The new book I’ve written about Mama is a compilation of past columns about her as well as new stories that give an insight into this remarkable woman and irrepressible, sometimes exasperating, Southern character.
“Mark My Words: A Memoir of Mama” (available from booksellers and www.rondarich.com) is something I will always be proud of. Often when people write books or honor someone, they will say “It was a labor of love.”
This was not a labor of love. This was a labor of labor.
The columns I’ve written were a labor of love but this book was downright hard work and perplexing in pulling it all together. It’s my seventh book and no other comes close to having been so difficult. Mama’s book is the only one that has ever given me migraines and nearly drove me to hard drinking.
It was, though, worth every migraine and every nervous attack. When Mama wasn’t feeling well, she’d often say, “I don’t know what’s wrong. I’m just so swimmy-headed.” I got swimmy-headed a couple of times during the writing, designing and production.
A lovely graphic designer named Carroll Moore suggested that we use photos of some of Mama’s things throughout the chapters. I pulled together some stuff and my nephew’s wife, Selena, an excellent photographer, took the pictures.
Oh, and the stories those items told.
All my life, Mama had a small porcelain plate hanging in the kitchen. It depicts Jesus knocking on a rounded top, wooden door that looks just like our front door. There is no knob on the outside so the door can only be opened from inside. Mama loved that plate for what it meant and how pretty it was.
From a memory box I had made of her things, I pulled an old blue and white gingham apron that Mama had worn all my life. She used leftover material from a housedress she sewed one time. I had long graduated from college before Mama ever wore pants. The apron has a torn pocket and many stains that refused to come out but it tells the story of a frugal woman who spent a lot of time in an apron. She used it to wipe sweat from her brow when she was picking beans or to wipe away the tears of a child. One of the last times I saw her use it, she was feeding babies, Tripp and Zoe, grits from a cup. Grits spilled out of Tripp’s mouth so she wiped his face clean with the apron.
My favorite, though, is the brown leather box in which Mama put anything important and then stored it in the wardrobe, one of the first pieces of furniture that she and Daddy owned. It is stuffed full and is kept closed with a piece of red elastic band that Mama stitched together and wrapped around the box. There, among many things, she kept Daddy’s honorable discharge papers from the Navy in World War II, birth certificates, Social Security numbers, the ordination papers when Daddy was ordained as a spirit-called Baptist preacher, wills, her daddy’s obituary, Uncle Tom Berry’s obit and the small black and white photo of a handsome man, dressed in a police uniform, that we never knew.
Mama, always with an eye to recording history, had written on the back: Winfred Dunbar. Ralph’s friend in Buford. He and his mom, Peggy Dunbar, took care of Ralph and loved him so much.
Daddy’s first job, after putting the poverty of the Appalachian Mountains in his rearview mirror, was in a shoe factory in Buford. He had boarded with the Dunbars and always spoke of how highly he thought of them.
You may never write a book about your mama but maybe you will for the sake of family history.
And this you will probably discover: a labor of labor can produce an abundance of love.
Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of the upcoming book: “Mark My Words – A Memoir of Mama.”