January 23rd would have been my Mamaw's birthday.
Even though she passed away while I was in my early twenties, she has remained with me and continues to be an influence during those times I need a bit of guidance.
While Mamaw was born on what some call Compton's Mountain, she was not born a Compton. She came into the world as Martha Edna Dingus, one of fourteen children born to Paddy and Nannie Dingus. The Dingus family was poor and the family shared just two rooms in a shack that held no luxuries, not even that of running water.
Martha counted herself lucky to make it through the second grade when she then had to drop out to cook for the men and help raise the babies after her elder sisters had married and were starting families of their own. Now that I am grown, I am awed at the dedication and desire to learn she had to teach herself how to read and write. She had beautiful handwriting and rarely a misspelled word.
She married late by 'hill' standards. I think she and my Papaw married when she was nineteen. I wouldn't venture to say that life was easy then, but she married into a well respected family who owned a butcher shop, local stores, and had the wealth of much land. Somewhere along the line my Daddy was born. Ten years later Uncle June arrived. The stores closed, Papaw left the mines and Mamaw became the breadwinner by working in a sewing factory.
During my childhood she lived in a four room shack without heat or water. She began the day when it was dark and stoked the coal cooking stove to make breakfast as much as to heat the house. She fed her family, worked a full day, and fed her family again in the evening. No fast food meals, most meals included her yummy buttermilk biscuits and fresh food from the large garden my Papaw tended. Her Saturday's centered around a trip to the laundry mat and grocery stores where she not only took care of her home's needs but also that of her elderly mother. Sunday was for church, often both morning and evening.
In my tenth year my Mom and I lived with my Grandparents for eight months while we awaited housing to join my father in Bamberg, West Germany (there was a West Germany then). That year my grandparents moved into their new home. It was made of block and brick and held six rooms. Running water did not come until later and always remained hit or miss as it relied on rainwater caught in a cistern. There were still trips to the laundry mat and heating with the fireplace when heating costs were high, but my Mamaw had nicer things and loved her home and the land on which it sat.
All of her life she lived on the mountain, within a mile of the shack in which she was born. She loved the land and had a real appreciation for all of God's creatures large and small. She shared with me her love of being with nature - the beauty of a butterfly, the antics of a groundhog, the gifts of the trees and berry bushes.
When I think of Martha Edna Compton, first my heart fills with warmth of having been loved well my an amazing woman. Then my thoughts turn to a woman who created a good life from hard beginnings, who knew the value of learning and growing, who never complained, nor had a harsh word about others, who loved her family and loved her earth. Still, I am learning from her and from the example of how she lived her life with a kind heart, determination, and spirit.
Happy Birthday, Mamaw...thank you...you are greatly missed