A whimsical look at life growing up in the small town of Waldron, Arkansas in the 1960s and 1970s, plus occasional observations from the present. Want to start at the very beginning? Click HERE.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Mama and Daddy

 People always thought it was kind of funny that their names were so similar:  Albert and Alberta.  Albert was never called that; everyone who knew him called him Abb.  In her younger days, Alberta was known to her friends as "Peaches," but by the time I came along, everyone called her Alberta, except for her closest friend, Florene Douglas, who called her "Berta."  But I and my siblings were fortunate enough to get to call them Mama and Daddy.

Daddy worked for the phone company, which over time had gone from the Waldron Telephone Company to the Interstate Telephone Company to the Continental Telephone Company and possibly a few other names that I have forgotten.  It was probably one of the best jobs available in Scott County; not that we ever got rich, but it was a company that offered lots of benefits.  Because of the nature of his work, Daddy was friends with almost everybody in town.  He was also very handy at repairing things, and lots of people called him to work on their appliances.  He never said no.

Mama was mostly a housewife, except for a brief period of time in the 1960's when she worked as a waitress at the Rock Cafe, and again briefly when she worked at Judy's Drive In.  Her main focus in life was her five children; my older brothers Gary, Gene, and Phil, and my twin sister Janet and I.  She cooked, cleaned, worked in the garden, provided medical attention when necessary, while never missing a church service at the Assembly of God Church, and making sure that we kids likewise never missed a service.  As she went about her unrelenting chores, she could almost always be heard singing a gospel song.  I believe, in all sincerity, that Alberta Yates was incapable of thinking a negative thought about anyone. 

Their life together was full of both happiness and trials.  Daddy fought an ongoing battle against alcoholism, which consumed a large part of his salary and severely damaged his relationships with his wife and children.  He was never abusive, but his addiction to alcohol prevented any semblance of normalcy in his family life.  For most of his life, he was able to separate his drinking from his work life, but eventually, he had to retire from the phone company due to his alcoholism.  Mama was patient and loving throughout the difficult years, as was her nature.  She was a devout Christian, and her faith sustained her.  She was somehow able to pass this faith on to her children.  Her insistence that we go with her to church undoubtedly saved us from lives as alcoholics ourselves, since the disease is often passed down through the generations.  Watching her life made us want to have a relationship with Christ; if she could be that happy in spite of her surroundings, so could we!

We knew that Mama and Daddy loved each other, although we never heard Daddy say it.  He was doing the best he could; he was just fighting something that was bigger than him.  And it was a fight that lasted a long time. 

When Mama was around 70, she developed lymphoma.  When she first got the diagnosis, we were terrified.  But we learned that it was a disease that could be managed, and in true form, Mama managed it.  When a tumor would develop, she would go in for treatment, which usually required radiation, and when that was done, she would go on about her life.  Meanwhile, Daddy was not doing so great either.  His drinking was causing him to fall and injure himself, and on more than one occasion we had to get an ambulance to take him to the emergency room.  He broke his upper leg one time, and that required an extended hospital stay.  After that, when he was away from alcohol for a couple of months, he was able to finally stop drinking when he got to come back home.  I couldn't believe it; he had finally managed to win against an enemy that I was convinced couldn't be defeated.

In late September of 2007, Mama had to go into the hospital again for treatment for her lymphoma.  Everything seemed to be going well until she experienced a spinal hematoma, in which she had bleeding into her spinal column.  In addition to the excruciating pain this caused, it also left her legs paralyzed.  But she rallied, and we brought Daddy up to the hospital one Saturday to see her.  They shared the most pleasant of days together, with Daddy sitting beside her bed holding her hand, talking and visiting with their children.  A few days later, Mama told me, "I hope today is the day I get to go home..  I said that to that nurse, and she didn't know I meant my Heavenly home."  Later that night, that's exactly where Mama went. 

We all drove down to Waldron early the next morning to tell Daddy.  We had to wake him up, and my sister Janet gently told him what had happened.  He was quiet as we made sure he understood what we had said.  "I just wasn't expecting that," he said.

Later, I found a post card that Daddy had sent Mama when he was in the Navy.  He was in Basic Training at the Great Lakes Naval Station, and he must have been missing Mama quite a bit.  In the card, Daddy writes, "Hello Sweet.  How are you feeling today?  How is Memaw (Mama's mother) and all?  I just finished writing you a letter and I'm all out of things to write.  I haven't got your letter yet.  Maybe tomorrow.  Bye, Abb"

I'd never heard Daddy speak so tenderly to Mama.  That must have been the guy she fell in love with, and that was the man she always saw.  I didn't understand that until I found that post card.  He called her Sweet. 

Be patient, Sweet.  It won't be too long now.  You'll be holding his hand again soon.


  1. Wow! I miss her so much!!

  2. Comments from Facebook:

    Tricia Lindsey Mr. Yates, that was simply wonderful, thank you
    December 4 at 2:01pm
    Sherry Yates Cowell Bill, did you know that my mom and your mom ran around together before my mom and dad married. I think Abb was in the service then. She talkes about Addie and Ruth, too. That was a very sweet tribute to your mom and dad. Thanks
    December 4 at 6:29pm
    Bette Newborn Bill, this is truly a "sweet" remembrance. Thanks for sharing...bnl
    December 4 at 8:46pm
    Dan Wright Thank you Bill for that story. It makes me think of my mother whom I miss dearly especially this time of year. Mom and Dad are both gone now and during this time of year I feel so empty with them not being here. But I have my family and they fill the void nicely. Merry Christmas
    December 4 at 10:48pm
    Jan Cottingham Bill, that's a beautiful story. I don't think we can begin to really understand, and forgive where necessary, our parents until we're into middle age and have had to fight some of the same battles of adulthood they fought. P.S. My daddy was also a sailor! Thank you so much.
    December 5 at 7:12am
    Lynda Hunt I love your stories Mr. Yates! I enjoy looking back. We also saved green stamps, but also some that were called "Blue Chip Stamps" and "Wise Owl Stamps." Different stores offered different samps. :)
    December 5 at 9:16am
    Denise Edmoundson Mourton I really enjoy your family stories!
    December 5 at 11:22am
    Debbie Burnett Pyles Love your stories BIll, I am always looking forward to the next one...
    thanks for sharing them with us
    December 5 at 10:47pm
    Janet Musgrove I miss my beautiful and precious mama. She was truly the Godliest and most loving person I will ever know.
    Tuesday at 10:05pm

  3. As always, a well-written piece. I'm glad you're back here, writing again. Yours is one of my "go-to" places for a good read.

  4. Billy--This was a very touching read. I'm glad you don't blame my father for adding to your dad's drinking. Abb was a good guy and a close friend of my family. Thank you.

  5. My husband and I stumbled upon the Rock Cafe on our journey home from a camping trip this week and I have been searching for more information on it's history and came across your blog. How cool to read that your mama worked there as a waitress for a time. I would enjoy hearing from you any more info about that enchanting place.