Momma’s Day

I’d often admired the framed eight-by-ten of her senior portrait that Momma kept on the chest of drawers right next to her side of the bed she shared with Daddy, but she got real embarrassed when she found out I knew she’d been named salutatorian of the Maplesville High School Class of 1955.

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Dolly Chandler, her three older sisters, and her younger brother grew up in the Pletcher community located eight or so miles down 82 southeast of Maplesville.

She was three months away from her sixth birthday when her momma died in September of 1942, two days after giving birth to a second son…he didn’t live through his birth day.

During her childhood and adolescence, her frequently-absent daddy lost more battles than he won in his struggle with alcohol. He came out on the other side of that disease a couple years after she graduated.

The Chandler children were pretty much responsible for their own upbringing.

When their momma died, the five ranged in age from fourteen-year-old Altha B (Bobe), who quit school to become the surrogate parent, to two-year-old baby brother Arland (Buck).

The next fall, Momma started school. She found her escape in reading and learning.

She’d come home after school and tell anyone who’d listen the things she’d learned that day. Usually Uncle Buck was the only one who stuck around to hear…he was three and he idolized his Dolly.

She grew into a beautiful young woman who was extremely shy except around family…and Daddy.

She married him in June after she graduated from high school in May.

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I’d often admired the framed eight-by-ten of her senior portrait that Momma kept on the chest of drawers right next to her side of the bed she shared with Daddy, but she got real embarrassed when she found out I knew she’d been named salutatorian of the Maplesville High School Class of 1955.

That happened after Papa Chandler died in the summer of 1978…the summer before my junior year at Maplesville. I was sixteen and beginning to think about college. It was about all I could talk about.

“You don’t know this but y’momma coulda gone to college,” Bobe told me in the living room of her trailer behind the little house on Route 2 one sweltering afternoon in August.

“Well, why didn’t she?” I asked her, taking a swallow of ice-cold sweet tea.

“Well, Sugarboy, Daddy didn’t let her.”

“Because of money?” I knew that had been hard to come by for their family…and truth be told, it was a hurdle ahead of me, too.

“Lord, no. Y’momma was salyutorian of her class!”

“Wonder why she didn’t tell me…as many times as we’ve talked about school and all?”

“Here’s what happened. Y’momma was salyutorian and hadn’t nobody in the family ever gone to college. So before school let out a fella come to the house from this teacher college over yonder in Livingston and talked to her and Daddy both. They was gonna pay y’momma’s way through that college.

“Daddy listened to what that man had to say, and then told him to get outta his house.

“He turned around to y’momma and said, ‘Dolly, get that foolishness outta y’head. Y’gonna give that talk up at the high school and graduate and then y’gonna marry Jim.'”

I went back to the house. Momma was listening to a preacher on the radio as she did every Sunday. Daddy was working days that weekend, and Aubrey was outside fiddling with his car.

“Momma, I wanna ask you something.” I told her about Bobe’s revelations.

“Why didn’t you ever tell us you were salutatorian and that you were offered a scholarship?”

Her face was scarlet, but not from anger.

“I wish OB hadn’t told you that. Son, I didn’t want you or Aubrey to have hard feelings towards your Papa.

“I was too scared to go away all by myself, and y’daddy and me were ready to get married anyway.

“I wadn’t mad at Daddy, but OB sure was.”

I didn’t doubt her, but I had detected a wistful “what-if” in the voice I heard that day.

Two years later, I was able to go to college thanks to a couple scholarships, a grant, and a work-study job. Driving away from the house on Highway 22 that day in the summer of 1980 when I moved to Montevallo, I remembered her words…”I was too scared to go away all by myself….”

I reckon I was sort of answering her wistful “what-if.”

On Saturday, May 11,1985, I walked across a stage on Flowerhill Lawn twice…once for the diploma qualifying me to be a teacher (I was expecting that) and once for the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award (I wasn’t expecting that).

But both times, after I shook Jim Vickrey’s hand, I looked out over the crowd into the faces of Momma and Daddy.

The next day was Mother’s Day…just like today.

But that Saturday…it was my day…and it was Momma’s Day.

Steve Latham – May 14, 2017

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