The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Love With A Capital 'L'

By Ruby H. Underwood © 1987

Issue: January, 1987

My clumsy little fingers searched for the right notes to my favorite song. "Jesus loves me, this I know," I sang loudly. I was so engrossed in my "music" that I did not hear my sister, Vergie, come into the room.

"Honey, I have to talk to you," she said softly. Her big, brown eyes filled with tears. She put her arms lovingly around me and said, "You know how sick Mama has been. Well, Honey, she's dead! We just found out; she died last night!" I whirled around on the organ stool.

"No, not Mama! She can't be dead! Not my Mama!" I cried.

Only those who have experienced the tragedy of losing their Mother in early childhood can know the mixture of feelings I had.

Vergie hugged me close and her long, dark hair brushed my cheek as she tried to comfort me. We clung together weeping in sadness, anger, and bewilderment; feeling lost, alone and so very frightened.

"What will we do without Mama?" I wailed. I was six and Sis, as I called her, was thirteen.

"Honey, don't cry, I'll take care of you some way," she answered, but she was scared and crying too.

What could she do? Would she buy candy, make good cakes, read to me at bed time and do all the other things Mama did? I knew Sis would have to go to school, so how could she be a Mama to me too? My crying grew louder as I had another horrible thought. What if we had to go to the orphan's home? I had heard about that place! "Children had to wear clothes that were ragged and too big for them; they had to work hard and go to bed hungry." That is not going to happen to me, I thought; I'll run away! But when I told Sis my plan, she stopped me.

"Those stories aren't true, Honey, and besides, we may not have to go," Sis said.

After Mama's funeral, we lived with Aunt Flora and Uncle Greene. They were keeping us at the time of Mama's death. Most of their seven children were grown and even though four grandchildren and two of their nephews stayed with them most of the time, Aunt Flora and Uncle Greene opened their hearts and home to Sis and me too. Although we were miles from a candy store, they provided all we really needed, including a good education. However I didn't get to finish my last year of high school because Uncle Greene had a freak farm accident blasting rocks and lost his hand. He was running a dairy at the time and couldn't work for a while. He was later fitted with an artificial hand (hook) and amazed people with driving and many other things he could do. There was plenty of love and work for all. The work was hard, but there was always something interesting to see and do.

One job that I liked was helping my cousin, Lucille, and our collie, Jack, bring the cows home to be milked. Jack was a beautiful dog and so smart that he did the work while Lucille and I roamed the hills and played or picked wild flowers.

I loved living on the farm. The rambling, two story white house had a front porch that went half way around. It was such an inviting place with two swings and plenty of rocking chairs on the porch.

Uncle Greene made canes and chairs when he found time. He made a beautiful cane for himself and received orders for more. (I wish I had one of them now for a keepsake.)

He was not exactly fat, but far from being slim. His gray hair was curly and he had a mustache. He had a stern voice but a nice smile; I was a little bit afraid of his voice. When he sent me on an errand I did not say, "Wait a minute!"

Aunt Flora was a plain, slender woman who was much stronger than she looked. She wore her long white hair in a neat little bun. I used to brush her hair while she told me fascinating stories of her youth.

They took us to church and taught us to live by the Bible teachings and the Golden Rule. Once, I went with Aunt Flora to take a berry pie to a black lady (years before integration). If someone was sick or needed help, Aunt Flora did not stop to consider color.

Somehow, in her busy farm life, raising children and quilting, she found time to take us fishing in a nearby brook. She made cookies that I still remember; and when she traded eggs for sugar and coffee at the little country store, she usually managed to buy a few pieces of candy.

I don't remember any expressions of humor from them, but one funny incident I haven't forgotten is the time that Aunt Flora took her little four year old grandson and me fishing. He took off his straw hat and threw it on the creek bank. It landed up side down and Aunt Flora put a hand full of earth worms in his hat (we called them bait worms). He didn't see her do it and when he put his hat on, all these squirmy worms dangled around his head. He let out a few words that he definitely had not heard in church (unprintable here); but he got by with just a scolding because Aunt Flora knew she had provoked him.

Even her beautiful flowers showed her loving care but her greatest love was for people. She always wore a neat checked apron and she would use it to tenderly gather baby chicks from an on coming storm and more often, she would use her apron to wrap a child's chilly arms while she held him or her in her lap.

Aunt Flora lived to be seventy three. She had a great influence on many people. I know her life made a lasting impression on me. She had work worn hands and kind, blue eyes, but it is the smile that I remember most; her special smile for children.

These true experiences of my mother's death took place in a small rural community known as Rock Run near Bassett, Virginia. The year was 1930.