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Women's History Month Profile: Big Mama

I never knew why we called my grandmother "Big Mama" because, physically, she was one of the tiniest women I had ever known. But based on the stories my dad (her son) used to tell, she earned the name!

Big Mama was born Samantha McCaston in Macon County, Alabama on June 2, 1883. I don't know the exact birthplace, but she raised her six children in a town called Notasulga. She was 43 years old when she had her last child---my dad. The street they lived on was nothing more than a dirt road with a little white church at the top of the hill.

I used to hate going to visit there because Big Mama was very strict. I was never allowed to wear anything above the knee so shorts were definitely a no-no. Can you imagine being in Alabama on the hottest of days and only being allowed to wear dresses? And the dresses couldn't be sleeveless. She always said she didn't want to "no white man the wrong idea." Of course, as a child I had no clue as to what that meant so I just did what she said. I always remember her sitting on her porch in a white rocking chair with "Miss Anna" and a jar of snuff.

As I reflect back on my experience with Big Mama, I have to say I admired her for a number of reasons. She ended up having to raise six children by herself. My grandfather was already dead by the time I was born and no one really wanted to talk about what happened. I have reason to believe he was a part of the Tuskegee Experiment they did back in the 30's but I've never been able to prove it. In addition to raising her children alone, she tended her large farm land and was always very particular about her vegetables. Every Sunday she would walk to the little white church on the hill and get her praise on.

All of my aunts, my uncle and my dad were fabulous cooks. I believe if my dad had never married he would've done just fine on his own because he not only knew how to cook (better than my mother) but he also ironed, washed clothes and maintained a very clean home. He always said Big Mama told them she wanted them to be able to make it on their own and she taught them how. My dad even had a garden in our back yard for many years.

Although Big Mama wasn't born into slavery, I don't think she ever fully realized what it meant to live in a "free society." Even though the Emancipation Proclamation was established in 1863, the Jim Crow "Separate but Equal" laws were the norm---especially in the South so my Big Mama just stayed in her own little space.

Big Mama lived to be 101. She outlived three of her children including my dad, who died of heart failure two years earlier. The last time I went to visit her was right after I graduated from high school. By then she was pretty frail and didn't recognize anyone.

It's funny how when we are kids we don't see the relevance of talking to our seniors but they have so much history to share. Sometimes I wish I had spent more time with Big Mama to learn more about her struggles. I wish I had kept one of her handmade quilts she used to send us every Christmas. All I have now are memories. Memories of a woman who made a difference in my life in more ways than she will ever know.

***In honor of Women's History Month, I am sponsoring a contest. To enter, you must be a subscriber to my Newsletter.

Also, Join women around the globe making history during Virtual Woman’s Day™
Thursday, March 15, 2007 – ***


SkinCareGirl said…

What a beautiful story.:)
I'm sure many of us wish we would have given more time to learn from our ancestors. But it's the perfect time to teach our children to take advantage of the learning now.:)

Carine said…
Bev, what a wonderful story. I too had a grandmother, who despite having had cancer in many forms throughout her life, never complained. I adored her. She wanted more than anything to see me married. I had just met husband when she fell and wound up in the hospital. She didn't die of cancer-but of a bone sliver than traveled to her heart. She was 79. I remember how she cared for everyone. I was very close to her and hope I have the strength to "not complain" over my aches and pains by remembering what she must have felt like and yet always asked questions about everyone else's life.
Carine said…
okay Bev, I left a big comment that seems to not have made it here yesterday....
I too considered my grandma, on the mother's side, to be the dearest woman in the world. She had so many forms of cancer and a tough life, with a husband who never thought of anyone but himself, but she was always kind and interested in everyone else. Power to women like yours and my grandmothers.
Dear Bev,

Great story! My grandma was my hero too!

And thanks so much for posting Virtual Woman's Day™... looking forward to your showcase.

Warmest regards,


Heidi Richards, Founder & CEO – The WECAI Network™ - “Helping Women Do Business on and off the WEB™”
Join women around the globe making history during Virtual Woman’s Day™
Thursday, March 15, 2007 –

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