I recall a time back in 1948 when I had accompanied Rev. Claude Boynton and Mrs. Boynton on a speaking engagement to represent the then new and struggling Truett McConnell College. Rev. Boynton, one of the first trustees of the college, had been very instrumental in calling the first meetings to get the college organized. As a charter student there in September, 1947, and one of the students selected to go on "deputations" in the interest of the college, I had the privilege of going with Rev. and Mrs. Boynton on a speaking engagement to First Baptist Church, Fairburn, Ga.
"How does this relate to Mother's Day?" you ask. No, it was not Mother's Day weekend, but as we approached Atlanta and saw the capitol building's golden dome reflected in the light, I remember Rev. Boynton's observation: "We say the seat of Georgia's state government is within that capitol building. But my contention is that 'the hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world.'" He then went into a discussion of how much influence good mothers have upon society in general.
I learned later, by using the "Oxford Dictionary of Quotations," that Rev. Boynton's statement on "the hands that rock the cradle" was the only quotation of a little known writer named William Ross Wallace who died in 1881. He made that insightful two-line saying in "John o'London's Treasure Trove." I concluded that Rev. Boynton must have been well-read, indeed, to remember and quote the cradle/ruler adage, and to launch upon a lecture about it. Maybe already he was preparing for his Mother's Day sermon which would not be too many weeks in the future.
The scene of Atlanta, not so busy on a late afternoon in early spring 1948 as it is today, and the quotation made an indelible impression on me. The rest of the way back to college at Cleveland, Georgia, I thought about the importance of mothers and their roles in society.
I also engaged in some self-pity on the remainder of that trip, thinking that my own mother had to make her contribution to the lives of her four children early-on, because she had died on Valentine's Day in 1945. There were so many things I wanted to ask her, to learn from her before I myself was launched out on my particular journey into life. What were her dreams for me? Was I in any way fulfilling them?
Then I thought of many who had stepped in after her demise to be a surrogate mother to me. There were my mother's sisters, Avery and Ethel Collins, spinsters, with no children of their own. Yet they had the "mothering instinct" and spent much time with nieces and nephews, giving them advice, teaching them practical lessons on life and living. From them I learned much about cooking, sewing, ironing and house-keeping, tasks that fell to me in my own home when I was a lass of fourteen. Add another name to my surrogate mother list, Aunt Northa Dyer Collins. She lived in sight of me, and it was but a brief walk to her farmhouse from ours. She was my father's sister and her husband, Uncle Harve, was my mother's brother. From them I learned multiple lessons in living, one of the main ones of which was to have ambition and dreams and to work toward those dreams. I don't think "impossible" was in their vocabulary.
At high school I had experienced the love of teachers who went the second mile and sometimes were in the role of surrogate mothers. I can name several: Mrs. Grapelle Mock who taught me, among many other things, that I could do public speaking without letting stage fright overtake me. Mrs. Elizabeth Elliott, Mrs. Flora Nicholson, and Mrs. Elizabeth Berry taught me the beauty of words and the joy of putting them together in readable, incisive poetry and prose. Mrs. Geneva Hughes, who taught and was librarian as well, planted in me a life-long love for good books. She also invited me to spend nights in her home on Hughes Street within walking distance of the school when I was a character in the school drama and would not have been able to participate because of distance and no transportation. Mrs. Gertrude Shuler, a paragon of patience as well as an excellent teacher, taught me that if we work through problems without making rash decisions the answers will truly come. Mrs. Lucile Cook was my home economics teacher at the time of my mother's death. Her understanding and ability to help me with housekeeping situations I faced at an early age have been invaluable to me throughout life. Mrs. Dora Hunter Allison (now Spiva) was a stunning example of requiring excellent grooming and good deportment from her students, but at the same time she made hard mathematics problems come alive. Like a problem in arithmetic, life problems can be solved with persistence and faith, she taught.
And at college I had other surrogate mothers. Mrs. Staton, English and journalism teacher, nurtured my desire to be a writer by making me editor of the college newspaper and co-editor of the college yearbook. She, too, invited me to her home and made me feel a special part of her life. Dr. Pearl Nix, psychology teacher, knew how to "pour on the work" to her students, but made us realize that there is no limit to our ability to learn except through our own limited desires to accomplish. Miss Edith Sayer was our librarian and taught mathematics, too. She was an example that even with a mild handicap, one's life can be fulfilling and an inspiration to others. Miss Charlotte Sheets lifted my level of appreciation for good music as she led the college chorus to be good enough to be invited to sing at the Georgia Baptist Convention and notable churches throughout Georgia. Miss Lounell Mullis brought history alive for us, but she also had a faculty residence in our dormitory and advised us girls on proper etiquette, life goals, and, yes, even behavior on dates!
As I think back on William Ross Wallace's quotation, "The hand that rocks the cradle/Is the hand that rules the world," I am grateful I heard this when I was eighteen, and that it lingered with me throughout life. Rev. Boynton may not have realized that the quotation would sink itself into his young parishioner's memory. What we say does make a difference.
I am grateful for my mother's influence on my life, and for all of those who stepped in, relatives, teachers, others, to be strong surrogate mothers to me when I needed a helping hand and direction in life. One of the greatest honors that has come to me in this life is not my career as a teacher, but that I was entrusted to be a mother of two wonderful children, a grandmother to seven fine grandchildren, and now, just this April, the great-grandmother to Gavin and Brenna. "The hand(s) that rock the (cradle)s" of these two have heard my evaluation: "They are the most beautiful great grandchildren ever, and they have a significant role in the future!"
Happy Mother's Day! Enjoy your memories. Tell some mother she is special.
c2006 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published May 11, 2006 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.