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The Scars Turned To Flowers
by Gene Owens

I never saw a picture of Mom without the scars. They are there in the earliest family photos we have. I'm guessing she was about 3 years old when she and her siblings were playing around the wood stove in their home and Mom's clothes caught fire.

In those early days, plastic surgery was not commonplace and, in any case, was not an option for poor tenant farmers in the red-clay South Carolina Piedmont. Mom's face was scarred for the rest of her life.

When I was a toddler, she told me, I called the scars "flowers." I once overheard a woman say, "She'd be pretty without the scars." We have photos of my youthful Mom to prove that indeed she was a physical beauty, scars and all. We have a lifetime of memories and testimony from friends to prove that she was also a spiritual beauty.

Mom was a bright student in high school. Had college been an option, she would have faced bright prospects. But growing up during the Depression as the fourth of 14 children, she had to drop out of school in the 9th grade and go to work in the cotton mill.

Mom married a man 25 years her senior. She and Dad worked shoulder to shoulder to bring up four children the hard way.

I remember her sharing with me her early dreams of owning a house trailer and towing it to California and Mexico. They were dreams that had to wait a long time.

We repeatedly moved from the mill village to the farm, but always came back to the mill village. Dad loved farming, but could never make a living at it.

Our worst ordeal came in 1946 when we moved into a tenant shack near Wagener, S. C., and sharecropped for a season. Mom did her laundry in an old cast-iron washpot in the front yard, using water drawn by hand from a well close by. She cooked whatever we could scrape up from the fields and byways and could grow in our garden. She made cobblers from the peaches and blackberries we gathered from the roadside. When they were gone, we dug sweet potatoes from the field and she cooked them in every way imaginable. When frost sweetened the persimmons, they became a part of our diet.

After Christmas, we moved back to the mills and Mom and Dad went to work on the midnight-to-eight shift -- she as a spinner, he as a weaver. They left me in charge of the younger kids. I was 9 years old. Their two paychecks kept us in clothes and shoes and adequate food, and they finally saved enough to build a comfortable house, with indoor plumbing, on a three-acre lot.

Dad died in 1959, leaving Mom a widow at the age of 40. I had left college and started my newspaper career and had already made her a grandmother. After the rest of the kids had cleared out, she took her profit-sharing from 25 years of work in the mill and retired. Then she took a second career in quality control for an Amoco plant that made plastic dishes for McDonald's. When she retired from that job, she had a nest egg of Amoco stock, and she began to live.

The dreams of California and Mexico were fulfilled. Mom traveled to California many times, and to New England and to the Caribbean, making friends everywhere she went.

She remained a strong, independent woman well into her 80s. When Miss Peggy and I dropped by for visits, she always insisted on cooking breakfast and doing the dishes for us.

Finally, a couple of automobile accidents persuaded her to give up driving, and creeping frailty forced here to move in with my sister Ginny and her husband, Buddy Slayton. They had bought, expanded and modernized the house she and Dad had built.

One by one, little capillaries were bursting in her brain. She was losing her short-term memory and occasionally was confusing imagination with reality. Nevertheless, she regularly called those she cared about to make sure they were all right. The 14 siblings had by now dwindled to 7, and she knew that death would continue to stalk.

When my daughter Angie went into the hospital with pancreatitis earlier this month, Mom -- now 87 -- insisted on traveling the 100 miles to reassure herself that Angie was going to be all right.

I debated whether to leave Angie to go to the Jan. 8 parole hearing for Larry Gibson, the man who had been serving life without parole for a minor incident in Alabama. After her doctors assured me she would be OK, I dropped the dog off by Ginny's and Buddy's and drove to Montgomery. During out stopover, we took Mom out for a pleasant lunch.

When we returned Jan. 9 to pick up the dog, Mom was not doing well at all. She was admitted to the University of Georgia Hospital in Augusta for some tests. Two days later she died. I think her body just quit and, unwilling to live a life of dependency, she decided not to drive it any further.

We said good bye to her last Saturday. Independent to the last, she had arranged several years ago for her cremation and had taken care of all the expenses. I carried away a heart full of memories of this strong and kind woman who had remained beautiful despite the scars of depression and hard times.

Now the scars are gone. Only the flowers remain.


Gene Owens has been around the Southern journalistic scene for 48 years. He has been senior associate editor of The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va., and editorial-page editor of the Roanoke Times in Roanoke, Va.

As senior editor for Creative Services, a management consulting firm in High Point, N. C., he ghosted more than a dozen published books for professional clients. For the past nine years he has been assistant managing editor, political editor and columnist for the Mobile Register. Register readers named him their favorite local columnist, and readers of the independent regional magazine, Bay Weekly, agreed. He was runner-up in the regional Green Eyeshades competition among writers of humor columns.

He has been on the board of directors of the National Conference of Editorial Writers and was editor of The Masthead, the NCEW’s national quarterly. He is in semi-retirement in Anderson, S. C.

Read more of Gene's entertaining columns:
A Tribute to Johnny Cash
Roy Moore at the Courthouse Door
All about Gene and Greasepit Grammar
Greasepit Grammar: Misplaced modifiers
Greasepit Grammar: Inertia can get you
Greasepit Grammar: Drinking and dranking
Greasepit Grammar: A Pronominal grand slam
The Wal-Mart Paradox
Taking a week off from retirement to do nothing
Insulation reduces mouse mortality rate
Flocking South with the snowbirds
Juicy Fruit will gum up the mole works
Dan Rather and the Texas truth
Putting on the dog!
Holly cheesetoast!
If only our forefathers had used attack ads
Decent 'dogs
Ah for the life of a Freegan

Write Gene Owens at 317 Braeburn Drive, Anderson SC 29621 or e-mail him at WadesDixieCo@aol.com

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