So this week I’m killing two birds with one stone by choosing the Mama Kat’s prompt that covers both her Writer’s Workshop and the SITS prompt for Thursday which is to write about/describe a woman who inspired me.
And before I get into the post I’d like to give a shout out to the lovely sponsors who are going to give one lucky blogger Thelma and Louise, otherwise known as a set of Electrolux Washer and Dryer. Mama (me) needs a new washer so I’m trying to put my extra good mojo on here to insure that I do! Ya’ll keep your fingers crossed, ok? Thanks to our friends at Standards of Excellence, Westar Kitchen and Bath, and Florida Builder Appliances, for enabling us to make our Back to Blogging event even better.
I have been inspired by many women in my life. Some of them were from way before my time but who were inspirations nonetheless. Like Mary Magdelene for standing up for what she believed no matter what others said to or about her. Helen Keller, who overcame so many obstacles in her lifetime but was an inspiration to those around her and still is today. Harriet Tubman who risked her life to help out others in her strive for justice and equality. Rosa Parks who stood her ground even while putting her life in danger and inspiring others to do the same by refusing to back down in her fight for civil rights. I have some you probably agree with and some you may not but they all inspire me for some positive quality I see in them. Anne Frank, Madame Curie, Eleanor Roosevelt, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Madonna, Lady Gaga, Meryl Streep are all women who for some reason or other inspire me.
But then there are the women who inspire that most no one has ever heard of. Women who are not famous and who really haven’t done anything that you may have ever even heard of. Women like Florence Carter, who just happens to be my mom. I find her amazing. To have grown up without a mother or a real womanly influence in her day to day life but went on to raise 6 children of her own. She worked tirelessly to ensure her kids had more than she but never took a “handout”. She is a woman of strength and character and is one of the most loving and kind people you would ever meet. But she stood up for us when she needed to. You didn’t mess with her kids unless you wanted to mess with a tiger.
Doris Hamner, of whom most of you have probably never even heard. She is the mother of Earl Hamner, Jr. who created the television series The Waltons and on whom the character Olivia Walton was based. But she raised a fine family and was a kind and wonderful woman. She taught me how to knit and always welcomed me into her home even after I had grown up and moved away and her son had gotten famous and she had people bugging the crap out of her day and night. But she still showed such kindness and strength of character even when people didn’t treat her right. She was forthright but not necessarily in a hurtful way. I remember once, years ago, Jimmy Carter’s (the former President) mother, Miss Lillian, came to visit her and made a remark about how you would think with a famous and rich son that he would be able to afford to buy her a nicer, bigger, more modern house to which Mrs. Hamner graciously replied “Why on earth would I want him to waste his money like that? I have all I could ever want or need right here where I raised my children!” She wasn’t ugly about it, she just told it like it was.
There are many other women who have inspired me for one reason or another but one who particularly comes to mind is a woman most of you may never have heard of. Her name was Wanda Highnote. Wanda was an elementary school teacher by “trade”. She never taught any of my children as their teacher (though I wish she had) but she taught us all “life lessons”. When I met Wanda, our daughters played basketball together. Her daughter was my middle daughter’s age. They played “REC” (recreation league sponsored by the county parks and recreation department) ball together. Wanda had an older son who had already graduated high school and “M” was in middle school, maybe 6th grade. They didn’t go to the same school together so they really only saw each other when they played rec ball and then AAU ball with each other or middle and high school ball against each other.
I remember that even when they were on rival teams, Wanda would sit there and cheer for my #2 daughter when she did something good or would shout something encouraging if she made a mistake. That’s just the kind of person she was. It didn’t matter that they were playing against each other. What mattered to her was that she liked #2 as a person and she was going to cheer for her even if it meant getting weird stares from the other moms and dads on her daughter’s team. She would sit up there and tell me “You know, I just love to watch #2 play! She is my favorite player to watch. She is just so graceful and makes it seems so effortless!” And I would say, “You mean your favorite other than your daughter?” And she’d say “No, she’s my favorite! I mean I like watching my daughter play but she doesn’t have the passion for it that #2 has. I just love to watch her play!” And that meant the world to #2. She loved Wanda. She was so special to her.
When we started an AAU league in our county, we (hubby and I) and the coaches were responsible for ordering the uniforms and collecting the money to pay for them and the tournaments, etc. We, along with the other parents raised the money for the girls to go to tournaments and for their uniforms, etc. Some of the money came from their registration fees or hosting tournaments. There were two young African American girls, who happened to be sisters, from “the wrong side of the tracks” who were really good players, but once they got to the high school level they were not allowed to play school ball for one reason or another. They may have tried out for the team and made it but usually didn’t last too long into the season. Either their grades weren’t good enough or they had gotten suspended for behavior problems or something. Wanda came to us and asked if the girls could play on our team. She said she wasn’t sure how she’d do it, but, she would make sure their registration and uniforms got paid for. Here she was, a single mom, raising her daughter on her own on a teacher’s salary and she was worried about these two girls getting to play basketball. After meeting them, the “team” made sure they were taken care of.
I didn’t get it at first. Why was she so concerned about these two girls? It wasn’t like she was getting paid for it or that she was trying to rack up “brownie points”. She was just “that kind” of person. She did it from the goodness of her heart. Her selfless giving, loving , selfless heart that gave until she couldn’t give anymore. She just genuinely cared about other people. Come to find out that she had been teacher to both of them in elementary school and she had seen “where they came from” and knew the lack of parental support they had. She knew that these two girls were basically “on their own” from the time they were in elementary school. No dad around, mom in and out of jail and drug and alcohol problems so there was no support there. They lived “in the projects” and there were drug dealers out on the sidewalks of their “apartment” and prostitution was rampant in that area and she saw these two little lost souls that were headed for the same “end” if she didn’t step in.
She bought them coats in the winter and brought them home from school with her many a night to make sure they had a hot meal and a bath or a place to sleep if necessary. I asked her why she did it and she told me that if she saw either of those two girls “make it” out of high school and into the “real” world, that she would consider her life a success. She was just drawn to them. I know I’ve told you all about my hugging people before and these two girls were two of the ones I always made sure I hugged EVERY time I saw them because I was pretty sure they never got hugged at home. Probably the only other hugs they got other than us were from Wanda. And they loved to be hugged. You could just see it on their faces.
One of these girls was a BIG girl. Not just heavy. I’m talking BOTH girls were over 6 ft tall and not fine boned either. I’m sure when they hit you (as in basketball although any other way too probably) you would have felt like you got hit by a Mack truck. And even though both girls were great basketball players their high school coaches never really gave them a shot. Truth be known, I think they were afraid of them. I remember that freshman year, I believe, the older of these two girls had gotten suspended for throwing a desk at a teacher and wasn’t allowed to play. If I hadn’t known them and met them in a dark alley, I would have been very afraid too. Heck, I’d have been afraid on a well lit street if I hadn’t known them. They even looked tough. But they were always respectful of us and never gave us a moment’s trouble. They just wanted someone to see THEM for who they were on the inside and respect them and if you gave them respect you got it back. Wanda saw that. We took them all over the state of Georgia for tournaments for probably 5 or 6 years. In fact, we even took them to Florida with us. I think in a 6 year time span I could count on ONE hand how many times I saw their mom. But Wanda was always there. Even after her daughter stopped playing ball, she still came for those girls.
Like I said, Wanda was an elementary school teacher and she loved all kids and all kids loved her. She loved kids and she loved teaching. She was getting close to retirement and she started having problems with her back. She said it hurt all the time. She went to doctor after doctor to find out what was wrong with her back and they could never really find out. She went to chiropractors, too. I think she tried about everything. She was in so much pain that she had gotten to where she couldn’t even walk from the parking lot to her classroom for the pain. She would pull up to the front door of the school early in the morning before any of the kids got there and the custodian would come out, and on good days, help her if she tried to walk, and on bad days, get her wheelchair out of the back of her car and wheel her down to her room. Then he would go and move her car for her and at the end of the day she would reverse the process always making sure all the kids were gone because she didn’t want them to see how much pain she was in. She didn’t want to alarm them. She was just thoughtful that way. She looked out more for the kids and how they would handle it than her own comfort.
Sadly it turns out that she had breast cancer. I don’t think they found out until shortly before she died. And when she passed away, let me tell you, that chapel at the funeral home was full to capacity with former students. Some were there with their kids that she had also taught. They spilled out into the corridors and even had to open another room which was also full. Wanda was a well loved person and one of the kindest and most giving and considerate people I have ever met in my entire life. She inspires me even today to try to be a better person. To look beyond what you see on the surface. That just because people don’t “have a lot” doesn’t mean they don’t have a lot to give – in other ways.
And let me tell you those two girls were at her funeral and you would have thought they lost their own mother. I’m sure they felt that way towards her. And those two girls might have gotten in some trouble now and again, but the older one went on to play ball in college for a while so you can believe her life “was a success.” But I have no doubt that if she hadn’t taken those two girls under her wing, I’m sure neither would have even finished high school, let alone gone to college. Wanda was an inspiration and a beacon of hope and courage to all those around her. They don’t make ’em like her anymore. The world is NOT a better place without her in it. I hope that there is some way that she sees and knows what a positive influence she was on those around her. I’m just sorry we didn’t have more time with her so that more of her “goodness” could have rubbed off on all of us.