We are often asked if the character of "Momma" is based on a real person. The answer is yes. My grandmother on my father's side was a fearsome woman known throughout Jackson, Tennessee as "Momma Ida", a broom-swinging matriarch who raised ten kids during the depths of the Great Depression.
She did this alone, except for her broom, because her husband fell down dead from stress. They were sharecroppers in those days and apparently, operating an agricultural facility owned by someone else could be rather stressful.
As a single mother, without the social support structure of today, Momma Ida kept the family intact and busy, picking cotton, growing tomatoes, cow milking, pig slopping, hunting eggs hidden by wily chickens, corn shucking, 'tater digging and snapping beans.
With two girls and eight boys, Momma Ida ruled the
course farm with a firm hand, smiting evildoers with "broom whuppins'" for infractions like laziness, lying or gluttony. (That last one was pretty rare, as there was little to eat.) The most terrible beatings were meted out for the dark sin of "sewing disharmony within the family".
Growing up, I knew Momma Ida as a gruff, white-haired old woman, fairly stout in her physical construction, but surprisingly quick and agile. She wasn't terribly scary to us grandkids, but whenever she appeared broom in hand, we always jumped up and followed our parents out of the room. Wild stories of broom ambushes were often told at family gatherings, but Momma Ida never denied them.
My favorite stories always involved "sewing disharmony", usually some heinous act perpetrated by one sibling upon another. Here are a few of the best: Coming in at #3, "I'm gonna spit straight up."
Due to the economics of sharecropping during the Great Depression, at least six of the boys were forced to sleep in the same bed. Food was scarce and many meals consisted of cornbread, buttermilk and white beans. This combination nearly always resulted in gastrointestinal imbalances, as the fermentatious triglycerides in white beans contraindicated with whatever buttermilk consisted of and the results were nocturnal methanious sub-audible pressure venting.
I'm gonna spit straight up.
When the previously mentioned sub-audibles had been distributed evenly and sufficiently contained by the various quilts and blankets, the perpetrator would loudly announce his intention to "spit straight up", thus forcing the younger boys to seek shelter within the toxic environment that existed below. Depending on the potency of the fermentatious triglycerides, the result could range from mere discomfort and disgust, to burning eyes, actual shrieking and abandoning the bed while calling for someone named "Ralph".
Momma Ida would burst in like Slim Pickens in the greatest movie ever made, swinging the broom wildly, hoping to smite a guilty party. If, by accident, she smote an innocent with collateral broom damage, it was justified by citing previously unpunished evil deeds and she would take her broom back to bed.
#2 was "The Great Pig-Slapping." My Uncle Whip, a future GCS/Golf Pro, and Norm, my Dad, also a future CGCS/Pro Golfer, were involved in this horrendous event. Whip's real name was Edsel, but he changed it to Whip for obvious reasons, so as not to be forever associated with the worst car ever made. Also, Whip was a heroic movie cowboy name and that was a popular career choice among Wilsons.
Dad changed his name as well, from Norman to Norm, owing either to another fellow named Norman with diminished intellectual capacity acquired from close proximity to artillery . . . or perhaps it was the hotel keeper with the butcher knife in Alfred's film. Anyway, Whip dreamed of being a cowboy film star and knew that he needed equestrian skills to accomplish his goal, but the family had no horses.
Whip solved this by riding a pig.
Whip solved this by riding a pig. Norman, seeing a grand opportunity for sewing disharmony, violently slapped the pig upon his pig buttocks and off went the squealing pig at great speed, with Whip holding on like a rodeo cowboy. They continued at great speed until the pig went under the house.
As there was only enough room under the house for a pig, Whip was driven into the siding with great force, possibly damaging his movie star face. A great wailing erupted from Whip, followed by a great howling from Norman. Momma Ida arrived on the scene, her broom already unsheathed, and she quickly determined who was at fault. Initially unable to lay broom upon Norman, she issued a direct order. "Norman, come here right this minute!"
Now, no farm kid ever fell for that one. There would need to be a chase, sufficiently exhausting enough to drain the fury from the adult and make the whuppin' survivable. Norman lived on the run for days, only surrendering after the craving for cornbread and buttermilk became too powerful.
#1: Turpentining Charley's Horse
At Number One? "Turpentining Charley's Horse." Younger brother Charley was also destined to be a film cowboy and he had solved the horse shortage by acquiring an invisible horse. Charley happily rode his horse everywhere until the dark day Norman captured Charley's horse. Right in front of Charley, Norman dipped a corncob in turpentine, grabbed Charley's horse by the tail, and vigorously applied the corncob to sensitive horse areas, all while supplying sounds of a horse in great distress.
Charley went insane. Momma Ida instantly appeared, intent on wreaking vengeance upon Norman with her broom, flailing it about like a two-handed English broadsword. Wounded, Norman escaped, but for months afterward, he only had to whisper "Charley, I got your horse" while doing his pantomime turpentine application. Amidst tortured howls of agony from Charley and his horse, Momma Ida decided to end the disharmony by killing Norman.
She switched from broom to frying pan . . . and that's how our Momma Rockbottum came to be. Oh, and that's also why Dad joined the National Guard at age 14.