Woman of Grit

Her mind moves faster than her mouth. She tells me slowly: "I want anyone who meets me to know they can make it through anything..."

I’m a survivor is what I am,” she says. “I want you to write that in your little article about me.”

She’s in a chair by the window—a soft recliner. On the table beside her: porcelain figurines of Georgia bulldogs, a few Jesus statues.

“When I’s a girl,” she says. “I fell off a mule, my hair got caught in the stirrups, thing drug me for half a mile. My daddy said he ain’t never seen a tougher girl. Finally ripped my hair clean out.”

She’s too old to live on her own now, but she still has independence at her retirement facility. Athena comes to help straighten her room now and then. Athena is large, black, kindhearted, and I wish she would consider adopting me.

Athena says, “She don’t like to say it, but we think she older than she knows. That’s why I thought you’d like writing about her. Think she almost hundred years old, but ain’t nobody really sure.”

Nobody’s sure because she doesn’t have a birth certificate.

“I’s born in a two-room cabin,” the old woman says. “Daddy put me to work plowing the very next day.”

Athena laughs at this. She has a beautiful laugh. I wish Athena would let me sit in her lap for a little while.

“Daddy wanted all boys,” she goes on. “What he GOT was two girls and two boys. And we were all fine-looking, too.”

The girls worked as hard as their brothers, doing chores meant for kids with tough hands and testosterone. By her teenage years, she could plow straight lines and shell peas with her arms tied behind her back. She believes this grit is what helped her survive cancer.

“When I’s in my forties,” she says. “Doctors found cancer in my breasts, back then all they knew was to cut’em off. They told me I’d probably die anyway.”

Athena shakes her head and whispers, “Jesus.”

“So, I told’em to cut me. The other treatments made me sick as a dog. I didn’t sleep right for five years.”

Maybe not. But she’s been kicking ever since. And she still settles in front of the television most Saturdays to pull for Georgia.

Her mind moves faster than her mouth. She tells me slowly: “I want anyone who meets me to know they can make it through anything, with faith.”

She is more adamant about this than she is about football.

“Oh, she sure do love her football,” says Athena. “Only day of the week we let her dip her snuff.”

She hears Athena talking about her, so she says again: “Make sure you writes that I’m a SURVIVOR in your article thingy.”

Yes ma’am. Survivor.

I surely will.


  1. Karen Bethea - March 14, 2017 5:00 pm

    I have an “Athena”….she hangs on the wall in an odd place – right outside my bathroom door – so I can see her many times every day. My “Athena” is a poster entitled “Southern Reflections” from some hoopdeedo festival in New Orleans. Found her in an antique store. She sits in a rocking chair on a wood plank front porch wearing in a cotton print dress with white apron and an “original” version of a do-rag on her head. She is sitting facing forward in that rocking chair but her head is posed toward the viewer – I feel like she is looking straight and me and she has a Mona Lisa smile on her face. She is every “Athena” that ever took care of me at my Grandmother, Mama’s house in Campbellton. She is Annie, Minnie Lee, Barbara and all the other wonderful women that cooked, cleaned, ironed, told stories and cared for the grandchildren there…. if my house started to burn down and I had to grab a few things, “Athena” would be under one arm….

  2. Ben smith - July 7, 2017 11:58 am

    Well I hit the wrong button.
    Awesome thanks for the lesson and thoughts you make me remember. And think about a lots of things.God Bless you. That’s a fact.

  3. Barbara Bray - December 30, 2018 4:53 pm

    Keep on shar’en real people with us , Sean.


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