|Momma Lou and Daddy John in 1956|
My maternal grandmother, Lucinda Hutchinson Houston Whitt, was my caregiver for most of my early childhood. I was born just after Pearl Harbor. And before long my dad was fighting in the South Pacific and my mom was building airplanes. My grandmother and her husband John Whitt took care of my brother and I while my mom worked. Soon we all moved in together in a big frame house on Cypress Avenue in Columbus, Ohio.
I was soon learning to talk and all the other early development tricks. But it was a bit confusing to have two Mommies. So they decided I should have "Mommy Betty" and "Mommy Lou" to help everyone understand who was who. "Mommy" got shortened to "Momma" and my grandmother became Momma Lou forever. "Mommy Betty" became "Mommy" when I got a bit older.
Since there was only one man in the house I thought John was my daddy. But everyone was afraid that would cause too much confusion when the war was over, so he became "Daddy John." By the time my dad came home it was more simple because my dad became "Pop."
Momma Lou and Daddy John adored me. My mom says they spoiled me rotten. Well, I'll admit they did spoil me some. They had trouble telling me "no." But I always knew I was greatly loved. Momma Lou was very affectionate and included me in nearly everything she did when I was very small. We read story books and played learning games, I think she was enjoying having time with me that she didn't get to have with her own children because she had to work so hard when they were at home.
God and church were important parts of her life, so I was "churched" very early. We prayed at meals and at bedtime. I'm sure I didn't have a real understanding of God and Jesus, but I knew they were important. And church was an extension of family, as everyone was united in love and acceptance.
On Sunday Momma Lou would pack a little lunch for me so I would be quiet and occupied during the pastor's Sunday sermon. Sometimes the pastor would say something like, "Well, I see that Cinda's finished with her lunch, so I guess it is time for me to finish."
I loved church. There was music and singing. I'd sing with the congregation, even though I didn't know the words. I'd sing "You Are My Sunshine" and "Pistol Packin' Mama" because those were songs I knew.
Momma Lou was always the last one out of church on Sundays. She had to chat with everyone and she was in charge of seeing that everything in the church was in order before closing the doors. So Sundays were rather long for a little girl. We rode two city buses from our house to church and then two back, a long trip. I often would go to sleep on the bus.
My mom says that one time we were riding the bus to church and I was all dressed up in a new dress she'd mad me. It had lots of ruffles and she had even sewn ruffles on my underpants as well. I was so proud of my ruffles that I kept lifting my dress so everyone could see the ruffles under my dress! Another time she said we were on the bus and when a soldier got on I ask my mom if he was my daddy. My mom apologized to the guy and told him that I hadn't seen my daddy for a couple of years and didn't really remember him.
Momma Lou wasn't bothered by anything I did, apparently. Don't remember her ever scolding me. I'm sure she had to have had, since I was pretty well behaved and that doesn't happen without some kind of scolding at least once in a while. But she was such a sweet person her scolding couldn't have been very stern at all.
She was always sweet. I remember in my teens were planning to take a trip and had her suitcase in the trunk of our car when it was being repaired. Someone broke in and took her suitcase with all her stuff in it. She wasn't very upset, as most folks would be. She just said, "Well maybe they needed it more than I do."
She was always generous like that. If someone needed something she had, she'd give it to them. She never had much money but made sure she tithed to the church and gave small donations for other causes. She had a very strong faith in the generosity of God and believed that her every need would be supplied. And it always was! Even without asking for help from anyone when she needed it, someone would just show up and provide it for her.
Her life of living her faith taught me a lot. As an adult I came to trust that my own needs would be met. And like her, my needs were met in some unusual ways. Maybe I'll write more about that another time.
When the war ended the airplane plant closed and my mom lost her job. So she could be home and be a full-time mother again. And then my dad came home and Momma Lou and Daddy John decided to move into a home of their own. They sold the big house to my parents and bought a little house for themselves. When they moved, I was bereft. Apparently I would cry and cry until they would come over to comfort me. And if I was still awake I'd cry even more when they were ready to go home. So sometimes they would take me home with them for the night. For several years I'd spend the weekends with them and then every other weekend until I started having my own activities on weekends.
Often when I was at their house for a weekend Daddy John would take me downtown on the bus and we'd go to the Kresges Five and Dime on High Street. If I saw something and said I liked it, he'd usually buy it for me. Then when I got back home to my house my mom would scold me for asking for things. But, I'd explain, I never asked for anything. He'd just buy it. So, over time I learned not to ask for anything or even admire anything. We'd always get a hot fudge sundae at the counter in the store. It was such a treat! (Check Kresges out at http://www.roadarch.com/dept/kresges.html)
When I was nine years old my mom and her doctor put me on a diet because they thought I was too heavy.[It was torture. But that's another story.] But when I was at Momma Lou's I could have whatever I wanted. Made my mother nuts. Little wonder I wanted to spend time there! Momma Lou's philosophy was that if it tastes good it must be good for you!
She also believed that, since we seldom had dessert for our meals, that we should eat dessert first to be sure to have room for it. I like that idea even today.
Momma Lou was always an important part of my life. She didn't always live in the same city but we always managed frequent visits. And she wrote letters all the time. Her letters were really something. She had been a school teacher in her early twenties but you'd never know it from her letters. She seldom used punctuation and seldom separated paragraphs, so the run-on sentences would sometimes result in hilarious news. And she often mentioned soap opera characters and plots as if they were neighbors and I'd have to stop and think, "Now who are they?"
After I was married and had my first child, Momma Lou came, as a widow, to live with my mom just a few houses away from us in rural Ravenswood, WV. She adored Robin, my firstborn, and had to see her every day. Once when Robin was a toddler she had gotten into something I'd told her not to and I slapped her on the thigh. She was very fair skinned and it left a little red imprint of my fingers. Momma Lou came over to visit just then. She saw the hand print and had a fit. She implied that I'd been beating the child!
She loved it when my mom would keep Robin overnight. Momma Lou would play with her when she woke up in the middle of the night night. They were great pals.
A few years passed. Momma Lou had been doctoring for what she thought was arthritis for several years then discovered tumors. Apparently, while thinking it was arthritis, she had suffered for several years with multi-myaloma of the bones. She was taken to the U.S. Marine Hospital in Springfield, Ohio, where they began treatment for cancer. The treatments made her very ill and she became weak and frail. She never complained and often you wouldn't know she was in any pain at all because she suffered silently.
When released from that hospital she was taken to Baltimore, MD, to my mother's home. Finally, unable to be cared for at home, Momma Lou died of cancer in the military hospital at Fort Meade, Maryland, in April of 1966. .She had always been ready to die, as she was at peace with her God. And when she finally passed it was a release from her suffering. For those of us she left behind it was a terrible loss. Many people grieved her death because she had left many, many friends.
Momma Lou loved everyone and everyone loved her.
By the way, if you read my last post, this isn't the photo I was looking for. Still haven't found that one!