I am posting my commemorative speech assignment. We all had to prepare one and deliver the speech to the rest of the class. This is kind of long to be posting on a blog... It will take you a few minutes to read. If you choose to read it I hope that you enjoy it.
I have class tomorrow all day. You guys have a nice Saturday.
My daughter scraped and scraped at the mixing bowl trying to get every drop of the cake batter into the pan. Slightly impatient, I showed her a little trick with the spatula then gave it back to her. Carrie continued to scrape and finally stopped when I told her that it was ‘good’. She then commenced to pound the side of the cake pan with the wooden handle trying to knock off the last bit of batter. Then she stopped.
Carrie took her finger, scraped it down the side of the spatula and deposited the last dollop of batter into the cake pan and promptly stuck her finger in her mouth. She turned to me and smiled saying, “Uncle Don says that’s how Nana does it.”
We all have them. We hear them as we do mundane chores around the house or walk a familiar path; the familiar voice of a time gone by, the whisper in the wind. The sound of someone close to us; a sibling, an aunt or uncle, our parents and grandparents, all of these voices speak into our hearts, our minds, and our souls.
As I grow older a native voice that I commonly hear is that of my grandmother, Mamma. She was barely 5’ tall in her youth and with age had become smaller and frail in appearance. But Mamma was far from being frail. She was wiry, strong and very industrious; all of which are the unspoken requirements for anyone raising a family on a working farm and ranch.
Mamma was born on August 20, 1902. Theodore Roosevelt was the president of the United States and the “Kitty Hawk” took flight the following year. Mamma and Pappa were married in April of 1921. The stock market crashed in 1929 which marked the beginning of the Great Depression with the Dust Bowl to follow two years later in 1931. The Dust Bowl lasted from 1931 through 1936 but the Depression continued on through the mid-1940’s. Of course, there was World War II and the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941; but worse yet, was the family homestead burning down to the ground in ‘47.
She raised a family during some of the most difficult times during our country’s history. Mamma was also witness to some of the greatest technological leaps that history has ever known; from plow horses to watching a man, on television, walk on the moon. She crafted her family’s clothes by hand. Most of them were made from the cloth flour sacks that she would pick out from the mercantile in town. She was thrifty and generous at the same time.
Mamma died in May of 1990, five months before my daughter Carrie was born. Mamma never got to see her only descendent who had inherited her naturally curly hair.
Mamma had common sense and wisdom, all of which she quietly shared. I remember a story about my aunt and her first child. The baby wasn’t doing well. He cried a lot. Mamma noticed that he didn’t seem to be filling out like he should either. Rural babies weren’t taken to the doctor on routine well-baby checks in the 1940’s.
My aunt was breast feeding my cousin; so Mamma had my aunt express some of her milk into a glass and then sat it on the kitchen counter. After about an hour, Mamma looked at the milk and pronounced it as being ‘blue milk’ and unfit for the baby.
You see all milk has fat. Most of us know it as cream. When fresh milk sits the cream rises to the top. My aunt’s milk didn’t have any cream rise to the top. Therefore it didn’t have the proper amount of fat and nutrition necessary for a baby to grow and thrive on. Mamma says that human milk without any fat in it really does have a blue tint of color to it. Knowledge; I learned that knowledge was invaluable.
Going to the hen house was a special treat for me as a child. A minimum of two trips each day were made to the hen house. I have so many memories of Mamma and her chickens. Barefoot, I would walk behind her on the well-worn dirt path that she had created decades before I was born. It was the same path that my father had walked when he was a child. I would watch the dust lightly cover my toes and feet with a fine powder as I tagged along. Diligence; I learned diligence from Mamma.
Each spring Mamma would place eggs under a ‘setting’ hen or two to hatch out chicks to replace her older chickens. About three to four days before hatching Mamma would gather up the setting hens’ eggs for a quick trip to the house. A bowl of very warm water would be on the counter and Mamma would place two eggs in at a time and quietly watch them. Suddenly an egg would start to bobble. The baby chick was kicking inside of the egg! What excitement would come over me as I would watch the unseen chick move in its own little world. But some of the eggs didn’t bob in the water. These eggs were marked with a penciled “X” on the shell. At an early age I had learned the true meaning of not counting your chickens before they were hatched. Facts; I learned how to deal with the reality of facts.
Mamma had all kinds of sayings. What is interesting is that they all seemed to be true, even now. It also seems that most of the sayings are tied to a three day time period and rain. Rain in the Hill Country of Texas is like liquid gold.
Simple events such as a tarantula crossing the road in front of you, a ring around the moon, or hearing the call of a Rain Crow is a sign of rain. If the cows are lying down then the fish aren’t biting; but if the flies are biting then it’s going to rain. Observation; I learned to observe my surroundings.
There’s a story about Mamma when she was pregnant with her first child. It was cotton picking time and everyone was in the field harvesting the valuable crop. Mamma left the field one afternoon and walked to the house. She delivered a little girl that evening. The next morning, Mamma was back in the field picking cotton near the buckboard. The newborn baby was placed under the shade of the wagon while being faithfully guarded by the family sheepdog. Perseverance; Mamma taught everyone perseverance.
I remember Mamma teaching us so many things. Having graduated with an eighth grade diploma she was well ahead of many of the women in her era. She was also very proud of Pappa and always made sure that we all knew that he had completed 12 grades of schooling and had a high school diploma. She was also very proud of her children who had all been able to attend college after graduating high school.
Saturday was wash day and it was always great fun to help Mamma wash the clothes with the wringer washer. I remember one summer when she taught my little sister how to count to 100 using clothes pins. It seemed to me to be an impossible task, but then I was the older sibling and didn’t have the patience for it. Patiently, Mamma would count the clothes pins with my sister as we hung the clothes out on the line. What accomplishment my sister felt when she was able to count to 100 ‘all by herself’! Education; education is very important to Mamma.
Mamma lived and taught by example. The older I get the more invaluable the lessons that I learned from her become. I listen for her voice. I am fearful that through the natural progression of time that I have lost many unwritten pages of information and history. Foolishly, I have left unattended these most cherished mementos of my childhood to my fragile and diminished memory.
I remember us washing the dishes together. She would wash and I would dry. Mamma’s hands were worn and the joints were large. There were scars on her hands and one fingernail was malformed due to it being smashed, long before I was born, leaving the nail bed forever damaged. Her wedding band was a sliver of gold worn thin by the vestiges of hard work and time.
I look at my hands today. They’re not as youthful as they once were and I have a few scars here and there too. I look at my hands and think about all of the things that they are capable of doing. I hear a familiar voice, a native voice. It’s Mamma’s and I find myself trying to meet her expectations, her values, her work ethic, and her wisdom. It’s then that I realize that one of the most important things in my life is for Mamma to be proud of what I have accomplished and what I have worked for.
Again, I turn to my memory of us washing dishes at the kitchen sink. I don’t remember all of the details of our conversation that summer day, but somehow it had turned to the appearance of our hands. And I remember her words that were forever concreted into my very being: “My hands may not be the prettiest you’ve ever seen, but I’m not ashamed of the work they’ve done.”
Native voices… I hope that my voice will sound the same.