Archive for October, 2015

Mama’s Hands

Mama’s Hands was honored with a first place in Women’s Essay at the Daughter of the American Revolution Convention this year in Washington D.C. When President General Young attended the Oklahoma Workshop in Tulsa, it was my pleasure to read it during our banquet. After the banquet I was amazed how many members approached me to tell me how my story, shared during the introduction, mirrored their own.

Abt. 1947Introduction:

My parents were of that generation that didn’t express their emotions. My father died at age 64 yrs. without ever telling me he loved me. My mother told me that having a roof over my head and food on the table should have been enough. For years I told my mother I loved her at the end of our phone calls. That was followed by a long silent pause. I could feel her discomfort through the phone. Then she’d finish with “Okay, talk to you soon. Finally, when I was 62 yrs. old she told me she loved me. I wrote Mama’s Hands for her.

Mama’s Hands

My mother has told me for years, “You look like me, except you have the finer features of your dad.” My sister and I love to tease her about how grateful we are she didn’t pass on her “Roman” nose to us. Yes, I look like her. I wore the dark green semi-formal party dress she wore out on her 16th anniversary to my 8th grade prom. I even wore the matching shoes. Yes, I’m physically a mini-mama.

I think of her and smile as I glance down at my hands. They are no longer soft and taut. Deep wrinkles and brown age spots give away my years. My adoring husband says they give me character. What makes me smile is how much they still resemble my mama’s hands.

Mama grew up in harder times than I would ever know. She and her peers, the World War II generation, promised their children would never struggle as they had.

Life was hard in Oklahoma during the Great Depression. Granddad, a wild catter oil man, died of pneumonia leaving his twenty-four year old wife a penniless young widow with three children under the age of eight. Too proud to ask for assistance, Grandma toiled as a housekeeper to keep her children fed. Mama learned, as soon as she was tall enough, to stand in laundry room and wash and iron clothes. Times were hard and there wasn’t time to play or be a little girl.

When the Depression ended, the Dust Bowl era blew in. Old timers remember how the silt whooshed in from every nook and cranny, coating the furniture and people alike. Just breathing was a chore. Grandma tied water soaked handkerchiefs over her children’s noses and mouths to filter out the dirt. Grandma swabbed their little throats with kerosene to prevent dust pneumonia. As portrayed in John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, the catastrophic conditions forced many to forsake Oklahoma. While many of their neighbors left for California to find a new life, our family stayed and continued to farm the parcel of land Granddad Phipps claimed in the Cherokee Land Rush of 1893.

With Grandma working, my mama minded her little brother, Joe, and kept the inquisitive youngster out of trouble. She loved him more than anyone else in the entire world. It broke her heart when Joe died in 1943. He was hit by a speeding taxi cab while attending Army flight school in Wichita Falls, Texas. The letter President Franklin D. Roosevelt sent to my grandmother hangs in my room. It reads, “He stands in the unbroken line of patriots who have dared to die that freedom might live, and through it, he lives – in a way that humbles the undertakings of most men.”

During World War II Mama joined the Women’s Army Corps (WACs) and became a radio operator. Throughout her life she remained immensely proud of being in uniform and serving her country during the Axis Powers’ threat to the free world. Even in her later years her agile fingers could still tap out words in Morse Code.

My parents met on a blind date to a USO dance in Kansas City. Soon Dad put a ring on Mama’s left hand. In two years she had two girls of her own to raise. Mama sewed our dresses, which always matched, leaving the impression we were twins. She permed, rolled, and combed our pageboy length hair. In fact in my Brownie picture, I have more ringlets than Shirley Temple. This was courtesy of Mama and Toni Home Permanents. Yes, I was the one with the Toni. Years later another baby joined the family. Then before she knew it we all graduated, left home, and started families of our own.

Mama went into the antique business when she was in her fifties; five foot two inches of determination and Okie spunk. Paint stripper and antiquing stains kept her hands spotted and cracked; her nails stained brown and broken. It didn’t matter. Her work brought her joy. She could pack a van to the roof with the best of any man at an auction.

Well into her sixties, Mama still grew a large garden, froze vegetables and homemade cookies and pies. Age spots started appearing on her hands and face. Never narcissistic about her looks, she was too busy to care, so she just ignored them.

Dad died in 1984 after two years of aggressive cancer. Work kept her too busy to sit and feel sorry for herself. Would dying from loneliness have served any purpose? Her vocation kept her busy and young. It took decades to slow her down, Okie spunk and all. But that time in life comes for all of us. Content in her memories; her wrinkles were a tribute to the decades of a long rich life. Mama left us last year to be with Dad. She was ninety-three.

To think of her I only have to look down at my own hands.

I love you, Mama.


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