THE WOMAN BEHIND THE MAN by Jeanie Stanley

There’s an old saying that ‘Behind every good man there’s a good woman.’ I never really thought too much about that until just recently on this past Mother’s Day. This is a day that I don’t normally look forward to because my beautiful mother, Mary Magdalene Kiser Stanley, passed away on November 4, 1990. A lot of the joy went out of my life when she was called home. She had been both a mother and a father to me most of my life. She was my rock. I miss her terribly and I know now that I never fully appreciated all that she sacrificed for me until I got older.

I must tell you before I go any further that I had a wonderful Mama. From as far back as I can remember my Mama worked. When I was little, my older sister, Doris, and my three older brothers, Carter Lee, Bill & Bobby, all helped take care of me. My Daddy was gone for long periods of time playing music. Breaking into the music business wasn’t something that happened overnight. It took and still takes time, perseverance, sometimes a job during the day doing something else, and a whole lot of talent. Meanwhile, back at home in Live Oak, FL, I guess you could say that my Mama shouldered the responsibility for making sure everything got done – paying the bills, buying the groceries, taking care of the house, making sure all five of us were taken care of, maintenance on our car, and working a job, too. The lines of communication back then were restricted to long-distance phone calls but that was expensive so it was pretty limited, too.

The first job I remember my Mama having was working as a waitress at the restaurant in the big Suwannee Hotel in Live Oak for several years. After that, she went to work for Mrs. Hand at the Dixie Grill. Another waitress job. She worked the graveyard shift this time. It was the only restaurant that was open 24 hours. I think she made more money working that shift but it was hard on her. She made good money in tips and it was the premier restaurant in town. (The Dixie Grill is still in business to this day. It’s under different ownership and across the street from its original location.) I know she missed my father a lot and I believe this helped her keep her mind off him being gone as well as being monetarily necessary. She worked there for years.

By this time my father had passed away. There was no insurance money. It was rough. Moma’s next job was at GoldKist, a chicken processing plant. I believe it’s Pilgrim’s Pride now. The plant was about 15 miles from our house. She worked in the ‘chill & pack’ department. It was very physical work but the pay was better than waitress work. She got up very early in the morning and rode with a lady, Julia Moon, who lived near us, to save on gas. She worked there for a few years. Next came a job at a local sewing factory. I don’t think she cared much for this job but she did whatever she had to do to make a living.

When I was in the sixth grade Mama was lucky enough to land a job as a nurse’s aide at the Advent Christian Village in Dowling Park, FL, where she would work for the next 16 years. The easiest shift for my mother was the second shift or 3-11. I was 12-years-old at the time. By the time I got off the school bus to walk home, she would be just starting her work. She always left me a list of chores, some good snacks and a sweet little note every day. I excelled in school and made good grades. She always told me to finish all my homework after I did my chores. I always tried to do what she told me. I missed having her home with me but it all worked out. She was off two days a week and spent all her time with me. She really liked this job. It seemed she had found a comfortable job with great benefits. It consisted of very physical work that required the help of orderlies a lot of the time but Mama loved the old people that she took care of and they loved her. It was very emotionally rewarding for her. Not long after she was hired they built a newer nursing home which was a lot nicer. After many years of working there, Mama was moved down to Wilson Hall. The patients she took care of there basically had their own apartment and she was kind of like a sitter to watch over them. The work was much easier on her physically.

Mama worked right up until three months before her passing. She was a strong woman with a heart of gold. She had a hard life. She never got to enjoy any of the fruits of her labor or my father’s labor. I know she never looked at another man after my father passed away. That’s just how she was. I couldn’t ask for a better woman to be my mother. I just hope I can be half the woman she was. I aspire to be more like her every day.

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