Letter to a Newborn


You are just two days old, but I want to write to you and try to share some of the woman you are named for—my mother. Being her child gives me some insights to her, and I hope what I write will allow you to “know” her, and her love for God.

She had a hard life as a single mother of six who worked in a cotton mill. Not only did she struggle financially, she suffered physical and emotional abuse from her husband in the days of “boys will be boys.” Yet, she always told us children to respect our father because he was our father, whom she never stopped loving. Divorced twice, he died one night while sleeping, separated from wife number three. Mother told one of my sisters how she heard him come into her house whistling  at the time of his death. You see, Mother never stopped seeing herself as his wife, and she knew that he had come to tell her good-bye. No doubt this was a  memory of a better time for her. After his funeral, she insisted on treating everyone, even his other two wives, to a meal at a restaurant. A lady for sure.

Many of her Sunday School students visited her, maybe inviting her to their graduation, or just simply sat with her on the porch of 312, her mill house, sharing a Sunday School memory from a lesson which shaped their lives. Her church honored her when she turned 100, and one of her students, who now teaches the same Sunday School class, shared some memories of being in Mother’s class, but most importantly told how Mother loved her when others turned their backs to her—when she became a young, unmarried mother.

Mother had a sense of humor, and as we grew older, she would tell us jokes-some a tad randy. She shared stories of growing up at Woodward Mill in the Sandhills, and it was obvious to any listener how much she loved her father. Sometimes she planted a vegetable garden in the back yard of 312 and told us of the gardens her father planted to feed his large family. Trees, however, were her favorite of all plants. When we moved to 312, she planted a row of sugar maples next to the driveway, and their descendants still shade the yard. She could recite Joyce Kilmer’s poem and introduced us to it and other literature because she was a reader.

She told us about lying in bed in the little, green house on Applewood Street long ago, worrying about how to care for her six children and keep them all together. She told how a form appeared above her, and a gentle voice said for her not to worry. She and her children faced difficulties after that, but in the words of St. Paul, she was “careful for nothing” (KJV) from then on. Speaking of the Bible, Mother not only knew the Bible, she understood it because she read and studied it while praying for wisdom. I never saw a commentary in her house, but she always could explain a passage or parable or event. A Deacon at her church tells how, of all the prayers for Sunday School teachers , “hers were the sweetest ones.”

No doubt you will hear many stories of Mother: her charity, unconditional love, wisdom, courage, strength, and biscuits. I imagine all, and more, will be true; perhaps some will be a bit embellished, but true.

What I want you to understand, Flora Belle, is that carrying her name can be a burden or a joy. You may choose to let her legacy bury you and make you a lesser creation of God. But I hope you will choose to be like Mother—a woman of God, full of faith and love, who lived by her convictions.

Best wishes on your journey,

Roger Barbee (March 03, 2019)

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