Mother Mary

This Bellville-Avenue Belle grew up in a time of cotton dresses, bare feet, and decency. She has survived a handful of dear friends, thirteen US presidents, and one late husband who fished with firearms.

My mother-in-law fell yesterday. She stumbled in the garage. It was bad. She smacked her face on the pavement. She busted her glasses. And her nose. When I found her she was bleeding.

“We’re going to the ER,” I said.

“I feel lightheaded,” remarked the white-haired Scarlett O’Hara.

“Yes, ma’am. Here, take my arm.”

“Wait, I need to brush my teeth before we go.”

“But you’re bleeding all over.”

“These shoes don’t match my belt, get my blue shoes from the closet, the sling-back heels.”


“…And my lipstick, it’s in my purse. I need my pearls.”

Meet Mother Mary.

I’ve called her that ever since our first supper together. That was a long time ago. I remember the meal: rump roast, served with enough trimmings to make the table buckle.

For desert, we had pear salad—a half-pear topped with mayonnaise, shredded cheese, and a cherry. I ate every bite. but you should know: I’d rather lick a possum than eat pear salad.

I nearly choked.

Even so, that night Mary and I discovered we liked each other. She told me to call her Mother Mary. It’s all I’ve ever called her.

Before she was my mother-in-law, I visited once to take her daughter on a movie-date. Her husband answered the door with a twelve-gauge.

“Jamie’s upstairs,” he said. “Her mama and I are on the pier, fishing.”

Her daddy led me to the dock where Mother Mary was working a rod and reel. She started screaming, “I got one!”

Without saying a word, my wife’s daddy aimed the double-barrel at the water. He unloaded two explosions and ten cuss words.

It was a speckled trout the size of a grown man’s leg.

That night, we canceled our movie date and ate with my wife’s parents. Fried fish, hushpuppies, French fries, okra, and anything else her daddy could stuff into a deep-fryer.

I’m hard pressed to remember having a better time. And if I didn’t know better, I would’ve sworn these three people cared about me.

Then Mother Mary brought out pear salad.

Anyway, after our ER visit today, Mother Mary sat in a recliner with a bandaged face. Her wrist is purple, face swollen. She’s tired.

And she is tough.

This Bellville-Avenue Belle grew up in a time of cotton dresses, bare feet, and decency. She has survived a handful of dear friends, thirteen US presidents, and one late husband who fished with firearms.

Mother Mary has one titanium hip, crippling rheumatism, and an accent that sounds like Azaleas. She brings Brewton, Alabama into any room she enters. And anyone fortunate enough to hear her say at least three words often ends up smiling.

She can arrange flowers, paint with oils, write thank-yous until dawn, and sing any Hank Williams tune.

The doctors did CAT scans, X-rays, and other tests. The young physician remarked that he’d never seen a patient with cleaner teeth and nicer lipstick.

He didn’t even mention her pearls.

“I broke my glasses, falling,” she told me, covering her bruised face. “They were expensive.”

Glasses are cheap.

There will never be another Mary Finlay Martin.


  1. Carol DeLater - January 10, 2017 12:13 pm

    And not a lot of son-in-laws who genuinely love and LIKE their in-laws. You are truly blessed. I am smiling ear to ear with my morning coffee. Reading your posts is the best way to start the day.

  2. Cherryl Shiver - January 10, 2017 1:47 pm

    My Momma will be 90 this March. Her Momma lived in three centuries. Born 1899 Died 2000. Yepper, three centuries. Mommas mine is slipping, sometimes……we were visiting the other day, she now lives in assisted living, hardest thing I ever did in my life, and I gave natural birth to two ten pound baby boys, of course not at the same time….anyway,…Miss Doris(Momma) and I were talking she ask me if I thought people in heaven could look down and see us. I ask her Why? Well, she sure does hope so because she has done lived longer than all her sisters and brother, my Daddy, and most of her friends and she dang sure did not want them to think she had went to the devil. Like I said, some days her mind works quite well……

  3. Tish - January 10, 2017 1:56 pm

    Wonderful story – you are lucky to still have your mom-in-law with you – I’m sure you hug her often

  4. Judy - January 10, 2017 2:05 pm

    After she fell, did she call you for help, or do you just stop by every day to check on her? I’ll bet you or your wife call or check on her every day, don’t you? You sound like the Son-in-law I wish I had, or the son I wish I had. Or, just a neighbor I wish I had. Bless you!

  5. Cooper Green - January 10, 2017 10:09 pm

    Every day another treat… thanks, Sean.

  6. Nan Claypool - January 10, 2017 11:48 pm

    I love almost every day, and as an old ER nurse, I especially love your Mother Mary!!

  7. Benjie Friday - April 26, 2017 9:37 am

    Love your stories… is my new obsession.

  8. Deanna - April 26, 2017 11:41 am

    Love your memories, it reminds me of my mom, she passed Dec 3 2016 at 91, she still had all her teeth, wore lipstick and pearls, she was a southern bell also, she fell and blacked her eye, she pulled her self up and waited till she was presentable to call anyone! These amazing women! Thank you!

  9. Roger Brothers - April 26, 2017 11:48 am

    I loved my mother in law! And she made me believe she loved me too (certianly more than I deserved) but she had that effect on most people she was close to.

    BTW you may want to explain to those not familiar with rural South Alabama culture that a bass is a “trout”.

  10. Dale Entrekin - April 26, 2017 12:18 pm

    Forget Folgers, the best part of waking up is reading your column. It’s he perfect way to start a day.

  11. June Roulaine Phillips - April 26, 2017 12:37 pm

    You are a wonderful and loving son to Mother Mary. Praying for a speedy recovery.

  12. Jodi - April 26, 2017 1:24 pm

    I loved your comment about pear salad! Not long ago we were getting ready to visit a new widow and family. I had not been able to cook a proper “visit” pot of peas so I put together a pear salad. I was so afraid it would not meet muster with the other dishes that night. But, one of the sons came up to me and as he hugged my neck he whispered his thanks for the pears. It was his and his late daddys favorite. I never worried about taking pear salad again. I love your stories, they are the true stories of the southern culture. Love from Georgia!

  13. Lilli Ann Snow - April 26, 2017 1:55 pm

    To be remembered by you, Sean, is to live forever. To be loved by throngs of admirers you will never meet. To become as large as life can let one expand.

    To be remembered by you, Sean, is to receive stars in one’s crown …whose sparkle will light the path for us readers to follow in such a magical way that we may even someday achieve a few stars in our own sun bonnet.

    How I love your heart and soul.

    How I love the ones you immortalize by remembering.

    Have a wonderful day…✨?✨

  14. Carolyn - April 26, 2017 5:30 pm

    How can you not like pear salad? 🙂 Your mom-in-law reminds me of several lovely Southern ladies I know.

  15. Marvene - April 26, 2017 8:30 pm

    Am new to Sean of the South. My friend in Alabama got me started. I have shed more tears of sadness and JOY over your endearing, loving, sad, laughable daily articles. I live in AZ and how you string words together with such artistry, showing the simple, unpretentiousness of folks in the South is amazing. Such a talent! You are blessed by the Lord. May you keep them coming.

  16. Martha Wilson - April 26, 2017 9:33 pm

    You made me think of my own Mama and her pear salad. She made it the very same way, only arranged the pear on a piece of lettuce so it would look fancy. I never knew her to go anywhere without her outfits matching and her lipstick fresh. She had one of those lipsticks in every purse she owned, along with one of those little Kleenex packets of tissue and some hard candy. She was from NC, and my Daddy was from Alabama, up here on “missionary work” he used to laugh. I often find traces of them both in your writings, for which I thank you. I miss them very much. Maybe next time I am in the grocery store I will buy some pears and make a salad…

  17. Dawn - April 26, 2017 11:50 pm

    I love it! Made me think back to my first meal with my husbands parents, who would a year later become my in-laws. I was so excited to meet them and wanted to make a good ‘first impression’ as all southern girls do. I got past the introductions and who my parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and everyone was and what they all did… (measured up well!!) then we go to the ‘supper table’. What did my first meal consist of? Fish, yuck.. I hate fish, I never eat fish, I can’t even stand to smell fish but you can bet I ate that fish and bragged on it that night!! Years later, I told my dear sweet Mother-in-law about it and we had lots of laughs for years about that. We lost her in Aug of 2014. I wish I had some of her fish today!

  18. Annette Bailey - April 27, 2017 12:21 pm

    Sean of the South,
    I first read your story about the couple in a restaurant who are just talking about things in general but at the end of the meal, the most important thing between this couple was that her x-Ray was negative. My Mom has terminal cancer and as I sit with her and see her slowly being overtaken by this disease at the age of 90, I’m reminded of a person who had 3 boys and 3 girls. She woke up each morning around 4:30 to get the wood stove going to make sure we dressed in the kitchen in warmth. She fixed breakfast every morning and supper every night where sometimes it was only peas and cornbread. Dad worked in the railroad and had to be gone a good bit but she never faltered raising us. We are all successful and Christians. Mom and Dad made such of that and we are glad. DAd served in the Navy in WWII but wouldn’t share any of his stories but I’ve never found too many men of that age who would talk about it. We built Mom and Dad a brick home with all the furnishings in 1990 and she was so happy she didn’t know how to act, she said. Your stories bring back so many memories…each of them. I cry and laugh with all of them. I grew up in Brushey Creek but we all graduated from Georgiana, Al. And now, I’m married to a pharmacist and we’ve lived in Andalusia for 38 years. Pensacola is our favorite place to visit because it has our favorite BBQ place and it never fails to have a few State Troopers there each time we go. Thank you for your stories. I make sure I don’t miss a one of them and if I ever see your book, I will certainly buy a copy. There’s never too many stories that make people feel like they are back in their childhood. And by the way, my husband had the old fashioned drugstore with soda fountain and all until the building became too old and we had too build a new store down the street. We loved that old store. Thank you again for how you touch my heart as well as many others I know. I share your stories each time I read them and my friends and families love reading about you back here in old Alabam! Bless you, your wife, and family!

  19. Charaleen Wright - March 20, 2019 4:53 am


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