This feature originally ran on May 30, 2018 in The South Alabamian. I adored this couple! They are together in Heaven now, but I still love their story!
“We hadn’t lived here very long. Mama and Daddy and all of us had moved from Mobile to Jackson. There was a Sunday School party at the United Methodist Church and I wanted to take the cutest man in town,” Mrs. Dottie Outlaw smiles as she recollects her younger years and her first date with Dan Outlaw, who has now been her husband for 67 years. “My girlfriend had a date and then there was me, so I decided I’d take him as a friend. We’ve been together ever since.” Sitting nearby, Mr. Dan Outlaw smiles and nods.
Mr. Outlaw is a native of Jackson and remembers when the Boone family moved to Jackson and started a hardware store here. The Boones’ daughter, Dottie, was an accomplished dancer who studied at Madelyn McDonald’s School of Dance in Mobile and studied ballet for a year in New York. Always passionate about the arts, Miss Dottie Boone had her own dance studio when she came to Jackson. She ran it out of the Jackson High School gymnasium where she taught ballet, tap and acrobatics. She also had satellite studios in Thomasville and Monroeville.
Dan and Dottie Outlaw still holding hands
The Boones attended Jackson United Methodist Church and it was this church that had a Sunday School picnic for which Dottie lacked a date. After a brief courtship with Dan, the couple married on April 14, 1951. “That was a different time,” Mr. Outlaw explained. “You had to have permission to get married.” The couple was married in a Methodist parsonage in Lucedale and moved to Tuscaloosa to start their lives together.
Dan worked with a finance company and soon accepted promotions that would move the family to both Montgomery and Huntsville. As the Outlaw family grew to include four sons and one daughter, the couple began to reminisce about their young adulthood in Jackson. Soon they decided that Jackson would be a wonderful place to raise their children because of the town’s atmosphere, the church activities and the closeness that the children would have with their grandparents and cousins.
Mr. Outlaw took a position in his father-in-law’s hardware store for many years before retiring from Liberty National Insurance. Mrs. Outlaw also worked in the family business, as Boone’s Hardware had a gift shop. “We sold very nice things,” Mrs. Outlaw recalled. Mrs. Outlaw would begin working at her “favorite job” in 1960, when she became director of the Jackson Area Chamber of Commerce. She retired in 1989.
The Outlaw children, Curtis Jr. “Dee”, Ramona, Darryl, Dale and Barry attended school in Jackson and participated in youth activities here. “We really liked playing ball,” Mrs. Outlaw quipped. Like every family however, the Outlaws also suffered. The devastating loss of their daughter at a young age was a trying time, but through their faith in God and love for one another, the couple persevered. The Outlaw legacy continues to grow with 10 grandchildren, eight great-grandchildren and one more great-grandchild on the way soon. Mrs. Outlaw proudly displays a bulletin board in her room with all of her family members on it. “I look at my blessings every day.”
Now at age 91, Mr. Outlaw gets a ride from The Meadows daily to visit his 87-year-old bride at Jackson Health Care Facility. They spend their time gazing out the window and watching the birds. “And we hold hands every day. Every day that we see each other, we are going to hold hands. We’ve been holding hands for 67 years,” Mrs. Outlaw smiled lovingly.
When asked what advice they would give married couples or couples planning to be married, the words were plain. “Love each other and do for each other like you want them to do for you,” Dottie remarked. “You don’t have to bend over backwards, but help each other and be encouraging every day,” Dan added.
And hold hands. Everyday.
Friendships are critical to enjoying life, but they become more difficult as we get older. My daughter frequently has friends over and it’s not a big deal if there are three or four extra girls sleeping all around the living room on the weekends. I recall the same type of memories from my childhood. She sends and receives daily texts to stay in the loop with her friends. At that age, I wandered throughout my house on the cordless phone and often got in trouble for not hanging it up to charge. She knows nothing about that or of wrapping the phone cord around yourself as you talked.
Times and technology have changed, but friendships remain crucial elements in life. I have discovered how difficult adult friendships are to maintain! Work schedules, spouses’ work schedules, children’s schedules, distance and family priorities limit the amount of time we get to spend catching up with our friends. Social media is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, it allows us to see our friends and their families and to send a quick message to let them know we are thinking of them. It’s also beneficial for remembering birthdays. On the other hand, social media gives us a false sense of connectedness. It’s almost impossible to see past the surface and know what’s really going on in the lives of social media “friends”.
It’s important to make time for adult friendships. I am thankful that I was able to spend Memorial Day weekend doing just that. I have a dear friend that lives in Cullman. Tiffany and I had been planning our three-day weekend for weeks. We had concert tickets and we planned other outings around the main event. The anticipation was intense!
When I got to her house on Friday evening, we talked ourselves into the wee hours of Saturday morning, took a nap and headed out for adventure. Tiffany, my daughter and I saw many of the sights and attractions in north Alabama, but more than that, we made memories and laughed a lot.
Planning ahead and setting the time aside to spend with my sweet friend was the absolute best gift I have given to myself in a very long time! It was refreshing to step away from my normal for a while and to learn more about where she lives and what she does on a daily basis. It’s just different when you see it for yourself. It was good to laugh, to listen to great music and to discuss the great mysteries and the entertaining aspects of life while drinking coffee and wandering through used book stores. When your friends love the same things you do, life is good! When the interests are more diverse, you learn and teach something new. It’s a win-win situation.
Driving home, I thought of the people that I consider my closest friends and the situations that allowed us to meet. Some are from college. Some are from childhood. Some are from the many summers I spent working at WorldSong Missions Place in Cook Springs. Some are in South Dakota, a result of spending a summer in Montana on summer missions twenty years ago. Tiffany is one of those rare people that became a quick friend because we worked at the same place several years ago. I never planned on meeting a true friend at work, but I am so thankful. So, pay attention to the people around you. They could be great blessings to you.
I admit that situations and circumstances that come with age and responsibility do change the dynamics of friendships. It’s not often that we get to gather with friends and spend hours talking like the teen girls who come to my house do, but it is important to prioritize friendships as adults.
Summer is here and the days are longer. Text a friend and meet for coffee or take a walk together. Affording time to invest in your relationships will yield the rich dividends of reduced stress and wonderful memories.
At the time I am writing this column, I have officially been a member of Ancestry.com for maybe 45 minutes. Less than 15 minutes was all that it took to have me hooked! My grandmother and I had looked into it years back, but after her death in 2011, I was no longer interested. But here I am now, already needing an intervention!
I suppose attending a Lunch and Learn session in the Old St. Stephens Courthouse started it and then it was compounded by attending Old St. Stephens Day on Saturday. I love a good story and the stories of Mahala Martin and Temperance Crawford are among my favorite local stories.
What’s the point in genealogy? Why has it become such a booming business and hobby? I think it’s because of the stories. Secretly, we want to be connected to someone important historically so that we can proudly tout the accomplishments of our forefathers, George Washington, the Wright Brothers, Pocahontas, the list can get lengthy. I’d personally love to find a little green leaf that connects me to Mark Twain or Laura Ingalls Wilder. I don’t think it’ll happen, but one can dream!
My wise friend Cindy laughs at genealogy. She bluntly states that “There’s a horse thief in every family.” Her western logic rings true. I’d guess that most people have at least one person on the family tree that they aren’t so proud of, but that person has a story, also. There are lessons to be learned from both the venerated and the scorned.
Genealogy is the task of tracing one’s ancestral roots. In this progressive Internet age, it has become a popular hobby, due to the ready availability of databases, records and photographs online. Genealogy is the second most popular hobby in the United States; gardening takes the top spot. The research of lineage has spawned a billion-dollar industry that includes websites, books, television shows and ancestry DNA testing. While popular, ancestry research is certainly not new. Biblical accounts provide generational listings for Jesus and the patriarchs. Although today’s methods are certainly easier than ever. Just a few minutes on the right website can have a person wonderfully distracted!
Starting with what you know is the best way to begin most tasks and genealogy is no exception. Family Bibles usually contain a family tree page that provides a wealth of knowledge because in generations prior, they sat down with a pen and filled those things out. From what you know, you will slowly move into the unknown and see names that are not familiar. With access to government census records, names, birthdates, occupations and all household members can be seen.
If puzzles and mysteries hold your attention, there’s no doubt ancestry research will as well. There are so many different ways to approach it and a variety of sources for information. There are different reasons why people choose to take up this hobby. For some, it’s mere curiosity. Others have specific reasons, such as wanting to prove ancestral connections to a lineage organization (Daughters of American Revolution, United States Cavalry Association, Order of the First World War), tracking family medical issues, validating family lore and preserving a family legacy. Genealogy research not only connects an individual to the past, it also assists family members by helping them connect in the present. Social media has proven to be a beneficial tool to connect long-lost relatives.
If genealogy research was “just” a list of names, I’d be bored, but there is so much more to it. I have found pictures of my grandparents and great-grandparents that I have never seen before and I’m starting to see a pattern with some “family names.” Based on what I’ve seen, I’ll stick with it, add some pictures of my own and maybe a few family anecdotes. I didn’t go looking for a new hobby, but I suppose I have one now. I want to see more pictures and read more stories…even stories about “horse thieves.” After all, according to Plato, “Those who tell the stories rule the world.”
“We could sell these, but that would take all the joy out of making them.” Mary Whitfield runs her fingers over the multiple infant caps in front of her. The caps are a labor of love for the members of the knitting club at Jackson Health Care Facility. They are taken to the University of South Alabama Women’s and Children’s Hospital and given to the smallest patients, many of whom are fighting for their lives. The club makes the hats in all sizes to be shared with preemies, cancer patients and anyone in need.
It is a club that began earlier this year when Thelma Pugh came to Jackson Health Care Facility. Pugh had decades of experience with crocheting and knitting and wanted a way to get to know her new neighbors better. Several residents who were also familiar with the handicrafts joined, eager to practice their skills once again. Some who had never held either knitting or crochet needles joined to learn something new. Young teen girls from the community joined because they wanted a good challenge.
Until recently, the club has met weekly, not only to create gifts for others, but to invest in each other’s lives. Laughter rings from a large meeting room at the end of a hall. The members examine completed projects, and offer each other tips and guidance both for knitting and for living. Each member is aware that their health is not what it once was. They are each all too familiar with medical terminology, treatment, and concerns; but for an hour or so on Wednesday afternoons, they laugh and they stitch. They wonder about the medical needs of the recipients of the caps that they are making. For a brief segment of time, these ladies practice a handicraft and learn more about the each other. They encourage one another.
On July 5, the meeting was extra special. Thelma Pugh was back for the first time since her stroke. Her students were glad to see her and eager to show their progress. When she expressed doubt about ever being able to crochet or knit again, the ladies in attendance became Pugh’s champions, encouraging her to keep picking up her needles and get started again. Ruby Wimberley empathized with Pugh’s recent health plight. “I had a stroke, too, Thelma. I had to start back slow.” At that moment, Wimberley presented Pugh with a latch hook kit, a yarn craft that does not require the same amount of dexterity as knitting or crocheting, but still involves yarn, counting, and a sense of accomplishment when finished. Wimberley showed Pugh her own latch hook project and Pugh smiled, “Are you sure that everything I need to do this is in this box?”, she asked. Wimberley nodded assuringly.
The ladies worked on their individual projects and shared stories of their families and snacks provided by those families. There was much laughter and a few tears. Mostly, there was encouragement for each other and the challenge to keep going, keep working on whatever the current project is. It seems that there are days that we can all accept that challenge and the encouragement to keep giving life our all.
Graduation signifies the end of an educational chapter in a person’s life. It is ironic that the nomenclature used to designate the ceremonies (commencement) is also a word that means “a beginning.” While graduation indeed signifies the end of something, it is best to view it as the beginning of something greater.
No matter their age, every individual who receives a diploma has a story. Several area graduates shared their stories with us this week.
Rone set sites on South
Sixteen-year-old Presley Rone will be attending University of South Alabama in the fall. While she is younger than most freshmen, Rone is focused and intent. Since her middle school years, Rone has challenged herself to learn and to achieve more. “I felt like I wasn’t smart enough. So, I would study so much on my own. I would study ACT books and textbooks to learn on my own. It never mattered to me that I didn’t have homework, I would sit there for hours and study.”
Rone’s drive and determination has paid off. After spending the majority of her middle and high school years at Leroy High School, she moved last summer to Sandpoint, Idaho to explore different educational opportunities. At the beginning of the school year, she was deemed educationally gifted and allowed to skip a grade. So, her senior year began much quicker than Rone or her mother, Candy Williams, anticipated.
True to form and a testament to the study habits she developed in middle school, Rone enrolled in the honors program and dual credit Advanced Placement classes. She maintained an impressive GPA while managing a challenging schedule and being a varsity cheerleader at Sandpoint High School. Her 3.8 GPA over the course of her high school career is proof of her dedication to her studies and to her future.
Rone has been awarded the University Scholarship from University of South Alabama. She accepted this scholarship, but was awarded full tuition scholarships from College of Mount Saint Vincent in New York. Nova Southeastern University Boca Raton, Fla. and University of Texas, Arlington.
Her ultimate career goal is to become a psychiatric doctor of nursing practice. The first step begins this fall as she begins her studies toward a bachelor of science in nursing degree. Presley Rone offers these words of wisdom to local students, “If you try hard enough in your studies, you will succeed greatly.”
Stories abound regarding legendary Alabama football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant even 36 years after his death. The stoic, no-nonsense coaching great was once featured by Ripley’s Believe It or Not for playing a 1935 rivalry game against Tennessee with a broken leg. At the time, he was the first to have done so. It is unclear if the injury hampered any more of the 1935 season for Bryant, but the story of that broken bone in that game remains. Ripley’s likely does not know of Leroy High School’s quarterback, J.E.B. Rice.
As the quarterback for the LHS Bears, Rice amassed stats that surpassed the national average in total yards, touchdown passes, yards per game, completions and attempts. Rice’s record of two interceptions throughout his career is well below the national average. Rice’s leadership was demonstrated each Friday night as he called the plays and led the team in a 9- 4 season. For 13 weeks, Rice was fully present for all regular season and playoff games, including game five against Thomasville when his right fibula was broken. Not one willing to sit the bench, Rice returned to play following the hit, unaware that a bone had been broken. For two more weeks, he continued physical therapy to treat the leg that hurt “some,” but was neither unbearable nor swollen.
After two weeks of physical therapy, an X-ray was recommended. Rice and his parents, Heather and Barry, were shocked to learn that the athlete’s leg was indeed broken. “By the time they did the X-ray, it had started to heal. They told me to do what I was comfortable doing,” Rice stated. Rice was extremely comfortable on the gridiron and that’s where he stayed. “My coaches and teammates told me that they would support me if I could not play, but I had to play.”
Rice is both a competitor and a motivator. His leadership and accomplishments on the field have been noted by the Leroy faithful for several seasons; however, J.E.B.’s academic achievements are also stellar. At senior awards day, Rice was recognized for receiving scholarships totaling in excess of $590,000. Rice never mentioned his academic accomplishments, but continually acknowledged his teammates, coaches and parents for their encouragement and support throughout his career.
Although he has received offers to play football at the college level, Rice decided instead to accept the University Scholarship to the University of South Alabama where he will study sports management. He hopes to be involved with the Jaguar football team. Rice’s parents say that they know J.E.B. will continue to be involved with the sport that he loves and they look forward to seeing him find success in another realm of sports.
Ripley representatives may not ever make their way to Washington County, but there is no doubt that J.E.B. Rice has heard the stories of “Bear” Bryant and possibly this famous quote, “ If you believe in yourself and have dedication and pride – and never quit, you’ll be a winner. The price of victory is high but so are the rewards.”
When she graduated high school in 2011, Lauren Jett left for Auburn University in the fall. She was doing what was expected of her, attending a university. Jett had not considered technical programs or community college. “Sitting through the classes day in and day out was a struggle,” Jett recalls. Soon, an unexpected pregnancy changed Jett’s plans drastically.
She left school before her daughter Ayden was born in 2013. At that time, Jett put her educational plans on hold and focused on raising her daughter. She worked to provide for them, but knew a degree would afford more opportunities. She attempted to take classes twice, but the balance of work, school and motherhood was exhausting. Jett realized that she did not want a typical 9-5 career. She wanted a hands-on approach, but was undecided on a major.
When her daughter started kindergarten, Jett began to look into programs that would fit her schedule. The Alabama School of Nail Technology and Cosmetology in downtown Jackson seemed like an answer to Jett’s concerns related to her child and her schedule. “I have never been girly or super into hair and makeup but I figured I’d give it try and I fell in love.”
Jett finished the program in January and quickly found employment at a Saraland salon. “It was hard but thanks to the support and love from my friends and family, I made it through. I finally feel like I have found my forever home in my career!”
Jett hopes that her story will encourage students to look into all programs and ask questions instead of following someone else’s recommendations. She also encourages young mothers to go achieve their goals.
Lauren Jett’s story is proof that sometimes unexpected situations lead to life’s greatest blessings. She is reminded of this when she sees her daughter and each time she clocks in to a career that she loves.
Maggie moves mountains
Magdelyn Ann Pritchett will receive her high school diploma tomorrow night. Maggie is the daughter of Rachel and Thomas Anderson and Jody Pritchett. A homecoming maid and Fire Prevention maid, Maggie’s bright smile is ever-present. Unfortunately, so are her health problems. Since she was 5 months old, Maggie has faced mountains of debilitating ailments.
Rachel Anderson says that her daughter missed out on a good portion of her childhood and teen years due to a variety of health problems that specialists have struggled to agree upon. Maggie has neurogenic bladder/retention with frequent UTIs, degenerative disc disease with bulging disc, and many other autoimmune symptoms. At the age of 16, it was discovered that Maggie had significant hearing loss in both ears. In February, she was diagnosed with lymphocytic colitis, a rare inflammatory bowel disease.
Kidney stones in April resulted in a serious kidney infection that has caused Maggie to have to selfcatheterize. Doctors informed Anderson that that her vibrant daughter will have to do this for the rest of her life. “If she doesn’t follow instructions exactly, she will go into kidney failure,” Anderson stated.
Pritchett could possibly have a device surgically implanted to control her bladder, but there is a chance that it would not be successful and could lead to more problems.
Maggie missed three weeks of her senior year at Jackson Academy due to complications from the kidney infection and lymphocytic colitis. “For about three weeks she didn’t get off the couch other than to go to the doctor. She didn’t even go to Gigi’s and that says something,” Anderson reported of her daughter who enjoys spending time with her large family.
Maggie has seen a variety of specialists in Mobile, Birmingham and Pensacola, Fla., but an overall diagnosis has yet to be given. The specialists referred Pritchett’s case to the Mayo Clinic. On May 10, the call came from Mayo indicating that Maggie was accepted for treatment. According to her mother, “Maggie will first see an internal medicine doctor and then he will ‘farm’ her out to the specialists and tests he feels she needs to see and to have.
This is a diagnostic and treatment plan visit. She will see many doctors and have many tests in that week. There possibly will be other appointments in the future.” Pritchett and her mother will travel to Rochester, Minn. for the Mayo Clinic appointments in late June.
Through all of the appointments, blood draws, tests and needle sticks, Maggie has been a trooper. The baby of the family, Maggie is known as the family “fireball.” She is determined and headstrong, a natural born leader. “Maggie is so headstrong and nothing phases her most of the time. God knew exactly what He was doing when He gave Maggie this cross to bear,” Anderson said, acknowledging that as parents the frustrations and worries over their daughter’s condition been more burdensome for them than it has for Maggie. Anderson admits that while they have silently mourned the fact that their daughter missed many school activities and had to give up softball due to her illness, Maggie has persevered. Maggie’s family is thankful for the faculty and staff at Jackson Academy who have been supportive throughout her illness and provided any medical and educational accommodations.
Pritchett’s grit and resolve have served her well throughout her health struggles. No doubt these will assist her throughout her life. Maggie’s dream is to earn a degree in funeral and mortuary science. Currently, she is taking courses to earn a medical assistant degree.
A Facebook page has been created to keep family and friends aware of Maggie’s prognosis. “Maggie Moves Mountains” will be updated frequently.
A popular lyric from Green Day’s song, “Closing Time” is “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” How true this is regarding graduation! The possibilities are endless! While students are celebrating the end of one educational experience, most parents are lamenting it. Instead of mourning the end, embrace the new season and the many “commencements” or beginnings that it affords.
Congratulations, class of 2019.
Jackson’s annual Accelerated Reader parade was originally scheduled for last week, but storms forced it to be changed. The weather for the past few days has been perfect, despite storms that came through last week.
The longer days, the sunshine, the heat…summer is definitely on its way. First, school has to end. Only then is it “officially” summer, just ask any student! The end of the school year means celebrations. Tuesday, students from Gillmore Elementary and Jackson Intermediate took to the streets to celebrate reaching their Accelerated Reading goals.
The annual AR parade was exciting and well-attended by parents and grandparents who were on hand to congratulate students who met or exceeded individual reading goals.
I relate greatly to Harper Lee’s famous quote: “Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.” It’s as natural a response for me as blinking or taking my next breath. I love to read, but the AR parade caused me to stop and appreciate the ability to read and the ones who helped me develop the skill and the love for it.
I honestly don’t remember not knowing how to read. My mom, my grandmothers and my greatgrandmothers all read to me and with me. I “read” to my pets way before I ever boarded a school bus. The bookmobile and trips to the old library in Chatom were summertime treats. I quickly discovered the classroom library and then the school library. There was no AR when I was in school, but my elementary teachers rewarded readers with trinkets and extra reading time. No parades, but there was encouragement.
Although my elementary days are long gone, I still love to read. I own a Kindle Oasis now, but I still buy physical books, also. The Kindle allows me to have all of my favorites portable and easily accessible while I am waiting on Tatum’s band practice or choir rehearsal to end. It also allows me to read in bed without turning on the lamp and disrupting my husband’s sleep. I can download any book I want at any time I want. It’s a good thing this technology wasn’t around when I was younger!
For the children that skipped and marched through downtown today, I truly hope that each of them become lifelong readers. Twenty-four percent of Americans report that they have not read a book, even a portion of a book, in the past year. One quarter of our American population is not reading. The majority of these are people above the age of 18 in rural areas. These smiling students can and will make a difference!
The good news is that 76 percent of Americans are reading. Physical books are still being purchased, but so are e-books and audiobooks. Libraries are still being utilized.
One of the greatest influences on my life was illiterate. My paternal grandfather never learned to read. As the oldest of nine and a strapping young man even after surviving polio, he did not attend school. He was expected to help with manual labor. While he may not have had a formal education, he recognized the value of it. He stressed it to his four children and would be proud to know that each of his six grandchildren earned college degrees.
He realized that he was missing out. One of his treasured possessions was the Bible on cassette that my dad and his siblings gave him for Christmas in the 1980s. Until then, he relied on a preacher’s interpretation or my grandmother’s oral reading. He was never able to read, but he recognized the opportunities that the ability to read afforded.
I am thankful for the little reminder of the things that I love, but often take for granted. The past week was stormy in many ways, but a short parade was a great reminder of accomplishments and revelries. It was a bright spot after a week marked by violence and tragedy.
As summer draws near, I hope our communities continue to celebrate happy times and read good books.
The most “Alabama” thing
My good friend Blake born in Montana and now lives in Idaho. She has never been to the South, (Bless her heart!) but has some perceptions (stereotypes) about the way things are here. One of her favorite things to say to me is “That is the most Alabama thing I have ever heard!” This is her response when I refer to her mother as her “mama” or talk about fixing grits for breakfast. She also says it when I talk running fish boxes or about my neighbor’s pig that used to get out of his pen and visit my porch. I have come to expect it. It endears her to me. There are things that can’t be understood unless they are experienced.
With that said, my experience last Saturday could qualify as the “most Alabama thing ever.”
Strong storms were predicted for Saturday, but they held off and Jackson residents were able to enjoy the Depot Reunion, opening day for Little League and a fund-raiser for the animal shelter at Bigbee Coffee Roasters. Later in the afternoon, storms did move in and by that time, I was in Baldwin County.
I had dropped my daughter and a friend off at Spanish Fort Middle School for a band competition. A third teenager did not participate in the competition, so she and I went to waste some time at the Eastern Shore Centre. We were browsing in Blues Angel Music when someone rushed in shouting that the tornado sirens were sounding. With pianos and guitars being played all around, sirens are difficult to hear in that particular store. Everyone looked up and looked out of the store’s huge glass front.
It wasn’t raining, so we did the most Alabama thing ever. Every single person in the store walked outside and stood on the sidewalk. Yep. We did that. We stood outside in a tornado warning. The wind was fierce, but that was it. No hail. No lightening. No rain. I pulled my phone out and played the forecast. Sure enough, there was a tornado warning, but we didn’t see any evidence of a tornado. So, until we heard an enormous thunderclap, we stood, squinting at the sky.
Fast-moving thunder storms came within minutes. By that time, we had moved on to a book store and were hoping the weather would move quickly so that we could get back to the ones we had left at the school. I’d gotten texts from my daughter that they were okay, but I wanted to see for myself.
We were finally reunited. The two that stayed at the school recounted how all students were herded into the cafeteria during the warning and how volunteers kept them calm. We told them about stepping outside the music store. Without missing a beat, Tatum says, “You have to tell Ms. Blake about this. I can already hear her response!” We said it together, “That’s the most Alabama thing I have ever heard!”
Alabamians do have a reputation for having to see things to believe them. That’s okay by me. I appreciate hard evidence in most instances. Sometimes though, like with tornado warnings, it’s likely best to trust science.
I’ve thought about Blake’s adage. It’s somewhat cute to me, if it’s not used negatively. Alabama, like every other state, does have its flaws, but it is a special place despite what outsiders may not understand.
I think the people of Alabama are truly what set it apart from every other place. Alabamians are practical, methodical people who genuinely care for their neighbors. We are indeed opinionated on topics of government and religion. We stand our ground and don’t back away from a lively debate. We are intense football fans (not me, but most of you). Family is important to us. Having a place to call home is paramount and having people to support you is essential. These are the things that make Alabama truly special, in my opinion. These are “the most Alabama things ever.”
If we were all honest, we would have to say that at some point in our lives, we grew bored listening to stories our mothers or other relatives told. Maybe we were young and busy and thought the content of the stories to be dated and irrelevant. Maybe we were frustrated, sleep-deprived and stressed out and we didn’t have time to listen. It’s possible that we just didn’t want to hear the same old tired adages anymore. Looking back, most of us probably wish we had listened closely instead of brushing off the anecdotes that they attempted to share.
The connectivity between an individual’s life story and that of their mother was shared by renowned author Mitch Albom. Albom wrote, “Behind all your stories is always your mother’s story, because hers is where yours begins.” Before Albom, President Abraham Lincoln stated, “All that I am or ever hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.”
Mothers impact generations. I interviewed several mothers from different generations and asked them to tell their stories. While none of their circumstances are the same, each mother, young and old, shared their love for their children and the pride that they bring.
“Behind the Scenes”
Thelma Pugh celebrated her 95th birthday in January. She is likely among the most experienced of mothers in our community. Pugh and her husband John Marion had eight children, Faye, Raymond, Francis, Rodger, JoAnn, Terry, Alice and Paula. The Pughs made their home in Grove Hill.
Pugh learned to sew and crochet as a child and these skills would serve her well throughout her life. In addition to raising eight children, Pugh also worked outside of the home. First, she worked as a seamstress at Solomon Brothers Shirt Factory in Thomasville. After this, she worked at Vanity Fair as a seamstress. Pugh made clothing for her children throughout the years.
John Marion Pugh was a truck driver who loved his large family. He was diagnosed with cancer while the children were still young. Often, his illness kept him bedbound. However, when his health permitted, he taught his sons how to drive trucks and run farm equipment, realizing that these would be skills that they needed. Thelma was a quiet source of strength and energy for her family during her husband’s lengthy illness.
She and the children planted gardens each year and raised cattle for milk and meat. Pugh made sure that all of her children knew how to cook. Each of her daughters was taught how to sew.
Pugh recalled one time when her husband was ill and four of the children had measles. The other four had whooping cough. She was the lone well person in the house. I asked her if this was a stressful time. She responded, “Well, I didn’t have time to think about stress. I had to take care of my family. They needed me.”
“The Lord was with me,” Pugh says of losing her husband and raising a large family alone. “They were all good children,” she recalled as she smiled.
Paige & Kolton
When we started the interview, Pugh said, “I’d much rather be behind the scenes than talking.” I am thankful that she was willing to step to center stage for just a moment because her faith and resolve to take care of her family merits attention.
“Kids are my heart”
Martha Howell has lived in the High Acres subdivision for more than 50 years. She raised her eight children in the same house that she currently lives in. Her grandchildren and great-grandchild still enjoy coming home to “Grandmother’s house.”
Howell says that she always wanted to be a wife and a mother. She was raised in a large family in Newfoundland. She had 13 siblings and wanted her children to have experiences like her own childhood, making memories with many siblings. She met Jimmy David Howell when he was stationed in Newfoundland with the U.S. Airforce. They married in 1953 and called his hometown of Jackson their home.
Through the years, Howell’s home has been a gathering spot for neighborhood kids. “It was like Grand Central Station here,” Howell recalls. When school was out for summer, she watched neighbors’ children and kept popsicles in her freezer for sweaty hands to grab when the children needed a break. Her children often invited their friends over, knowing that their mom would welcome them and feed them. Howell’s hamburgers and spaghetti remain favorites of the family and of anyone who recalls eating at her home.
Boundaries have always been important to Howell. She says it didn’t matter to her how many children were at her home, they needed to be gone to their own homes by 7 p.m. “By that time, I needed as much peace and quiet as a mom of eight could get and they needed to be with their parents,” she laughed. Sundays were Howell’s favorite day when her children were small. The family often packed a picnic lunch and headed off to the Old Locke to enjoy nature and each other’s company.
When asked if she had any advice to share with today’s mothers, the 83 year old said, “Talk to your kids. Make them put down phones and games. Put down your own phones and games and have a conversation. Love them and pray for them. Pray for them every day.”
“Kids are my heart. I have loved my children and every child that’s come into my house. Sometimes I didn’t like their choices, but I always love the child.”
Words of wisdom abound from Howell’s French-Canadian accent.
“Glad I was a mother”
Seventy-seven-year old Barbara Lewis raised four children as a single parent on a fixed income. “They are all grown now, but I remember those times. Those were hard times and they were good times.”
Lewis raised her children in Thomasville, near her own mother. Although they may not have owned many material possessions, Lewis made sure that her children knew the importance of family. “We may not have had a lot, but we had good relationships. We have good relationships to this day.” Lewis remains close to her daughters and spends much time with them.
Church was of great importance in the Lewis household. Barbara expected her children to be in church. “It was only with the help of the Lord that I could get the kids what they needed. I made sure we were in church.”
Meals were also important. Lewis says that she is thankful that schools offer breakfast now. When her children were small, there was no school breakfast program, so she made breakfast each morning. Her children learned to garden and to cook; skills Lewis thought necessary for their futures.
“I’m glad I was a mother,” the grandmother of five stated as she smiled.
Nineteen-year-old Paige Allday never had any of the typical symptoms of pregnancy and did not plan on becoming a mother until later in her life. A trip to the emergency room with chest pains resulted in routine tests. Allday says she was stunned to learn that she was expecting.
She initially was told that she was possibly seven weeks along, but an ultrasound showed that the baby was actually measuring at 22 weeks. She says that her world completely changed in the three – day period between the ER visit and the ultrasound, but she does not regret it.
Kolten Lee was born on Jan. 15. His mother had just over four months to prepare for him. Allday says, “He has changed my life in the best way! I have never felt so complete. Although things didn’t go as planned or traditional, I’m very happy. Unplanned doesn’t mean unloved.”
“Hold on to hope”
Infertility is a quiet struggle that approximately 10 percent of American couples struggle with. Tiffanie Chancellor and her husband Brandon struggled with infertility for several years.They chose to go through fertility treatments in hopes of having a family. They were devastated when the treatments were unsuccessful.
In December 2015, after discontinuing treatments, the Chancellors were thrilled to know that they were expecting. Several days later, they were distraught with the news of a miscarriage. “I chose to hold on to hope,” Tiffanie stated.
In vitro fertilization or IVF was the only hope for the Chancellors. Exactly a year from the date of the miscarriage, Tiffanie underwent the procedure. A week later, it was confirmed as successful. Maverick was born July 26, 2017. A preemie, but a fighter, the Chancellors were elated with their baby boy.
Ten months later, they were shocked to learn that they were expecting again. This time, no treatments were involved. Maddox was born 10 weeks early on Nov. 25, 2018. On Dec. 31, just a few weeks after coming home, Maddox stopped breathing and was rushed to the ER. Tiffanie and Brandon feared the worst. Their young son was critically ill and in and out of the hospital for the first four months of his life. A severe food allergy was the culprit of Maddox’s illnesses. “It is only by the goodness of the Lord that our son is here today,” Tiffanie stated.
“Both of our boys are truly miracles. They are our greatest blessing and our biggest testimony,” according to the Chancellors.
Mother’s Day became an official holiday in America in 1914. It is always celebrated on the second Sunday in May. Remember your mom this year. Listen to her stories. Also, if you want free entertainment, local retailers will be filled with men and children shopping for the matriarchs of the family on Saturday. It’s quite humorous!
Happy Mother’s Day!
Weekly columnist. Feature Writer.