Some thoughts on mamas as Mother’s Day approaches
Any woman can be a mother. It takes a whole other kind of female to be a mama.
I’m blessed to call two women in my life by that name, and it’s only fitting that with Mother’s Day coming up this weekend, we all take a little time to reflect on just what it means to have mamas in our lives.
Mary Charlotte Tidwell Wildsmith is the woman who raised me, a genteel Southern lady born in a small town in Northeast Mississippi. Raised on a farm by hard-working members of the Greatest Generation, she learned from an early age the value of hard work. Growing up on a farm tends to do that, and I’m a little embarrassed at how I would complain and whine as a boy over having to do chores around our house. It was a palace compared to the homestead on which she was raised, and I never had to get up before the sun to feed the chickens or milk the cows.
Money was a luxury in those days, and in hearing stories of her childhood, I feel a deep connection to the land and people of that long-ago place. I can almost see my great-grandfather, a man I never met, walking the dusty roads around their small town, stooped over and eyes on the ground in search of dropped and forgotten trinkets to bring to his grandchildren: a barrette for a little girl’s hair, a pocket knife with a dull blade needing only a little sharpening for a young boy. I can recall with vivid detail the story of how a fat corn snake stretched out in the crib one morning terrified her; to this day a picture of a snake makes her flinch in disgust. I still smile at the tales of her dad, another man whose blood runs through my body that I never got to meet, standing on the other side of the screen door, scowling in mock disapproval as he tried to stifle a grin when she brought home boyfriends.
While other women dreamed of husbands and farmhouses of their own, my mama was a restless spirit who looked north to Memphis as a way out of the small town South. Despite the chagrin of her parents, she moved to a strange city and enrolled in business college, eventually meeting a skinny boy from Alabama who would win her heart. They moved east to Knoxville and built a life for themselves, raising my brother and I and instilling in us the values carried down through generations of Wildsmiths and Tidwells.
One of her proudest accomplishments, I’ve been told, came during a visit from my grandmother and her second husband, my step-grandfather. I was, perhaps, 5 or 6; Hershel and my father were watching a sporting event on television while I played at their feet. Hershel made an offhand comment about one of the players that included a racial slur; I stopped what I was doing, stared at him and declared that he was a black man, not the name Hershel had used. At that moment, my mother realized she had finally outrun the darker side of her hometown, the racism inherent in Deep South tradition that can only be broken through personal enlightenment and self-improvement.
Ironically, growing up on a farm is something mama and my other mom, my mother-in-law, have in common. My bond with Teresa Bright isn’t as long-standing as that of my flesh-and-blood mother, but she’s accepted me as part of her family with open arms. There are a lot of mother-in-law jokes that get told, and I’m pleased mine doesn’t fall into the stereotype of a nagging matriarch who makes a man’s life miserable.
In fact, my admiration for her only grows with time. As a writer, I’m also a collector of stories, so it’s with fascination that I hear stories of her life as a single mom ... fighting off two intruders (and making headlines in this very newspaper) who broke into her apartment, fighting for her children during custody battles, fighting to raise my wife and her brother to be good and decent people in a world that’s often confusing and unfair.
They dote on their mama these days, and I’ve rarely seen a bond so strong as the one they have with her. I’m just grateful to share a small part of it. My mother-in-law is a lioness when it comes to her babies and grandbabies, and my own son adores her as much as I did my own grandmother.
Even as a grown man pushing 42, I find myself learning every day from the two mother figures in my life. Their wisdom guides me, their determination inspires me, their strength of spirit makes me want to be a better son and a better husband. I’m by no means perfect, and no doubt there have been many times I’ve taken them both for granted. But I’d like to think the respect for women in all areas of my life stems from how much influence they have in mine.
This weekend, I’ll get the chance to see them both, to hug them tight, and let them know how much I appreciate who they are and what they’ve done — for me, for themselves and for all of the loved ones in their lives.
Most people are fortunate to have one mama; how I wound up with two incredible women to fill that role, I’m not sure. But I hope they both know what an honor it is to call myself their son. Happy Mother’s Day, mamas. May your cup runneth over with pride in your children and contentment in your lives.
Steve Wildsmith is the Weekend editor for The Daily Times. Contact him at (email@example.com) or at 981-1144.