Happy Birthday Mama

Pearl West, circa 1930

Today would have been my grandmother’s 104th birthday. Pearl Hale West was born on this day in 1907 in Crossville, Tennessee.

She was the only grandparent I really got to know. My father’s father died before I was born and his mother died when I was seven. My mother’s father died when I was nine. Shortly after that, Mama (which is what we all called her – my mother was and is “Mother”) came to live with us. She lived in a mobile home behind our house until she died in 1990 – long enough to see me graduate from high school and college, get married, and build a house a couple stones throws from her.

She was everything a grandmother is supposed to be: warm, loving, generous, patient and kind.

She was a good Christian and she joined the Baptist church where my parents went, although she didn’t care for the bombastic preaching and often reminisced about her Methodist church “where they worship God and don’t whoop and holler.” In her later years she would occasionally turn her hearing aid off when the preaching got too loud or when the sermon didn’t strike her as suitably reverent.

Mama did most of the cooking for us. She liked cooking, it made her feel like she was contributing to the family, and she was good at it. She was a good ol’ Southern cook who fried everything – her food may not have been particularly healthy but it was good. I can still remember her fried okra, cornbread, and peach cobbler. Her Thanksgiving dressing was the best I’ve ever had. Everyone else said she put too much sage in it – I don’t think there’s such a thing as too much sage!

She was healthy and energetic at age 80 but then developed cancer. Her last two years were difficult and painful for her and for the rest of the family. She died at home on October 20, 1990. She was “ready to go home” and we were glad her suffering ended.

I sometimes wonder what she would have thought of my spiritual journey and where it’s taken me in the years since she left this world. I don’t think she would have understood. Unitarian Universalism – much less my more esoteric and mystical practices – is too different from her Methodism, and she wasn’t one for questioning authority or challenging traditions.

But I am sure – as sure as I am about anything – that she would have loved me just the same.

Happy Birthday, Mama.

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