The older I get, the more I appreciate Mother’s Day – and the more I appreciate my own mother, Gertrude. She was born in 1907 in the old Goodbars community, the fifth of 10 children – five boys and five girls.
Large families were the norm back then, at least in the country. The more “hands” the better. Rural life was labor-intensive. Boys and girls had to share the load without regard for gender. Moreover, infant mortality was a cruel fact of life – and death – in the early years of the 20th Century. This was another reason for having so many children.
Mother never talked too much about her youth, but I got the feeling she had to grow up fast. She had only an eighth-grade education, but if they awarded diplomas from the “school of hard knocks,” she would have qualified for sheepskins aplenty.
As a young woman, Gertrude ventured down to Fort Payne, Ala., where she landed a job in a hosiery mill. She lived in a boarding house, and worked long hours for little pay. It was a brave thing to do, indeed. Later she returned home to work in a local hosiery mill. That would be her lot in life for decades.
By the time I came along in August 1938, she was married to George Vaughn. He was a “ladies man” who lived by his wits in a variety of endeavors. He traded horses and mules, worked as a blacksmith and a boiler tender. I vaguely remember him as a man with a hot temper and wandering ways. Maybe that’s why we moved so often.
Actually, I never really knew my father. Mother divorced him when I was a small boy. She then became, out of necessity, the sole parent for me, as well as my sisters, Doris and Geneva. She was a struggling single mom when that circumstance was still rare in American culture.
To my mother’s everlasting credit, she did her best to raise my sisters and me as well as she could. She worked her fingers to the bone at the hosiery mill, and took in washing and ironing from other families. She also cleaned houses for others. She did all this to keep our family fed, clothed, sheltered, loved – and most of all, together.
Mother knew the value of getting a good education because she had experienced the trials and tribulations of not having one herself. Her wise advice rings out through the years to me today: “Get a good education, son. That’s something nobody can take away from you.” That advice took a while to sink in, but it’s lasted long and strong.
I’m not saying my mother was unique. Others have similar stories of loving mothers who nurtured them through trying times. I am saying she was unique to me.
Part of her is part of me – and always will be. Happy Mother’s Day to all!
Retired Army Col. Thomas B. Vaughn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.