"Earth laughs in flowers," by Ralph Waldo Emerson.
That was one of Mama’s favorite sayings. She also loved, “Time changes all things." It's a partial quote from a Swiss linguist.
This is Mama’s birthday. She would have been 94, and proud of every day of it. This isn’t typical of one of my articles. Most people believe their parents had the greatest influence on their lives. I would just like to talk to you about one of the people who had the greatest influence on my life and the lives of my son and husband — Mama.
She was an affirmation of life. She did what needed to be done and didn’t admit to frailty. Whatever the job, whatever the need, Mama handled it. She had a brilliant, funny mind and determination to succeed with whatever was handed to her.
Born in 1918, to well–to-do farmers in South Georgia, Mama saw the Depression take everything they had. She came to Atlanta at age 19, renting a room from a relative, working at the old Atlanta Market, then at White Provision Company, a meat-processing plant. She did whatever job she could get, from working on the killing floor for cattle and hog processing to becoming one of the accountants for the firm.
In June of 1940, she met Daddy on a blind date. Although they both were working at White’s, it took two friends to arrange for them to meet at a picnic at the Atlanta Water Works. Mama said it was love at first sight. She described him as the “handsomest thing” she had ever seen.
Daddy was over 6 feet 4 inches tall and had beautiful thick blue-black hair. He was wearing a white suit with a black shirt, and a black sling supported his injured arm. Daddy said, “Grace had me the minute I saw her.”
Theirs was a true and lasting love. They married May 1, 1944, and Daddy reported for the Army just a few days later. While Daddy served four years in the European Theater during World War II, he sent 746 letters home. She was his fantasy, his love and his soul partner throughout their lives.
Mama was a women’s libber before there was more than a whisper of suffragette in the air. She had to be. She helped plow the fields and harvest the crops. She learned negotiating techniques on farm goods sales. She learned early how to care for the sick and dying.
At 11 years old, after cyclones went though their area, she followed her daddy into destroyed homes and fields to help with the injured and the dead. At 12, she went to work in the cotton mills in Eastman, Georgia. Her older sisters had gone to boarding school but Mama went to the nearby public school during the day and worked until the wee hours of the morning exchanging spools on the mill looms.
Mama said that when she came to Atlanta, she had one decent suit, (a wide-whaled black corduroy) and one pair of white high heels from her high school graduation. As a working woman, she helped every member of her family as best she could. She made $9 a week, paid $5 a week for rent, sent $1 to her parents and saved $1. The remaining $2 was used for the streetcar aMnd food.
As one of very few women agents, Mama set national records in the 1950s and '60s with Durham and Independent Life Insurance Companies. This was considered to be a “man’s job,” yet she was asked to oversee the entire Durham, Virginia, district for Durham Life. Until then, no administrative position had ever been held by a woman in the company’s history.
Accepting that position would have meant moving from Atlanta. At that time, Daddy was a well-established school detective with both the Atlanta Board of Education and the Atlanta Police Department, and I was starting high school. Mama declined Durham Life’s offer. Later she accepted a job as a secretary for Sylvan High School, and eventually she was given the responsibility of handling all school discipline.
Mama never felt that she couldn’t do any job that was needed. Whether the work was traditionally male, hard labor or being gussied up, Mama did it well. I never remember Mama going to work that she wasn’t wearing hose, high heels, a beautiful dress she had made, earrings and bracelets.
She was a beauty, too. Daddy often said the men in his unit voted Mama the most beautiful girl of them all.