South­ern by the Grace of God

The Covington News - - Newton at play -

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.

Lewis Griz­zard Colum­nist

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