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She went by many names.
Mom. Mother. Granny. Granny Norrie. Aunt Nora.
She earned each affectionately spoken tribute from the children she raised, their children and their children, too. Plus there were hordes of other children for whom she played an important role.
When I came along, I was the third generation of children to live under my Granny’s roof. By then all of her children were grown and had families of their own. Most of her grandchildren—my mom’s generation—were grown, too. However, after my grandmother died suddenly from cancer, two of my younger uncles moved in as they finished high school before joining the military.
Although my mom was a little bit older than they were, she was only in her 20s when she lost her mom. Suddenly, her grandmother moved into the role of mom—caregiver and confidant.
It was in the mid ’70s and my mom was an unwed college student. As she struggled with what she would do, she watched cancer slowly rob her of her mom.
Motherhood—she was losing it and gaining it all at the same time.
As discussions about my future were considered, my great-grandmother urged (or maybe in her way demanded it) that she help to take care of me.
Shortly after I was born, I was brought home to my Granny who played a key role in my upbringing (although my own mother was never far away and was always involved in raising me.)
For the first five or so years of my life, I lived in the small rural community of Fairfield, Ky. Today, the town’s growing population is about 100 people, and I’m related to most of them. Back in the late ’70s we knew—or were related to—everyone in town, significantly less than the population today.
In my youth the town had (and still does) a single caution light encouraging people to slow down at the three-way intersection in the heart of town. My Granny could tell stories about the good ole days when the town boasted a hotel, a bar, stores and a busy distillery where she worked as a young woman in the snack shop.
My Granny had nine kids of her own. She had 41 surviving grandchildren at the time of her death, 71 great-grandchildren (my generation) and 16 great-great-grandchildren. After the funeral I heard family members trying to recall if they had left anyone out. That brood has continued to grow since 2002, when she passed away at age 90.
As a great-grandchild I always giggled as she tried to call out my name when I was in trouble. Instead she often chimed off most of her kids’ and many of my aunts’, uncles’ and several of my cousins’ names before actually getting close to mine—or giving up altogether and demanding “whoever you are, get your [butt] over here!”
I grew up wearing some hand-me-downs from generations before me, and when those clothes got too worn to wear (after countless repairs), my Granny cut them up into pieces for quilts she sewed by hand.
She raised pigs and chickens and just about any other animal that found its way to the house, kids like me included.
I helped feed the pigs and on a cold morning I’d wake up to find them slaughtered with a house full of relatives busy turning that meat into food to feed generations for months.
My Granny got up early and brought in fresh eggs from the hen house before later that day wringing the neck off a chicken and frying it up to feed a never-ending flow of family. Thank goodness she had a big yard, it was a perfect place to line cars and all the people who showed up for Sunday dinner.
We worked in the garden. OK, she worked and I usually whined and played, to grow vegetables that were cooked fresh or canned and put away—but not for long, there was always someone who needed something to eat.
I learned about saving and conserving everything from her—from rainwater to jars and lids and more.
But more than anything, I learned the value of family and love and being kind to your neighbors and strangers when they’re in need.
This Mother’s Day, while I will be thinking of my mom who died too young, I’ll also remember the generations of mothers before her, like my Granny.
It’s kind-hearted, strong-willed women like these who make Mother’s Day so special. No matter where you are, how old you are or who raised you, thank a mother on Sunday for making this world a better place, generations old.