If Marjorie NeSmith was anything, my mother was an optimist. Even when her chin was quivering, she depended on her rock-solid faith to lift her spirits. If there was a silver lining in a looming black cloud, unsinkable Margie could find it.
As she barely clung to life during 2014’s Christmas season, she squeezed my hand and said, “I can’t lose. If God lets me live, I’ll be here to enjoy my family and friends on earth. If He takes me to heaven, I’ll be with all my family and friends there. So, be at peace, son. I can’t lose.” On New Year’s Eve, my chin quivered while giving her eulogy. But a day doesn’t pass that I don’t hear her voice, filled with words of encouragement.
She had a scripture or notable quotation for every occasion. And beneath her always-perfectly-coiffed hair was a brain full of earthy sayings, many I’m sure passed on from her saintly grandmother, Susie McNeal. Born in the 1800s and maybe 5 feet tall, Ma was a pillar of strength within her family as they eked out a hardscrabble existence on a mule-plowed farm in Baker County.
Throughout my childhood, I heard my parents say, “This Christmas, let’s give Ma running water and an inside bathroom.” And then, year after year, Ma would pat her Bible and say, over the squeak of her rocking chair, “Thank you, but as long as the Lord lets me pump the handle, I am happy to get my water from the well.” Eventually, she agreed to a spigot on the back porch, but the privy remained out back behind the fig tree.
Today, Ma’s petite rocking chair is among my most prized heirlooms. Sunday afternoon, after scrambling to prepare for Hurricane Irma’s arrival, I looked for a quiet spot to prepare my mind. The squeak, squeak of that woven-cane-bottom-and-back chair helped me to find peace. The more I rocked, the more I smiled. I could hear my mother passing along the advice of my great-grandmother: “God keeps us in a swivet to keep us humble.”
What’s a swivet?
A swivet is “a condition of irritation, exasperation, annoyance.”
If this hurricane season isn’t a swivet, I don’t know what is. No matter how irritated, exasperated or annoyed we become, there are some things out of our control. Harvey, Irma and other natural disasters have reminded us of that—again. Consider the humbling devastation and havoc of recent weeks. So what’s the silver lining in all this?
Ma would say, “The worst of situations brings out the best in people.” And that’s exactly what we are witnessing. While wind and water punish us, neighbors are clutching the hands of neighbors, pulling them to safety. Strangers are rescuing strangers. Hearts and wallets are opened wide. Those floods of kindness help to wash away the ugliness of the moment.
And as I rocked, over the squeak, I could hear Mother saying, “The best way to ease the pain of your miseries is to get busy helping others with their problems. Pretty soon, your woes seem insignificant.”