My Mother’s Gift: Her Love for Words

My mother, my father, and some little kid who grew up to become a word slinger.
My mother, my father, and some little kid who grew up to become a word slinger.

SHE HAD ALWAYS BEEN FRAIL, just a wisp of a girl.

She was born early.

No one thought she would live through the night.

The house was old.

It was drafty.

She had no bed.

They wrapped her in a towel and placed her in a shoebox.

The shoebox was too large for her.

She cried a little.

But mostly she slept.

She weighed one pound and one ounce.

When the doctor came back the next day to prepare the baby for burial, she was still breathing.

She smiled.

It was the beginning of a new life, a hard life – back when the black clouds of the Great Depression hovered like a gravestone above a nation.

No jobs.

No money.

Do with what you had or do without.

My mother grew up alongside the bayous of Louisiana. Photograph: FCEtier
My mother grew up alongside the bayous of Louisiana. Photograph: FCEtier

Mary Eunice grew up among the bayous of Louisiana.

She hated gators.

She hated snakes.

But still she fished whatever body of water she could find.

Life was simple to understand.

Catch a fish or go hungry.

When she was sixteen and entering high school, she sat down with her father and asked for money to buy school supplies.

He has a hard man.

An austere man.

He was broke.

She said he threw a fit that night.

She said he made her cry.

She told him softly, “I’ll never ask you for money again.”

She never did.

Mary Eunice packed her clothes and headed for East Texas.

Oil was on the ground.

Money was in the banks.

There were jobs waiting..

She found work as a waitress at Herb Smoot’s café in Turnertown.

“Why did you go to work in a café?” I once asked her.

She smiled.

“So I could have light bread any time I wanted it,” she said.

In time, Mary Eunice had the three things most important to her.

A husband.

A son.

Her words.

She was the writer in the family.

Mary Eunice Pirtle wrote in her journal every day.

She wrote thousands of words.

Thoughts.

Memories.

Recollections.

They were a rambling memoir of sorts.

She published articles in newspapers and in magazines.

She even wrote a Christmas musical that she sold to churches.

She had the gift.

I simply inherited her words.

And she loved the ones I wrote more than her own.

I know.

She told me.

I lost my mother twice.

Once to Alzheimer’s.

The final time for good.

She’s gone now.

But in a sense, she’s still around.

Every time I write, and I write every day, the words aren’t mine. The words belong to her.

I know it.

And so does she.

Happy Mother’s Day.

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  • Don Newbury

    A beautiful, meaningful piece. It’s been a while since I’ve heard “do with what you’ve got or without.” In many ways, life’s most important gifts were to be had more so then than now. And aren’t we glad Mother’s Day has survived in an era where “sibling’s day” probably won’t!…

    • Caleb Pirtle

      Siblings come and go, moving in and out of our lives, Don. But Mothers hold a special place. They never leave no matter how far away they are.

  • As I grieve the recent loss of my wife, I recall that she never was much for celebrating Mother’s Day.
    She believed that we should honor our parents every day.
    And you do.
    What a great tribute to the important people in our lives.
    (I’m pleased you chose to use one of my photos in your piece.)

    • Caleb Pirtle

      Your photo means a lot, Chip. It was taken only a few miles from where my mother grew up.

  • Darlene Jones

    This brought tears to my eyes. My mother also grew up in the depression and knew poverty. She too was a gifted writer, but never published anything. She too said, Use it up, wear it out, make do, do without. Words our generations should pay heed to.

    • Caleb Pirtle

      Darlene: It sounds like my mother could have grown up next door to your mother’s place. What we complain about, they would have considered a luxury. I remember mother saying how much they looked forward to Christmas because they was the only time of year they received an orange and an apple. We don’t really understand how hard those times were. And our children, we hope, will never have to experience them.

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