Born on the edge of Fayette and Walker counties, Maybelle lived in Oakman until she was 12, then moved to Jasper which she’s called home ever since. In 1946, she married a soldier who was just two months back from World War II. Today, she knows the exact amount of time Jim spent overseas: “Three years, eight months and eight days. He was in Germany, he was in the D-Day invasion, he was in the Battle of the Bulge. He saw it all. He was shot in the stomach, but he got the soldier who shot him and he brought the pistol home. It was a German Luger, blue steel.” They didn’t start a family immediately. “We’d bought a house and were having a hard time making the payments,” Maybelle recalls. “This was in the 1950s. We heard we could make a lot more money in Chicago, so we moved up there and went to work in a tool factory — that was my first job, making tools for automobiles — until we could save enough money and come home.”
After that, Jim worked in several mines — Dora, Red Star and others — and would eventually suffer from black lung. But with a steady job, the couple could look ahead toward a family. A daughter, Carol, was born in 1968 and another, Kim, in 1969. Kim, who today has two daughters of her own, remembers her early childhood as a kind of idyllic existence. Her father drove a coal truck, and she looked forward each day to him coming home: “He had one of those big, dark green lunchboxes,” she recalls, “and every day there’d be a surprise in it for me and Carol. It was pink Snowball cakes, and they came in packages of two, one for each of us. They’re still made today, and I still love ‘em.”
“My husband was the best daddy I’ve seen in my life,” Maybelle says. “He worshipped those two kids. He lived for them. Toward the end, I don’t think he would have lived as long as he did, if not for them. Understand, he loved me and I loved him, and there’ll never be another for me. But he loved his kids beyond love. He’d die for them, any day.”
”The end” came when Chester died of black lung, far too young, in 1982. Kim was in middle school, Carol was starting high school. As the full extent of their loss began to soak in, Maybelle says, “My first thought was, ‘I can’t believe he’s gone.’ My next thought was, ‘Lord, I’ve got to get a job!’ She found one, working in the deli section of the former location of Winn-Dixie.
“I’ve got to brag on my kids a little bit,” she says. “After their daddy died, they were wonderful to me. There was nobody to stay with them after school, but they came straight home and stayed there ‘til I got in.”
One of Kim’s memories from childhood is of steady discipline: “With my parents, there were things you just didn’t do. Like cut up in church, or run up and down the aisles playing. You sat there and listened, because that’s what church was for.”
As for Carol, one of the things she appreciates in retrospect about Maybelle’s style of mothering, she says, is that “She always told me what I needed to hear, instead of what I wanted to hear.”
Several years later, Maybelle’s work life took a different direction. A good friend had started a catering business and needed someone to help her with it.
Maybelle became a caterer and, incidentally, started renting her friend’s basement apartment at the house on Sixth Avenue South where she lives today.
Life in the subsequent years had its ups and downs. Carol (Bailey) and Kim (Morrow) married and began families. Maybelle was nagged with health difficulties, requiring more than a dozen surgeries and leaving her with too many chronic problems to count; most recently she’s still recovering from a fall down her basement stairs, which happened when she was taking cover during a tornado warning.
Tornadoes have been a constant theme in the families’ trials and tribulations, over the years. One of them destroyed the side-by-side homes of Kim and her nephew Jason. “The ground where they’d been looked just like you’d swept it with a broom,” Maybelle remembers now. “Then Jason moved over to Highway 5 and, of all things, the next tornado that came sent six trees through the top of his house. He’s recovered, but I wouldn’t have the amount of heart that boy’s got, for nothing.”
Yet a different storm — during the fateful April, 2011 series — sent a tree through the roof of Maybelle’s house, which has since been repaired.
Nowadays, she’s excited about the fact that Carol’s son Jason and daughter-in-law Tori will soon present Carol with her first grandchild and make Maybelle a great-grandmother.
When asked what advice she’d give to someone turning 84 years old, she says “I’d tell them to enjoy life while you have it. Even with all I’ve been through, I still enjoy my kids and my life. I wouldn’t take anything for it. This past February, I celebrated my 68th wedding anniversary. He’s not here, but he’s still the man I’m married to.”
As for advice to mothers raising children, she’s equally as concise: “Be honest, be faithful and God will give you the grace. He’s looked after me and my kids when there was nobody around but us. I mean, you can’t trade God’s love for anything.”
Dale Short’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org; his web page is www.carrolldaleshort.com