On this Mother’s Day weekend, I am remembering the tradition in my home church in the West Carter’s Valley section of north Kingsport, Tennessee, of wearing a red carnation if your mother is living, and a white one if she has passed to her eternal reward. Mother’s Day was a real red letter day in our church. We would get excited to see which mom present would get the reward for being the oldest mother, the youngest mother, the mother with the most children, the mother with the most children present, the newest mother, and so forth. Pastors would sometimes preach on the characteristics of good, Godly moms.
On the Saturday before Mother’s Day, my Pappaw would take me to White’s Floral in Weber City to purchase a corsage for Mammaw (white carnations with white ribbons) and one for my mom (red carnations with red ribbons). We would wait while they were made, watching the workers put them together with skill and quickness. Conversations would ensue about each worker’s mother and how they were going to spend the day celebrating or remembering. Home with our proud purchases, we would place them in the refrigerator in their slick white boxes to await the next morning’s pinning.
Sometimes our worship service included my mother and my two sisters singing a “special” in beautiful trio form at the piano in the corner of the sanctuary. Sometimes my cousin Ramona would sing a solo, or Jeff Strong (now a Baptist preacher) would sing with his dad, Don. The kids from Sunday School would read special poems or Bible verses to honor their moms.
I had “extra” moms in the church, ladies that took seriously their vow to surround the children of the church with a community of love and grace. Some were Sunday School teachers, some were choir members, some were workers at different projects. All were good cooks. They sewed (like my own mother did, she used to take people’s sewing projects on, and earned a new piano by working to make things for folks), the quilted (my grandmother and her sister were part of the quilt circle that helped pay off the church’s debt by quilting for people in the church and community every Thursday for over two decades), they cleaned and decorated (fellowship doesn’t just happen at events, it happens in the processes leading up to and cleaning up afterwards), and they patiently prayed and hoped for each one of us to make it into adulthood with faith in God through Jesus Christ. Sometimes their prayers were answered, and other times they found disappointment, but they never gave up. These were the mothers of the church, the working backbone of the group, the cheerleaders and doers, and they accomplished great things, and left a legacy.
When I went into the ministry in Russell County, Virginia over two decades ago, I found people just like them, but in a different setting. They were women who had come up on the rough side of the mountain of life, but were faithful, hopeful, strong and generous. They too cooked wonderful meals and shared much in projects that showed the love of God in the community. They deserved the accolades given on Mother’s Day.
I met my wife at this first appointment. She was from a little community in the western end of Tazewell County, a place in the coalfields called Bandy, named after some of her ancestors. Here, in a humble home by the side of Sinking Waters Road, she had been raised by a coal miner, now disabled, and his wife. Her mother was a giving and caring woman, part of a group of ladies in the Bandy Community Freewill Baptist Church who worked, sacrificed, cooked, cleaned, prayed, worried, and loved every day. This woman who never learned to drive, (and neither did her sisters), was so very giving and loving. Not having much means in terms of how this world counts the value of things, she was rich in relationships and deeply caring. She would invite people to share meals at her house. It wasn’t long into my dating relationship with Tammie that her mom began inviting me to Sunday dinner. You have never seen such a spread. Every possible thing she could think to cook was on the table. I found later that she tried to have each grandchild’s favorite food every week. Even if they didn’t show, their food was present, representing her love for them. I fell hard for her corn bread and fried chicken legs. I once told Tammie that was why I married her, to get her mom’s corn bread. Little did I know Tammie had made it for her mom. Edith just grinned and took the compliment. Attending church with Tammie’s mom has been a blessing for me. Their choir sings the gospel songs with shaped notes. Anybody can join them as they gather at the start of the service, sing, and go back to their seats in the church with their families. Prayer concerns are shared with a common request being (mostly from the mothers): “pray for my lost children and grandchildren.” A mother’s request surely get’s God’s attention. Here’s to the moms at Bandy Community Freewill Baptist Church!
I have been surely blessed in this life, with my own mother and grandmothers, as well as the community of mothers and Godly ladies in the churches I’ve been blessed to be a part of. I’m thankful that in meeting and marrying my wife, Tammie, I have had the opportunity to share in the life of her own mother who has now found her eternal rest in the arms of Jesus, and in the company of women who still make up the Willing Workers at her home church, including her beloved pastor’s wife, Deanis.
I’m thankful for the new mothers in our family, our neices and cousins and in-laws. My prayer is that this Mother’s Day you will know you are loved, blessed, and remembered. Not just in red and white carnations, but in the praises of your children, may you be held in high honor this Sunday, as you fulfill your God-given role.
And I want to say a word about my wife, Tammie. We lost our only pregnancy in 1999, but Tammie’s love for all God’s children is a great and tremendous blessing to me. She has been a wonderful, loving mother to the child we took in back in 2006, who will graduate in June of this year from High School. She cares deeply for the children as well as all the people in the churches I have served since we married almost 20 years ago. I am so deeply thankful for her love and kindness she tries to show everyone. I am humbled by her love each day of my life. I praise God for her. She is her mother’s daughter and an example of strength and beauty in the church.
Whether a white or red carnation is yours this weekend: Happy Mother’s Day!