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Wings and Roots
by Jan Risher

Winona Judd's words, "I may not know where I'm going, but I'm sure where I come from," speak to me down deep.

I come from Forest, Mississippi, population 5,000. As the head football coach, my dad was a huge figure in the life of my little town. I attribute my positive outlook on life in part to my childhood years filled with plenty of touchdowns for the boys in red and blue.

However larger than life my dad and his football teams were, my mother and grandmothers were the ones who really gave me roots.

My great-grandmother, Arrie Ellen Hawkins Henderson, grew up in Lorena, population 127. Lorena is where Highway 35 makes a big curve to the left, halfway between Forest and Raleigh. She and her groom received a feather mattress and two chickens for wedding presents. She had 14 children.

She may have been the strongest woman I've ever known. Yet ten years ago, she and I cried together as we rifled through old photographs, and she told me of her little son who died nearly 70 years earlier. Everyone I knew respected my great-grandmother. She personified impartiality and a complete lack of prejudice--qualities to be admired anytime and any place, but particularly when I was growing up in Mississippi in the '60s and '70s.

Mattie Wilmirth Sephton Greer grew up in Dixon, population, 87. She was the sweetest woman I ever knew. She raised 12 children as the wife of a poor Mississippi cotton farmer. She planted beautiful gardens in her yard and in the souls of her children and grandchildren. Her oldest son, Frank, is still considered missing in action in Korea. They say my grandmother was never the same after she got that telegram. I remember rocking gently in her lap while she sang "When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again." It was years later before I put the picture together, but her nature was not the sort to be completely beaten. Even now in times of turmoil, my grandmother's gentle spirit comforts me.

Her daughter, my mother, Nelda Greer Risher, grew up in Ringgold, population 394. Tonight she lies in a hospital bed 1000 miles away as I sit here and write about the connection between parenting and roots.

Like the good daughter I've spent much energy trying to be, I listened to her when she asked that I wait until she's out of the hospital to come and help take care of her. I've spent two days reflecting on how much she has invested in making her children's lives full and meaningful. She believes in basics:

*Tell the truth.
*You're no better than anyone else.
*You're just as good as everyone else.
*If something is wrong, do your part in making it right.
*Answer the questions when they're asked.
*Say your prayers morning and night.
*Find something to do.
*Give to those in need.
*If you start something, finish it--that includes dance and piano lessons.
*Play before you do your homework. It's only light so long.
*Be especially gentle with the elderly.

Surely there's a connection between wings and roots.

Thanks, Mom.


This column ran in the El Paso Times in February, 2001. Jan Risher lives in Lafayette, Louisiana, where she writes a weekly parenting column in Lafayette's daily paper.

For another wonderful story by Jan Risher, click HERE.

Contact Jan at LafayetteParents

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