By Cherimie Crane Weatherford
Running through the fields with the Mississippi heat searing down, I felt the rye grass like cool velvet against my short little legs. Without a care in the world, I made my way down a purpose beaten path to a place of comfort, peace and most importantly to the porch of a kindred spirit. Just passed the muddied cow pond, over the second hill and down the always dusty gravel road, Proud Mary would be working in the field, mending a fence, tending to the garden or if the sun was fading, sitting on the levy challenging the bass to a duel.
Once I reached the top of the hill, the familiar scent of Magnolias and honey-suckle vines proceeded the sound of a chain saw or hammer. Once my Southern-worn bare feet hit the gravel, I was on her land, her terms and in the warm comfort of her strength. I have my Daddy’s eyes, my Momma’s nose but my impossible temperament and devil-be-damned determination is the product of none other than Proud Mary. Proud Mary is my Daddy’s momma and my hero.
Mary still tends the garden, mends the fence and challenges the bass. The garden bends to her rule, the fence gives no battle and the bass haven’t a chance. In Mary’s world, each day holds purpose within each problem hides opportunity and each fishing pole holds ready bait. If something breaks, Mary fixes it. If something goes missing, Mary finds it. If you are hurt, Mary convinces you that pain is secondary.
It didn’t take long for me to decide that Mary was my kind of Mammaw. While my sister and cousins were playing with Barbie dolls and bake sets, I would rush off the school bus to see what project Mary had mastered. I would tell her of my day at school while she hammered the new floor. My opinions of the boys in class would flow freely as I handed her shingles on the roof. Slightly altered details of my latest fight with my Daddy would be explained as I followed her through the garden. Her tan skin, dirty hands and sky blue eyes worked as relentlessly as my little tongue rattled.
Occasionally I would have to fetch her mason jar full of ice tea, or run to the shed to grab a necessary tool. Mary didn’t treat me like an awkward little girl, her advice wasn’t filtered or soft — if I was wrong, Mary told me. If I was right, Mary stood with me and if Mary stood with you, may the good Lord protect the poor soul who didn’t.
It is no wonder my view of life is somewhat unique. I spent the majority of my childhood steps behind a woman who never understood “no” and rarely ever said “yes.” There was no time for tears on Mary’s porch, complaining never accomplished anything and weakness was an unwelcome guest. It was on Mary’s porch I learned the fire of independence, the depth of strength and the power of pride.
Over the years, the once well-worn path gave way to greener pastures. My bare feet turned to heels, heels turned to wheels, and wheels turned all over the world. No matter where I traveled, I saw Proud Mary. I saw her in empty train stations, dark streets and difficult situations. I heard her voice in conflict, felt her strength in moments of despair and just as the sun would rise, Proud Mary’s blood ran through my veins as a reminder of all that is possible.
Mary isn’t often found in shopping malls, she rarely asks for assistance and she silently applauds the awkward little girl who runs to her porch as often as possible. She isn’t much for lengthy conversations, ceremonial displays or grand social engagements. She is for independence, self-sufficiency and integrity. She lives off the land, for the land and in support of her family. Still mending fences in the Mississippi heat and offering a well-used tool to anyone in need, Proud Mary is the answer to most any question I encounter as a woman. When life is difficult, be stronger. When life is good, be thankful. When something needs done, do it.
Blessings abound as I was raised by the hands of a strong mother under the shield of a strong grandmother. As important as the air a woman breathes is the character of the women around her. It is my sincere hope that all women have a mother, grandmother, mother-in-law or a sweet surrogate who steps in, steps up and changes your life forever. Remember to thank them this Mother’s Day.