She used to joke about how Marlin Perkins always let his sidekick Jim do all the dangerous stuff.  She would have chortled to hear Tom imitating Marlin, with his Midwestern drawl, “We’ll wait here while Jim swims with the deadly piranhas—how’s the water, Jim?”

I’m laughing and crying as I write this twenty-two years later.  I think about her every single day and feel my heart ache for missing her at least every other day.  Because of the suffering she endured and the grace with which she endured it, people often called her a “saint.”  Well, no.  She was no saint and would have laughed to hear herself called that.  But she was a shining light for Jesus and reflected His love and grace in everything she did.  And she was a remarkable mother, who loved her children fiercely. 

I think maybe the people that called her “a queenly woman” had the right idea.  When she was in a crowd, you could always find her.  She looked like the Queen Mother moving amongst her subjects.  I’ll probably never have her confidence, her grace, or her dignity.  But I did, for twenty-seven years, have her love.  And I count myself most fortunate for that.  I miss you, Mama.


26 Responses to “Mama”

  1. June Says:

    This moved me so much. I found myself staring at the picture. I am always fascinated to look at pictures from life in an earlier time. I try to pierce the pixels and coax it into telling me who and what and where of the lives in them.
    This time, your beautiful words told me. Then, I looked at the picture again with knowing eyes and melancholy thoughts.

  2. June Says:

    This moved me so much. I found myself staring at the picture. I am always fascinated to look at pictures from life in an earlier time. I try to pierce the pixels and coax it into telling me the who and what and where of the lives in them. This time, your beautiful words told me. Then, I looked at the picture again with knowing eyes and melancholy thoughts.

  3. ronbailey Says:

    Good grief – you win… I don’t think I’ll ever be able to write half so well!

    Your parents must have been wonderful people – I’m certain you miss them terribly. Needless to say, it is one of the most wonderful things in the world when you see little bits and pieces of your parents bubble up through your children – whether it’s in their voice, or in the way they move or walk, or maybe in a turn of phrase; it’s just breathtaking to see something you think is gone forever manifest itself through your kid.

    Anyways, good job all around – You carried me through ten different emotions in less than three minutes – and I’m left almost speechless.

  4. blueridgebluecollargirl Says:

    June: And your beautifully-written comment moved me. Thank you for your lovely words.

    ronbailey: I am the one who is speechless at your very, very kind words! That means a lot to me–thank you. I loved your line, “…it’s just breathtaking to see something you think is gone forever manifest itself through your kid.” So true and so beautifully expressed. Obviously, you are an excellent writer, as well.

  5. Bonnie Jacobs Says:

    My mom died in November 2004, but because she had advanced Alzheimer’s, I lost my mother even before that. I miss her, but the REAL her, the one she used to be. Thanks for sharing your mama with us.

  6. Beth Says:

    Bonnie: I saw the wonderful story of your mom at camp in your comments over on Colleen’s blog. I loved what you wrote–you should do a post on your mom. I’d really like to see it–I loved that story. Alzheimer’s is such a heartbreaking illness-I’m sorry you had to go through that with your mom.

  7. lucky pennies Says:

    I’ve always missed her even though I didn’t actually know her. But I know that I see pieces of her in you. This is a beautiful post.

  8. wesleyjeanne Says:

    Beth–What a beautiful tribute to a wonderful person. I, too, am left speechless. Your love for her shines through, as does your talent in expressing it. Lovely, lovely.

  9. titus2woman Says:

    What a beautiful post! What a beautiful blog! What a delight to find ya and be inspired this morning! (((((HUGS))))) sandi

  10. colleen Says:

    This is so very touching. She looks like the universal mother in an innocent dream of the past. I’m so sorry you lost her so young. Thank you for sharing this.

  11. Shannon Says:

    I thought about your post through the night as it really struck a chord with me. The charm of older names…………

    Here’s a few from my family: Maybelle, Viva, Cullen, Alta Louise, Jasper, Tipton, Vernon (My dad), Geraldine (mom), and more. Ones that I used to think were so outdated now have a charm and grace to my ear that makes me miss the South even moreso.

    If I ever have a girl I love the name Ava Grace. (From Rick Bragg’s Ava’s Man), but I’m so disappointed to learn that it is one of the older names that suddenly hit big time chic. Southern names just convey a charm and history.

    My Dad died three years ago and I’m just now getting to the point where I can think about it, much less write about it. His eulogy is on my other blog (Karmic Rent) because people kept asking me for a copy of it. I got through the reading of it, but just couldn’t ever look at it again for over three years. It takes that long I think. So I understand the 22 years later………that’s actually wonderful because it means that this person meant a great deal to you and that’s the best eulogy of all.

    Thanks for your post. And yes, your writing is wonderful. I’m visiting your blog again eagerly this morning with my coffee to see if you posted more! You write like I’d imagine you talk…….Southern, charm, intelligent beauty, natural voice. Shannon

  12. Bonnie Jacobs Says:

    Beth, I know you have found my post about my mother already because you commented on it. Thanks for the kind words. I wish everybody could have known her because she was a very special and loving person … before Alzheimer’s.

  13. ben (aka guitar maniac) Says:

    You never cease to amaze me, with your constant flowing beauty in prose… It inspires me seeing you take every memory, every day and turn it into a work of art… You humble me.

    I wish I could of known her…but just as much of her comes through in you…*including* dignity.

  14. wesleyjeanne Says:

    Good Lord, Ben. You’re probably making her cry her heart out every time (about 50 a day) she reads that!

    What a very nice thing to say!

  15. Blue Ridge Blue Collar Girl/aka Ben's Ma Says:

    You’re right, Wesley. And I cry just as much the fifty-first time as I did the first! Thank you, Ben (aka guitar maniac). That was very kind. I am so glad to have a son like you.

  16. Cathy Says:

    Hmmmm..why is it that every few days I feel like I need to come back and read this post? Awesome words spoken from your heart…
    In a few short weeks it will be two tears since I lost my Dad. I have had this fear all along that time will go by and I will forget the sound of his voice, the smell of his cologne, the feeling of his kiss on my cheek. I now know that even another 20 years from now…these things will still be etched in my heart…I didn’t know until now….thank you.

  17. BlueRidgeBlueCollarGirl Says:

    I’m so sorry about your Dad, Cathy. I know you must miss him terribly. But I really think that those we have loved, though they have passed from this world, do live on, as you say so beautifully, in the memories forever etched in our hearts. I see, hear, or feel something every single day that reminds me of my mama. In fact, just an hour ago, my husband and I were sitting on the porch and heard a pileated woodpecker in the woods. I thought about how much Mama would have liked that. She loved birds.

  18. Alex Trung Huynh Says:

    May I use this picture for the subject image of my blog post about mama? I’ll give the credit to u. Thanks very much!

  19. blueridgebluecollargirl Says:

    Yes, I am happy for you to use it in your blog post, Alex. Thanks for asking.

  20. Queen Winabel’s Parade « Blue Ridge Blue Collar Girl Says:

    […] Writing about my life as a unicyclist brings back the memory of the first time my Mama ever embarrassed me.  I was seven years old and riding my unicycle in the Greensboro Christmas […]

  21. Little Signs of Spring #3 (For Mama) « Blue Ridge Blue Collar Girl Says:

    […] she’s been gone for over 22 years, not a day passes that I don’t think of Mama.   Most times it’s the simplest things that trigger my memories—hearing a mockingbird sing or […]

  22. On the Trail to Truth and Beauty « Blue Ridge Blue Collar Girl Says:

    […] I was a child, my Mama could walk.  And some of my best memories are of the long walks we’d take together.  My love of […]

  23. Della Says:

    I Enjoyed Your Story Very Much. I Miss My Mama Every Day too. Mama Passed Away Oct 1st of 2005. I wrote a Song about her after I had almost lost her after Heart Surgery a Few Years before. Your Mama Sounds alot like mine. Maybe
    You can see some of the same Memories that are in my song.
    You can hear it here if you would Like. It is Titleld Mama’s Song Thanks Again for sharing.

    Della Hogston

  24. A Simple Woman « Blue Ridge Blue Collar Girl Says:

    […] My Mama was like that.  I’ve watched the bluebirds for several weeks now as they nested in the house that Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man built.  And I watched as they cared for those perfect blue eggs and the perfect speckled chicks that hatched from them. I watched as Mama and Papa Bluebird  made endless trips back and forth to feed those hungry babies, their beaks full of fat caterpillars and grubs.  I even got to see two of the chicks when they fledged.  The whole time, I was thinking, Mama would have loved this. […]

  25. elena Says:

    your story is beautiful.
    The love between our parents is so important for us sons . It’s this love that makes us to grew up happy and strong .

  26. birdsandbenjamin Says:

    That’s really hard losing someone you love that much.

    I see you remember her well–and that is one of the ways she lives on. She would see herself in you. Thanks for this post.

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