Mildred Mitchell & The Power of Praise
Wednesday, 02 October 2002
I stood in a visitation receiving line for four hours tonight in front of Mildred Mitchell's open casket with my cousins Jane and George, Mildred's son and daughter, and their spouses Billy and Glenda. Tomorrow the funeral will be at Shackleford Funeral Home at 11am in Bolivar, where many Hardeman County, Tennessee funerals are held. One old man told me tonight that he and his wife attended seven funerals at Shackleford's last week. The crowd will be a large one. Mildred was 94 years old. Her children and grandchildren and great grandchildren and family, friends, students, colleagues, fellow church members and neighbors add up to a lot of people touched by Mildred's love.
For four years I have watched Jane, George and Glenda care for Mildred while she was in the nursing home. I have watched them keep round the clock vigil as she lay dying over the last few weeks. They would not let her die alone. On Saturday I will go to my uncle Blair's funeral in Jackson. That will be at St. Luke's where I have gone to so many funerals and weddings. I will get to see my stepmother Stella who lives in assisted housing in Jackson. I love her very much. When my mother died, my father came back home and married this West Tennessee woman. When he died four years later, he blessed us with Stella's presence in our lives for many years to come.
I have a friend, John Edward Hurley, who gives lectures on southern culture. He says that culture is the integration of the divine in every day life. The women in my family have spent a life time perfecting the art of Proverbs 31. For them, virtue is serious business -- an art form to be perfected through a life time and passed on from generation to generation. Mildred Mitchell was a virtuous woman. Her casket is surrounded by hundreds of hot pink roses. They are delicate and powerful.
Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies.
The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil.
She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life.
She seeketh wool, and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands.
She is like the merchants' ships; she bringeth her food from afar.
She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household, and a portion to her maidens.
She considereth a field, and buyeth it: with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard.
She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengtheneth her arms.
She perceiveth that her merchandise is good: her candle goeth not out by night.
She layeth her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff.
She stretcheth out her hand to the poor; yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy.
She is not afraid of the snow for her household: for all her household are clothed with scarlet.
She maketh herself coverings of tapestry; her clothing is silk and purple.
Her husband is known in the gates, when he sitteth among the elders of the land.
She maketh fine linen, and selleth [it]; and delivereth girdles unto the merchant.
Strength and honour [are] her clothing; and she shall rejoice in time to come.
She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness.
She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness.
Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her.
Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all.
Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the LORD, she shall be praised.
Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates.
The Bible, Proverbs 31:10-31
There is something so right here. Even on the hardest days, I can feel the energy come out of the land. The soil is rich and dark and when it rains you can just stick yourself in the mud and feel it heal you. I am deeply tired tonight but I am glad to be in a place where man and woman, child and parent, neighbor and friend hold each other up and try to do their best by each other. This is not what I learned in my schooling but I am glad that it is never to late to learn.
The Hickory Valley Cotton Gin across the street from our homes is humming with the fruits of our harvest. Cotton balls were lining the street when I went for my daily bike ride around the town commons. As we stood in line tonight my cousin Bob worried over the farmers he left back in the fields --- Squeaky and Charles and Mann. How much cotton can we bring in before Hurricane Lilli makes it up the Mississippi Delta to Tennessee? A hard rain could wipe out a portion of a whole year's work. It lets you know why everyone works so very hard to not waste a drop of energy and to lift each other's spirit. I adore my cousin Bob. I pray constantly that the crop is good and that everyone working on the farm with him and Billy is safe and well.
My family does not understand what is happening in Washington. Not because they are stupid. Not because they are lost in myth. Not because they are apathetic. It is because they can not fathom anything that indecent. The pastor at Hickory Valley Baptist church explained it to me once. In the middle of the sermon one Sunday he said the problem with angels was that they could not fathom what it was to be lost.
What my family knows is what Mildred Mitchell passed on to us from the generations. The power to give life is a delicate power --- and it is the power that lasts.
Mildred Mitchell --- we to whom you have given life, come together to say goodbye and to give you praise.