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At the Crossroads of Mother’s Day...

At the Crossroads of Mother’s Day & Mother Nature

By: Rhonda Newman Keenum - May 11, 2023

As Mother’s Day approaches, I am reminded of the many Mother’s Days that shaped me. Most of my clothes, much of my food and all of my sass were homegrown in the foothills of Appalachia – northeast Mississippi. 

My maternal grandmother Eudell excelled in all things except diplomacy. She was a fearless gardener, seamstress, carpenter, chef, small grocery store owner and disciplinarian. Her red dirt gardening skills not only included vegetables of every variety but also roses – specifically red and white roses with a bloom cycle in early May. 

The timing and sequencing of her roses ideally meant blooms coincided with the second Sunday in May – Mother’s Day. Mother’s Day Sunday church attire required a rose corsage pinned to our homemade Sunday best with a 2-inch straight pin complete with a faux pearl tip.  Red roses were worn if one’s mother was alive and white roses if one had lost their mother.

If Eudell’s roses peaked too soon or too late, there was the occasional visit to Ms. Pearl Guy Wallis’s flower shop in town on Saturday (before Mother’s Day Sunday) to purchase red and white rose corsages bolstered by a twig of greenery and a sprig of baby’s breath. Regardless – on Mother’s Day my great-grandmother, grandmothers, aunts, mom and sisters would be adorned with traditional Mother’s Day finery. 

Like all things within her jurisdiction, Eudell went to great lengths to carry out this four-generation practice to honor our moms – those sitting in the church pew beside us and those resting in the church cemetery plot just up the hill.  She ensured this familial duty through her rose-sequencing success or cash for the flower shop taken from the early 20th-century cash register at her country store. 

The only thing that frightened or exposed any sense of vulnerability in Eudell was Mother Nature’s wrathful side. She was terrified of storms and specifically tornadoes. She tended to her underground storm house as attentively as she cared for her home. 

Eudell’s storm house contained benches she hand made with scrap wood salvaged from Warren G’s sawmill.  It had kerosene lanterns (always topped off with the flammable liquid dispensed from her country-store kerosene tank), canned jars from her summer garden inventory and a first aid kit of iodine, alcohol and gauze remnants from her seamstress projects. 

She had gallon jugs of water and had stored in the corners a supply of batteries and flashlights. There was also a hidden box of Marlboro cigarettes and matches even though she “didn’t” smoke. When there was any hint of a cloud or rainstorm or thunder or lightning, we knew where to find Eudell. Her instinct for bad weather – especially tornado activity – was legendary.

I think about her proclivity for storm terror particularly after our state has experienced Mother Nature’s wrath over the last few months. While Mother’s Day and Mother Nature are different concepts, they both typify the power of motherhood. Whether it’s a maternal bond between a mother and her children or the inescapable power of our natural world, both remind us of the importance of caring for and protecting one another and the world around us.

Mother Nature’s tornadoes in Rolling Fork, Silver City, Carroll County, Winona, and Amory on March 24 have forever altered the meaning of Mother’s Day for far too many of our fellow Mississippians. Instead of celebrating together in the church pew with their children and grandchildren, many mothers will unexpectedly be resting in their church cemetery.

I want to honor those beloved mothers who lost their lives on March 24. Their mothers, daughter and granddaughters will now be wearing their Mother’s Day Sunday best with white roses far too soon. God bless them and the families, friends and neighbors they left behind.


Mary Barfield Bush, Rolling Fork

Delores Harris, Rolling Fork

Linda Herman, Rolling Fork, daughter of Luvella Herman

Luvella Herman, Rolling Fork, mother of Linda Herman

April Johnson, Rolling Fork

Wanda Kelly, Rolling Fork

Phyllis Maxey, Rolling Fork

Helen Munford, Carroll County

Erica Nicole Moore-Ford, Rolling Fork

Brenda Odoms, Rolling Fork

Melissa Pierce, Rolling Fork

About the Author(s)
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Rhonda Newman Keenum

Rhonda Newman Keenum is a native of Booneville who served as Assistant to the President and Director of the White House Office of Public Liaison during the administration of President George W. Bush after a successful career as a political advisor and public relations executive. She and her husband, Mark, live on the campus of Mississippi State University in Starkville. They are the parents of four children, Katie, Mary Phillips, Rett and Torie.
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