Momma: An American Hero

Published 10:00 pm Friday, May 12, 2017

Editor’s Note: The author of this letter, Alan Peoples, read the following words at his mother’s memorial service, and are a wonderful reminder of the many reasons we celebrate our mothers on Mother’s Day.

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. We are all here to celebrate my mother Kathleen Wright Peoples. Let me share some stories about her and her unbounded love.

One of my first memories was vacuuming the little house our family lived in near the old Burlington Mill site when I was about eight. When momma went to work on Saturday morning, I had to vacuum the house and get it as clean as I could. When she came home from work, she would show me what I had done right, and also what I had missed. I learned that if you lived in a household as a part of a family, you had a job to do … no matter your age.

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I have a vivid memory of being in the seventh grade. Momma helped me get a job at the local shoe store. When I got my pay, I spent most of it on a pair of shoes for her. I don’t remember what the shoes looked like; however, I can assure you that I had no idea what a stylish shoe was. Whatever they looked like she wore those shoes, more than once. She taught me that love and praise go hand in hand when raising children.

During my tenth grade year, daddy had a stroke and lived as an invalid for the remaining fifteen years of his life. My mother, the quiet unassuming giant of the family, worked six days a week and went to see my father in Durham in the hospital nearly every night for six months. Most of those nights I went with her while someone stayed with my younger brother Earl. She taught me that love is unconditional as she worked to keep our family together against all odds.

When I was a junior in high school, momma went to the father-son athletic banquet with me. As we were leaving, she showed me a hole in her best dress and asked me if I would be ashamed to be seen with her. She wore a wide belt that probably did not match well, but it hid the tear. I was proud to attend the banquet with her.

During my senior year, momma’s father and I went hunting with the family. When we returned from hunting, we discovered her mother had suffered a heart attack and was rushed to the hospital. Grandma survived, but once again the family, led by mamma who still worked six days a week, began the nightly trek to the hospital in Raleigh. When my grandmamma Wright came home from the hospital she and granddaddy Wright came to live with us. Now our household consisted of my mother, handicapped father, her sick mother, her father, my brother, and me. No burden ever seemed too heavy for mother to bear.

During the 1980’s Burlington Industries closed down the Franklinton plant where momma worked. Determined to be competitive in the job market momma decided to go back to school and get her GED. She was nearly sixty when she graduated, and Harriet and I celebrated her achievement. Diploma in hand she transferred to the Burlington Wake plant and continued to work. She taught me that a willing body and mind can find a way to make a living and be self sufficient.

When retirement time finally arrived for her, there was no time to sit and watch the soap operas. Instead she helped care for her sister Maurine when she became terribly ill. She moved in to nurse Maurine, and she was holding Maurine’s hand when she left this world. I learned a lot by watching the incredible connection these two sisters had.

Our mother was always a giver. It made no difference who you were; she would try to help when she could. I usually think of someone like Florence Nightingale when I think of all the people she helped in her life.

I now know that the torch was not passed to me to be the new Peoples’ family Nurse Nightingale. When she had heart surgery five years ago, I soon discovered who now filled her role. She had passed her compassion and her patience to my brother Earl. I see in him the kindness I saw in her.

Recently in an Ann Landers column, I saw a list of people others considered heroes. Mother’s name should have been on that list too. She went by lots of names: Kat, Kathleen, Aunt Kitty Kat, sis, neighbor and many others. My name for my role model and hero is much simpler: I called her Momma.

Alan Peoples, Tryon, N.C.