Mother’s Day is a time for honoring our living mothers. As girls, my sisters and I always clipped red roses from a vine near our house to wear to church on Mother’s Day. Those roses smelled so sweet! In blessed years that followed, until my mother died at 93, I proudly wore a red rose every Mother’s Day. But Mother’s Day isn’t just for honoring the living. It’s also a time we can remember and be thankful for mothers and grandmothers who are long gone. I’d like, this week, to feature my Grandma Minnie, my mother’s mother.
I only remember Grandma in a hospital bed at Aunt Emma’s. She had a warm smile for me when my mother held me up so she could kiss me on the cheek. It is such a short memory, yet I’ve always had a good feeling of being loved as I jumped down to run out and play with cousins under the privet bushes.
When Grandma died in 1947, I was four years old. I couldn’t understand why my sisters and especially my mother were so sad. But I was sad because they were sad.
I’ve learned so much about Grandma from my own mother. She used to say that she knew there must be some dirt in heaven because Grandma wouldn’t be happy if she couldn’t wash little children’s faces. She’d come to stay with Mamma and help her as she had eleven babies and, I guess, as Aunt Emma had her seven. Grandma had raised six of her own. Washing children’s faces was a delight to her.
She was also a wonderful cook, Mamma said. Aside from sewing for the family, gardening, knitting and crocheting, she made lace. Her tatting was fine and wonderful, gracefully decorating pillow cases, blouse collars, and curtains. But Grandma wasn’t just a good homemaker. She was a very good neighbor. She regularly helped others deliver their babies, nursed them when they were sick and even, during the 1918 flu epidemic, prepared those who perished for burial. My mother was her helper at the age of fourteen.
When Mamma told me how Grandma and Papa Gibbs met I was totally intrigued.
Grandma lived in Commerce with her father, three siblings and her stepmother Janie. For several years she had mothered her younger siblings after their mother died. It wasn’t all bad when her father married again. Janie gave her some relief from household responsibilities. Still, at twenty years old, she hadn’t married, though she did have a few admirers.
In those days, the 1880’s, a highlight of the social life was a church picnic. Mamma said that her mother always looked forward to those picnics splashed between two long church services. It was at one of those when Leonard Gibbs rode up. Papa Burns introduced him to the family and Mama Janie invited him to eat with them. Leonard had come all the way from Cornelia on horseback, a trip of twenty-five or thirty miles. He must have had some relatives in Commerce. Minnie and Leonard were immediately attracted to each other. Though Leonard only conversed with Minnie’s father, he spent a lot of time looking at Minnie. When he rode away Minnie heard her father tell Mama Janie, “That young man is looking for a bride.”
Minnie dreamed that Leonard would come see her but weeks went by and even months. One Saturday Minnie was sweeping the yard (it was customary then to have swept yards, not lawns). It was cold and she sent her siblings all inside to warm up. To her surprise and horror she saw a man on horseback far down the red clay road. Could it be, yes, it was, Leonard Gibbs. He absolutely must not see her dressed in her oldest calico with a rag around her hair instead of a pretty bonnet. She scuttled into the stable and peered out through a crack, then realized that Leonard would certainly come to the stable to put his horse up. She scurried into the harness room and hid there until she thought that, of course, he’d take the saddle off his horse and put it in the harness room. Quickly she climbed a ladder into the hayloft and hid herself amongst the hay.
Of course, Leonard had ridden a long way and would certainly take care of all the needs of his horse and that included hay. Next thing Minnie knew he was coming up the ladder. She prayed she was hidden enough, that none of her skirt was peering out. She was sure he could hear her heart beating. But he took some hay, paused only a moment, and climbed back down the ladder.
When she thought it was safe she clambered down the ladder herself, probably went by to pat the nose of the visiting horse, and then took a circuitous path around to the back door of the square two-story house, hoping not to be observed from the parlor window. She didn’t think about that it was Saturday and Papa never lit the fire in the parlor on Saturday. So when she opened the kitchen door to sneak in and change clothes, there was Leonard Gibbs grinning at her. He is said to have commented, when he told the story, that Minnie was charmingly beautiful with curls haphazardly falling about her flushed face, one hand clutching the rag she’d jerked from her head. But at the time, the story goes, he took her free hand, exclaimed at how how cold it was and, with a twinkle in his blue eyes, suggested she warm by the stove.
Leonard and Minnie were married September 6, 1888, lived in Commerce, Georgia for a while, then in Cornelia, Mt. Airy, and finally on a farm named Clover Hill near Cornelia where Papa Gibbs, a very progressive farmer, became known for growing winter pasture grass. He died in October, 1918, of a very difficult intestinal problem, not from the flu. Grandma, brave woman that she was, continued raising the youngest ones of her six and became a loving resourceful grandmother.
Her bravery in the face of illness and death was also evident one dusky evening when she was returning home alone in a buggy. She was suddenly, the story goes, surrounded by white-hooded men on horseback. Instead of fainting away in fear, she simply sat erect in her seat and, in a very stern voice, told the KKK’s something like, “You men just go on home where you belong.”
Grandma passed on her sense of compassion, her bravery, her resourcefulness to my mother. But what I’m most grateful for is Grandma’s shining faith in God which caused her to make sure, along with Papa, that all their children memorized long portions of scripture, knew right from wrong, were honest in all their dealings, and were well aware of the saving grace of Jesus Christ. Her oldest son, my Uncle Charles, became a Presbyterian minister as well as her youngest son, Burns. Uncle Hugh stayed with the farm and was well respected in Habersham County for his honesty and productivity. Uncle Robert was a very successful business man in Atlanta. Aunt Emma was a school teacher before she had her family. And my mother–well, she had eleven children! One sister died as a four-year-old, but ten of us grew up under Mamma’s and Dad’s homeschooling. And, yes, they taught us early about Jesus.
What a rich heritage we have! Thank you, Lord, for our mothers and grandmothers. May we, too, leave footprints of faith in the lives of those who follow us.
HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY!