Jim Austin's Vermonter at Large
Jim Austin
Jim Austin
is a freelance writer from Putney, Vermont.

His previous columns are archived HERE.

Posted 05.12.02


Mom's the Bomb

Well, it's time to honor Mom again. We usually send a nosegay down to Tennessee to cheer up the old girl and we'll probably do the same this year.

My mom was born the youngest of five sisters in 1919 in Smyrna, Tennessee. She was crawling around on the living room floor about the time women got the vote here in the USA.

Mom was the first woman to graduate from law school at Cumberland University in Tennessee. Cumberland U is still famous for it's unprecedented defeat in college football to Georgia Tech in 1916. The score was 222 0. Georgia Tech scored every time they got the ball and Cumberland was unable to advance the ball ten yards. Late in the game there was one of many fumbles. It rolled toward B. F. 'Bird' Paty, later a prominent attorney.

The fumbler shouted, "Pick it up!"

Paty replied, "Pick it up yourself, you dropped it."

Becky was quite a stunner in her college days. We have a picture of her in her role as football queen, standing beside the captain of the Cumberland Bulldog football team. She's a head taller than he is.

After I was born we moved up to Toronto where I lived for the next 33 or so years. Mom could stomach Canada pretty well but every year, during the summer, we made the pilgrimage to Tennessee to visit the grandparents and sisters.

Tennessee in the 50s was not for the weak.

It was hot enough to boil what little brains you had. The road stuck to your feet and only homegrown Tennesseans were mad enough to go out in the noonday sun.

Tennessee in the 50s was as racist as it gets.

I can remember "colored only" drinking fountains on the streets of Nashville and "Colored Men" rest rooms in the department stores. I remember asking one of my aunts why the colored kids went to separate schools.

She replied sincerely that:

"They aren't like us, they don't clean up after themselves." I can't remember what I thought about that statement except to wonder if I had some "colored" in me since I had yet to clean up after myself.

There is no question that Mom was a great influence on me. She never actually sat me down and said: "Jim, you are going to be a liberal blowhard when you grow up."

It was she, however, who planted the principle of equality in my personality. Mom wasn't a political activist or even spent much time considering the inequalities of life. She just knew that if you treated everyone the same that you couldn't go wrong.

She still believes that and so do I.

The wonder of it is that she didn't grow up racist and intolerant having spent her formative years in the segregated South.

I think Mom may have had a hand in getting me interested in writing, too. She was constantly correcting my grammar and still does. She knows the "it is I, it is me" thing that I still have to guess at.

She married my dad in the early 40s and then saw him go off to war. He didn't see any action but the separation was just as tough, I assume. She stuck with dad through thick and thin even though he was a bit of a flop as a human being (my opinion not hers).

Mom put up with 25 or so years of alcoholism before the booze and the cigarettes collected the rent on his heart at the age of 50. I know she hung in there for the kids.

She came to my basketball games and gave me advice on girls. It's no wonder I snagged such a good one. I got all my great insight on women from a woman's point of view.

Mom influenced me more profoundly than anyone else in my life and I love her for it. Happy Mother's day, Mom.