She made it through the Great Depression and WWII so listen up, y'all.

By Valerie Fraser Luesse
March 24, 2020
senior woman reading the bible
Credit: Godong/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

When it became clear that serious trouble was headed our way via the coronavirus, I did what I always do in the face of impending catastrophe: I called Mama.

She’s not just any Mama. She’s a 1937 Model Southern Mama. They’re built to last. And they have opinions. Strong ones.

I said to her, “I think my generation and the younger ones need your generation to show us how to get through this.”

And she said, “Well for starters, honey, I grew up with an outhouse, so a toilet paper shortage doesn’t scare me one bit.”

Duly noted.

She explained that she had watched the news just like I had, that she had become anxious just like I was. But then she did that Mama thing: “You know what? We’re all in God’s hands, no matter what happens, so I just made up my mind I’m turning this over to Him and I’m not going to sit around being afraid. I’m just not. I’m not leaving home, and I’ve let everybody know that I don’t want any visitors bringing who-knows-what to your Daddy and me, but I’m not going to sit here feeling afraid and worrying about whether I might get sick. Life is in God’s hands.”

(Speaking of Daddy, Mama outlined some punitive action she might be driven to take if he doesn’t “turn down that TV and get out of that recliner!”)

Mama believes in action. Keeping your hands busy keeps your mind busy, she says, and a busy mind won’t dwell on things beyond your control. Unfortunately, she started her busy work by cleaning out a closet that contained a huge bin of my stuff from high school and college. (That was a long time ago.) It still held some of the papers I turned in for a Constitutional Law class at Auburn, in the days before laptops, when we hand-wrote our assignments.

Mama called me the next day to tell me what she had discovered among my personal effects. It went something like this:

“You did very well in that class!” she said with pride.

“Thank you, Mama.”

“Your penmanship was just beautiful!”

“Thank you, Mama.”

“What on earth happened? I can’t read a thing you write any more. You’re handwriting’s just awful.”

It’s true. I have dreadful penmanship. But I’m good with a keyboard, and I put it to use ordering groceries for my parents, who live in rural Alabama, so I could deliver to their back porch. Mama had phoned in her order: “I need some White Lily corn meal, but if they don’t have that, honey, just get what you can. And if they don’t have butter, we’ll do without. Don’t you worry about it.”

Mama’s generation knows what it’s like to do without and to make do. When you think about it, many generations of Southerners have turned hardship into an art from—inventing some of the best food on the planet by making do with whatever they could catch, shoot, or gather.

Our resources aren’t that scarce today. I was able to deliver Mama almost everything on her list—except the corn meal—and visit with my parents while we stayed the recommended 6 feet apart (and then some).

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Daddy said they could learn how to do grocery pick-up on their own so I wouldn’t have to bother. Mama disagreed: “I want to see her once a week. Next time, we’ll sit really far apart under the trees and have a visit.”

I’ll be there, Mama. And you’d better believe I mean to find you some White Lily before I make my next drop.