Giving thanks for a combined 18 decades of love

Nov. 30, 2013 @ 12:16 PM

Each of us has our own roots of thanks. This time of year, appreciation is individual and sometimes it takes a moment of awareness to appreciate and remember, and before it is too late, acknowledge.
Through this space, I normally feature people who compose the fabric of a community, locally and perhaps, globally. In recent weeks, it became clear to me that my own community, that of my family, is composed of two threads that have both inspired and served as constant demonstrations of love: my grandmothers.
Luckily, I am still able to talk with these two ladies and hear the stories they can tell. On my mother’s side, Margaret Phelps is 98, and on my father’s side, Francis Day-Hawkins is 90. Combined, they have enough local experience to guide this world and offer insight as to what works and what does not.
Both ladies grew up country, as they say, and they know what it means to see a family toil in the fields and live and prosper by what is grown and sold. They are known as Mama and Nanny, respectively.
Mama Phelps lives but a few miles through the woods from where she was born. She was a Walker and she became a Phelps upon marriage. Nanny Hawkins was a Laws and became a Hawkins upon marriage. Both raised families and both buried husbands -- Nanny, twice -- who were good men.
Mama attended school in a small building locally and went to East Carolina Teachers College, where she graduated. Nanny attended Caldwell School and Hillsborough High and after graduation she went to work in Roxboro at Collins & Aiken. During the War, she sewed materials to make tents and winter coats for soldiers. Mama became a schoolteacher down east, educating children from northeastern North Carolina to Angier and then, eventually, to Hillsborough.
There are many adults whom Mrs. Phelps taught when they were children, and most of them she recalls. And most of my family is aware of those who caused trouble in her class!
Nanny worked many jobs from a restaurant in Roxboro to factory jobs locally, including Liggett-Myers in Durham.
Beyond family and love and work and strong values, I had cause recently to remember that not every boy gets to talk with a grandmother in her 90s. There are many adjectives and expressions, but what stands out most for both of these ladies is that through all that has changed in their lives, the lives of family, the community and the world, they have remained strong, stoic and committed to placing family first.
Sometimes, even though I’m the writer in the family, I have trouble expressing in words and actions just how integral these two ladies have been in my own life. In recent weeks, the awareness that life is life and there is no schedule or right time, it became apparent that all that I am and have and will become is because of family -- my mother, my father, and especially, these two ladies.
In keeping with the season, these two threads weave through my family and the community. Their impact will always be visible in the words I write and the actions I display.
Simply put, Nanny and Mama, thank you.
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