My Little Town 20111207: My Mum Part II

(8 pm. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

Those of you that read this regular series know that I am from Hackett, Arkansas, just a mile or so from the Oklahoma border, and just about 10 miles south of the Arkansas River.  It was a redneck sort of place, and just zoom onto my previous posts to understand a bit about it.

Friday past, instead of posting Popular Culture I posted the first half of a tribute to my mum because that would have been her 90th birthday.  Tonight I post the second half of that tribute.

Since this the 70th anniversary of the bombing of the fleet at Pearl Harbor, I have a Pearl Harbor story about her and my dad as well.  I sort of jumped to 1957 last time, so we need to backtrack a little.

My parents married on 19410714 (Bastille Day, interesting enough) in Arkansas.  That winter they were out bird hunting and my mum got back to the car before my dad, so she was running the engine to keep warm and listening to the radio.  By the time that my dad got back to the car, she already knew about the attack of Pearl Harbor and broke the news to my dad.  They both knew that really bad things were in store.  I told this story last week, but since today is the day I thought it appropriate to repeat it.

After the war they moved back to Arkansas for good.  They bought the house that I described earlier and had it completely renovated, not easy with an old place like that.  All of the walls were plaster and lathe construction, a far cry from working with drywall.  When they bought it, one of the last of the Forbes family was still occupying it (the Forbes family owned the company store).  They finally got Fannie out of the house after a few weeks.  At the time the electric service was wall mounted, with the old pushbutton switches.

They ripped all of that out and had an electrician properly install wiring, up to code at the time in the early 1950s.  They had enough foresight to have a breaker panel installed rather than a fusebox, but the code at the time did not require a ground for every outlet, so they had to modernize it some time later, in the 1970s.  That was easier since all of the wiring had already been pulled.

They installed a floor furnace downstairs and used propane to operate it.  I remember when natural gas service came to town, and they were glad to get away from propane.  Previously, the only heat that the house had was wood or coal.  They also had a deep well drilled and modernized the kitchen and bathroom.  She really liked hot running water!  It took them a while to get it all done, but they had quite a modern house by the time that they finished.

By that time, my father had a good job as a factory representative for the McQuay-Norris Company, a manufacturing outfit that produced OEM and aftermarket automotive hard parts.  She worked for the State of Arkansas in the Employment Security Division.  I remember many of her friends from that job, because I used to stay in the break room after school when I started going to Saint Anne’s in Fort Smith.  At the time, Hackett schools were dismal, but I am told that they are much improved now.

My mum had several great loves in her life, apart from my dad and my brother and me.  Shel loved to cook (and eat), and I learnt much of my cooking skills from her and her mum.  She loved to read, and valued education highly.  Both she and my father finished high school, and she actually went to business school for a few semesters.  That was back in the day when hard working people could make a good living without college.  They bought a brand new set of Encyclopaedia Britannica the year that I was born, and this mint condition 1957 collection is in the bookshelf just behind my left shoulder, one of my most prized possessions.

More than anything, she loved Christmas.  She would prepare the house for it right after Thanksgiving and put almost all of her off work time in that.  I remember helping when I got old enough to do so, and the former Mrs. Translator still has a whole lot of the vintage Christmas ornaments that my mum used to use with which to decorate the house and the tree.  She also has a handcrafted Nativity set that her friend from work, Wanda Hanks, fired for her in her kiln.  Wanda was my mum’s very best friend, and worked with her at ESD.  She was my friend, too.  One Christmas, I am guessing 1974, she asked me what I wanted for Christmas, and as a result I still have the original vinyl pressings of Quadrophenia by, of course, The Who.

It grieved my mum deeply when Wanda died of uterine cancer, and it grieved me as well.  That is one of the reasons (other purely logical scientific ones) that I am an extremely strong supporter of all children, regardless of sex, receiving the human papillomavirus vaccine.  Over 80% or so of cervical cancers (and other sexually transmitted cancers as well) could be prevented of all children were vaccinated before becoming sexually active.

The formal living room was the center of attention at Christmas.  She would put Christmas candles on the tables (the kind that come in the tall glass jars, four of which are in my china cabinet as we speak) and light them every evening.  She would set up the Nativity set that Wanda made, and put up garlands on the stairs in the front hallway.  She had a big wreath that she wound hang on the front door, and a smaller one for the back door (actually there were three back doors, but she decorated only the one commonly used for entry).

One of her favorite things was a music box that would play a traditional Christmas song (I almost forgot, it was Adeste Fidelis, aka O Come all ye Faithful).  She would fix it the the bottom of the chandelier in the living room (remember, we had ten foot ceilings) and pull the string to make it chime while she did other decorating or gift wrapping.

She was a master at wrapping!  Although a large woman by that time, she would sit on the floor with the gifts and wrapping paper and turn out packages that looked better than most professional wrappers could.  When I got old enough I would help her by bringing unwrapped boxes to her and then moving them when she got finished.  I got pretty good at wrapping, too.  I would also help her pick out ribbon and bows.  She had one of those bow making tools, the kind that had the plastic pin on which to twist the bow.  I got to where I could make bows for her whilst she wrapped the packages.

Normally we would not put up the tree until about two weeks before Christmas.  Getting the tree was a job for my dad and my older brother (until I got big enough after my brother had married and moved).  Except for when we lived in North Little Rock, it was always fresh cut by us from the farm or other rural land.  In my part of the country, it was ALWAYS an Eastern Red Ceder because that is what grew there.  They often are very nicely shaped naturally, so the challenge was to find one with just the right color and, if possible LOTS of juniper berries on it.  In respect to the tradition, I am drinking a beverage flavored with just that tonight!

Once the tree was home and in the stand (we had a really big one that would hold a couple of gallons of water), we would string the lights.  We had the kind that would still stay alit if a bulb burnt out, but we would always go through them and replace any burnt out ones.  She had some of the old fashioned “bubble lights” that we always put in the front so that we could see them better.  She was not big on blinking lights, so my dad and I duly put on the lights as she instructed.  Next came the garland (she called it “roping”), then the ornaments, and finally the icicles.  When I was little, the icicles were made from lead foil!  They were heavy enough to stay in place, quite unlike the aluminum coated Mylar ones that are on the market today.

One strict tradition that we never violated was that Christmas presents were only to opened on Christmas morning, not the night before, and not even one.  The former Mrs. Translator and I kept with that tradition until we became undone.  Now I do not celebrate Christmas much, but I am hopeful that this one will be more joyous than the past few have been.

I shall reserve more stories about Christmas until later in the month, because we had some traditions that were different than many families had.  This will be posted the Wednesday before Christmas here.

Another thing that she loved to do was to travel.  I suppose that it was partly because of her innate curiosity in just about everything, a trait that you that read my various posts know that I inherited.  When I was little, we went to Florida every August for a week or two.  We always stayed at the Trade Winds Hotel in Panama City Beach, with wonderful white sands and beautiful waves.  But we also took our time going and coming, always taking different routes so we could see different things.  One year we went through New Orleans, and another year we would focus on other historical areas.

Her love of travel went much further than just Florida trips.  In 1969, when I was 12 years old, we took a cross country trip to Roundup, Montana for my dad’s 30th class reunion.  Astoundingly, not a single student had died since graduation, at the beginning of the clouds of war in 1939.  They thought one had been killed, but he showed up!

The last trip that I took with them was when I was 19 years old in 1976.  Of course, I was quite the driver at the time and drove much of the was.  We left Hackett, Arkansas one morning, and by the time that the three week trip was done, we had driven to Anchorage, Alaska.  I was deeply involved with the former Mrs. Translator at the time, and my mum told us years later that the only regret that she had about that trip was that they chose not to have her come with us.  That was a sweet sentiment, but to be honest my mum was not keen on my love at the time, but after she got to know her better loved her as the daughter that she never had.

After she and my dad retired, the started international travel.  They loved going to Europe, and the UK especially.  Although this is about her, I have to let you know that my dad was a defacer of antiquities.  Every time they would come back from a trip, he would pull out his bag of rocks.  He had taken samples from the Colosseum, Hadrian’s Wall, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and any number of other historical structures.  I still am amazed that he was not arrested and prosecuted for that!

Even though I was married and had children, our family would often visit during holidays.  In her later years we lived in White Hall, Arkansas which is a relatively short 220 miles from Hackett.  We would often go even if it were not a holiday.  Here is a picture of her from that era:


She is sitting on a stool behind the recliner on which my dad is playing with Middle Son.  Eldest Son is leaning on the back of the recliner.  This was not at Christmas, because the tree would have been directly to the right of her left shoulder.

As she got older, of course she slowed down somewhat.  She remained an avid reader, kept her love for Christmas, and kept eating too much.  Now comes the curious part of her saga.  In 1995 she was diagnosed with throat cancer, specifically of tonsil cell origin.  She had had her tonsils removed as a child, but obviously the surgeon did not get all of the tissue.  Once again I blame HPV, because many throat cancers are caused by it.  She was not a heavy smoker, but she did smoke for years.  Her brand was Salem, and I well remember going across the street the the store and buying her a pack for 35 cents.  At the time, there were no restrictions on minors buying tobacco.

In any event, she went for treatment which cost her a significant amount of her tongue.  There was surgery, radiation treatments, and chemotherapy and she was actually recovering pretty well.  She was learning to speak clearly, although not completely in control of her diction.  Her physicians gave her an excellent prognosis.  Then it happened.

She complained to my dad that she was not feeling well.  As Dad put it, she said, “Roy, I feel worse than I ever felt.  I feel like I am going to die!”  Those were her last words.  Die she did.  She succumbed to a massive myocardial infarct on 19960410, less that a week after my dad’s 77th birthday.  She was only 75 years old.

Here is where she resides now:


This photo was taken by my dear friend whom I have never met, Kossack topfireplug.  I have not set foot in Hackett since my dad’s death in 2004.

Well, if I keep going I will get too emotional.  This is a bit more of the story about my beloved mum, and I know that as long as people who are still alive carry memories of her, she is not really dead at all.  Hopefully, this post will connect with others and they will remember, even only indirectly, for a long time to come.

This leads me to make a very serious point, and I mean this will all of my being.  It is so important, that I am going to put in bold and blockquote.  It is very simple.

NEVER hesitate to tell someone that you love that you DO love that person.  Who knows when RIGHT NOW might be the last time you will see them?  I can promise you that you will never stop regretting not saying so if something happens and you do not have the opportunity again.  So, if there is someone that you love and have not told them, call them right now, or, even better, go see them in person.

Please take this advice to heart.  It does not matter even if the person that you love does not say it back, or even if that person does not love you.  Things can change fast, and who can predict when a change of heart might happen?  If you do not let them know, then they will, well, just not know.  I am fortunate to have told my mum often and every time that we had contact, so she died knowing that I loved her.  But that knowledge is not restricted to mums.

Thank you for reading this emotional piece.  Take my advice seriously!

Warmest regards,

Doc, aka Dr. David W. Smith

Crossposted at

The Stars Hollow Gazette,

Daily Kos, and


1 comment

  1. remembering distant memories?

    Warmest regards,


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