Southern by the Grace of God
My mother was the third child of Charles Bunion and Willie Word of Carroll County. They named her Christine. Her two sisters, Una and Jessie, called her “Cricket.” Her two brothers, Johnny and Dorsey, called her “Teenie.” Nearly three decades of first-graders she taught knew her as “Miss Christine.” I always called her Mama.
Mama had that thing some teachers develop, the idea that her students were her children, too. Often when I visited her in the hospital a nurse would come into her room and introduce herself to me and say, “Your Mama taught me in the first grade.”
Reading and writing are the basis of all learning. First-grade teachers teach that. Imagine being able to take a 6year-old mind and teach it to write words and sentences and give it the precious ability to read.
As for me, Mama taught me that an education was necessary for a fuller life. She taught me an appreciation of the language. She taught a love of words, of how they should be used and how the can fill a creative soul with a passion and lead it to a life’s work.
I’m proud of my Mama the teacher.
We put Mama next to her mother and father in the plot where her younger brother, Dorsey, was buried. Each headstone was etched with the name that the dead had been called by the rest of the family.
My grandmother was “Mama Willie.” My grandfather was “Daddy Bun.”
Uncle Dorsey’s children had called him “Pop.”
We had decided to put “Miss Christine” on Mama’s headstone. That’s what her legion of first-graders called her.
It was over so quickly at the grave site. A few words. Another prayer. Then the funeral people ushered the family away. To spare them from the covering of the grave I suppose.
I greeted friends. My first ex-wife came up. We embraced. I recalled the feel of her in an instant.
We went back to the house. I wasn’t planning to stay that night, either. Home was where Mama was, and she wasn’t there anymore. I said my goodbyes.
My girlfriend and I got into my car. I said, “Let’s ride over to the cemetery before we start home.”
There were still a lot of flowers. The red clay over Mama’s grave was moist. A man I didn’t know drove up in a truck. He was an older man. He wore overalls.
“I’m the one what dug the grave,” he said to me. “I had to figure out a way not to dig up any of your boxwoods in your plot. I just came back to see the pretty flowers.”
The gravedigger. I was talking to Mama’s gravedigger, and the man had gone to extra trouble for a family he really didn’t know. I thanked him. Only in a small town.
We drove away. Moreland was behind us in a matter of minutes. I began to hum “It Is No Secret.”
My girlfriend touched my shoulder. Mama had touched my soul.
Lewis Grizzard was a syndicated columnist who took pride in his Southern roots and often wrote about them. This column is part of a collection of his work.