Her name was Laura Sephrona. She was my mama. I am the sixth of her seven children. Four girls and three boys. Her grandchildren called her Granny.
She braided her black silken hair and wound it around and around her head. Her eyes were blue-bonnet gray. She was short and plumpish when I knew her. In a photo, on a yellowed postcard with crinkled corners, she was dressed in a white blouse, trimmed with tatted lace and a long, black cotton skirt with a small waistband. She wore high top lace-up leather shoes.
She fell in love with daddy the first time she looked into his blue eyes.
In spring, she tended to corn, okra, and other vegetables in the meadow garden. She stored fresh red, round tomatoes in a lard bucket and hung it on a prong of the cedar post that cornered the back porch. The tomatoes were juicy and good, she said, sprinkled with salt.
Her tanned, wrinkled fingers once picked soft gray-white feathers from ducks squawking in rhythm to each yank of snowy down. The feathers made their way into the pillows that we slept on at night.
Mama milked “Ole Jerse” and placed the fluffy foam on pink tongues of orphaned kittens.
Sometimes she doctored me and my siblings with castor oil and she said, “Swallow this. It tastes good with sugar on it.”
I said nothing to disagree with her opinion because the weathered oak bench we were sitting on was beneath Mama’s blooming peach tree.
Mama quilted the quilts for our beds with fingers tender from being stuck by the sharp needles.
She built a fire in the wood stove to cook our meals. She wore an apron made from flour sacks. She wrung the necks of chickens to prepare our Sunday dinners. Sometimes the preacher came for dinner and she always served fried chicken.
She taught her daughters how to become keepers of our homes. By following her example and with the grace of God, the four of us maintained stable homes.
She showed us the milky way and taught us nursery rhymes about starlight.
“Wish I may, wish I might
have the wish I wish tonight.”
She wrote in my diary that “A friend in need is a friend indeed.” Beside that, she added the Golden Rule. “Always do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
She taught us the Bible in many ways. By example and by a game she played with us by asking what our dreams were and then opening up the worn leather cover of our family Bible to find these words “and it came to pass.”
And my dreams did “Come to pass.”
I became a writer, a wife, mother, grandmother and now a great grandmother.
My mama was the very best! I loved her with all my heart and I cherish her memory!
Wild violets grew in the woodlands surrounding my homeplace at Banner Mountain.
Hens and roosters — wild violets at Banner Mountain Homeplace
Thinking of the wild violets, I remember how we children played a game using the flowers. We picked some of the violets and when we hooked two blooms together and pulled on each stem, one of the blooms snapped off its stem. We called them rooster flowers and that was a pretend rooster fight. Always a winner in that game.
Just as sure as real roosters, hens and bantam chickens were a part of our life at the homeplace, the rooster flowers were a part of our springtime. How beautiful the little blue-violet flowers were. I saw the violets and other lovely wild flowers every day when I was a child. They appeared early in spring, like magic.
I still recall the day my brother, Billy, brought home a little bantam rooster. Billy set him down in the barnyard. And right away a big rooster ran over to the little rooster and began a fight. Bill picked up a chip of wood and threw it at the big rooster. The chip of wood struck the big rooster and he fell over dead! What now? That was Mama’s big, old rooster. Oh, no! I witnessed the entire event. Looking back, it was the only way that Billy could save his little bantam. The only way. Even though I saw it all, I was never called in to testify as to what had happened to Mama’s rooster.
And now, after all these years, I don’t remember what happened to the bantam rooster either. Did he grow old and die a natural death? I guess that’s not important. Perhaps my brother remembers. Sometimes a writer’s memory is called to a task of embellishing certain experiences. But not this experience. I can tell you that the chip of wood buzzed as it whizzed toward that bullying rooster! Billy really didn’t mean to kill the big ,old rooster; he only meant to protect the little one.
Banner Mountain Girl—Post # 7
September 12, 1980: “I remember shyly waiting to see Mrs. Vacin, my high school English teacher to show her my poems. She was never available and so I forgot about trying to talk to her. I mentioned to one of my classmates that I liked to write, after I found out he had written articles. He had moved to my school from the city, and I was interested in his ability to write, so I spoke to him about it. He said he thought I looked like a movie star and he named her. He moved away and I never heard from him again.”
But he was the first person with whom I shared my passion for writing. My desire to write was becoming real, like the Velveteen Rabbit. I was happy.
However: “The writer within me seems to be like a bird that flits in and out, appearing now and again in my life. Comes and goes. Comes and goes. I have worked more steadily and persistently with my writing the past five years than I ever worked in my life. I thought it would be easy, that ideas would flow and that I would soon find success. Not only is it hard to get the words written, there are numerous hours of revision, packaging and mailing and waiting for the reply. Then being discouraged when my manuscript is returned and getting over that so I can try again. Is it worth it? No. But I must continue! The drive within me was placed there as a natural part of me. I have to go forward to meet its demands.”
“The day is a peaceful, autumn day with breezes strong. Leaves and acorns falling from the oak trees, the sun appearing and disappearing, playing hide and seek with the breeze. The autumn is my favorite time of year. I wish it would last about six months and that I could work with my writing every day.”
#becoming a writer . . .
Whip–poor–will! Whip–poor–will! A voice declares. It reaches across time and my remembering stops with the sound as it peacefully echoes back from a silent night of long ago. The summers of my childhood come alive with color as a cup of fiery memories overflows.
Yvonne & Freeda Baker
After supper, our family sat on the front porch of our home on Banner Mountain in the Ozark Foothills until time to go to bed.
Dusk appeared just as the whippoorwills began to sing. Fireflies flitted about the yard and some of them had the misfortune of getting stuck inside a jar, held by small, sweaty hands. Jarflies were so noisy that adult voices had to stop sometimes, but the children’s laughter continued and mingled with the noise of the approaching nighttime.
Daddy never said how tired he was or how hard he had worked or how aggravated he had been. It seemed as though he loved everybody he had ever met, and felt no ill will toward anyone.
And Mama was always unruffled, unhurried, and able to relax as she went about her household duties. The apron she wore has no replicas.
The modern day housewife seldom wears an apron. But her children need to feel the security that I felt on those summer evenings when my family gathered to wait for bedtime –when the dogs lay lazily in a corner of the yard, and chickens were on the roost, the door to the henhouse closed and locked. Once again the chickens had escaped the whistling hawk that sailed the clear skies overhead. Tomorrow would be another day. Whip–poor–will!
In my notes, I came across some good advice for writers who may feel discouraged from time to time. I don’t always follow these suggestions, but I’m sure they would help any writer who is sometimes disheartened.
1. Keep writing. Don’t show your newly-created writing to anyone. Give it time to
2. Schedule each work. Designate a length of time for each piece of writing. Get it done.
3. Revise and then be done with it.
4. Move on to other things.
Still, no thoughts come to me. I am tired of waiting. It seems I never will succeed in writing. Once, I held high my hope and desire to write. Now, it all seems useless. If I do succeed, what happiness will it bring to me . . . or to anyone? —Freeda Baker Nichols
Hemingway’s advice makes it sound easy. Write one true sentence, he said. What about you? Do you find writing to be an easy task? Or does it seem to be a tough assignment at times?