Lessons from my mother
by Shane Dunaway
Mother’s Day marks the annual recognition of all the sacrifices and challenges associated with motherhood as offspring worldwide find ways to show thanks to the ones who gave them life.

For some, the holiday also brings a period of reflection on the years of life lessons handed down to the next generation.

“My mom showed me how hard work pays off in the long run,” Talladega High School boys’ basketball coach and athletic director Chucky Miller said. “She set a great example for me to follow. In second and third grade, we would do homework the first hour after I got out of school each day. She’d make sure we took care of our responsibilities first. Then we could go about the rest of our day.”

His mother, Bonnie Miller, worked as a school teacher for more than three decades and became a member of the Talladega City Board of Education. The younger Miller seemed grateful to have his mother actively involved in passing her work ethic down the family tree.

“When our family moved back to Talladega after 20 years coaching at Wellborn High School in Anniston, she starting doing the same things for my two kids that she did for me as a kid,” Miller said. “She’d pick them up from school, make them finish their homework and cook dinner for them.”

Retired coordinator of the St. Clair County Extension program Dorothy Brice recounted her mother’s influential presence in her life.

“My mom was a praying, hard-working, caring and creative mother,” Brice said. “She loved her family and was so proud of her three daughters. She taught us how to survive during tough times. She did without to make sure her family, especially her children, had a good education.”

Brice’s mother, Gracie Buckhanon Piner, emphasized the importance of religion in her household.

“Early in life, she stressed that we would have a relationship with God, that we would be spiritual and that we would get involved with our church, especially with Sunday school, the mission and other auxiliaries in the church,” Brice said. “She was a praying woman, so early on, she taught us to say and repeat The Lord’s Prayer. Every night, we had to say our prayers before going to bed.”

Piner ensured religion remained a pillar in her children’s lives as they matured into adulthood.

“As we got older, she shared with us that the Lord is our best friend,” Brice said. “Whenever you had something good happen in your life, whenever you had an issue or a concern, you needed to talk to the Lord and share it with Him.”

Growing up in the 1950s and 1960s during the peak of the civil rights movement, Brice said her mother focused on instilling the principles of the Golden Rule into her and her sisters.

“She said to love everybody, even those who mistreat you,” Brice said. “Love them anyway. Her golden rule was similar to the other one ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ She always tossed this in, ‘Treat them better than you would have them treat you.’”

When Brice and her sisters started taking on part-time jobs after school and even after graduating college, Piner continued to bestow words of wisdom to the trio, encouraging them to find the balance between thriftiness and charity.

“She’d always tell us to save as much as you can,” Brice said. “Be a good manager with your resources. She would tell us to give 10 percent of whatever we made to the church and said we needed to give back.”

But Piner practiced what she preached, as evident by an anecdote by Brice, highlighting her mother’s resourcefulness.

“When I was in college, we didn’t have very much money,” Brice said. “When it came to my clothes, I would look through magazines and books. If I saw an outfit I liked, I would pull it out and send it to my mom. She would buy the fabric as close to the picture as she could, make the clothes and send them back to me.

“Most of the kids on campus just thought I had a lot of money,” Brice added. “It was because my mom was creative and knew how to sew. She helped save our family a lot of money.”

Piner died in 1971, two years after Brice graduated from Alabama A&M University. Nearly 42 years later, Piner’s lessons still resonate within Brice.

“I’ve been sharing some of those lessons throughout my life with people I come in contact with, especially in the church and community,” Brice said. “I’ve always tried to share some of the life lessons I’ve received from my mom. To this day, I can still see and hear her words. I’ve shared those same lessons with my two daughters and I’m now passing those lessons down to my four grandchildren.”

Shirley Spears, an employee of the B.B. Comer Memorial Library for 30 years, received similar life lessons under very different circumstances. Spears grew up with her mother Susan Kelley, affectionately referred to as ‘Momma,’ her father and three siblings in Blue Springs, a remote farming community in Marble Valley, during the 1950s and 1960s.

“One thing about my mother — and I’m sure the same can be said about most mothers out there — is her love was unconditional, even when I wasn’t perfect,” Spears said. “I always kind of thought I was her favorite, but later, I found out we all felt like we were her favorite. She had the knack to show that she loved us equally — just differently based on our personalities.”

Kelley used her role as a housewife as the adhesive that held the tight-knit family together.

“Momma was a farm woman with little formal education, but she had a lot of practical knowledge and knew how to make our barebones existence bearable,” Spears said. “My dad expected us to excel through hard work in the fields, honesty and good grades in school. We all have my dad’s stamp on our character, but Momma was the soft touch in our lives.”

As with Brice’s family, Spears’ upbringing featured a healthy dose of religion.

“She helped us develop a simple faith in God — no doubts, no pondering theological questions — just love coupled with a healthy fear,” Spears said. “My dad was not a religious man, but Momma carried us to church faithfully. She never wavered and she led by example. She truly believed the great reward for living a good life and being a Christian was Heaven.”

Kelley taught Spears at a young age to love and care for all animals.

“She believed all living things deserved respect and fair treatment,” Spears said. “It wasn’t the doting kind of love that you see people lavish on their pets nowadays, but it was the innate caring, which extended to the farm animals. They were living entities. The cows, mules and other farm animals helped us make a living and a life, and the dogs, cats and chickens pretty much ate the leftovers from our table.”

Enduring hard times and poverty, Spears learned how to be frugal and combined groceries purchased from the rolling store with homegrown and farm-raised products to ensure the family was fed.

“Momma could take not much of anything by today’s standards and somehow manage to put a good meal on our table,” Spears said. “She was such a good cook.”

Kelley died almost eight years ago, but Spears insisted she can still feel her mother’s presence.

“She left us with a bright bubble of memories and a love that surrounds us all,” Spears said.

Contact Shane Dunaway at sdunaway@dailyhome.com

© 2013