MAMA MAUDE: A REMEMBRANCE

By Randy Reynolds

When she was a child and had never even seen an automobile, a sudden great roar in the sky got her attention. She looked up from sweeping the hard-packed dirt yard with a clump of broom-straw and saw her first airplane fly over. She said her heart almost stopped.

When she was a teenager, her daddy, Robert E. Lee Stringer, had a stroke and fell off his mule. He died the next day. Maude’s older brother Claude had already left home and there was still a houseful of people to support—Lilly, Willie Mae, the twins Corrine and Cirrine (KY-reen), baby Mary and Mama Emma. So Maude “made the crop” that year (1923 or 24.)

Maude and the group of girls she was with near Chestnut Mountain Baptist Church, had to get out of the road to let a Model-T pass. But Bonnell Jackson Reynolds stopped right there in the road to introduce himself to the pretty Maude and ask her name and ask her out. What was he doing clear over on the other side of the county, far from his usual stomping grounds? I was “just out tom-cattin’ around,” he told me 50 years later. “Looking for girls and I found me one.” He bought her a Baby-Ruth and a Coca-Cola on their first date.

After they married, Bonnell got a job in a cotton mill and so Maude’s mother Emma Stringer decided that Maude’s future was secure. So she gave the family farm to Maude’s younger sister Lilly, with the understanding that Lilly would take care of the youngest daughters, Corrine, Cirrine and Mary.

Bonnell and Maude didn’t own their own home until their forties. They once had a chance to buy a duplex in the mill village for fifty cents a week and they could have rented out half the house to pay the entire rent, but they didn’t want to be obligated, so they continued renting instead of buying. For many years, while they were raising their young children, they lived on 12 acres in the Springway Community, near Rabbittown, the area in which Bonnell had grown up. He worked fulltime in the mill and farmed the 12 acres in his spare time.

They had five children, but one of them, a boy named A.J. (Allen Jackson) died in infancy, while Maude was holding him in her arms. She was devoted to the other children—two boys, Winfred and Gene, and two girls, Willeen and Katrina. Winfred was a hard worker and was out with Bonnell a lot. Gene was an expert at avoiding work and stayed closer to Maude. A very religious woman, she taught him a lot about the Bible, petted him, helped him avoid chores to the extent possible. He had a severe illness, apparently encephalitis, at age 7 or 8, and was in a coma for a week. That must have terrified Maude, who had already lost one son while rocking him in her arms, and so it may have seemed that she smothered him with even more affection. Around this time, Gene said God called him to preach, and nothing could have pleased his Mama more.

Although she lived until the 1990’s, Maude went grocery shopping in a self-serve store only once in her life.
When she got home and unpacked the sack there were things she didn’t need and she didn’t know why she bought them. She never set foot in a self-serve grocery store again, although she often went across the road to buy items from Brannons where she stood at the counter and told them what she needed and they brought each item to her. She had a charge account at Brannon’s and allowed her grandchildren to charge comic books and Hunkeys (chocolate-coated ice cream on a stick—I think they’re called Igloos today.)

The most important thing about Maude was how she treated her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She not only loved them, she was fascinated by them. She’d sit on the rocks in her gravel driveway and play with the little ones. When they were sick or grouchy, she’d rock them in front of the coal-burning stove and sing, “Bye oh baby bunting, Papa’s gone a-hunting, to catch a rabbit skin to wrap my baby in” or some other little melody.

When we misbehaved, she said “Babbo”, who allegedly lived in the closet near the coal stove, would come out and “get” us. Which kept me under control for many years. (Politicians use this trick today!)

Her way of saying bad weather was coming was “There’s a cloud coming up.” And she’d make us lie down on the bed until the skies cleared again. If we got restless, she’d make some kind of clicking sound on the bedsprings—I never caught her doing it so I believed her when she said it was “Babbo” and he was going to get me if I didn’t be still till the cloud was over. Her fear of the weather had been heightened by the tornado that killed 500 people in Gainesville in 1935. On another occasion, she had witnessed a neighbor get struck and killed by lightning. She passed on her fear of the weather to her children—especially my dad who religiously monitors all things weather-related to this day.

At Mama Maude’s house (Papa ‘Barnell’ lived there, too, but we always called it Mama Maude’s house,) life revolved around us kids. When we weren’t there, she talked to us on the phone. When I hit my first home run in Little League, I called to tell her about it and she was more excited than I was. After the call I talked Daddy into taking the family on the seven hour trip to see her. Ricky and I stayed with her in Gainesville for the rest of the summer and I never went back to Little League. Which didn’t matter in the least—nothing, not baseball, not friends, nothing—was as exciting as spending the summer with Mama Maude.

Everything in the James Whitcomb Riley poem Out To Old Aunt Mary’s reminds me of my Mama Maude, expecially the lines: “And her face, ah me, Wasn’t it good for a boy to see, and wasn’t it good for a boy to be out to old Aunt Mary’s?”

She and Papa ‘Barnell’ didn’t get indoor plumbing until 1960. Until then, they used the one-hole outhouse at the far end of the back yard near the garden, they had heat from a coal-burning stove, they got water from a pump in the kitchen and a well in the back yard. They had an ice-box and the ice-man delivered great blocks of ice once or twice a week, lugging them across the yard with giant tongs. My great-uncle Quentin (Maude’s brother-in-law) stopped by once a week with his grocery truck—a pickup jam-packed with fresh vegetables, canned goods, and staples. They’d visit in the yard and Mama Maude would buy a few little items from him. Quentin’s truck was a grocery-store on wheels and I always looked forward to it.

Mama Maude and I maintained a correspondence by mail throughout my childhood. She saved nickels and pennies to pay for my piano lessons in 1958 and encouraged me by letter and in phone calls throughout the school year to practice hard. I didn’t. She encouraged me to become a preacher like my daddy; although I thought no one could ever be as great as my daddy, I had even greater ambitions.

Mama Maude bought all the grandchildren extravagant presents at Christmas. She waited on them hand and foot when they were visiting with her.

I’m glad she got to know so many of her great grandchildren, including my three. Every time we welcome a new grandchild of our own into the world, my wife and I have a standard bittersweet moment: one of us will say “Wouldn’t Mama Maude love to be here now?” or “Can you imagine how excited Mama Maude would be right now?”

Just thinking her name gives me a warm glow inside and I didn’t want to let the 104th anniversary of her birth go by (11-20-2010) without sharing this feeling, and the wish that everyone should be so lucky as to have a “Mama Maude” in their lives.
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“Oh, my brother, so far away
“Though I am as bald as you are gray
“This is to tell you Aunt Mary fell
“Asleep today. Whispering tell
“The boys to come. And all is well.
“Out to Old Aunt Mary’s.”
--James Whitcomb Riley
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