On a cold November day in 1926, my mother was born in the family farmhouse in Limestone. As the family story goes, Mama’s oldest half-brother (my Uncle Leonard) was tasked with walking his oldest half-sister (my Aunt Johnny) to school, a distance of about three miles.
Aunt Johnny, whose given name was Genevieve, often had trouble keeping her socks pulled up, and was very vocal about the matter. The day Mama was born was no exception to this dilemma.
Aunt Johnny was not happy about the sock situation at all! Uncle Leonard, even though he had been a prisoner of war in Germany during World War I, was at his wit’s end as he was trying to keep her pacified her on the walk to school. He finally promised her that if she would quit fussing as he walked her to school that morning, by the time she got back that afternoon, there would almost certainly be a baby brother or sister for her to see.
And so Mama came into this world.
That’s part one of the story. This is part two.
I’ve heard Mama, who was raised on a farm that produced hogs, among other livestock, say many times, “It was usually cold enough to slaughter hogs on my birthday, so we usually had fresh pork the night of my birthday.” If family lore is to be believed, it was cold enough to slaughter hogs on the day Mama was born.
Mama had just turned four years old when the stock market crashed in 1929, so most of her growing up years was during the Great Depression. Because her father was a farmer, they always had meat, vegetables and fruit (all produced on the farm). At least partly because of this, they never went hungry. Others in the rural Washington County community were not so fortunate.
I remember my mother telling me this story numerous times; I’ve heard different versions of it from probably all of my aunts regarding their teachers.
Mama’s fourth grade teacher was Mrs. Probst. From research I’ve done for the “Today in Johnson City History” column, as well as some of the things Mama said about Mrs. Probst, I believe Mr. Probst was president of a bank in either Limestone or Greeneville.
Mrs. Probst would often say to two little boys (I think they were brothers, but I’m not sure), “I can never figure out how to make exactly enough biscuits for my husband and me for breakfast. I had four extra ones today. Would you like to divide them for lunch?” or “My husband didn’t want any breakfast today. He had to meet some men in Greeneville for breakfast. I have several biscuits left over.” The little boys always did.
On Fridays, Mrs. Probst would often say something like, “I don’t know how it happened, I’ve got eight extra biscuits left over from breakfast this morning. Do you want to take them home? Maybe you can have them over the weekend.” They were always eager to do so.
Of course, Mrs. Probst intentionally made the extras. Mama said that it was years – I guess maybe when she was a PTA mother – before she realized that those children were hungry.
And so it is that hunger is a decades-long problem, especially, it seems in Appalachia.
This is part three.
Just as Mrs. Probst brought extra food for the hungry boys, I suspect many teachers do the same today. I know at least one middle school guidance counselor who routinely does, Cindy Torbett. I’ve been in Cindy’s prayer group for years. Without ever mentioning names, or even if they are boys or girls, Cindy has several times told us about students coming into her office, so hungry they cannot learn. On many occasions, the prayer group girls and I have brought Ramen noodles, packages of instant soup, granola bars, packages of snack crackers, snack-sized containers of pudding and fruit, and because of their long shelf life, apples, for Cindy to take to her students. What an easy way to make a difference in the lives of so many – student, guidance counselor, and teacher!
In the United States today, December 1, is Giving Tuesday. Giving Tuesday is the first Tuesday following Thanksgiving, and was first so designated in 2012. As with so many other things in 2020, Giving Tuesday looks different in many nonprofits from in the past. Giving can be as extravagant and complex as endowing a scholarship or as simple as getting an extra package of granola bars on your next trip to the grocery.
Whatever your interest and whatever your budget, I invite you go participate in Giving Tuesday. I am!
Copyright, November 28, 2020 by Rebecca A. Henderson