Friday, May 16, 2014

Mama's Bible

I went into a home one day just to see some friends of mine
Of all their books and magazines, not a Bible could I find
I asked them for the Bible when they brought it, what a shame
For the dust was covered o'er it, not a fingerprint was plain

                          Dust on the Bible    - Popular Country Western song 1959

Her name was Nora Kate Cartee but my sister and I knew her as "Mama," because that's what our Mother called her.

The Cartee home in Anderson, SC
 Kate was 16 years old when she married John Andrew Jolly on March 30, 1904. He died July 30, 1910, leaving her and their four small children penniless.  They moved into her childhood home with her widower father in Anderson, South Carolina where she single handedly raised the two girls and two boys. Their small farm and garden supplied their food, and "Mama" made all their clothes on a Singer sewing machine....operated by "foot power."

The children all grew up to become fine citizens with families
Singer machine 1910
of their own. My Mom didn't dwell on her childhood poverty but brought it up a few times, usually around Christmas to let my sister and me know how fortunate we were and how grateful we should be for all the presents we had under our tree compared to her typical gift each December 25th orange.

The reason I know the exact dates of those events of over 100 years ago is that Mama's "Family Bible," which I so carefully brought up to Virginia and stored away when we cleaned out my Mother's home in Charlotte, had a few pages in the middle designed for the owner's Family Records.

A hundred years of Births, Marriages, and deaths are all there...but as I was looking through that old tattered book for perhaps an underlined verse or two or maybe a personal notation in the margin...I could find nothing that might give me some insight as to how she and millions of other Americans coped in those harsh days before modern medicine and miracle drugs.

The family records were the only handwritten notes there.. I found no hint of a message or clue that might suggest the secret of her strength.

Only an orange at Christmas for the kids makes me sad enough, but just imagine what parents like Mama went through when their children got sick.  It was worrisome enough for us, even though we knew the antibiotics would almost certainly pull them through if necessary. Something as simple as strep throat, which was called scarlet fever back then, was a major cause of death.

In 1900, nearly 165 of every 1,000 children born in America died before their first birthday (in some cities this number was as high as 300). If they survived infancy, children still had to fight to survive: at the turn of the century, 20 percent of the nation's children died before the age of ten.   -Wikipedia

It a shame the book is in such terrible shape. It was like that when my Mom brought it up from South Carolina after Mama died.

As I contemplated the effort it would take to have the book rebound into "presentable shape," it
Mama's Bible
suddenly occurred to me that Mama's "secret" had been staring me in the face all along.

It was that tattered book itself!  

There were no magic pills for her sick children during those long dark nights....but there was one thing she could reach for...

and she literally wore it out.


(It also dawned on me that I may have inspired a new Country and Western hit song...if it doesn't already exist   -Ed)