She was born in 1916.
Think of what she has lived through.
When Mama came into the world, the First World War was raging, Woodrow Wilson was president, Charles Henderson (who?) was governor, cotton prices were rising, and there wasn’t a hospital in town, so Mama was delivered at home.
She was born into a pioneer family that had been in the county even before there was a county to be in. Solidly middle class, well connected in commerce and at the courthouse, and blood-kin to just about everyone, it was fortunate for the family line that my daddy came from out of town, out of county, and won her heart.
But I am getting ahead of myself.
Mama entered the first grade about the time the Roaring Twenties began to roar. By the time she was a teenager, what had been prosperity was over and the Depression was on the land. Among the high school graduation mementos she saved is a letter from a teacher telling her how proud she was of that year’s graduates and how she regretted not being able to give them each a gift, times being what they were.
The times were such that Alabama teachers were being paid with IOUs that many stores would accept only at a discount, if they were accepted at all.
Mama’s family did better than most. Her father, a rural letter-carrier, had a regular income from the government; though it was not much, it got them by. Meanwhile, Mama landed a courthouse job with one of those New Deal agencies, which also helped the family along.
Then came Daddy, down from Auburn University to teach vocational agriculture at the high school and court Mama. Then came the war, and Daddy was called to serve. So they married (I am compressing time here), and off they went to Fort Riley, Kan., where Daddy trained to defeat Hitler, and I was born.
In 1993, when my son was delivered as my 50th birthday present, a friend observed that it took considerable courage, or optimism, or maybe stupidity, to bring a child into the world at that time. Then I considered what was going on when I arrived — a world war that was not going particularly well and the possibility that I might grow up without a daddy — and our decision to have our children appeared rational, even sane.
So Daddy went overseas and Mama took me back to Grove Hill, where she returned to work for the government and waited for Capt. Jackson to come home.
He did, and for the next few years they moved about as he sought to establish himself, first as a businessman, then as a politician, and always as a gentleman farmer and the central figure in a group of like-minded men who ran the courthouse, community and church.
Mama was big into church.
It was only natural. She was the granddaughter of a Confederate veteran who returned wounded from the fighting and, determined to study war no more, became a Methodist minister. Though he died while Mama was just a tot, he passed his piety on to his daughter, Mama’s Mama, who passed it on to Mama.
So it followed that as surely as every week had a Sunday, Mama had us in church. Daddy, as was his way, took a prominent part in the proceedings, while Mama, as was her way, simply toiled quietly in the vineyards of the Lord, visiting the sick, preparing meals for the shut-ins and doing the good works that caused my cousin Benny to remark that “if there is not a seat in Glory waiting for her, then it’s all a lie.”
Mama took care of her mother when she got too old to take care of herself, took care of Daddy’s sister in her last months, took care of her son, my brother, through the illness that finally took him, and took care of Daddy during his last months.
Now she is 97, and folks are taking care of her — as much as she will let them.
Her biggest complaint is that she can’t “do” like she used to.
I am 27 years her junior and I have the same complaint.
A bevy of friends took her out to lunch on her birthday, and a few days later, my family made it down for a second celebration.
She does like a party — so long as it doesn’t interfere with nap time.
Mama has lived through a lot and, if all goes well, she will live through some more.
So, happy birthday, Mama.
And happy birthday to all the Mamas out there, taking care of sons and daughters and husbands. You have made us what we are today.
Thanks for everything.
Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson is Eminent Scholar in History at Jacksonville State University and a columnist and editorial writer for The Star. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.