It was at lunch after a morning revival service last summer that a few of us sat around, munching on Southern casseroles and talking about one of the most memorable mothers any of us had ever known.
Bedelle Nix. A memorable name attached to an unforgettable woman. As my sister’s mother-in-law, Mama B, as she was known all over the countryside, became part of our family when I was 7. This introduction into our family meant that Mama B — a strong, mindful woman — would meet the closest thing to a match she would ever encounter: my mama.
Since Mama’s name was Bonelle, the sing-song sound of “Bonelle and Bedelle” would chime often through the stories told ’round the dinner table.
As the two grew older and, thus, more willful and cantankerous, the tales of their standoffs and put-downs became legendary. Especially at the beauty shop, where my sister would take them together for perms and wash-and-sets.
Mama B particularly relished the telling and constant retelling of being 11 years old and my daddy, a smitten 12-year-old who thought the future Miss Lumpkin County beauty queen was enthralling, had given her his Baby Ruth candy bar, quite a generous gift for a poor mountain boy during the Depression.
For a long time, Mama simply seethed as Mama B proudly recounted the story. Finally, several years after Daddy died, Mama had had enough. This was never a pretty sight. If you never saw Mama when she had had enough, consider yourself properly anointed and blessed.
We were sitting at the dinner table. Mama pursed her lips tightly and put up her hand.
“Bedelle, that’s enough. Just hush,” she commanded firmly. “I don’t want to hear no more about you and Ralph and that dang Baby Ruth candy bar. He married me.”
Before she could say more, I stepped in to quickly change the subject. Mama B — to her credit since it was against her nature — shut her mouth.
But the long entertaining, often laughable saga of Bedelle and Bonelle is not the purpose of this story. It is to tell you how Mama B, a woman of the most remarkable faith I have ever seen, served the Lord to the immense discomfort of all the sinners who tripped across her path. Mama B could spot the most downfallen sinner anywhere. She was especially adept at finding them at the grocery store.
I was about 9 when I tagged along with her to the small Mauney’s grocery store in her little town. She was in the canned-goods aisle when a beleaguered man had the misfortune of looking for a can of soup while Mama B was studying a Campbell’s label. She looked up, saw him and grabbed him by the arm. Apparently, she knew him and some of his history.
“Where are you with the Lord now?” she demanded.
Instantly terrified, he mumbled something about being “right with the Lord now.” Aw, but Mama B never stopped with that. Her questions fluttered around him like a mockingbird flapping its wings.
“Did you get saved? Have you been baptized? Did you join the church? Did you go to church last Sunday? Where? Who’s the preacher? Whatta he preach on?”
The man was red-faced, flustered, Mama B was determined, and I was bored so I wandered off. I have no idea how the conversation ended, but I did see the man hurry out the door, having not tarried long enough to buy anything.
The conversation that day at lunch was how many owed their salvation to Mama B’s constant pestering. One preacher allowed how his own daddy owed his trip to heaven to Mama B.
“He’ll tell you to this day about how he hated to see Mama B comin’. She’d start on him about findin’ the Lord before it was too late.”
What a mama. What a legacy. What a gift to so many.
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