Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

April 22, 2007


Mama used to say “Meant to don’t pick no cotton”


      My wife’s mother would have turned 107 this year had she not died at age 99.  Born in the year 1900, she came within a year or so of living in three centuries.

          It seems strange to say but I think I appreciate her more now than I did when she was alive. Hopefully that is because I am a little more mature myself and my judgment is not as flawed as it once was.

          Sarah Brown was a tireless worker. Though she waged a constant battle with depression, there was not a lazy bone in her body. She pitched in to do her part whenever there was work to be done.

          One of her favorite projects was raking and burning leaves. When she was around fallen leaves had no chance to survive. Nowadays when I rake leaves I remember Sarah and smile. She would be pleased to see those leaves burning.

After her husband James died at age 46, Sarah never had a home of her own. Left with two young daughters to raise by herself, she struggled to make ends meet. Though it was difficult, she and the girls survived by pinching pennies and working hard.

          My wife Dean was the youngest of the girls. She was seven and her sister Dot was 13 when their daddy died. His health had been damaged by mustard gas during World War I. Dean remembers standing in the parking lot as her dad waved to her from his room in the Veterans Hospital in Montgomery. He died there two days later.

          On their way home from her dad’s funeral Dean remembers her mom’s determined spirit. Taking each of the girls by the hand, she reassured them by saying firmly, “We will be alright; we will make it.”

          Cleanliness was truly next to godliness for Sarah. She insisted on a clean yard and a clean house. Dirt was the enemy. I used to call her “Mrs. Clean” after “Mr. Clean” became a household word.

          After her girls were married she was unable to live alone so she lived one daughter’s family part of the time and the rest of the time with the other. Her constant fight against dirt was, to say the least, irritating.

          When she arrived for a stay with us, she soon inspected the refrigerator. Her report was always the same: “Where is the Ajax? This is the dirtiest refrigerator I have ever seen.” She never slowed down until it was clean again.

The truth is, Sarah was quite unselfish. She spent her life doing things for her family and for others. Though her outlook was not always sunny, she never tired of helping Dean and me raise our boys. I hope, as they look back to their childhood, they remember how hard she worked to clean up after them and see that their needs were met.

Since her Mama’s death my wife keeps reminding the rest of us “what Mama used to say.” Sarah never got over the loss of her husband, J.D. The longer she lived, the more perfect J.D. became. But when grief did not have the upper hand with her spirit, she freely shared with us her homespun observations about all subjects. Sarah could sum up most any situation with a catchy phrase no one could forget.

Sarah’s answer for poverty was simple. Poor people did not need welfare; they needed a job. “Folks would not be hungry if they would stop being lazy, get a job, and go to work,” she would say. Hard work would eliminate poverty.

The best of her sayings to me was the one shared when someone admitted having failed to do something they meant to do. Someone else might say, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” But not Sarah. She would make you laugh and flinch with a saying that everybody understood: “Meant to don’t pick no cotton.”

I never told Sarah how much her wit and her grit meant to me and our whole family. I wish I had. She had many fine qualities that I never acknowledged. I should have. I thought many times about affirming her. I meant to. Now it is too late and I must admit she was right.  “Meant to don’t pick no cotton.”  + + + +