Mama in Palm Beach, Florida, in the 1950s.
I sent her silver leaf bracelet with this picture to my middle granddaughter a few months ago.

Dear Mama,

Today marks 23 years since you took your last breath.

When I received the news, I wept then went on with Halloween plans with the boys and their friends. You would have wanted that.

Mama, I have struggled over the years with your choices in life: The chain smoking. Not taking care of yourself. Not taking advantage of opportunities to create better work for you that would have used your beautiful and smart brain. There’s no question it’s one of the biggest reasons I want to make a difference in the lives of women.

Watching you emerge from the railroad track tunnel on hot days, already sweating from having spent 8 hours in the mill, is permanently etched in me. On the weekends, after baking pies and getting a head start on Sunday dinner, you would clean up very nicely, adding a splash or two of Shalimar. You knew when to shop– at the end of a season– and you paid very little for your and my clothes. Some of my most treasured memories were of us having lunch at Kress or Woolworth’s in Greensboro, then winding our way through Thalhimers, Meyers, and The Children’s Shop. We didn’t have much at all, but on those Saturdays, we certainly did look the part!

I know you were beaten down by Daddy’s PTSD and alcoholism. We were fortunate that he conquered both eventually, but it left you a broken woman, and Daddy knew it. There’s no question he tried to make up for it countless times and loved you very much. I know that.

I don’t recall much of the year or years you lived through a nervous breakdown. I’ve blocked most of that time out. I was in that challenging adolescent phase of life, and I missed your help with school projects and your cooking. Daddy and I were on our own, but praise God you emerged. I hope to soon ask a few of your friends who are still living, as well as a couple cousins, to shed some light on that time for me.

You loved me so much, and I have SO much for which to thank you! Besides carrying me in your womb and pushing me into this world, I thank you for

  • Drilling me on my spelling tests every Thursday evening when I was in elementary school
  • Helping me write an essay that earned me a blue ribbon
  • Hosting my first grade class for a wiener roast
  • Playing dodge ball with my friends and me
  • Making me a cute beanbag frog for no reason
  • Making clothes for my Barbies
  • Instilling in me the importance of thank you notes
  • Reminding me to never leave the house without some color on my lips
  • Helping me make the best Garden of Eden for Sunday School (we one upped the others!)
  • Drilling me on Bible verses for my string of pearls at church (Again, we one upped everyone… you had a competitive streak in you!)
  • Buying me clothes at the nicest stores, drastically on sale, and in the process, teaching me when and how to shop
  • Buying my boys clothes until your mind started to fade
  • Always welcoming my friends to our home. You lovingly referred to it as “the little house with the big welcome,” and it was.
  • Making the best spaghetti ever, even if the starter kit was Chefboyardee! It was the green peppers and oil that made all the difference.
  • Sacrificing to provide piano lessons for me and playing “Guess That Tune” before we got a piano by tapping rhythms on the kitchen table
  • Pounding the pavement and knocking on doors to make sure I had a full ride to college that covered all my expenses
  • Writing me letters every Sunday night from the weekend I entered college until you could no longer write coherently. I miss your letters… and you.
  • Being the mom who walked my friends and me all over town on Halloween


I could go on and on. You poured SO much into me, and I took it for granted far too many times.

I think about your younger photos, when you were a single woman. You were quite the fashion plate. You traveled by train. You started an etiquette program for girls. You were active in civic clubs that allowed women. You had more World War II pen pals than probably anyone! I still have some of those postcards various soldiers sent you, and I have your three pieces of Samsonite luggage on display in my house.

I wish I’d known that side of you. Your friends who are still living, primarily Louise and Lucille, always tell me what a good girl you were. I haven’t been perfect, but I have tried–for the most part–to be a good girl.

Mama, you never left the good old US of A, but one morning last year when I was walking down a Honolulu street, I said aloud, “Mama, this walk is for you.” I hope you heard that. Granted, Hawaii isn’t a different country, but at one time it was a kingdom, and it’s in the middle of the Pacific.

And now your beloved little silver leaf bracelet and your porcelain doll are out there now, lovingly cared for my your great-granddaughter Piper. You would so love my granddaughters, and you’d be awfully proud of Jamie and Rhett. They are good guys.

Thank you, Mama, for everything!

Thank you for giving me life, for making sure I had a good life on very little money, and for being my mother.

I will always love you.