Mama Boo… by Jane Strebel

Silhouettes of girls in evening dress on a black background.

She was a diminutive snippet of a woman, falling just short of five feet tall, a mountain woman who probably felt that, at age 22, she was doomed to live her life as an old maid. Unlike her, the man knocking on the door of the primitive, one-room cabin leaned more toward the taller side, a strapping mountaineer who had recently lost his wife, the mother of his seven children.

This woman’s mother was adamantly opposed to the marriage, but they went ahead with it anyway. Her stepchildren, the oldest of which was only seven years younger, called her Mama Beulah. Children were, in due course, added to the union, one of them my mother, and eventually, grandchildren as well. We shortened her name to Mama Boo. 

My first memory of my grandmother takes place just a few weeks after my third birthday. I was awakened in the middle of the night by my mother, who told me it was time for her to get our new baby. I was going to Mama Boo’s and Papa Rob’s house; she said.

I remember seeing my grandmother walk down the back porch steps toward our old Ford coupe. She was wearing a long, white cotton nightgown and her hair, which had always been coiled in a bun to my recollection, was down, gently twisted and draped over her shoulder. She spoke briefly to my mother, then took my hand and walked me up the steps and into the house. In my other hand was my tiny cardboard suitcase.  

When we walked into the darkened bedroom, I could hear Papa Rob snoring in the big four-poster bed. My grandmother and I crawled into another bed, however, the little bed that had belonged to her youngest child, Betty Jane, who had been born with Down Syndrome. Betty Jane had died some eight years earlier and Mama Boo had started sleeping in her bed, most assuredly for the comfort it afforded her. I remember how safe and loved I felt when my grandmother pulled me close to her body, a body that had born a dozen of my ancestors. 

Even after all these years, I still remember how wonderful it was to be in that little bed. And still today I get pleasure thinking that being with me, Betty Jane’s namesake, just might have actually given Mama Boo comfort as well. It seems we were both offering a soothing, generational solace to each other.


  1. Tommy on March 1, 2024 at 10:00 pm

    What a wonderful story, and so well written.

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