I Remember Mama
By Robert Moore
August 15, 2012
Where to start? Mama has meant so much to so many people, it is difficult to know where to begin. I miss her every day. Although she physically has been dead for many years, her influence continues to guide many of the things I do on a daily basis. And I am assured that influence is felt by all of her living children, many of her descendants who knew her, and by those folks fortunate enough to have met her when she was living.
Trasda Calvin Sullivan was the oldest of seven girls. Her father was the son of an Irishman who married a woman refuted to be to be full-blooded Cherokee Indian. Her mother was descended from strong English stock that were well respected Middle Tennessee famers. Trasda's grandmother was a staunch Democrat, while the Sullivans were bull-headed Republicans. They rarely saw see eye to eye on anything political. After the marriage, Grandma would not allow the couple to visit her for at least five years.
Trasda was born on top of Bone Cave Mountain in Van Buren County, Tennessee. Her family decided to head for Texas when she was only a month old. They never made it very far, and the first 10 years of her life were spent in a very small valley in Sherwood, Tennessee which is near the Alabama border. She was named after her aunt, her father's sister, Trasda Carlista Sullivan. Where, Calvin, her middle name came from is a mystery. She never cared for her name and by the time she was an adult she adopted the name Tressie. Her father called her his "Lady Bug", and the name was shortened to just "Bug". The nickname followed her the rest of her life. Anyone who knew her very well called her by her nickname. I never heard my father call her by any other name. In fact I don't think I ever heard her mother or sisters use any other name.
When she was ten years old the family moved to Bridgeport, Alabama where her father worked in a basket factory. When she was about 12 years old Tressie began to take on the responsibility of caring for her sisters and doing much of the housework. By this time there were a total of five girls in the family. She began to sew, making clothing for herself and the other girls. The family moved to Richard City, Tennessee where her father worked at a cement plant. She continued to do the housework and made clothes for all of the family, which by then had a total of 7 girls. She attended school at Richard City, and went through the eighth grade. At the age of 14 she started to work in a hosiery mill in nearby South Pittsburg, Tennessee.
It was while she and a friend were taking a break from work at the hosiery mill that She met her husband-to-be, Will Moore. He worked nearby and was walking to work when he saw the girls and stopped to talk. They met at dances and then started going together. They were married in Jasper, Tennessee on 2 Oct 1919. They initially lived in a boarding house in South Pittsburg; but by the time their first child was born they had moved near Tressie's father and mother in the old Irondale Town community in Richard City.
Her children were without a doubt the most important aspect of her life. Simply said, she lived for them. There was never any doubt in any one of her children's mind about her love. She expressed it in so many ways. Now, that's not to say that she did not know how to wield a mean switch. She expected us to mind, and could very quickly show us that she meant what she said. As much as she loved her children, and as good as she was with her grandchildren when they were ill, she had problems with caring for her own ill children when we were young. She would become so upset by an illness, that often she would wring her hands in agony because she felt helpless to cure the illness. She did use a lot of old folk medicines. It is a wonder that some of them didn't kill us.
She had a wonderful singing voice. She had learned many old world ballads and religious songs from her father. In our early days in Western Tennessee her singing was just about the only entertainment the family had. She would sing and rock the younger children to sleep in the evenings while the older ones sat and listened.
Her early years of learning to sew was a godsend for our family. We were so poor, that even ordering from Sears and Roebucks was a luxury for us. Most of the boy's underwear was made from feed or flour sacks. Material from clothing and coats that were worn out by older boys would be salvaged and made into clothes for the younger ones. Virtually all of both of our sister's clothes were made by Mama. And she continued to make clothes for her mother, sisters, and her sister's children for many years. Of course these were tailor made clothes. You could not buy that quality in stores. Her clothes fit the person she made them for. I remember that she still made winter shirts and sent them to me when I was in the military stationed in Germany during the late 1950s. She also made clothing for her many friends and neighbors. She never charged them for the work. Most times her only reward would be in the left over materials.
And lord, how that woman could cook. Her fried chicken was heaven. Her vegetables and greens were out of this world. Her cornbread was the only kind I would eat ( and like) until her youngest girl learned to cook like her. She could make the simplest fare taste like a meal fit for a king. I still compare everyone else's country style cooking to hers. They just never seem to match up to hers, except for that youngest girl who comes awfully close.
She read everything. As she aged she had trouble sleeping; so she read almost continuously. Her bed would be covered with newspapers and magazines. Often she would lay a book or magazine down, doze for a while, then awaken and begin reading again where she left off. Her breadth of knowledge was astounding. She loved history. I remember stopping at virtually every historical marker along the highways so that she could read them. She also loved poetry, and would often recite her favorites verbatim.
Her grandchildren loved her dearly. They loved visiting with her. As some of the boys grew into teenagers she allowed them to drag up their old cars to work on beside the house. She always had something to drink and eat for them, and never complained about the messes they made. All of her nephews and nieces enjoyed visiting with "Aunt Bug". They also remember her fondly, and treasured the clothes she made for them.
I think Risden's son, Mike, summed her up better than anyone else could. Once, when Mike was still in college, he asked his dad whom he would like to be most like if he could change himself. Risden thought about it, and told Mike that he admired and respected many of the characteristics of his brothers and some of his friends; but that he could not think of any one person that he would choose. Risden then asked Mike whom he would choose. Without hesitation Mike replied that it would be his Grandmother Moore. Risden was somewhat surprised, and asked Mike why he would make that choice. Mike replied that she never saw the bad in people, only the good. He wished that he had that ability. I wish I did also.