It is always nice to meet Calhoun County folks when traveling, and our conversation sparked many good memories about our mutual acquaintances, especially Hilma’s mother, Mary Elizabeth Johnson.
Hilma attended Anniston High School during the 1950s, about 10 years before I did. She was grown by the time I met her mother, which is why she and I were never acquainted then.
When I first got to know Mary Elizabeth, back in the 1970s, friends told me that she would seek out people who needed a place to stay overnight because their loved ones were in the hospital. At times, she gave them her house key and told them to make themselves comfortable.
Mary Elizabeth was a hairdresser and would often style the hair of women who were in the hospital -- a volunteer service she performed. That’s how she knew many of their families who needed a place to stay. Also, she met some of the families in her role as a Pink Lady. Mary Elizabeth was once honored by Stringfellow Hospital for accumulating 10,000 hours of volunteer service.
Hilma said her mother was also known for teaching Bible lessons in the local jails. In fact, she said that a local jail once created a baptistery because of her mother’s “suggestion.” One of the Mary Elizabeth’s students wanted to be baptized, but the jailers would not give her a furlough. It is likely that they decided it would be easier to create a baptistery rather than to tangle with Mary Elizabeth. Her daughter said she was a person who knew how to take charge of a situation.
Hilma told one story that she particularly loved about her mother. At some point before she died, Mary Elizabeth befriended a woman who was in jail for writing bad checks. The woman was due to be released and needed a car. Mary Elizabeth went to a banker and secured a loan for the woman based on her signature.
Hilma said she knew nothing of this transaction until after her mother died. At that time, the banker approached her and asked if she was settling her mother’s estate, which she was.
“The woman had made a few payments and then stopped,” said Hilma. “The banker said he did not have the heart to ask Mother for the money at that time.”
However, as bankers tend to do, he figured Hilma would be willing to settle her mother’s debt.
“I was glad to repay him,” said Hilma, “and I thought to myself how the deed summed up Mother’s life. Even after she died, she was doing a good deed.”
Every other year, Hilma attends the 50th-year-plus grand reunion held for Anniston High School graduates. Such an event helps her remember her own fun times of being a cheerleader and of having a house full of friends. Here again, Mary Elizabeth proved to be especially helpful. She would bring hot chocolate to the football games for the Anniston High cheerleaders. Hilma said her mother once hosted a sleepover for her and cooked 12 dozen eggs and 12 packs of bacon for breakfast.
“I would have parties, and we would do the jitterbug,” said Hilma. “Mother would sit by the china cabinet to make sure we didn’t sling somebody into her dishes.”
Hilma said her mother’s generosity knew no racial lines. One of her best friends was a woman named Ola Mae, who babysat for Hilma when she was a small girl. Later, Mary Elizabeth brought Ola Mae to one of Hilma’s birthday parties, and she visited in Ola Mae’s house when she became ill.
According to my son, Hilma is a woman like her mother – positive, helpful, and generous. In fact, she works as a social worker at a hospital in Pensacola, a job she has held for 20 years.
As I said, meeting a hometown person is nice, as is making a new friend and remembering an old one.
Email to Sherry at firstname.lastname@example.org.