In memory of my mom...
This week, I have chosen to take a trip down memory lane... to a time some 18 years ago when I conducted the most important interview of my life. I sat at the kitchen table on Mother’s Day, with notebook and pen in hand, and interviewed my mom. When I asked her what she wanted to talk about, she smiled, “I guess you kids.”
Just like millions of other moms, we were her story...
The Spring wild flowers were weaving their magic along the ditch banks and up the sides of the rocky cliffs. The scent of Lazy Susies was lingering in the air around the old wooden plank four room house. Mary Elizabeth was about to give birth to her third child, the first girl. She had sent the oldest son to the nearby log cabin where her husband, George Washington, was working as a blacksmith.
It was May 10, 1924, and the Russell family had nestled into the hills of the Powhatan Community. Life sometimes seemed hard for these proud "hillbillies", but they seemed to know what was important - survival, family, and, most importantly, God.
Mary was reared in Ponder, MO. She was the oldest of five children, including twins. George was the baby of seven children. His parents raised their family near Calamine.
So, carving a life out of the hills was nothing new for George and Mary. A blacksmith by trade, George also owned a grist mill and made molasses to sell at the local store. Mary put her family first... she always seemed busy - sewing, embroidering, cooking, churning butter etc. Whatever it took, to make her family comfortable.
As the oldest daughter, Dorthy May, soon found she had duties of her own. After walking home from school, some three miles away, she would work in the garden, gather berries, take the mules to the creek for watering, and, of course, watch the younger kids.
The family attended the local Pentecostal Church in Powhatan. When the church doors were open the Russell family was sitting on the pews.
One of the main events of the year in the Russell kids' lives was the annual fourth of July carnival held in Portia. Each year, Dorthy and the others would pick black berries to raise enough money to go to the picnic.
When she was 18, Dorthy's family moved out of the hills to the Lauratown Community. Her dad set up a new blacksmith shop and the kids went to work in the cotton fields.
One hot summer evening in 1942, Dorthy went to the school house to watch an old silent movie with her sister and two best friends. A young handsome man, wearing a suit and hat, walked in the door and Dorthy said, "That's the man for me. He's going to walk me home tonight."
Little did she know that the tall stranger was her best friend's brother. He had just returned from working in Detroit, Michigan. As they say, the rest is history.
The following March in 1943, Dorthy married her prince charming at Arbor Grove. Hubert went to work on the farm with his dad, and Dorthy began setting up house. The old four room shot gun house, nestled in the woods, soon became a home.
When the first son was born in December 1944, there were numerous complications and a doctor was called out to the home. The snow began to fall the very next day, and Dorthy was not well so the little family moved to Hubert's parent's house for the Christmas holiday.
Dorthy had lost all joy of the first Christmas with her newborn. You see, the doctor said there would be no more children. She was devastated. It had been her hope to fill her home with many children - laughter ringing in every corner. The fact that God had other plans was almost too much to bare.
But Dorthy knew that life had to go on. There was her new husband and son to take care of. The household chores had to be done and the there was work in the fields that would not wait for her self pity to go away. So, life went on.
About two years later, the couple moved to the Duval Community. Hubert borrowed $400 so he could begin farming his own crops. A few days later, he lost the money in a field and had to plow up the ground all night looking for the money - luckily it was found. Working in the fields at night, Hubert went to work dissembling airplanes during the day at the Air Force Base in Walnut Ridge.
Dorthy kept busy in the house... sewing, washing, and ironing for others. Whatever she could do to help make a dollar.
Then four years later, one chilly Spring day, Dorthy discovered that God had answered her prayer. She was going to have a second child. In October 1948 when the little boy entered the world, he was called a miracle.
Proving God was in control, Dorthy went on to have a total of 10 children, six boys and four girls. She was 38 when the last little girl was born. The day before giving birth, Dorthy was busy in the field picking cotton. Two days later, she was busy cooking meals for the hired hands and the next day she was back in the field.
Life never got easy with 10 kids to feed, but Dorthy was happy. She was fulfilling the most important role created by God - that of a mother.
During her lifetime she held down several jobs to help her husband - she worked in the fields, in a factory, managed an apartment building, and ran a restaurant. But there was never a job more important than that of being a mother. She always placed her children first. And, never once did she leave her children with a babysitter. She either took the children with her or she worked during the night hours while her husband was home with the sleeping children.
When asked about her children (a few years ago), Dorthy gave the following descriptions of their childhood:
•Clarence Daniel Brand was born in a small four-room board house in Lauratown, Ark. on December 7, 1944 - the sun was shining. Daniel, the first of 10 kids, was born at home during the evening hours. The physician was Dr. Handle.
Being the first, Dorthy said Daniel was spoiled rotten. "He was the first little Brand boy - so naturally, he was spoiled!"
When he was four-years-old, William was born and Daniel would steal his bottle and hide behind the door to drink it.
Daniel loved to follow around behind his dad and grandpa. Whenever, they went to the fields, he trailed off behind them. When he was five, he began school at Clover Bend. Then the family moved to Chicago and he started school there. Later they moved back to Arkansas and he graduated from school at Hoxie.
•James William was born October 6, 1948 at Lauratown, Ark. in a "new little four-room house." He was born at home with Dr. Handle.
The day before William was born, Dorthy picked cotton. When he was a baby, Dorthy would drag him on the back of her pick sack.
"He was a pretty good little boy and always tried to take up for his big brother."
Hubert would work in the fields with mules. William would stand on the plow and planter. "He would get so dirty, I would have to throw him in the tub."
•Mary Ann was born August 10, 1950 at Clover Bend, Ark. She was born during the day time at home in a small wooden box house with Dr. Handle doing the honors.
She was named after her Grandma Mary Elizabeth Russell. She was special because she was the first little girl.
She had cute blonde curls and would scream for her daddy every time he walked in the door. "She wanted him to carry her all the time. He turned her into a spoiled little brat."
Mary was a little tattletale. "She would say the boys was hitting her when they weren't even touching her. She wanted everyone to pet her."
•Billy Ray was born September 19, 1951 at Arbor Grove, Ark. Dorthy and Hubert lived in Chicago at the time, but Dorthy was in Arkansas at her mom and dad's house when he was born. When he was nine days old, she went back home to Chicago.
Billy was born in Grandpa and Grandma Russell's house with Dr. Handle.
Billy was sick as a baby. He had pneumonia and was in the hospital in Chicago. "He was a miracle baby. The nuns prayed for him as much as the rest of us did. We thought we would lose him, but he's still living."
When he was a baby mom worked for a real estate company renting and cleaning apartment complexes. When she cleaned, she took Billy with her.
When the sun was shining, Dorthy would put a harness and rope on Billy and hook him to the door. "He could play in the yard with the other kids, but he couldn't get out in the street."
•Judy Fay was born December 28, 1952 in a catholic hospital in Chicago, Ill. The family lived in a first floor apartment on Marquette Street.
"She was a prissy little girl who everyone thought was so pretty." Judy always wore pretty floral dresses made by mom out of flour sacks and trimmed in lace.
"I took her to get her picture made and she kept pulling the ribbon out of her hair. She had long blonde hair and she hated for you to wash it - she would scream at the top of her lungs. Every time I went to comb it, she would start crying."
She would twist her hair in knots and Dorthy would have to cut it out.
When Judy was a baby, Hubert injured his back on the job. He was in and out of the hospital and a wheelchair. Therefore, Dorthy said Judy had to stay in her crib a lot.
"Mary would try to play with her like she was a baby doll."
One time, the family was driving down the road, the door came open, and Judy fell out of the car. She was unhurt- another miracle.
•Ronald Glenn was born January 2, 1954 in Walnut Ridge, Ark. Hubert and Dorthy lived on Midway Road in a three bedroom wooden farm house. When he was born, Hubert was gone to a funeral in Little Rock, so Edward and Laura Baldridge took Dorthy to Dr. Faircloth's Clinic in Walnut Ridge.
Soon after he was born, the family moved back to Chicago. Dorthy said he was always a "good little boy - never getting into much trouble." He was always smiling when he was a baby."
When he was a little boy, he liked to wear hats. "He was always wearing a cap of some sort."
When Ronnie was six-years-old, his eyesight began to fail and he had to wear glasses. After a few years the glasses corrected his vision enough that he could throw them away - for a while anyway.
Once the family moved back to Arkansas and back to the farm, Ronnie liked to play outside. He loved to go fishing in the creek and he loved cars. "He was always wanting to drive."
•Ruby Carlene was born June 19, 1955 in Chicago, Ill. The family lived in an apartment complex at 65th and Wentworth Streets. On the day she was born, Hubert drove Dorthy to a South Chicago Avenue hospital early in the morning.
She was named after her Aunt Ruby. "She had real dark hair when she was born. And she was a mean little baby - cried all the time. She wanted to be held all the time."
Carlene was a little tomboy. She always wanted to play with the boys. When she was a little girl, her hair was full of curls.
One time she got a baby doll for her birthday, left it outside and a dog tore it up. She cried and cried and cried until mom had to buy her a new one.
When she was a young teen, Carlene was playing "Red Rover." She ran into the house and broke her arm. She was always getting into some sort of trouble.
•Jackie Dean was born April 17, 1957 in Chicago, Ill. Uncle Les drove Hubert and Dorthy to the hospital - running every red light on the streets. When they got to the hospital, the receptionist said she needed a down payment. Hubert threw the billfold at her and Dorthy had the baby - "before I even got in the room."
Uncle Stanley called him "cotton head" and "thought he was the best little boy in the world."
The family soon moved back to Arkansas. When it came time to pick cotton, Dorthy would drag Jack on her sack (or Mary would take care of him at the end of the row).
When Jack was little he would pick cotton in a flower sack. He would say, "I got my sack full Uncle Shortie - two pounds."
Jack also had an artistic flair. "He loved to draw and color. All the other kids would be making a lot of noise and he would be sitting on the floor, just drawing."
He also liked to make cars out of anything in the house - match boxes, jar lids, bolts etc.
•Roger Dewey was born on November 22, 1958 in Dr. Joseph's Clinic in Walnut Ridge, Ark. He was named after his Grandpa Dewey Brand.
At the time he was born, the family lived on "Lovers Lane" near Hoxie in a three-bedroom white house.
The first time he went to church, Roger was a week old. Dorthy went to a revival at the Minturn Assembly of God and won a Bible for having the youngest baby there. Roger slept on a blanket under the pew. Today, he's a Pentecostal preacher, and tries to keep others awake.
Roger always loved animals and one time he hid two little pigs in his room. He also used to carry a snake around in his shirt pocket.
"He was always getting into something and getting himself hurt. Every time we turned around we were taking him to the doctor."
•Sandra Kay was born October 5, 1962 in the Lawrence Memorial Hospital in Walnut Ridge, Ark.
The rest of the kids were picking cotton. Hubert went to the store and bought hot dogs for them to eat. They were all connected together in a string.
Hubert told them they had a "little red haired sister." The other kids then went to stay at Grandma and Grandpa Russell's house.
Grandma Russell wanted to name her Melissa, but Dorthy had already named her Sandra - a name she got out of a book.
The next day was William's birthday and Hubert gave him $7 to buy a cake. He bought popsicles instead.
"All of the other kids spoiled her rotten."
When she was a little girl, Carlene sat her down on a barbed wire fence and ripped her leg open. Instead of getting help, she rapped a towel around her leg, and hid her in a closet.
When she was about four years old she was riding on a bicycle with Ronnie and got her foot caught in the spokes. "She didn't learn how to ride a bike until she was 10-years-old."
When she was in kindergarten, she climbed up the slide the wrong way at the Clover Bend School and knocked herself out.
Dorthy, who would have celebrated her 96th birthday this Sunday, May 10, passed away five years ago.
Throughout the years, the children always knew they could count on their mom. Whether she was making their clothes, braiding their hair, helping with their homework, baking their favorite strawberry shortcake, or giving them the scolding of their life, Dorthy was never afraid to show her love.
She read her children bedtime stories from the Bible and insisted they place family only second to God in their lives. It is because of her discipline and determination that her children received an education and were taught the rewards of honest hard work. Her hands were never idle and she made sure her children understood why.
She often quoted, "Live your life as if God will return today, but work as if He will never return in your lifetime." And, perhaps her favorite saying drilled into the minds of her children was "If there's a will, there's a way."
Never in her life was she known to worry about material things. She simply wanted her children happy. "Be content with what God gives you and you will want for nothing," she often said. That’s not to say she didn’t love new clothes, because she did.
Her smile was never bigger than when one of her little boys would pick a wildflower from the ditch bank, and bring it to her in an ugly fruit jar. She often said, “Bring me my flowers now, not after I’m dead.”
While growing up, the Brand children were used to seeing strangers around the dinner table or having to double up in bed, because their bed had been loaned to an outsider. Giving everything to those in need was simply a way of life around the Brand home.
With 10 kids, Dorthy used to say, there was no room to be selfish. Everyone had to share. It was one of "mom's commandments."
When asked about her success as a mother, Dorthy once said she turned her children over to God a long time ago and she trusts Him to take care of them.
Thanks for traveling down memory lane with me this week. I pray you all have a wonderful Mother’s Day. Remember to treasure the moments with your mom.
Samuel Coleridge once said, “The love of a mother is the veil of a softer light between the heart and the heavenly Father.”
Life is way too short to waste one moment’s breath on the small things. It’s family that matters...