Thursday, September 15, 2011


Memories, Part One, by Norma Medford Clayton

Presented at Annie Lee Bryson's funeral last September.

Norma Medford Clayton, or Norma Bryson as I knew her when she was my student during my first year of teaching English at Western Carolina University, composed a memorable tribute to her mother Annie Lee, which she read at her mother's funeral.  Norma's words brought Annie Lee back to life for all of us assembled there. As one of Norma's teachers,  I could claim some small credit, or so I like to think, for this beautifully constructed essay.The credit, however, is all Norma's.  And Annie Lee's.  I am grateful to Norma for allowing me to feature it on this blog.

All of my memories of you are about love for family and friends, love for the Lord, love for crafts, love for tradition, love for animals, and love for learning.  Your love for us was evident in all that you did.  The values and morals that you and Daddy taught us have stayed with us through the years.  Daddy did hard work on his job and he also worked hard when he got home - chopping wood and making a garden.  He was always content if he knew the light bill was paid, we had food to eat, and he had food for his dogs.  That left the rest up to you - you saw that the bills were paid, money was saved for our education and future, food was raised, preserved and cooked, our clothes were made, washed and ironed, quilts were quilted, and that we girls stayed out of trouble.  What a job!

I can remember how you used to milk morning and night in all kinds of weather.  I remember the pan you used to milk in and how the handle was warped from all the years you held it.  I can also remember you saying that being swished in the face with a cow's tail was the reason you had such beautiful, soft, unwrinkled skin.  The times you allowed us girls to go to the barn with you were a treat.  I can still smell the hay, the warm milk, and the pungent smell of cow manure.  I can also hear the sound of the milk as it hit the pan.  In my mind's eye I still see the "nests" of kittens in the barn loft; the feed room with all its barrels, buckets, and mice; Boyah, Dolly, and Dottie Sue in their stalls, and you patiently feeding and milking.

You instilled in us the love of animals.  You patiently nursed orphaned rabbits, skunks, and flying squirrels.  Your steadfast care and gentle nature saved many little lives.  You helped take care of our numerous dogs and cats.  Each one was named and loved.  And when they died, they joined their family and friends in the pet cemetery.  You taught us that all life, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, was important.

I can remember the suppers you fixed -- fried potatoes and gravy; killed lettuce and onions and new potatoes; hot potato soup; or pinto beans, which Ricky Blackburn called "chocolate beans," and cornbread.  These meals were always accompanied by homemade butter and buttermilk, or sweet milk fresh from our cows. 
That brings up another memory - the times you let us churn.  You would fill a gallon jar full of milk and we'd rock and sing "Come butter, come," and shake the jar until the "butter came."  We'd feel so important that we had made butter!  And it sure did taste good.

Mama, I remember the potatoes you would slice thin and fry on top of the wood cook stove in the old house.  They'd be almost burned on the outside and almost raw on the inside, but when they were sprinkled with salt they tasted wonderful.  I remember how you used to make pickles for your potato salad.  Those homemade pickles gave the potato salad the best flavor.

I remember the quilts you used to put up on the quilting frame in the living room and I remember how patient you were with each of us as you'd show us how to quilt.  But I'm afraid our stitches weren’t small and even. Some of your friends would ask if you were going to remove the stitches and you'd tell them no. The stitches didn't matter - you were passing down a tradition to us.   And of course we liked to hide beneath the quilting frame - it made a wonderful tent!  

I remember Christmas at our house.  I remember the cedar tree that Daddy always cut.  It would scratch us as we hung the decorations on it, but boy, did it ever smell good!  I can still see the wreath with the bell that always hung on the front door and the chain of glass beads that went on the tree.  I can remember your shopping trips to Bower's Department Store on Christmas Eve.  You always waited until the toys were marked down so we could get a little extra.  I can remember the years when we didn't have that much and you'd wash our dolls and dress them in new clothes you had made and put them under the tree.  I can remember the year that Santa knocked the clock down from the mantle and we found his whiskers nearby.  I can also remember the year that I got a ballerina doll -- I was so excited!  And later on I remember the homemade aprons and store-bought socks we would take around to our aunts and uncles (remember Uncle Lee and the red socks?) and to other people.  Those were wonderful Christmases!

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