Mamas Are The Reason We Have Southern Literature

08/28/2016 10:42 am ET

I think most of us would agree that Mamas are the source for the rich storytelling we’re known for in the South. Well, maybe Mamas and mules, but let’s focus on Mamas.

Let me share a letter my sister wrote to nominate our Mama for the Humane Citizen of the Year Award presented by the local humane society. Then I’ll explain how this illustrates the point.

 

Nomination Letter for Sybil Hannon for Humane Citizen of the Year

-submitted by her daughter, Donna

Every year a skimpy Christmas tree is displayed in the home of an elderly lady on Social Security. Every gift under the tree with pretty paper and a bow bears the name of an animal she personally knows.

During the year she does without things like a bottle of lotion or cookies. That money goes into her Christmas savings can.

Then, at Christmas, everyone on her Christmas list gets a card with a note saying how much was donated in their name to the Humane Society.

It is true that angels walk among us. If I were not so very proud to call her ‘Mama,’ I would have to call her ‘Angel.’

The letter is an excellent example of effective storytelling. It’s brief yet paints a picture of a pitiful old woman who sacrifices year-round to help the abandoned animals and one-eyed strays at the shelter. You want her to be the Humane Citizen of the Year.

But there’s a problem: none of it is true.

Well, it was true that Mama loyally supported the humane society. But there’s that one other niggling little detail: my sister didn’t write it, Mama did. Yep, Mama nominated herself and signed Donna’s name to the letter. She informed us after it was in the mail.

In reality Mama detested Christmas. Her “skimpy” 12-inch tree was all the holiday decor she could stomach. This “elderly” lady was only 66. But since she had lived hard for the first 50, I’ll give her a pass on that. She did receive Social Security but didn’t have to touch that income thanks to other resources.

There were never presents bearing the names of animals. There was no Christmas savings can. She didn’t go without anything. In fact, she stockpiled favorite lotions and perfumes. She died with a case of Avon’s “Far Away” cologne in the bathroom closet. I attributed her toiletry hoarding to her early years―which were as hardscrabble as they come.

It’s particularly funny that she mentions cookies. Her snack bar was so celebrated that guests made a beeline for it upon entering her double-wide trailer. Every kind of sweet and salty comestible was there, stacked high and with backup in the pantry.

The closing of the letter is my favorite. If there is a jugular that connects directly to the heartstrings, she grabbed it.

It is true that angels walk among us. If I were not so very proud to call her ‘Mama,’ I would have to call her ‘Angel.’

I still recite this part to my sister. We still groan and giggle. Donna and Mama had a tense relationship to put it mildly. If “angel” had been the last word on earth, Donna wouldn’t have selected it for our mother. So Mama―our outrageously flawed, contradictory, conniving, loving Mama―gave herself a Mother of the Year ending just because she could.

So how did the Humane Citizen of the Year competition end up? Well, there were 3 other strong finalists. The winner would be determined by popular vote. I invited my Facebook friends to participate, and they did.

Mama nailed it with a landslide.

 

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