Beth Lawrence

Beth Lawrence

Every day I start my morning prayers this way: Dear Lord thank you for this day and the blessings that will be in it.

I try to find a blessing in every day no matter what happens. Part of that is because my mother raised her children to be grateful.

I am the youngest of seven children plus several foster children. We grew up without a lot of material things but a lot of examples of how to be happy with what you have and how to do for others.

My parents’ hard work kept us with a home, clothed and well fed. My father, Wilson, was a construction worker. My mother, Flossie, was a homemaker.

Every summer they grew a garden, and I don’t mean a small hobby garden. We owned two acres of land; about ¼ of it was the house and yard. The rest was planted with peas, butter beans, corn, okra, squash, sweet and white potatoes, tomatoes, greens and who knows what else.

No matter how tired they were from other work, Mama and Daddy worked that garden and us kids did too. Sometimes I hated that garden, but as an adult, I know how crucial it was to our survival and that of many others. As vegetables ripened my mother worked herself ragged in a hot un-airconditioned kitchen to prepare and freeze food for the winter.

With themselves and us kids, my parents had every right to keep every morsel of food that garden produced, but they didn’t. They couldn’t. They believed too much in community and taking care of others. Any family member, neighbor and, for all I know stranger, who asked for anything out of our garden got as much as they could carry away free of charge. Why? Because my parents were grateful for what they had and recognized that there were always people who had less, and that we should always help people no matter our circumstances.

I give my father a lot of credit for his generosity and exhausting work for our family, but my mother was my greatest influence.

She was a legend in our neighborhood for taking in stray animals, kids and adults. I was too little to remember, but there is a story of how she took care of a man most people in Hasty were afraid of.

Mr. Bill Brayboy was a root worker. He had cancer and was dying. His wife, Abbey, was partially paralyzed from a stroke and couldn’t care for him. Nobody in the neighborhood would help. Each day my mother took food to the Brayboys, cleaned their house, fed Mr. Bill, bathed him, changed his bedlinens, did their laundry and other chores. She didn’t have to take care of this old man and his wife, but they had little, and she had something to give.

When my paternal grandmother went into a nursing home, my mother took notice of other residents who didn’t have family. One woman lay in her bed in threadbare torn gowns. My mother didn’t have money to buy clothes for the woman, but she had skills. She went home that evening and started sewing. She made gowns, a lap quilt and more. My mother had little, but this woman had less.

From that day until the day she was too sick to do it anymore, my mother made clothes and lap blankets and collected toiletries for nursing home residents. For 25 years, she used scraps, dollar yard goods and donated fabric to make things that she couldn’t afford to buy for complete strangers.

It wasn’t until I was in my late 20s that those lessons took deep roots. One cardboard sign changed everything.

My husband had lost his job, our only income because I was a homemaker. The opportunity to buy a house we wanted evaporated, so I was living in my family home left empty when my mother went to a nursing home. We both had cars, but mine was getting older. Bills were piling up, and the unemployment office was taking its sweet time processing the claim. I was tired, stressed and mad at the world. What did I have to be grateful for?

I went to the grocery store with $40 trying to get enough food to get by until something broke our way. I did my shopping and was putting my meager supplies in the car. I looked across the parking lot and saw a car, trunk lid bulging open bungee corded down over a family’s few worldly belongings one of which was a plastic kiddie table and chairs. They had children. Attached to the bungee cords was a cardboard sign: Lost everything, starting over, need a place to stay, willing to work. My heart fell to my feet. Enough complaining from me. I decided in a Food Lion parking lot to be grateful. I had a home, and all my belongings weren’t crammed in the back of a car that I was likely sleeping in.

I went home, cooked dinner and told my husband and daughter that we were going to start asking the blessing over our meals and being grateful for what we had.

I haven’t stopped being grateful and looking for blessings in every day, and I’m a happier person for it.

Beth Lawrence is a reporter for The Sylva Herald.