One of my earliest memories of my mother, Ann Hudson Downs, was when I was about five and she was chasing me down a dusty road in Calico Rock, Arkansas. Her purpose was to keep me from running away from home. Mine was to sneak off to play with some kids in another part of town and get back home in time for supper. But the gap between Mom and me was closing fast.
That was in the same year—1937—when Mom had invited President Franklin Roosevelt to attend my fifth birthday on January 30, a birth date we shared. Even in the depths of the Great Depression, we received a handwritten note from the White House in which the president sent his regrets. Until her death 64 years later at the age of 95, there were no more runaways. Well, that’s not quite true. Mom was less than pleased when I transferred my membership from the Church of Christ to First Baptist Church of Arkadelphia.
Grudgingly, however, she conceded that she thought Baptists had the second best chance of going to heaven. When it later became imperative for us to move Mom to a care facility, we found new joy in our daily visits as we reaffirmed what were some of life’s most important guidelines. Among these were • “Do the best you can with what you have where you are.” • “Nothing is so futile as regret.” • “Act in haste and repent at leisure.” Mom’s most precious gift to me, however, was her steadfast love and unrelenting encouragement.
Most of the older generation—my mother and Dad (William D. Downs, Sr), Charley and Vollie Mae (Pa and Ma) Hudson, my grandparents, along with aunts and uncles Clyde and Lou Hudson and John and Billie Bagby—are buried in a family plot in Aurora, Mo. Rather than generating a sense of loss, I have found it to be a place of homecoming, a celebration of lives well lived.
So for Mothers Day, what follows is Mom’s summary of more than five generations of the Hudson family as written in the booklet “Pa and Ma.” Charley (Pa), was born Charles Thomas Hudson in Wild Cherry, Ark., on Aug. 23, 1877; Vollie (Ma), was born Vollie May Stroud, near Lacrosse, Ark., on May 25, 1881.
In about 1916, Mom recalled, “we settled down on the ‘Blue Farm.’ If my dates are right, I was 10, Clyde was 8, Cecile (a third sister) was two and Billie was still a little rabbit (To Ma, those waiting to be born into the family were “little rabbits”).
“ The Blue Farm,” Mom said, “was a beautiful place on gently rolling land with smooth, level acres where my father planted his cotton, corn and sorghum cane—and talk about sorghum! They just don't make it like that anymore. Even the making of it then was a special time in the fall.
“Evenings were fun on the farm, especially when our cousins, the Whites - Jessie, Georgia and Tommy - would be there. A favorite evening pastime was catching lightning bugs and putting them in jars, always being careful to punch air holes in the lids. When the bugs turned on all their lights, the jar was a pretty sight in the darkness.
“Sometimes Ma would sing as she cooked breakfast. The sound of your mother's voice mingled with the aroma of home-cured ham or bacon, sizzling in an iron skillet with scrambled eggs will awake anyone who is still alive.
“I may be the only one left old enough to remember how on winter evenings we would sit around the fireplace listening to Pa play the banjo while perhaps waiting for the supper’s sweet potatoes to roast in the hot ashes. Sometimes, Ma would sing. ‘Nellie Gray’ was a favorite. It went something like this: ‘Oh, my poor Nellie Gray, They have taken her away. And I'll never see my darling anymore. They have taken her to Georgia to wear her life away as she toils among the cotton and the corn.’”
“Later, there was the farm in Cape Fair, Mo., the only place the grandchildren, other than Bill David—the oldest—remember at Christmas time. Yes, I am thankful for these and the many other childhood memories. Although the old songs and poems made me sad, it was a sweet sadness that taught me compassion for the Nellie Grays all over the world.
“When Ma was in the hospital in Aurora, not long before Pa died, I went to visit. When I reached the door to her room, I saw that Pa was there, his wheelchair drawn close to Ma's bed. I stopped and listened. They were talking about their lives together—sharing memories, memories of both the good times and the bad times, memories they had been collecting together for almost three quarters of a century.
“As I started toward them, I heard Pa say, ‘But I'd like to do it all over again.’ Ma's quiet reply was, ‘So would I, so would I.’” At his death in 1974, Pa and Ma had been married for 72 years.