Practical spirituality for a complicated world.
This coming Sunday would have been my Grandmother Odom's 108th birthday. She was born at the close of the 19th Century and lived to see the close of the 20th Century. I always called her 'Mama', so that's how'll I refer to her in the rest of the column. She was my hero, and the kindest, most loving person I've ever known. It was my great karmic fortune to have had her as part of this lifetime. She and my
Papa were my saviours. Without them, I would've never survived my childhood.
Mama was born in the late 1890's, in South Mississippi, and named Nancy Callahan. Her father was the son of Irish immigrants to Mobile, and her mother was half Mississippi Choctaw and half English. My Mama was certified to teach school, a big accomplishment in those days, but she never worked outside the home. She met my Papa when she was 17. They married when she was 18, and he was 30. It was the only marriage for both, and their marriage lasted 50 years, until Papa's death in 1967. They had three boys, of whom my father was the youngest. Papa worked for the railroad until he bought a farm, just in time to lose it for back taxes in the Great Depression. They still managed to raise a family in their own home, after Papa got work, building the seawall along the coast.
Mama was quite involved in local politics. She was a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat, and a great supporter of FDR. Papa never paid too much attention to politics, one way or the other. I do remember, though, that he campaigned vigourously for JFK, because he said eight years of Republicans hadn't been good for the country. He told me that no matter what, I should never, never vote for a Republican. For what it's worth, I never have.
Papa never hit any of his children, because he didn't think that was a good idea. There was one exception to that. When he was 79, the year before he died, we were gathered for an Easter dinner at Mama and Papa's house. After dinner, the grown-ups were sitting in chairs out under some huge pecan trees, having coffee. I was playing catch with Princess, my dog. My father told me to sit down, and be still. I did...for a few minutes, but soon Princess and I were running around, again. Unfortunately, Princess knocked over the coffee pot. My father jumped up and started shouting at me. Papa said something like, "It's alright, Bud, just sit down and let them play." My father would have none of that. He stormed over to the hedge and broke off a big stick, much larger than what we would've called a "switch". He started hitting me. Papa told him to stop, but it only made him hit me more. Papa got up, took it from him, and hit my father several times across the back with it. "There, how do you like it?", Papa asked. Everyone was in shock. My parents hurried us into the car, and we abruptly left. It was the last family gathering we had before Papa died. It was the only time Papa ever touched one of his children in anger. But, I was proud of him. I loved him for it. I was just a kid, but something shifted for me that day. My parents, who were such hard, cruel people, never again seemed invincible to me. I wish I could've understood then, and that I could've thanked Papa for defending me. I still think of him all the time. He was an excellent role model, and taught me what it was to be a man and a Southern gentleman. I thank God every day that I had my Papa to look up to. Papa died, very peacefully, at home, not long after that Easter afternoon. He tried to reconcile with my father, but my parents wouldn't allow it. Several months after Papa died, Princess was barking at night and awoke my parents. She'd done it before, but only because she was protective of our house. My father took his pistol outside and killed her. I'd had her for ten years, and she was my best friend. I didn't think I'd ever recover from that. I felt that I should have been there to protect her. How do you deal with something like that when you're only a kid? But, we humans are resilient, and I believe that tragedies have the potential within them to teach us great lessons. Some people are inspired to transform painful experiences into strength and determination. Others become embittered, and are often destroyed. I decided early on to be a survivor. If through sharing painful parts of my path today, I can inspire others to survive and prosper, then another transformation will have occurred.
Mama mourned for Papa, but she loved life, and her family, so she carried on. When I was in college, I'd have lunch with her almost every day. Mama made the best cornbread you've ever had in your life. I can still smell it. One day, I came for lunch, and Mama was sitting in her favourite easy chair, sobbing. I asked her what was wrong. She was crying so hard she couldn't speak. In a few minutes, she said, "I've got something terrible that I have to tell you....it's awful, just awful". I couldn't imagine what would have got her so upset. Finally, she said, "Robert, my mother and grandmother were raped." Then, she told me that she had to relate it to me, even though it was very shameful. It turned out that when Mama's mother was a young girl, about ten years old, she and her mother were in the field pulling up onions to dry. It was about 1864, and all the men were away in the war. Some Yankee soldiers came up and surprised them. Before they could escape, the Northern soldiers threw them in the dirt and raped them both. It was a family secret that my Mama felt great shame about, but she wanted to pass the story on, so I would know what the Yankees had done to our people. I told Mama that I was sorry to hear about that, but it had been a long time ago, and it was probably good for her to try to forget about it. (That was in the days before we "processed and released" things.) She never mentioned it again, nor did I. However, the next time you hear about how noble the US Army was, and how evil the Confederates were, you can remember this story. War is always terrible. In war, there are no good guys, for war makes bad guys of everyone. Why can't people learn that?
Mama had to spend the last several years of her life in a nursing home. I told her many, many times that I loved her with all my heart. She knew that. But, she could have never known how much I loved her and appreciated her, and respected her....and still do. I think of her every day. Now, I've introduced you to her. She was quite a woman, and I miss her.
If you have someone in your life whom you love, don't take them for granted. Honour them and celebrate them. Tell them often that you love them. Even though it might be hard to believe it now, one day either they, or you, won't be around to say it or hear it. But, really, we don't die. Lord Krishna says in Bhagavad-Gita that we, and He have always existed, and that we, and He, will always continue to exist. I believe this is true. It is a wise person who attends first to the things of Spirit, and thus awakens to truth. The things of this material world are transitory, indeed. Nothing we ever do will be more important than our search for God. I learned that from Mama, and recognised that wisdom when I discovered the ancient teachings of Lord Krishna.
It was my great pleasure to share something of my Mama and Papa with you in today's column. OM
Robert Ransom Odom is an internationally published author and teacher. Robert has been a leading figure in the metaphysical spiritual community of Santa Fe since 1990.To ask Robert a question, visit his website at www.RobertOdom.com, email firstname.lastname@example.org or send mail to PO Box 33, Santa Fe, NM 87504.