“The first time I saw her, she was walkin’ down the hall, singin’ and carryin’ a bedpan full of pee. I knew then she was the girl I wanted to marry, and so I did.” Dr. Bill always said this of Mama O, my Mississippi grandmother. Back then, she was working as a nurse in Birmingham, Alabama. At eighty-nine, she is still a nurse, but instead of using needles and scalpels as her tools, Mama O nurses people with her Southern home-style cooking, or what she likes to call “comfort food.” Her clear blue eyes, white curls, and permanently etched smile greet anyone who happens to pass through the door. Mama O welcomes everyone, whether a garbage collector or federal judge, into her home and her heart.
One time, two Mormons passed through Forest, Mississippi to do missionary work. Everyone in town was wary of their presence. Their silent manners and solemn clothing struck the conservative Southerners as strange to say the least. One of them became ill, and Mama O took both into her home without hesitation. When the neighbors questioned her, she simply replied, “I didn’t see two Mormons. I saw two boys who needed their mama.” Mama O taught me that it does not matter where people come from or what they believe in; everyone deserves kindness and loving all the same.
Although Mama O rarely leaves her house, the world finds its way to her. A patron of literature, she reads three newspapers, magazines, and books daily. Her backyard is an animal shelter: cats and dogs are served cornbread and fried chicken. Pictures checker her walls, showing her friends of all ages across the world from Australia to England. Mama O considers everyone her own. She brings water to the mailman and bakes pies for the repairman. When a cross-country bicyclist sought refuge in Forest, people directed him to Mama O’s house; I heard he made it to Washington, D.C. with ten more pounds on his bones. Mama O is the epitome of Southern hospitality; no one leaves without feeling like a stuffed turkey. “It’s just what I do,’ she says. Making others happy is as natural to her as cooking.
Living through the Great Depression and World War II, Mama O bore witness to loss and poverty. She embraces hardships with humility and appreciation. I marvel at her generous spirit and willingness to serve others. I tell myself that like Mama O, I will “wake up every morning expecting something good to happen.” At the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science, my mind and textbooks are my tools, and I approach every challenge with a positive mindset. I take advantage of the opportunities I am given, and I do not hesitate to help out someone in need. I am proud to claim my Mississippi grandmother who taught me to go through life with a smile and a song on my face, even if I ever find myself “carrying a bedpan full of pee.”