Letter to the Editor: Tribute to my mother, Grace McDowell Stewart


As we all get ready to remember or celebrate Mother’s Day May 14, my memories of my mother will always remain special to me. I will never forget the moment she passed away and how green her eyes were as she lay still in death.  

She always told me she would always be with me and that is true because she left me notes to read after her death and sometimes I feel her presence as I touch the many articles made by her, during the years.

I thought she was so old when she was 37 years old and I was just a young girl, but at the time, I thought all mothers and fathers were old and now I am in the winter of my life.

Mother’s Day is a time to honor mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers for their contribution to family and society. Some countries celebrate Mother’s Day on different dates.

Mother’s Day is not a day stores are closed or offices close, but an important day we never can forget. It is a time to reflect on the things your mother has done for you. A time to remember her and give thanks to the way your life has turned out and to share memories with friends and loved ones.

My mother was the disciplinary one in our family. You didn’t say no and you never said can’t. “Can’t ever do anything,” she would say and we children learned to do the job correctly no matter what the task was. We knew better than to talk back to our parents. They would have knocked us into the world of never-never land.

She taught us love, respect, and to walk the straight and narrow and we knew exactly where she stood. She was responsible for us going to church every Sunday morning and she taught Sunday school about Jesus.

There were normally other children at our house on Sunday afternoons and we pulled taffy candy on our large wrap-around porch. Sometimes we would all load up in my father’s old Chevrolet with sideboards, and off to the forest we would go. We climbed the forest tower and walked scarily across the swinging bridge. Often we went to the movies when a group of us were together.

If we got to rowdy at home, she made us children go out and cut grass with a hoe and if we behaved badly, it was a peach tree switch. I can hear her saying, “I’m going to whip you so hard, your shirt will fly up like a window shade.”

A friend and student of my mother’s, Jonathan Parker, told me that my mother, as a second grade teacher, was ahead of her time. He said, “You know your mother was so smart. We were coloring and drawing with colored pencils long before they became so popular.” She drew a beautiful Indian Chief with colored pencils and it hung over her kitchen table for years. We would call her “Amazin Grace.” She taught second grade at West Point for many years.

Remembering the protection of a mother reminds me of the mean old Billy-goat in our neighborhood. She had reminded neighbors who owned the Billy-goat to keep it penned but they didn’t. She told them if they didn’t, she was going to kill it. Being out in the yard was a no-no because here would come the old Billy-goat and he would charge and butt you down. Everyone was scared of that Billy-goat. Finally she had enough of the old Billy-goat, as it came upon our front porch and she was holding it off us with a potato fork. She told my brother to get on his bicycle and go next door and borrow their rifle. After he returned, she shot at that old goat and she missed, but he seemed to know his days were numbered because he got off the front porch. She shot two more times and hit him. He lay down in the middle of the road and died. The preacher came by and asked what happened to the old Billy-goat and mom said, “I shot him.” Later the neighbor came by and hauled the goat home.

When I was in the 7th grade at West Point, my mother took my sister and I to Doc Barnes office and had our ear pierced. Doc Barnes placed strings in our ears and we had to keep the strings turned so they wouldn’t grow together. She took Doc Barnes a bunch of turnip greens for his pay. The boys at school made fun of us big time. The fad was started by my mother. Later, many girls had their ears pierced. Where did my mother hear in the 50s about ear piercing? I don’t know.

My mother started to work at Ponder’s Department Store in Cullman when I was around eleven years old and was in charge of the shoe department for over 25 years. After we 4 children were grown, she borrowed money from Leeth National Bank and started to college. How she ever convinced the banker to lend her money in the late 60s, I will never know. She never went past the seventh grade, but that didn’t stop her. She took her GED and passed with flying colors. She received her degree from St. Bernard and started teaching second grade at West Point until she retired. She taught children of our own classmates. She would say “Where there is a will, there is a way.”

Teachers at West Point would brag about our dresses our mother made with the ruffles, sashes and tucks. She spent a lot of time on our dresses sewing from her Singer Sewing machine, she paid $5 a month till she paid it off. Most of our clothes were made out of chicken feed sacks. She bought a few white Leghorn chickens and sold eggs to the peddler, who traveled by our house once a week.

No task or achievement was too large for my mother. In her 80s she went to a class and learned how to make ladies’ bags out of paper bags from the Dollar Store and Wal-Mart. She made everyone bags and lined them with cotton material and put a zipper in them. She created all kind of fancy designs with the letters from paper bags.

She never sat down without a crochet needle in her hands, always making potholders, tablecloths, table runners, doilies, Afghans with fancy designs. She also made numerous quilts, and was also making either quilts or tablecloths for the Bazaar at the Methodist Church. The picture that was in the Cullman Tribune in 1974 shows a tablecloth she had made to sell.

When she was close to 90 years of age she wanted a computer, so I got her one and she learned it so well, that she wiped out the hard drive and then accused the cat of locking it up.

I will never forget the kind gentle doctor at the hospital, telling me. “Keep telling your mother you love her, because her hearing is the last thing to go.” At age 90, she passed peacefully away, and I thank God I had her in my life that long.


Rita Stewart Birdsong

Decatur, AL

May 3, 2023