Birthdays, singing at funerals and old-style “courtin’”


If you’re a regular customer here, you read something similar to this about a year ago. That was when mother was only 104. If that was a good subject, I figure 105 ought to be even better.

Yep, mother was 105 a few days ago. “How is she?” you ask.

Well, as she used to say, “Oh, about as usual. She has her bad days and her better ones. She sometimes touches on her fantasy world, talking about her husband, “Stokes,” or sometimes “Montgomery,” and her children, just usual things for a young married woman.”

But when her hearing aid is working and you can shout loud enough to make her hear, she can talk quite lucidly about real events.

She recognizes all of us immediately. She especially loves it when my nephew and his wife come to see her. They are very good singers and they’ll strike up some gospel standard and mother will try to make her cracked voice join in.

You need to know that Lamar County is the very center, the core, of that type of gospel singing. I’m talking about Stamps-Baxter, shaped note, all day singing with dinner on the grounds type singing, the kind we learned to do at little two-week singing schools at little country churches all around.

We had a little party for her birthday. She enjoyed it very much, although it tired her quite a bit. But she didn’t enjoy it as much as the time she was installed into the Lamar County Gospel Music Hall of Fame. That was a few years ago. Sister Donna has suggested that we might want to leave early, that mother would be too tired to stay for all of the ceremony. Leave early? Duh? A pair of mules couldn’t have dragged her away. She loved it, especially the other singers, old and new, coming around paying homage.

She and daddy met at one of those singing schools. Later, they would be half of a quartet that sang for funerals and sometimes at the all-day singings.

About the funerals, a system evolved: Whenever somebody died, a member of the family would get on the phone and call mother or daddy or Mr. Wheeler or Mr. Williams, the other quartet members, and tell them where and when the funeral would be, and could they come sing for it? Yes, of course they could. They must have sung for two or three funerals a week from the late ’20s through the ’50s. It was an unwritten law that somebody had to sing at a funeral. The phone would ring, they’d drop everything and head for Shake Rag or Pin Hook or Mt. Pisgah or Oak Hill or Pine Springs or Shady Grove. They’d sing a couple of songs in the church and maybe a couple more at the graveside. No payment offered, none expected. Estimates run over a thousand dollars.

Think of the things that have changed since she grew up on that rocky hillside farm. When she was born, there were only 8,000 cars in the whole country. There were not even 48 states yet.

She was the sixth of eight children, the fourth of six girls. There is a picture of all the girls after they got to be women. They were all very good-looking, even with those hideous flapper-style clothes. Brother Jack and I have speculated that there must have been beaus or would-be beaus swarming all over the place. I don’t know how grandpa even fed such a mob, but they seem to have gotten along quite well.

There they are in the picture, aunts Rama, Tennie, Tezzie, Mother, Ottie and Myla Ree.

Mother is the last one.


Bob Sanders is a veteran local radio personality, columnist, author and raconteur of note.


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