My paternal grandmother, “Mom,” was the most stable person I’ve ever known, both in the Benedictine sense and otherwise. She was born in 1912, on Sand Mountain, in the north-eastern corner of of Alabama, the very tip of the Appalachian chain, about an hour south of Chattanooga. Mom grew up, along with seven siblings, in the crossroads of Sylvania. She was educated, courted and married my grandfather, raised a family, worked as a farm wife, a teacher on an emergency certificate during WWII, and later as a teacher’s aid in the 1970s, lived out her long life, and died in 2006 within twenty square miles of her birthplace. She taught the primary Sunday School class at New Bethel Baptist Church for over 30 years and always made sure that there were flowers in the front of the sanctuary, usually from her own garden. She always made it her business to know everyone in the community. We used to laugh at the delight she took in going to funerals. Of course a funeral meant at least a half day off, but that was purely incidental. The chief joy of a funeral for Mom was seeing and talking to as many people as she could get to. People were life to her. Sand Mountain was her place and its people were her people.
Geography aside, Mom was stable in other ways, perhaps the most important ways. She never failed to greet us all with a big grin when we arrived, even if it was after midnight and she didn’t have her dentures in her mouth. She laughed easily and loudly. She sang a raucous country-alto on all the hymns in church; hymn singing at New Bethel was often like “Miz Mary and the Pips.” She prayed every morning before breakfast and read the Bible; that routine was painful to maintain just after my grandfather died in 1981, alone after 40-plus years of praying together. Mom was a loyal friend, often against her own self-interest. She was often surprisingly open-minded: just when we were sure we could predict her perspective on a political or religious issue, she’d come out with an amazingly “liberal” reaction. She told the truth; I never knew or heard of a single lie passing her lips.
Mom always cooked with bacon grease, her “diabetic condition” notwithstanding. I guess it didn’t do her much harm; she lived to the age of 93. There were always biscuits for breakfast and cornbread for dinner and supper. She never threw away a margarine container or grocery bag—or much of anything else. She loved to garden, but she hated to vacuum. She was, at best, a slapdash house keeper. She could be a harpie, though I rarely experienced that side of her. She was a sucker for a shoe sale, and, as far as I know, never got rid of a single old shoe. She frequently snacked in bed at bed-time after Papa died. (When my daughters we little and would sleep with Mom, they would frequently come across a used banana peal or a stry raisin or patch of cracker crumbs under the covers.) Mom snored in her later years.
Most of all, Mom was always herself, for better and for worse. The more I read the Rule of St. Benedict, the more I understand that’s what he had in mind.