Helen Roberts Brown

Helen Roberts Brown – Mom

For the past two decades, New Year’s Day has had memories of loss mixed in with the anticipation of the coming year.  Mother passed away on January 1, 1998, and while a day doesn’t go by when I don’t think of her, the memories are especially poignant on New Year’s Day.

Thankfully, mother’s life left many legacies in her family, her church, and her community.  Mom’s love of family never changed and was unconditional. She loved each one of us as individuals who had unique gifts and ways to serve. The lives lived by her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren (who she never met) and in-laws are part of her legacy. Her commitment to her faith and her church was just as strong.  She was a life-long reader (as was my father) and she shared that love through her decades of service at church libraries in Tennessee.  She also believed in the power of women in the church, and became the first female deacon at First Baptist in Murfreesboro.  Mom served her communities in so many ways, from PTA president to her years as the children’s librarian for the city.  Mom’s commitment to reading and education was one reason the Helen Brown Scholarship Fund was established by her family at First Baptist Church.  For two decades now it has helped young people attend college.  Most of them never knew Mom, but they are blessed by her life and legacy.

As we look ahead to 2018, I’m reminded of a few of Mom’s many strengths which will help me face this new year with confidence in the future.

Treat everyone with respect.  This seems old-fashioned after the year of taunts, lies, and slander we’ve endured.  However, it still has meaning today, and Mom lived this value through good times and bad.  She was the PTA president the year our school in Cookeville was desegregated.  Very difficult times.  Mom went through that year with her values leading the way, but with an understanding of the challenges she faced.  I later heard her say that there were never any problems with the children in desegregating the schools, only with the parents.  I am often reminded of that when I speak about others who are different from me.

Be the person you were meant to be.  From their understanding of faith, Mother and Daddy gave us a blessing of unconditional love, unconditional acceptance, release to be the person God intends for us to be, and affirmation and support as we work out our understanding of who we are meant to be.  They both said it out loud, and through their lives.  Their unconditional acceptance also seems old-fashioned in a world where too many are frightened by those who are different, but to me it seems so necessary for our life as family and community.

Mom and Dad

Mom and Dad, with their “Helping Hands” aprons made by their grandchildren

Money can’t buy happiness.  Mother and Daddy were never rich in money, but as Mom phrased it, they were rich in love.  Mom would relate to a note from my Dad about money:


a bed, but not sleep

books, but not brains

food, but not appetite

finery, but not beauty

medicine, but not health

luxuries, but not culture

amusement, but not happiness

flattery, but not respect

a house, but not a home

companions, but not friends.

No woman of quality has ever preferred football to baseball.  My mom never said this.  The line actually comes from Thomas Boswell’s Why Is Baseball So Much Better Than Football?  But Mom lived this.  She would watch football and basketball, but she loved baseball.  She told stories of going to old Sulphur Dell park with her father to watch the Nashville Vols.  I’ve acquired her love of baseball and have passed it along to my daughter Claire (another woman of quality).  Looking ahead to 2018, she would join me in my optimism for the Nats!

Memories live on.  I once asked the singer-songwriter Claire Lynch if she ever played her tune These Flowers — about remembering a parent who has passed on — in concert.  It was during a mid-set break, and I was hoping to hear this tune, which meant so much to me, live.  She replied that she didn’t play it live because it was too emotional for her.  I told her I understood, and added that I would probably start crying out in the audience.  So when These Flowers came up on my playlist yesterday as I was driving home from dropping Claire (Brown) off at the airport, I — true to form — started crying.

We all gathered round, and stared in the ground,

While the heavens were weeping with rain.

We smiled. We cried. We said good-bye.

And the children made handsome bouquets,

From flowers that lay on your grave.


And on the long ride home, in their warm little hands.

The blossoms were withering fast.

So we wrapped them in paper and tucked them in books,

And prayed that the memory would last.

With these flowers.


Though time marches on and memories fade,

And flowers surrender their youth.

It’s funny how old pedals pressed on a page,

Brings everything back into view.


I still picture you there, in your favorite chair,

With grand-babies held on your knee.

And its hard to believe you’re really gone.

It’s as if we have all been asleep.

What we find when we wake from the dream…

Are these flowers. These flowers.


Twenty years later, the memories do fade.  But then something…like New Year’s Day…comes around and everything comes back into view.  Miss you mom. Love.  David

More to come…


My Mama Done Told Me – Part II

Grandmother and Granddaddy BrownMy cousin Marcia wrote after reading my original post entitled My Mama Done Told Me to pass along some of her favorite sayings of our Grandmother – Mary Dixie Brown.

You can only afford what you pay for.

You have to suffer to be beautiful.

And the Sir Walter Scott quote, “Oh, what tangled webs we weave, when we practice to deceive.”

Marcia also reminded me that Grandmother liked to use the Uncle Remus quote when she first saw you in the morning:

How’s your copperosity sagaciating?

Grandmother loved words and the sound of words. My love of her and my father is the main reason we used her maiden name “Bearden” for Andrew’s middle name, a name he shares with his Grandfather.

More to come…

My Mama Done Told Me

Grandmother and Granddaddy BrownYesterday’s mail included a package from my father with a note and three CDs.   My father likes to make “remarks” at family gatherings, and so recently he compiled a number of those comments, plus other letters and notes of personal meaning to him, and sent them all on CDs to his children, grandchildren, and close friends.  I’ve spent more than a few minutes crying this morning as I’ve read through remembrances he wrote of my mother.

One of the things he passed along on the CD was a compilation of things his mother – my grandmother – told him through the years.  He titled it My Mama Done Told Me after the line from the great Ella Fitzgerald’s Blues in the Night. My grandmother, Mary Dixie Bearden Brown (pictured as a young bride with my grandfather, George Brown), was a wise woman, and I remember so many things about her.  She lived with us the last 10 years of her life, but she was always one of my favorite people from the time I was a little boy visiting in her house in Franklin, Tennessee.

So today’s edition of More to Come… is courtesy of my grandmother, as told by my father, Tom Brown.  Enjoy.

My Mama Done Told Me – Mary Dixie (Bearden) Brown – By Tom Brown

I recently read an essay by Tony Cartledge, editor of the North Carolina state Baptist paper The Biblical Recorder, with the title Mama Told Me. I woke up in the middle of the night with this on my mind.  Thinking of the things my mama told me.  Also the line from the song Blues In the Night, “My mama done told me, son . . . . “

So here are some things “my mama done told me.”  You might pass them on to the next generation.  As they come to mind I will add more.  Sometimes one just pops up in my mind.  As I say, “My Central Processing Unit (CPU) runs slowly.”

“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that is not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.”  Eph. 2:8-9 I take it that this was one of mother’s favorite Bible verses, because she quoted it to me many times.  Mother loved to study her Bible and she taught a ladies’ Sunday School Class for many years.  She was also a very avid reader, when she had time.  I got my love of reading from her.  I put this first on the list because it has had the most important and long lasting affect on my life.

Always take your hat off in the house. I still do this.  I remember when Alabama played the first Sugar Bowl game in the New Orleans Dome, Bear Bryant did not have on his trade-mark hounds tooth hat.  A reporter asked him about it.  His reply was that his mama told him to always take his hat off in the house.  Good advice.

Make do with what you’ve got. This was the watchword during the depression when we didn’t have money.  You repaired and just made do with what we had.

The graveyard is full of folks that thought the world couldn’t get along without them. I guess the point of this is don’t get too puffed up with your own self importance.

Remember who you are. This admonition was given me often when I was going out with my friends.  The Browns and Beardens had a good name in the community.  Be proud of your family name and don’t do anything to bring shame to the name.

Eat everything you put on your plate. This was backed up with a story about her uncle, Henry Blackburn.  When a boy he filled his plate with molasses, butter and biscuits.  But he didn’t eat it all.  The next meal Pappy, Henry’s father and my great grandfather, John William Blackburn, set the plate of molasses down in front of him and would not let him take anything else off the table.  The way mama told it this went on for two or three meals until Henry got the message.

Some folks are born in the objective mood. Mama did not have a lot of patience with folks who were always complaining and objecting to what others did.  Both she and daddy always had a positive outlook and attitude toward people.

Always say, “Please” and “Thank you”. This is just common courtesy.  Write “thank you” notes for gifts and special actions.

Money flows east. Mother said that her daddy, Papa Bearden, always said this.  By this he meant that the big money interests, equated with Wall Street, had such influence and power that they controlled the money flow.  Although Papa Bearden died just before the crash in 1929 and the following depression he must have been aware of the financial forces that caused the crash, and caused banks to close and many depositors to lose their money.

Baptists believe in the separation of church and state. I heard Mama say this many times, although we did not practice it all the time.

Looking back I remember the biggest reason was that Catholics tried to get public funding for their parochial schools, and Baptists didn’t want to fund Catholic teaching.

Now that a lot of Baptist churches have private schools (they started being popular when the public schools desegregated) some would like to be able to get government money.  As I got older and began reading Baptist history I learned that the Baptists began in the early 1600’s in England and protested against being taxed and forced to conform to the state church and were punished for  not baptizing their infants.  Many were put in prison because of this.  Same thing was true in early American history, up until the adoption of the Bill of Rights in the U.S. Constitution.  Funny how changing from a minority to a majority affects our thinking.  See items 22 and 23 taken from the Writings of the Late Elder John Leland. John Leland and Brother Will B. Dunn are two of my favorite Baptist preachers.

Don’t believe what you hear and only half of what you read. Mother told me a story about great Aunt Dixie Wagner who saw a man going into a ladies house rather frequently and assumed something illicit was going on.  So she told someone.   Later after the rumor had made the rounds she found out the lady was running a boarding house and the man was going there for lunch.  So my aunt was caught in an embarrassing situation.  (For the younger generation a “boarding house” was a home that served meals and some people rented rooms, they had “room and board.”)  Mother and Daddy ran a boarding house in the big house next to the Factory in Franklin when it was being built and started production of stoves.  Two of my earliest recollections are sitting at the big table, loaded with food and all the men sitting around it.  Also mother throwing one man out because he came in drunk.  I ate at a boarding house in Columbia before Helen and I married.  I had a room across the street at my boss’, Wade Bowie, house.  This advice has been helpful to me, especially during political campaigns.

Consider the source. This goes along with the previous saying.  Knowing who is making the statement may give insight as to its truthfulness.  They may have an ulterior motive or “spinning” things to their advantage.

Don’t spend more than you make. This was especially pointed out to me in the 1930s during the depression.  Not many people had money and we certainly did not have extra money.  Thankfully we did not have credit cards then.  I have not always followed this admonition in the past, but for the last 20 years I have followed it faithfully.

Respect your elders and show courtesy to all. Now that I am the ‘elder’ I hope to pass this on.  Although I grew up during a time in the South when the races were segregated, and my parents were part of that culture, I never heard them speak insultingly to any black person.  Our neighborhood was in the old part of Franklin and was an integrated neighborhood.  Some of my playmates were black boys in the neighborhood.

Always tell the truth. Mother was strict about this.  I really only remember two whippings she gave me, although I am certain there were others.  One was when my sister Mary Dixie, who was 9 years older than me, was in the parlor with her boy-friend, Ed Jordan.  I was in there hoping he would give me a dime to get lost, and I could go to the movie.  Mother told me twice to come out and leave them alone.  On the third time she came in and took me out and spanked me with one of the old wooden shingles that had been taken off of Papa Bearden’s house.  That really stung, and I didn’t get my dime. The other time was a spanking with a yardstick for lying to her.  I did not lie to her anymore, but sometimes I did not tell her everything.

Make yourself useful, as well as ornamental. Sometimes when I was just laying around, not doing anything, and mother wanted me to do something for her, she would say this little phrase along with her instructions.

So, remember to listen to your mama.

More to come…