My mom has been on my mind a lot this month. May 2 was her birthday (she would have been 89 this year), and then of course I thought of her on Mother’s Day.
Hattie Bernice Robinette (oh, how she hated the name Hattie) was born May 2, 1921, the youngest of six girls born to Rosa Alice Steele and Henry Tyler Robinette. Mamaw and Papaw married in 1912, about a year after Papaw’s first wife died of “consumption,” or tuberculosis, as we know it today. But that’s another story.
My mom grew up with five sisters who were close in age: Eunice Mae was born in 1913, Reba Susan in 1914, Della Bertha in 1916 (I think), Myrtle Virginia in 1918, and Edna Frances in 1920 (again, I’m not sure of the year). I could get out our family Bible and find all those dates, but it’s downstairs and John’s asleep, so my memory will have to suffice.
Mamaw and Papaw were farmers, and, I found out not long ago, sharecroppers during the Great Depression. So my mom grew up in poverty, though that wasn’t unusual for the people in her little “holler” near Fairview, Virginia.
I don’t remember my mom talking much about her childhood. She showed me pictures of her house and school, and everyone looked poor. I think the family was too busy eking out a living to do much else. Hard work was definitely a Robinette family value.
My mom’s mantra later on in life was “Keep peace in the family,” so I imagine there must have been lots of arguments among six girls and two stepsisters from my grandfather’s first marriage.
Education was another Robinette family value. My grandfather had a degree in agriculture from Lincoln Memorial University, and my grandmother went to college to be trained as a teacher (I think they only went 2 years in those days). All six sisters in my mom’s family got a college degree. Options for women were limited in those days, so all were trained as teachers. The neat thing to me is how the sisters helped each other financially during college. When one would graduate, she’d work and save money to send to the next sister.
Because of finances, my mom went to three colleges before she finally got her degree. She went to Carson-Newman for one year (and always talked about it), Radford College for one year, and finally finished at UT-Knoxville.
My mom and dad courted for 7 years before they finally married in 1954. My dad said that the last time he asked her, that was going to be THE last time, so it was a good thing Mom said yes.
So my mom had me when she was 37, which was old in those days. I remember asking for a brother or sister for Christmas when I was about 7, and she joked, “You’re going to have to put your order in a little sooner.” Then she explained to me that she was a little old to be having another child at age 44.
Here are some things I remember about my mom:
* She was a strict disciplinarian. None of that “Wait til your father gets home” stuff for her. I remember countless spankings with a yardstick. Our daschund, Sandy, used to run with her tail between her legs when she saw my mom reach above the kitchen doorframe, where she kept the yardstick.
* She rarely spoke a critical word about anyone. I remember that she said something encouraging to the preacher every Sunday after worship at our little country church, no matter how green the preacher (we had a lot of religion students from Carson-Newman who served our little church) or how ignorant (later we had some bivocational pastors whose preaching I could hardly stand to listen to; they yelled and windsucked, and I really hated being in church. I couldn’t understand why they were so angry).
* She was a partner with my dad. They cooked together, planted flowers together, and did lots of household chores together. I took this model into my own marriage, but it hasn’t worked too well most of the time because I’m strongwilled and John likes to be the boss…well, there you go.
* She was dedicated to her career, often slavishly. I don’t recall many nights going by without her sitting at the kitchen table grading papers or averaging grades for report cards. In fact, I resented how much attention she gave to her work. (This came back later to haunt me when my own teenage son made the comment, “You and your precious work.” That got my attention.)
* She was close to her family and was the peacemaker of the extended family. Seems like she could always come up with a joke just at the right time, when tensions were high as we were preparing Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, or on other occasions.
* She loved music and passed on her love (and perhaps some of her desire to play) to me…she signed me up for piano and clarinet lessons and then pushed me to practice. Occasionally she would sit at the piano and try to play hymns, and the result was less than pleasing to the ears … then she’d say, “Oh, Anne, you can play so much better. Why don’t you play ______________ for me?”
* During my teenage years, my mother did not try to be a friend to me. She had the guts to break up one of my friendships that she thought was moving in an unhealthy direction. Turns out she was right…during my freshman year in college, she sent me a newspaper clipping about this girl, informing me she’d been arrested for prostitution. Gulp. Anyway, when my own children were teenagers, I remembered her example of standing firm and not trying to win a popularity contest. Can’t say I did quite as well as she did.
* Mom’s faith was important to her. I remember her love of singing hymns especially, and she took notes like crazy and wrote in the margins of her Bible. I do the same thing today…she taught me that you can learn something from everyone.
*My mother was very outgoing and loved to talk to people. As a child and teenager, I hated waiting around on her while she had conversations after church (eternally long conversations), but she always had a smile on her face, and people seemed to enjoy her.
*Perhaps the greatest lesson my mom taught me was how to face adversity bravely and make the best of it. She was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1985, and watching her deteriorate each time I saw her (by then I’d made my home in Nashville, 5 1/2 hours away) was one of the most painful experiences of my life. The hardest thing to watch was her mental deterioration. My mom had been a very smart woman, and she was reduced to being able to speak just a few words in response to questions. Even then, she’d attempt to make a joke, and she always had the sweetest attitude.
Nearly 20 years after her death, I still miss her. She was my encourager, the one I looked to for advice, and we were just becoming adult friends when she fell ill. I like to think of her looking over my shoulder sometimes and wonder what she’d say.