March, 2001 News Notes
It's almost SPRING!! This has been the longest and coldest winter we've had since I came to my mountain in June, l970.
     I thought we had great weather the first Christmas! I remember all of us had Christmas dinner here and we were outside, out front, in our shirt sleeves. There were: Paul, Mark, Margaret, Marilyn, Jim, Brian, Gail, Ed and Shirley and of course me. Those were the times when we thought that we should get presents for Christmas, and it was such fun. We didn't have much the first few years but eventually the presents were brought in, put under the tree, and one day I looked at them and realized that we did not NEED all those gifts. We were mostly giving to ourselves. So we took a vote and from that time on, we kept the gift giving at a minimum for Christmas. And do you know what??? We discovered that it was true: it most definitely IS more blessed to give than to receive.
      Last night Rodney and I were watching TV and there were vacation plans shown. We've never gone on a real vacation and he looked at me and said, "If we didn't have the prison ministry all of us could go all over the world, couldn't we?" Then he said, "But I wouldn't change what we do for the world. We don't need big, expensive vacations." Everyone here has one hope: that those of you who are confined will get to know JESUS and recognize divine Love, and reach out to receive it. But remember, it costs something. It costs ourselves and that is hard to give up. I thank God that every day He shows me something more about Himself, how He longs to touch hearts and make people whole.
     THE WOLVES: My wolves are howling. When I went outside to give out treats, Anna Tuka, who considers herself the pack leader of the whole kennel, stood with her fur ruffled (a sign of displeasure) because I didn't give her treats first. She knows she is supposed to get the most recognition and I try to give her that security. But the four dogs out back saw me, and began to take on, so I went to them first. "Pepper," Hugo's sister, has gotten so fat she can hardly sit down but R.D., our handsome male from D-l, thinks she is the most gorgeous girl in the world. Chi-Neena, the white wolf, can almost talk, she tries to say, "I love you." And Honey Buns, whom Gail rescued on the highway, stays true to her nature: she "fence fights" continually with's quite a fight, a pit bull and a wolf! We had to have their fences double wired and bolted. Anna Tuka and KaHoo exchange growls occasionally but it's all " put on." He feels really grand, now that he is the only male wolf and has taken Rooster's place. Anna Tuka always favored Rooster and made him her running partner. I hope we don't find KaHoo dead some day, he's so heavy he looks like a polar bear. They just turned nine, and that means they are 63 years old in human age. Aka Eena, their younger sister, still can't fit in with Anna and KaHoo. She has no idea that Anna is pack leader, in her eyes I am her wolf/mother and pack leader. She has made our two house pups, Rodney and me her "pack." "Bye for now!"

March, 2001 - I Remember Mama
By Billie Marie Zal
      Born “Beatrice Thelma Wells” on a cold March day in 1896, Mama entered this world as a privileged child.
      Her daddy was “Billy Wells,” a railroad engineer for the Missouri Pacific Line out of Springfield, Missouri. Her mother, Delpha Guillliams, was a lady of tremendous grace and intelligence. She had even been called upon to teach school, something unheard of in that age.
      Mama’s home was a beautiful, spacious white house with an attic where she spent much of her time, alone. Her sister, “Kitty,” was six years her senior and she spoiled Mama rotten. This might account for Mama’s volatile personality, but one of our aged aunts, a sister to my maternal grandmother, told us that my Mama threw “fits” whenever she did not get exactly what she wanted--even at the tender age of two or three.
      Mama and her family had a well ordered life until she was eight years old. They owned their own horse and buggy, and had a hired servant to drive the girls to school in the buggy every day. Mama hated that horse; and he hated her. He never “cut up” until she stepped foot into the buggy and then it was “up and away.”
      Her mother was a splendid equestrian. I have photos of her, sitting straight and beautiful on that ornery horse which Mama despised. Even though I never knew her, my grandmother had a calm exterior which nothing could ruffle and this was evident in the way she sat “side saddle” in complete control of a spirited horse. She was always quiet, Mama said, even when she corrected her girls.
      They had one more occupant in their large home--a house maid. She was a young woman and Mama dearly loved her. This environment was a safe haven for Mama, where there was order and good manners. My grandmother always addressed her husband as, “Mr. Wells.”
      Mama began to hate her daddy early on. He was a handsome, dashing man with dark eyes and a perpetual smile (so I’ve been told). Everyone loved him wherever he went. My mother was permitted to sleep with her mom when her daddy was on a “run” on the train. But when he came home, Mama was ousted and he took over her life. She had to sleep, then, in her own room and she was jealous of all the attention her daddy got from her mother.
      There was no one to tell her that this was a normal reaction from a small child; her jealousy was normal.
      And so, on a dark, cold rainy night when there was a “run-away train,{” her dad was caught between the engine and a baggage car and both legs were severed. He could have lived in our day; but he bled to death before anyone could get to him with life saving equipment.
      From that moment on, Mama’s world changed. She had hated her daddy, she told me, and once she said she “wished he would die.” Then the news came that he had been killed, Mama drew a circle around her heart and refused to let anyone in, ever. It was dangerous to care about people--to have emotions.
      But she kept the one emotion which would give her security from the hurts she felt: ANGER.
      After her daddy died, there were financial problems. Her mother was often duped by people who told her (without proof) that “Billy” owed them money. Being of a noble character, she readily paid them.
      In the meantime, Mama’s world gradually fell into the normal pace of life. She and Kitty attended school; they were able to keep the harness racing horse and the buggy, and except for her Mother’s grief at losing her husband who was only thirty-eight years old, life was good.
      Then tragedy struck again. Her sister, Kitty had gone to work as a secretary to help pay the bills. But suddenly she took gravely ill and was rushed to the hospital. Mama often told me of the stark terror that gripped her heart at the news. She was so afraid that her beloved sister would die; but Kitty appeared to be improving and my Mama visited her on what seemed to be the day she might be able to come home.
      Mama told me, “Billie, she looked so well and radiant. I believed that God had heard my prayers and had healed her, and I was so happy that I skipped all the way home.”
      Her folks had one of the very first telephones in Springfield, and when she entered the house, the phone was ringing. It was someone from the hospital. Kitty had just died.
      I can feel the shock myself that my mama felt at such terrible news. It couldn’t have seemed real to her. Kitty was only sixteen or so, and how can someone that young just die? But when the mortuary brought Kitty home, and she lay there in a beautiful casket, surrounded by a room filled with flowers, Mama knew. Now she was alone.
      Tragedy would strike again, one more time and this time there would be no healing.
     When Mama had married Daddy and my sister was just three months old, Mama took her to visit our maternal grandmother in Springfield. She had stayed long enough to come out of her depression and she came back with the assurance that life would be good again.
      After she arrived home, however, there was a telegram waiting for her. It simply read, “Your mother is dead. Died in her sleep.”
      This was probably the moment when Mama decided that she would never love again. She would never give herself to anyone. She would withdraw into herself, and be safe.
      Poor Daddy, I am sure he had a time with her. It was such a dark time and once she confided with me about the way she felt. “I wanted to die, too, now that my mother was dead,” she said. “I stopped eating and although Kathleen (my older sister) was nursing, there just was not any milk there for her.
      “Then one day I looked down at your sister, such a tiny baby. Her fingers were so thin and she was losing ground. And then I remembered this: the child was mine. I was her mother and she needed me, just as much as I had needed my own mother to live. So I decided to live.”
      It was as simple as that. Mama’s will had taken over, and with a will like hers she did whatever she will to do. My sister thrived and developed into a gorgeous baby girl.”
      Mama always told me that it was unfortunate that I was ever born; at least she was honest with me. She had not wanted anymore children and made certain that it did not happen. But two years and nine months after my sister was born, I arrived on the scene, wanted or not!
      It was a chilling word, “I don’t know how you got here--you weren’t supposed to be born.”
      Later on, Mama would try to make up for saying such a thing and she would tell me often that I was such a beautiful baby that everyone came to see me. This reassurance did little to make me feel of value. The fact remained, in my subconscious: I wasn’t supposed to be born.
      As I grew up and learned in my infancy who I was, we had great times with mama. She was the driving force in our family. We lived in an apartment/hotel in Muskogee, Oklahoma, and she was the hub of the wheel of occupants in that building. She kept things going by the sheer force of her personality.
      I was well taught as to obedience to my elders, and I learned I couldn’t get away with a thing. If I tried, I suffered the consequences of her wrath. But my sister and I were happy and we loved that hotel/apartment. We played out on the roof of the adjoining building and we hung out of the windows, savoring the city sounds.
      When we had to move to south Arkansas, all of us were disappointed. Mama, as always, took over the plans for the adventure. Daddy had one of those huge “touring cars” which made us look rich (which we were not), and Mama lived with the fear of impending doom. The “hi-jackers” would try to stop us and kill us on the road, and we would all be dead and buried and nobody would ever find us.
      While she made these dramatic statements during our trip, I hovered on the back floor of that enormous car and prayed silently, “I love Jesus, I love Mary, and I love everyone in heaven.”
     When we finally arrived in “Smackover, Arkansas,” I was sure that my prayers had gotten us there in spite of Mama’s doubts.
      On the night we drove into that town, it was one big caldron of mud, dirt, and “oil men” talking about the “big one that just came in.” At that time, Smackover was the largest oil field ever discovered in the country. Daddy went to work at an oil refinery and we had to find out how to get to one of the company houses that belonged to the refinery.
      It was only a short distance from town and when we drove up in front of it, Mama began to pinch her lips. When she pinched her lips, I would always get ready for a big outburst. Not only was our house the tackiest of the four, but we were situated between two refineries which belched out their fumes continually.
      The outburst came. “Clarence, why in the Name of God did you bring us to this horrible place? Why didn’t you tell me this is what we would be living in?”
      Daddy had learned to tune out things that were unpleasant and he just got out, began to go about his work of setting up cots for us until the furniture arrived.
      I admit that my own heart broke when I realized that this thing was HOME.It was called a “shot gun house,” with three rooms, in a straight row which meant that the tiny bathroom had to be wedgedinto a part of the “middle room,” since there was nowhere else to put it. We could stand at the front door and see all the way through--to the kitchen. But no matter; my Daddy had a twinkle in his eyes so I knew everyone one day would be all right.
      And it was. Our yard became a little “Eden,” with Daddy’s green thumb planting everything we loved: Zinnias, Dahlias, Lilies, Nasturtiums, Honeysuckle, petunias. Daddy even made us a beautiful little fish pond out front and I spent hours in summer, gazing down at those beautiful gold fish that Daddy and I had caught out in the “wilds.”
      We went to school and became a part of everything. We joined the band, I sang with the Girls’ Trio and Glee Club and we knew that Mama had accepted this tiny home and done the best she could with her beautiful wool rugs and her fancy four poster bed. She even managed to get us girls a Spinet Piano. We were home.
      I can only visualize how Mama must have felt there. She never joined the Bridge Clubs, and had no time to spare for hobbies. She helped Daddy grow our garden, cooked three meals a day, canned wild fruit and made jelly. I can see her now in that dark, tiny kitchen with the temperature soaring to one hundred degrees. There was no air conditioning, we had only one “Emerson” fan and Mama would tease us and tuck up her skirt (she would never wear men’s pants--never!) , so she could keep cool. I never knew why, but she always wore nylons--I never saw her without them.
      When the four of us ate at the kitchen table we were literally “stacked.” If we forgot something, Mama would get up, give us one of her “looks,” and have us all move so that she could open the ice box door. It was a huge thing---round and wooden--and she kept ice in it so we could have good things to eat. She bought ice from the “ice man” who came around every two days. If we were lucky, he chipped off some of it and let us have it.
      Mama was a wonderful manager, that’s for sure. She had very little money to “make do” to get us through school And she must have remembered the “glory days” of her young childhood when they had everything luxurious and beautiful, because Mama was determined that come Easter Sunday, both of her girls would have a gorgeous new dress to wear. Before she left Muskogee, she had established a charge account at their best department store and she saved all year so that she could call and get us that special dress.
      These dresses were so fine, I can still see myself in that “taffeta” blue dress with a fluffy skirt and ribbons. Kathleen and I were the best dressed girls in the entire Sunday School and I did not know until years later what Mama had done to get them for us: she had sold her diamond dinner ring. We just thought she had “saved up.”
      I was able eventually to make it up to her when I was grown and working, but the pain of her loss still affects me. She was never able to get the ring back. Then Daddy suddenly lost his job and Mama was faced with the awesome reality that we had nothing. Not a home, nowhere to go, because after all we lived in a “company house.”
      The day that this happened, Mama came to me with her great brown eyes filled with fear. She had this huge hand tooled leather bag in which she kept all of her important papers. If she was troubled or afraid, she would keep opening and shutting that clasp on the bag. She was so frightened that I immediately took over and assured her that we would be all right.
      And I was right. Somehow we manager to buy an old home way out past Smackover Creek and have it moved out on the Camden highway where Daddy had found an acre of land for a few dollars. The total cost of the house, plus moving it was only five hundred dollars and I was able to reassure Mama that this was a much better home for us. And it was.
      For one thing, it had two bedrooms and that was indeed a real luxury. The kitchen was long and had such nice cupboards, and a little dining area at one end. Daddy bought some nice stain for the pine floors and I set to work to make them lovely. Unfortunately, I almost killed myself. I had shut the door behind me (all the windows were nailed shut) and I “stained my way into a corner” and almost passed out. But the sight of shiny, stained floors always made my experience worth it all.
      Mama smiled when she saw them. So it was all I had hoped for.
      Mama took everything in stride; she never gave up the habit of believing that something terrible was about to happen and this made her all the more brave in my sight. She had no tranquilizers, no counseling, nothing to assure her that life could be good.
      But she lived out each day at a time fearful but undaunted when bad things happened. She had an opinion on everything: how badly the blacks were treated (she shamed all her church lady friends with that); how God was going to bring His judgment on such a wicked world (which by today’s standard was a paradise); on how to raise children (if we talked back to her or disobeyed we got whacked--HARD); how to vote; how to deal with poverty (never admit you are poor by taking welfare of any kind); everything was cut and dried to Mama. Her favorite word was, “Right is right and wrong is wrong, and there is no in-between.”
      Mama’s upbringing had made its mark on her. She made sure we got a “Baby Grand piano” (I have no idea how we did that) and it filled half the living room, but she made her point with it when visitors came. We were doing ok if we had a Baby Grand Piano.
      She went through her “change of life,” yelling and screaming, but always there. I used to test the temperature of her disposition before entering the room and it worked. I made myself invisible until the storms of her outbursts were over.
      She wanted the best for us and blamed herself, I’m sure, that “the best” for us was not what she had envisioned. I was talented; I graduated as the Valedictorian of my Senior Class. I went to college. This was not enough, she believed that I should go into show business and be on TV (later on, when TV was everyone’s home fixture). Everything I had ever done, I t was for her. I sang at every school event, sang with the bands the summer before I went to college....I did all of the things I possibly could to please her.
      But her sights were on the temporal and mine became set on the eternal. She knows that now; but I was a tremendous disappointment to her. My sister did great; she began to teach music early on and was financially successful. For Mama’s sake, I was glad that she had my sister to be proud of.
      Mama knew she needed me, but she never admitted it. When my sister almost died, I was the one who reassured her that Kathleen would not--like her sister, Kitty--leave her. When Daddy went broke, it was left to me to keep things cheerful and make believe we had plenty. When the storms came, scared as I was, I was the one who refused to agree with her that “we will all be blown to kingdom come.”
      And later, in her life as she began to grow old, I was always there simply because she depended upon me. I saw to it when they moved to our area(to be close to me) that they had groceries when the ice storms made their roads dangerous; I took her candy, her one weakness. She always said she could never talk about anyone addicted to alcohol or drugs because she loved chocolate so much that she had to hide it from herself. When daddy was sick, I was there. She could not bear that kind of burden.
      And when she almost died one night, Daddy called me to come quick, “Your Maw acts like she is dying...” I never let him finish his senteence, I ran out to the car, called an ambulance and drove through the mountain like a race car driver to be with her. When I arrived she had no air to breathe and daddy was pacing the floor and crying.
      I just picked up a magazine and began to fan her and I said, “What is actually happening/” For a moment the same old fire came into her eyes, and she said, “I CAN’T BREATHE---THAT IS WHAT IS HAPPENING.” I just shrugged and calmly said, “Yes you can breathe, Mama. Just cool down.”
      She had one of her “fits” when the ambulance attendants arrived and put her on the stretcher. It was in the dead of night and it had begun to rain.
      Mama came alive---fast. “You boys cover me up---it’s raining on me” she snapped and I smiled. Mama was going to be all right for now. The “boys” laughed and said, “O.K., Mama, we’ll cover you.”
      As I sat in that ambulance (going backwards, I’d always said I’d never ride in anything that was going backwards), I held her small hand and remember the times when she had brought herself to my bed side. She was always too nervous to tend the sick, but she had one solution: “I’ll make you some nice warm milk toast.” I find myself, even today when I am sick, wishing I had Mama’s milk toast.
      From the night of that first heart attack, Mama was never the same again; I tried to make believe that she was, but as her body grew weaker I knew that one last time, she would expect me to take charge. She would leave Daddy to me.
      She left me on a chilly, blustery day in March. Again, Daddy made a frantic call to me. “Bicky,” he said, (and I knew he was crying), “Your Mother just died in my arms.” I pushed my own grief into the bottom of my heart and took care of my Daddy’s needs for three more years, until he, too, slipped away. He had never really wanted to stay, after “Bea” died.
      I buried them just three miles from our driveway, and as I pass their graves when I go to town, I always say, “I’ll see you again, Mama and Daddy.”
      Mama would not want that; she always avoided emotions and the fact that I miss her would make her feel uncomfortable.
      But I will see her again, and we can remember together all of the times we had---the lean years and the years of plenty---the Christmases when Mama made all that delicious candy, and answered my “little-girl” letters to Santa on Christmas Eve. And the times she “did without” so her girls could have nice things.
      She was one wonderful lady, and it is my prayer that when I get to Heaven, she will not have lost that fiery nature which made her who she is. It wouldn’t be any fun without that fire in her eyes!

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