May 8, 2018


Mama was always with me, until the day she died. My mother and I were close, but she worked full-time, and often at odd hours, as a nurse. So my young years were spent in the loving care of my mother’s grandmother, my beloved great-grandmother.

Mama Was Mine

Mother called her “Mo-Minnie” and my brothers and cousins called her “Mom Minnie,” but I called her Mama. I knew she was theirs too, but I felt she belonged to me alone. She understood me and constantly sought to ensure that I realized my personal value to her and to the world. Mama was skillful at that, something I have come to recognize more completely only in reflective adulthood.

Mama and I “visited” my parents and brothers often. I was excited about the time with my family, and my brothers were equally excited to have their only sister with them. But just as we know that this world is not our home—no matter how we have worked for a desired house—I always knew that the house with my parents and brothers was not my home. My home, my world, was wherever Mama was, with her warm, comforting hugs, affirming words, and constant positive perspective.

Mama Taught Me Everything

Mama taught me everything I know, at least she taught me the beginnings of everything I know. She taught me to love beauty in nature, in human beings, and in myself. She taught me to take responsibility for myself and others in my sphere of interaction. She taught me the honor of work, to always stretch for the best in my performance, and never to settle for less than the best in myself or condone wrong-doing and slothfulness in others.

Mama taught me to love, worship, and follow Jesus as my Lord in everyday, walking around, living. She said my Christianity was not to be a display of religious ritual or pious proclamation, but is revealed, in fact, by how I treat other people. She taught me to be loyal to family, even when they appear not to deserve it. Mama taught me to respect all, particularly elders. She taught me to always be ready to give a helping hand to friends and neighbors. She taught me that every person is my neighbor, but not every person is my friend.

Mama taught me to “read” human nature for understanding, and to guard against being exploited or abused. She taught me to stand for right, but not be compelled to take on all battles simply because they’re brought to me. Rather, she taught me to focus on real wars that typically mean fighting for those who cannot fend or fight for themselves. She taught me to always value and seek peace, but when I had to fight, fight to win.

Mama taught me to never allow bigotry, prejudice, oppression, or hatred to define or limit me. She taught me, “if you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas”: through association we become changed, so I should choose friends carefully. Mama taught me that the world is not fair to girls and women, but girls and women can still be fair to the world. She taught me about consequences: “what goes around comes around.”. She taught me about revenge; that retribution for offenses is God’s prerogative. She taught me never to boast, but to “let my works speak for me.”

Legacy was important, Mama taught me. As it’s said, how we live is important; how we leave is more important. Mama set the standard and modeled both for me.

Mama Loved Beauty

My favorite times with my Mama were actually all the time. Our most wondrous activities included getting up early in the morning during spring and summer and going out into the yard to care for our little flower garden(s). We cultivated exquisite, velvety deep red roses that perfumed the small yard, and robust red and yellow four-o’clock-bells that looked like tight flower buds until they popped open each afternoon at about 4:00. We often planted a controlled patch of standard majestic sunflowers, and at times added zinnias and marigolds.

Every Monday morning, washing consumed our agenda. For most of our years together we washed all our clothes, not just the delicate things, by hand on a scrub board in a metal washtub. We achieved super brilliant whites by boiling them in a huge kettle on the stove, in Mama’s special detergent and bleach formula. My white ankle socks impressed everyone, even the teachers whom I overheard more than once declaring their amazement to each other.

That reminds me of another of Mama’s great lessons for life: “Everything comes out in the wash,” meaning all dirt—hidden evil, deceptions done in secret—will be revealed under the right circumstances.

Together my Mama and I loved mornings with roses and four-o’clock bells, tea cakes in the afternoon with freshly squeezed lemonade and summer breezes, homemade cornbread for dinner, the Ed Sullivan variety show on Sunday evening, our own pear preserves and blackberry jam on hot buttered biscuits in the winter, and pineapple sherbet anytime.

My Mama, Minnie Knox Manson, never travelled abroad. But she believed in the power of reading and learning about diverse people and places. We had hope in the power of God and, through His power, the potential of human beings for overcoming challenges and making the world better for all.

Mama Loved Me

My mama, from farm country in Knox County Tennessee, migrated to Louisville after the deaths of her husband, John Manson, and first child, Emma. With her she brought her remaining four girls and two boys, the youngest of whom was my grandmother. Mama never fit into fast-paced, pretentious city society, but instead created comfortable space within it where she loved me like Jesus does.

Ella Simmons is a vice-president of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Silver Spring, Maryland.