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Hatfields and McCoys

family, hatfields and mccoys, eastern kentucky, coal miners daughter, hillbilly

Stories about my Mamaw. A gift to my cousin Lori, who only met her once that she remembers. Set in the hillbilly hollows of Eastern Kentucky. Part of Lori’s and my collective heritage probably includes DNA from both the Hatfields and McCoys. That’s just how things roll around those parts. Mamaw is back row left in the photo below.

My early memories of my Mamaw are skimmed with murk. She had dark skin and the high cheekbones of an American Indian. She often joked that she could get a suntan by standing in front of a window for a few minutes, leaving me wondering how I could be descended from her. My milky white arm next to her coffee-hued one didn’t add up in my little girl brain.

She wasn’t tall, but she had that look, the one that conveyed that she could take just about anybody in a fight. Mixed with her grandmother-tomboy style, she cut an impressive presence in any gathering. I never could reconcile her sporty wardrobe with the piles of costume jewelry that littered her front bedroom, bright shiny objects that captivated me for days.

Mamaw smelled like Oil of Olay, a pink elixir she kept next to her jewelry. It was the sole ingredient in her beauty ritual besides a jar of Ponds Cold Cream I found in her only bathroom.

Her house was a two-story number, and it had the aroma of coal fire all year long. The coal stove sat in the center of the shag carpeted front room, which led through a dining room into a sunlit kitchen with wood cabinets and an ancient fridge. It always held that aura of gas and sulfur, the water dripping from the faucet and turning everything orange.

She slept on the sun porch at the back of the house. Not a real bedroom, but she preferred it. Maybe she could hear the trickle of Greasy Creek out back, or see the lightning bugs blinking on the hillside at night. She never told me why, in her lilting accent that sounded just like a young Loretta Lynn.

Sometimes, when I want to hear Mamaw’s voice again, I find old YouTube videos of Loretta giving interviews. I close my eyes and imagine Mamaw alive, yelling at me for eating the white centers out of a whole package of Oreo cookies and throwing the dark ends in the trash. For a few seconds, I truly feared she would make me dig them out of the garbage and eat them. Every one. She stared me down with her fiery eyes, her nostrils flaring with heat. It was an afterthought when she smiled and warned me not to do it again.

I never did. I never could. To this day, it is the whole cookie or nothing. All because of Mamaw.

54 Comments Post a comment
  1. My father’s family is too from eastern Kentucky. Who knows maybe we are cousins…..

    June 11, 2012
  2. What wonderful images you convey today, Andra.

    June 11, 2012
  3. Soooooo, you were a little cookie monster before Sesame Street came along, huh?

    June 11, 2012
  4. I love the drips and drops of legendary blood that flow down over generations. My father’s family claims a distant kinship with the Adamses via their cousin Sam, brewer and patriot. Your Mamaw sounds like one hell of a gal, and I love that you can find her in Loretta Lynn’s voice, because now we all can, too!

    June 11, 2012
    • Awesome, a connection to Sam Adams. I wonder if he ever dreamed his name would be in almost every refrigerated case across America.

      June 11, 2012
  5. James Moffitt #

    I love the imagery you captured of your grandmother. I feel as if I know her after reading your story about her. It brings fond memories back to me of my grandmother.

    June 11, 2012
    • It is always a good exercise to conjure our memories of people who are gone. It keeps them with us.

      June 11, 2012
  6. Memories are treasures to be shared. :)

    You have such a delightful talent for stringing yours together and always leaving us wanting more. Even without the photo, I think I could have readily visualized your Mamaw; she of sturdy stock, independent, brooking no nonsense, and loving very fiercely and unconditionally. :)

    June 11, 2012
    • She was something. I was always a little afraid of her, Karen. I haven’t thought about her much in too long. Having Lori tell me about her visit with her made me want to give her a few more stories to fill in a more complete picture.

      June 11, 2012
  7. Your Mamaw and my grandmother (Booger–her grandchildren’s name for her) could be the end slices from the same loaf of bread, save for the darker skin.

    June 11, 2012
    • Booger? Really?

      June 11, 2012
    • Ha. Strong women are always cut from the same cloth, no matter where they come from.

      June 11, 2012
  8. Lovely meeting your Mamaw. It’s amazing how our relatives are so similar.

    June 11, 2012
    • Is you grandmother still with you, Lori?

      June 11, 2012
      • No. Both grandmothers have passed on. One was killed by a drunk driver and the other lived to a wonderful age of 97. I so regret not recording all of their life stories and recording them. My memory isn’t good enough. :(

        June 12, 2012
      • Whatever we remember brings them back. I only knew my Mamaw, and I didn’t know her well. The rest were gone before or right after I was born.

        A drunk driver. That is very sad, Lori. But, I hope we have you until you are at least 97, if you are happy and well.

        June 12, 2012
  9. “To this day, it is the whole cookie or nothing.” I suspect this applies to more than just an Oreo cookie, Andra. What warm memories you have of your Mamaw and how brilliantly you write about her. I would love to hear even more about her.

    June 11, 2012
    • Penny, I am going to try to fill this blog with my memories this week. In a weird way, it will be the perfect lead in to the weekend.

      June 11, 2012
  10. Glad to have you back with us, not that we don’t like MTM or anything. ;)

    June 11, 2012
    • I do not get back until Wednesday. Still two more days to ride the trams and eat gator on a stick. :)

      June 11, 2012
      • They are not trams!! They are streetcars. Made by the Perley Thomas Company in North Carolina. Want the full history? ;)

        And the gator is good, but the crawfish is better. And the muffalettas at the Central Grocery. And, of course, beignets at Cafe du Monde.

        June 11, 2012
      • Very sorry for my egregious technical error.

        Didn’t do much eating today. More seeing things. Only one day left to pack in what I hope will be enough to get started.

        June 11, 2012
      • Just harassing you. Not an error at all. An terminology usage. I am just being obnoxious – imagine that?!

        Not much eating? In New Orleans? You should be eating constantly.

        June 12, 2012
      • Not much eating. I have self control, Carnell. :)

        June 12, 2012
  11. Nostalgia is in the air today – what a wonderfully warm, loving piece – your Mamaw must have been quite a lady :)

    June 11, 2012
  12. Ditto on more Mamaw stories, she strikes me as a woman of many and varied facets ;)

    June 11, 2012
  13. Jill Clary Stevenson #

    My grandfather’s “people” were from the same area but on the Virginia side of the border at the Cumberland Gap. A bunch of them all lived together (old maids, widows, widowers) and I remember being surprised that someone slept on the “sleeping porch”. I guess I was six or seven when we visited them. My grandfather died long before I was born but for some reason, we went to a family reunion there when I was small. It was beautiful countryside. This is a fun story and I like reading about your Mamaw.

    June 11, 2012
    • I never knew you had people that close to mine, Jill. We are probably distant relations. :)

      This series will likely be disjointed, because I am trying to give Lori some of my memories to help her better know a woman she hardly met, who is the grandmother we share. I spent a lot of time with Mamaw, and I have lots of memories. :)

      June 11, 2012
  14. I love this, Andra. What a great portrait of an intriguing character. I, too, wrote about my grandmother today.
    Hugs,
    Kathy

    June 11, 2012
    • I have got some catching up to do with blog reading. It is so hard for me to keep up without the laptop. I can’t wait to read your post on such a fitting day.

      June 11, 2012
  15. That’s glorious First, the descriptions are so vivid that they paint a specific picture of a formidable woman. Second, you reinforce that with your desire to remember her in what must have been a terrifying moment. Clearly, it was electrifying as well.

    June 11, 2012
    • Jessie, I spent much of my time being terrified of Mamaw. She was a force of a woman.

      June 11, 2012
  16. I always love hearing stories of how a grandmother remains present in lives long after they are physically gone. Your Mawmaw surely left a lovely imprint on your life and I loved reading this. How incredible to think of using Loretta Lynn’s voice to bring around the most pleasant of memories of your own Mawmaw. That kind of brings a tear to my eye, Andra. I’d love to have someone I could tap into to do the same and remember my own precious grandmothers. I enjoyed this immensely! Debra

    June 11, 2012
    • We all hope we will be remembered when we’re gone. I hope she knows she isn’t forgotten.

      June 11, 2012
  17. A formidable, admirable woman :-) I liked her the minute I saw her face, and your beautiful portrait confirmed everything I read in the photograph. The thing with women like that: you know precisely where you are with them. They’re fierce, but they know the earth. They are the earth’s boundaries, I think.

    June 11, 2012
  18. I like that you’re doing this tribute to your grandmother — it makes me think about doing the same for mine.

    June 12, 2012
    • Reading about yours would be really interesting, I suspect.

      June 12, 2012
  19. I’m with Mamaw – it is a travesty to waste any part of an Oreo. I’m starting to understand Andra, now. Can’t surprise her with gifts, eats the inside of Oreos. It’s all coming together. :)

    June 13, 2012
  20. your recollection of the costume jewelry made me smile….I spent hours playing in my nona’s bedroom with her many drawers of gawdy broaches; pendants and clip earrings ~ (loving these lovely snapshots of yesteryear)

    June 13, 2012
    • Was it a grandmotherly requirement to have piles of gewgaws and fake jewels? Playing with that stuff is such a part of childhood. Haven’t seen an update on your dad lately. Please let me know how things are going and how you are holding up.

      June 14, 2012
  21. phyllis delong #

    I got to know your Mamaw when I was in high school and she was one of the cooks. I knew her for three years before I met Roger, your cousin. Willa Mae and his Mother, Garnet were sisters. She was always very good to me and we enjoyed going to see her. I worked as a cashier in the lunch room and we always got to eat first and the cooks would eat with us. Great memories. I did not know my grandmothers. I did have a wonderful step grandmother who treated me like her own. Great story and am looking forward to more of your memories. One more thing – if there was any food left over which was not often she would take some of the food home with her in her Volkswagen. I think that might have been when I fell in love with Volkswagen.

    June 13, 2012
    • Phyllis, that VW bug was such a part of who she was, wasn’t it? I can remember clinging to the edge of the seat as she slung us all around the car on those curved roads up there. I hope Roger is improving. I try to keep up on FB, but it isn’t good for much connectivity these days.

      June 14, 2012

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