By Joe Rector
My two grandmothers were as different from each other as were their families. They’ve both been gone for a long time, but their memories linger.
Mamaw Balch was a small woman. She bore three sons and a daughter. She was a Cureton, and as such, her approach toward life seemed to have been one of no-nonsense. Mamaw worked hard just keeping up with cooking food for hungry boys and her husband. They lived on a large farm in Ball Camp for a while. The boys were up early to milk the cows, and when they returned home, the table was covered with eggs, bacon, biscuits, and gravy. As soon as the meal was finished, she jumped into the middle of her daily chores and lunch preparations.
I don’t remember the woman smiling. She wore a permanent scowl. It seemed that her joy came from her bible and the radio located in the small living room of their house. She read scriptures each day, and she studied the words of comfort that they offered. Although I’ve not spent anywhere near the amount of time that she did in reading the “good book,” I have taken a different meaning from it. Mamaw saw life as something hard; people endured their time on earth and kept their fingers crossed that the next life would be better. Her religion was hard as well. Christianity was filled with guilt and self-deprivation. Woe unto those who enjoyed life too much because they surely must being doing something sinful.
This small woman suffered with heart trouble and passed in the early 1960s. I was sad when she died, but that was more because my own mother was so grief stricken. Mamaw’s death left my grandfather lost, and I realize that small woman was, in fact, the strongest person in the family.
Mamaw Rector was much different. She wasn’t as short as my other grandmother; she was a bit taller and heavier. Her frame supported a generous amount of flesh, and I recall that her arms were round and flabby. Her nose was in a shape that the Clevengers (her maiden name) passed to each generation. Mamaw wore a frown most of the time, but she was apt to be talkative when company came calling. Her stockings reached only to her mid-calf where she neatly rolled the rest of them.
I’m not sure just how much work she did. At one time, Mamaw worked at the porcelain factory at the edge of Lonsdale, where she lived, and yes, she cooked. Other than that, I never saw her do much of anything. From what I heard from other relatives, her family had tough times. My dad quit school after the sixth grade to help make ends meet. Maybe she’d worked so hard for so long that she didn’t have the energy to do anything else.
This second grandmother was a bit more fun. She had a sense of humor and loved to tease with us boys. On a couple of occasions, she traveled out to the country to babysit. For the whole day, we sat at the kitchen table and broke a bushel of beans. She’d tell stories and listen to our silliness with the patience that I’ve never mastered. Mamaw knew my older brother smoked, and she gave him money so that he could walk to a nearby store to buy cigarettes.
Mamaw Rector watched her soap operas every day. She would sit in her chair and watch for hours. Beside her at all times was a gallon tin can. In it she spit the makings from a lip loaded with Bruton snuff. With her lips coated with the dark liquid, she always demanded a kiss before we left. She also made a point of always complaining. We rarely asked her how she was because the question caused her to recite a litany of ailments.
It’s been fifty-plus years since my Mamaws were alive. I see them much differently now and have more admiration for them. They were women who loved family and did their best. I hope my grandson will remember his grandparents as fondly fifty years from now.