She was born Jennie Carolyn Bulliner on December 6, 1938. The family she was born into was already a bit complicated. Her mama, Wyonia, had been married to Orland Miller and had one son with him. James Lee Miller was born deaf. Then my grandmother divorced Orland Miller and married Linus Bulliner. They had two children together. My mother and her sister, Sandra. Then Mamaw divorced Linus Bulliner and remarried Orland Miller. (This is the man I grew up knowing as my grandfather. Papaw Miller.) They then had another child, Carl, known to everyone as Smittie. Mamaw would stay married to Papaw Miller until his death.
My mother was the one chosen to attend "deaf" school with her older brother. She taught everyone else how to sign. She was very close to him. She used to tell me that she looked up to him a lot. So much so that once when she was a young girl, she was following him around and he decided to jump over a mud puddle. She was younger and smaller, but like most younger siblings, decided she could do it, too. She tried to leap over the puddle but didn't make it and landed right in the middle of it. Unfortunately, someone had been breaking glass in the hole. She was barefoot when she landed. Glass was driven up into one of her feet. When she told the story she used to say she could still remember the sound of her brother screaming as he carried her back to the house. I don't remember exactly what was done. She did see a doctor but all the glass apparently wasn't removed because she said years later a piece of it actually worked its way out the top of her foot. She had the scar to prove it.
I can remember being a child and my mom teaching me how to use sign language to tell Uncle James Lee that supper was ready and that I loved him. He always seemed to find it cute when I'd come trotting up and sign something. Here's a shot of our whole family at one of our annual Christmas dinners held at my grandmother's house.
I think this shot just might have been taken on the same day of another shot of my mother and me.
Anyway, Mama was raised in rural Tennessee. She got married young and gave birth to two daughters, Connie Lynn and Debra Kay. She used to joke that when she had her first child - Debbie - she panicked because she was a girl. Mama had pretty much raised my Uncle Smittie so she knew all about baby boys. She said she wasn't sure what to do with a baby girl. LOL. Good thing she figured it out, because girls was all she had!
My sisters' father was James C. Smith. I never really knew him until after my mother's death, at which point he welcomed me into his family with open arms and started telling everyone I was his other daughter. God Bless him. He's gone home to be with the Lord, now.
I'm not sure how old my sisters were when Mama and James divorced. Young enough to still be small kids, I think. Mama was working at some factory when she met my father, David Maynard. He used to say that he wanted to marry her the first time he saw her. You'd have to know my father to understand how he managed to completely sweep my mother off her feet. She was a country girl. born and raised in the back end of nowhere. Daddy used to say that when he met her, she'd never actually been to a "sit-down" restaurant where the waitress came to the table and served you. While Mama was what I'd affectionately call a country bumpkin, my daddy was a city boy through and through. He was a charmer on par with the best car salesman. When he decided he wanted my mama, he just pulled out all the stops and went and got her. They got married and eventually had me.
My sisters were several years older than me. Debbie was 15 when I was born and Connie was 13. My Daddy used to tell me that I was not a mistake. He said he and Mama planned for me. I wouldn't have cared if I had been a mistake, though. I knew I was loved dearly and that's all that matters.
When I was born, we lived in a house in a suburb of Memphis. It was, in fact, in Mississippi. Southaven to be exact. I can remember quite a bit about that house and living there. Like the fact that I used to stand in the hallway and yell because there was a bit of an echo that I found endlessly entertaining. I seriously doubt Mama found that nearly as fun as I did. LOL
I can remember Mama putting me down in her bed one night during a storm. I remember her singing to me as I lay there with the lightening flashing outside. I can remember Mama helping me search for a tooth I lost in the living room floor because she'd gotten me all dressed up for something and I'd slipped and fallen thanks to my patent leather shoes and the hardwood floors. (Had to have that tooth for the tooth fairy, you know!) I can remember Mama's fondness for using bricks set at an odd slant to line her flowerbeds. I remember being furious with her because I came home from school (pre-school? first-grade? not sure) to find that she'd sold my tricycle at the yard sale she was having. I was too big for it, but I still played with it, mostly by standing on the back foot rest and pushing it around like some kind of scooter. I remember that we had a pet rabbit in a hutch out in the back yard and I went out there and stuck my finger through the wire and the stupid thing bit me. I can remember it bleeding like crazy and that it hurt really bad, too. I remember one night while Mama, Daddy and I were sitting down at dinner that the house started shaking. Daddy grabbed me up and headed for the bathroom but it was all over before we even got there. I remember standing with Mama and Daddy at the front door looking outside while they discussed that it had been a tremor. I had no idea what a tremor was, but I thought it must have been some kind of really big truck or machine because it had made the house shake when it drove past. I clearly remember looking down the road to see if I could catch a glimpse of it. LOL
Daddy used to tell a story of one time when he was stripping the paint off the front porch. He said I was a toddler. Somehow I managed to get the front door open and I stepped out onto the porch wearing nothing but my diaper. Whatever he was using, it was caustic. He said I started screaming and Mama came running. He said we both fell in the mess and that he remembered us being in the bathtub with Mama still in whatever clothes she was wearing and me in my diaper crying while they rushed to try to wash the chemical off of both of us.
I remember having a lot of ear aches when I was little. I can remember lying on the couch with my head in Mama's lap while she put ear drops in my ears. I remember countless times when she would sit up with me while I was sick. I can still remember the smell of Vicks since she rubbed it all over my chest every time I started coughing. LOL I remember fainting once when I was in my early teens. I was in the kitchen at the table and was rocking back on the back legs of my chair when I just went out like a light. I guess I fell backwards and hit my head on the bar. Mama snatched me up and was carrying me upstairs when I woke up. I was no small thing at the time. But my size didn't mean a thing to her as she rushed to lay me down and make sure I was okay.
And this is a big part of who she was. She was, without a doubt, the most caring person I have ever known. She would sacrifice anything for her kids. She would go to any length for us, fight any battle. Her love was unconditional and didn't waver. She taught me what love was supposed to be. No matter what, you don't quit, you don't ever turn your back on someone you love.
I watched her endure a lot in her lifetime. I watched her deal with a failing marriage to my father. I watched her take care of her own mother, being there for everything from family deaths to canning crops. Lord, did my grandmother like to can! Probably a product of surviving the depression. I have no idea how many hours we spent at my grandparents' place picking all manner of crops or plums from an ancient old tree. Mama did her fair share of canning, too. Plum jelly is still my favorite to this day.
My mama was just an incredibly precious person. I'm not trying to say she was perfect. None of us are. But I cannot imagine having a better mother. We did all the wonderful things mothers and daughters ought to do together. We baked cookies regularly. She read to me constantly until I was old enough to read for myself. We would sit up late on summer nights watching old reruns of Rawhide and The Rat Patrol on TV while munching on a bowl of popcorn.
When my parents marriage started falling apart and my father eventually moved out, my mother wound up working 3 jobs to make ends meet. She did it all without complaint. Yet she still somehow managed to find a way to be there for me whenever I would sing in a concert or anything else she felt I needed to be supported at.
Looking back, I can't help but be profoundly grateful for everything I know she did for me. I'm thankful that I never went though that rebellious stage so many daughters seem to hit in their teens. I stayed close to my mother through it all. I adored her and considered her my very best friend, though there was never, ever any doubt that she was my mother first and my friend second. I had fun with her. I never wished she'd go away. I never dreaded seeing her coming. I'd have rather spent my time with her than most anyone else I knew.
I was 17 when she died. It was sudden, with no warning at all. She got sick with what we all thought was just a cold. I found her collapsed on the bathroom floor on a Saturday morning. She was dead Tuesday night. Viral Pneumonia. No one should die from that. Especially a 50 year old woman in the prime of her life. It killed her because she didn't seek medical treatment for her sickness. She didn't seek treatment because she didn't want to spend the money. Oh, how I wish she'd made a different choice!
Losing my mother devastated me. It still haunts me 22 years later. I don't think I will ever fully get over it. By the grace of God, I have learned to live with the loss, to go on in spite of the depression that overtook me after her death. Still, I miss her with a fierceness that is sometimes more than I can bear. To this day I can remember one thing with a clarity that is nothing short of profound. The feel of her hands. I don't know why, but they are etched into my memory like a carving in stone. The texture of her skin, the feel of it when I would hold her hand or when she would touch my face. I pray that I never lose this memory.
There are other things that are less distinct. She liked White Shoulders. She had old powder boxes that still smelled like it. In those days, powder boxes were actually plastic. I remember she kept my barrettes in one and buttons in another. A few years ago I was in Wal-Mart just before Christmas when they have all the gift sets of makeup or perfume or bath products set up for the holiday. I noticed a White Shoulders gift set and picked it up to smell it. I can still remember tears flooding to my eyes right there in the middle of the aisle. It brought her back so strongly!
I have gone on with my life. None of us has any other choice when someone we care for dies. When my sister, Connie, lost her battle with lung cancer in 2001, I can remember standing in the funeral home picturing the reunion that must have taken place between her and our mother. I can just see Mama there, waiting eagerly for her middle daughter. I can see her throwing her arms wide in welcome and saying, "There's my baby!" And I can see the two of them embracing with tears of pure joy on both their faces. I'm not eager for death, but I look forward to the day when it will be my turn to run into her arms once more. Mama told me once when I was probably twelve or so that I would always be her baby. It didn't matter how old I got or how big, I would always be her baby and she would love me come what may.
I know none of us can fully understand the scope of God's love for us. It is something beyond our feeble ability to comprehend. It is the very definition of unconditional. It transcends all else, reaching a beauty and profundity that we can only dream of achieving in our own fallen lives. But I also believe that a mother's love is the closest any of us will ever get to the love of God. My mother gave me everything I could have ever wanted or needed. She taught me how to love, not with words, but through her own example.
I've said before that she didn't know how to stop loving someone. She was planning to divorce my father when she died. We never told him that. He died himself 3 years after Mama from complications of pulmonary fibrosis, which is scarring of the lungs. I tell people when it comes up that if my mother had not died, I know exactly what would have happened. Even if she'd gone through with the divorce, she would have taken care of my father when he got sick. She would have moved him back into our house and cared for him until the day he died. It was her nature. No matter how much someone angered or hurt you, if you loved them you never turned your back on them when they needed you.
Mama was hardly perfect. She had her flaws. My sisters could probably attest to plenty of mistakes she made while raising them. Fortunately for me, by the time I came along she'd worked out most of the kinks of parenthood. I had it easy, to hear them tell about it. And I probably did. Mama was a lot more relaxed the third time around. Plus, I was the baby of the family and so got coddled by everyone, even my sisters. I was spoiled, but not to the point that I lost all respect. I was just loved thoroughly. And I was a profoundly happy child because of it.
|This is one of my favorite pics of my mom. She was so young and just looks so sassy!|
|Mama with me. She was so obsessed with getting that little curl on top of my head! Of course, with all the hair she had going on I reckon she didn't want me to feel left out. LOL|
All of us who are Christian women know of the woman in Proverbs 31.
"Her children stand and bless her."10 Who can find a virtuous and capable wifeShe is more precious than rubies.11 Her husband can trust her, and she will greatly enrich his life.12 She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.Prov 31:10-31 (NLT)
13 She finds wool and flax and busily spins it.14 She is like a merchant’s ship, bringing her food from afar.15 She gets up before dawn to prepare breakfast for her household and plan the day’s work for her servant girls.
16 She goes to inspect a field and buys it; with her earnings she plants a vineyard.17 She is energetic and strong, a hard worker.18 She makes sure her dealings are profitable; her lamp burns late into the night.
19 Her hands are busy spinning thread, her fingers twisting fiber.20 She extends a helping hand to the poor and opens her arms to the needy.21 She has no fear of winter for her household, for everyone has warm clothes.
22 She makes her own bedspreads. She dresses in fine linen and purple gowns.23 Her husband is well known at the city gates, where he sits with the other civic leaders.24 She makes belted linen garments and sashes to sell to the merchants.
25 She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future.26 When she speaks, her words are wise, and she gives instructions with kindness.27 She carefully watches everything in her household and suffers nothing from laziness.
28 Her children stand and bless her. Her husband praises her:29 “There are many virtuous and capable women in the world, but you surpass them all!”
30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty does not last; but a woman who fears the Lord will be greatly praised.31 Reward her for all she has done. Let her deeds publicly declare her praise.
I bless my mother. I call her worthy of praise. She was all any woman should be. Faithful. Brave. A hard worker. We had food and clothes for winter because she made sure the pantry was stocked and that we had whatever we needed. She even made clothes for us. She was a true friend to those who had the privilege to call her by that name. She was a mother to every child she met. She was a teacher, fan, supporter, disciplinarian, chauffeur, doctor, whatever she had to be. And I am a vastly better person for having had the privilege of knowing her.
Thank you, Lord, for my mother. As my sister posted on her facebook page today, "