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  • Carroll Devine

Mama Had Good Legs

Mama had good legs. She really did. They were quite shapely.

But they were also tough, hard-working limbs. On them she worked day and night to raise six children, nurture and nurse us, cook and clean for us and my daddy, run errands, run the household, and run the gamut of a million ways to sacrifice herself for others, and not get much credit for all of it. She walked the floor many nights with babies who wouldn’t sleep, and paced the floor many nights waiting for a child to come home. And for all the miles Mama apparently walked in other people’s shoes, she could have worn out dozens of pairs.

I appreciated her legs best when, in the middle of her housework, she would sometimes stop for a few minutes, turn on the radio, and teach me some dances – even the Charleston which her mother had taught her. She loved to dance, but since she and my dad couldn’t go out on “dates,” they sometimes danced the foxtrot in the den.

Mama had broad shoulders too. At only five foot two, and on the slim side, her shoulders carried the weight of everybody else’s troubles – as if she didn’t have enough of her own. And no matter what, she stood tall, no stooping, with her chin up, and she taught us to do the same. “Hold your shoulders up,” I remember her firmly reminding me more times than I can count. She was strong, sturdy, and proud, and insisted on the same for all of us children. “You come from good stock,” she always said.

Mama had a wonderful smile and a hearty laugh, and sometimes, as I look back, she, like the mother in “The Grapes of Wrath,” made laughter out of inadequate material. What made her smile the most in her often difficult life was her children and grandchildren, loving nothing more than having all of us together, no matter how chaotic things became.

The absolute best part of Mama was her immense heart. As much as she loved her family, she also made room in her heart, in our home, and at the dinner table, for any number of our friends, boyfriends and girlfriends.

They say that people ultimately won’t remember much of what you did or what you said, but only how you made them feel. When you were with Mama, you always felt important.

Like many mothers, she admonished her children, “Do your best,” “Have faith,” and my favorite, as she pulled a comb through the tangles in my hair, “You have to suffer to be beautiful.” What has stayed with me most clearly though, is her example. Some of my fondest memories are of her singing around the house as she worked, songs that must have helped to give her life buoyancy beyond hard times.

I can still hear her loudly singing (as Nat King Cole did), “Smile though your heart is aching…Smile even though it’s breaking…When there are clouds in the sky, you’ll get by…If you smile through your fear and sorrow…Smile and maybe tomorrow, you’ll see the sun come shining through…Light up your face with gladness…Hide every trace of sadness…Although a tear may be ever so near…That’s the time you must keep on trying…Smile, what’s the use of crying…You’ll see that life is still worthwhile, if you just smile…

And also, as Nat did, she sang “Pretend”. Pretend you’re happy when you’re blue…It isn’t very hard to do…And you’ll find happiness without an end…As long as you pretend…Remember anyone can dream, and nothing’s bad as it may seem…

My mama smiled, and she pretended, and in spite of everything she didn’t have, she had it all…the most anyone could hope for, because she believed in life and love, and she chose to see the good and beautiful, the sunshine through the fog. How could I not know that when she also sang something Frank Sinatra made popular, “High Hopes.”

“…Once there was a silly old ram…Thought he'd punch a hole in a dam…No one could make that ram, scram, He kept buttin' that dam …'Cause he had high hopes…He had high hopes…He had high apple pie…In the sky hopes…So any time you're feelin' bad, 'Stead of feelin' sad, just remember that ram…Oops, there goes a billion kilowatt dam…

With High Hopes for many Happy Mother’s Days to all who bless the world with their Motherhood.

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