November 3, 2016
When growing up I can remember sitting around the table and listening (somewhat) to the “old folks” talk. As I look back over the years I can recall only bits and pieces of the conversations.
How many times, as we get older, have we ever said, “I wish I would have written down those conversations?”
At last week’s Cancer Survivor/Education event held at Union General, while snapping a few photos, one particular little lady stood out. She was accompanied by her two daughters and a granddaughter. Her 4 ft. 9 inch stature was over powered by her infectious smile and Southern, country charm.
In the moments following our meeting, I knew I had just made a new, but somewhat familiar friend in Mrs. Mary Jo Tabor Green. ***see below
Not only did I begin to dig up kinship, but a desire to learn more about this newly turned 85 years old matriarch and breast cancer survivor. I knew I needed to learn more.
Oh the joys of Facebook, America’s #1 social media. I friended Cherry Green Lockwood, Mrs. Mary Jo’s youngest child, and my quest to learn more was soon being met.
Even before I left the UG event, I leaned that Mary Jo is best known as Sug or Mama Sug. Only at our sit down meeting at her country Green Acres home did I learn the story behind her nickname. When she first learned that I was wanting to share her story with all my Banner readers, she grabbed a tablet and pen and set to work in recording some of her fondest memories.
My first question was “How did you get the name Sug?” According to her daughters, Cherry Lockwood and Sue Austin, who sat in on our visit, their mama was always called Sugar or Sug by their daddy, Virgil, better known as Red. It was passed on to Mama Sug’s grandchildren, all 15 of them, along with her 32 greats who lovingly call her Mama Sug.
Before I go any further, let me fill you in on a little family history. Mary Jo Tabor was born on October 13, 1931 in the Weldon community just out from Summerfield. She was the youngest of five children born to the union of Leroy and Florence Lee Tabor. Her siblings were Lorraine, Curtis, L. R. and Christine (who died before Mary Jo was born). Two of her first cousins included Max Edward Thurmon and Doris Strickland. One of Max Edward’s daughters, Sheila, is married to my husbands brother Freddie Boyett. Mrs. Doris resides at Bernice Nursing and Rehab now.
Mama Sug began with an early childhood memory. “I remember back to when I was 3 years old. We lived in a house unpainted – I called it the ‘dirty house’. When we moved to a new house painted white – wall papered rooms and hardwood floors, I didn’t like it. I wanted to move back to the ‘dirty house’ because all my old play house things outside were there, but my sister and brothers loved the brand new house,” recanted Green. The Tabor family owns land in the Mt. Patrick church area just outside of Bernice.
While growing up we all have special childhood memories. The following are just a few of those days that she wanted to share.
“A cousin, Lavette Tabor, and I were going horseback riding at my Uncle Bob Tabor’s. He didn’t fix the saddle tight and it turned and fell off. No more riding horses for me!”
“When growing up – people didn’t mow the cemetery. Lots of folks gathered together and hoed all the grass. You also brought a sack lunch to enjoy. At revival time the preacher usually stayed at my parents home for a week. One time his wife and small child came. The child cried lots at night, so my Mom fed him milk and corn bread at supper time. We finally got some sleep.”
The Banner recently shared an article on the Old Union Gin school that was located near the Shiloh community. Mama Sug attended the school and shared this memory. “I went to Union Gin School from first to seventh grade. It had 4 big rooms with 4 teachers and 2 classes in each room, except the principle. He taught 7th grade and he would give us work to do.” She then laughed as she said, “He wore a hearing aid. He would turn it off and we could hear it ‘click’. He would then take a nap and we would talk and have fun until he woke up!” (Some things never change!)
She added some additional school memories, “I can’t remember what year, but we were studying health and we brought our tooth brushes to school. We lined up outside with water in our glass and brushed our teeth. (What country kids did!)
“When we went to Bernice High School in the 8th grade, we were scared to death. Thirteen of us went together. It was a big school to us then.” Sug finished high school in 1950 and her class was the first one to go 12 years (due to a new law). I was told she resented the fact that she had to go an additional year. “Four of us kids from Union Gin went from 1st – 12th grades together. After school was out each year, we would return to school on the bus, just to get our report cards. The whole trip only took a couple hours.”
On one of those trips to obtain their report cards, Mary Jo carried her young toddler nephew with her. Her daughter Cherry still teases her mom about this nephew being her favorite to this day.
Church attendance played a very important role in molding children and influencing families (which is the way it should be). Mary Jo attended Mt. Patrick Baptist Church as a child. “We did not have Bible School back then instead we had singing school for a week for all to learn new songs.” She is one of the last two living members of Mt. Patrick and her birthday party is held there each year.
As time passed, modern conveniences were gradually introduced to those living in rural settings. Mary Jo remembers the exact day they got electricity at their rural home, February 22, 1945. “I was 14 years old before we had electric lights at home or church.” It was an exciting day for the Tabors when the power company came out to install electrical lights in their home. “Daddy made them put in a drop light instead of a ceiling mount. I guess he was afraid of it causing a fire,” she explained.
“Mama and Papa Lee had 13 grandkids. They always had a big garden. One time I was visiting and we went to the neighbors to carry vegetables. We kids would ride in the back of trucks then with our feet hanging out. I can remember one of the kids losing his flip flop, he jumped out, got it and ten jumped back in. My Papa was driving so slow he never knew it.”
“When I was 6 years old I had to have my tonsils removed. My brother needed his out also. Papa said if we were going to Shreveport we might as well have my sister and my other brother’s taken out too; even though theirs weren’t bad. The doctor removed 100 kids’ tonsils that day. We came home the same day. On the way home we got to stop in Minden and get ice cream.”
“Papa had a nick name for everyone. Mine was ‘Dinah May’ – I only heard him call my given name one time. During World War II, we had to sign up for coupons to get gasoline and shoes and sugar an etc. He had to give everyone’s names.”
“Papa wasn’t a carpenter but he build a screened in room at his pond that was located down in the woods. It was known a ‘the camp house’. It had a floor of big boards, but it was not level. We had sleeping bags and old quilts to lay on. We were always glad when daylight came. We had a small wood stove that was fixed on a lawn mower frame. We could move it around in the shade if we needed too. Mama fixed biscuits at home and and walked to the pond and cooked them in the stove. We kids brought other things to go with the biscuits. Their grandkids enjoyed it also, usually on the 4th of July. One year we had to dig potatoes before we went to the pond. We made sure the next year to go help with potatoes earlier.
“After I married, my husband did pipeline work for years. We moved to a new town about every month,” shared Mary Jo. “Oh what fun it was trying to find an apartment after kids began coming.” She stated the family came back to West Monroe where her husband, Red, went to work for Foremost Dairy delivering milk out of a milk truck. “He went door to door for years. We ended up living in West Monroe for 18 years.”
Mary Jo was mostly a ‘stay-at-home mom’, but she did hold a couple of jobs over her lifetime. “When my last child started to school in West Monroe, I kept children in my home. Most were school teacher’s kids. I kept one kid until he started to school. I even kept him a week while his parents went on vacation (he was a baby).
A few years later, the Green’s moved back to the Union Parish farm. “I went to work at the Bernice Nursing Home in the kitchen.” Helen Campbell was the administrator there and knew what a great cook and regular visitor Mrs. Green was. “My Mama and my mother-in-law were both in the nursing home there and I was up there most days any way.” This was the second and only other paid job she ever had.
“My mom was a babysitter in her home in West Monroe from 1966-1982. These children have grown up to be doctors, LSU football players, realtors, nurses, teachers, policemen, deputies, firemen, CASA workers, ballerinas in Twin City Ballet, a dentist, bankers, cooks, moms and dads. Several still stay in touch and some still come see her on her birthday each year,” added her daughter Cherry.
“I always wanted to be a nurse but I didn’t go to nursing school. I did a lot of sitting at hospitals with family and friends. I was there when almost all my grandkids were born,” Mama Sug proudly added. One of her daughters and a granddaughter took up the nursing profession, while other grands serve as EMT’s and volunteer firemen, which made Mama Sug very proud.
“On the farm we had horses, cows, dogs, cats and we even had a fish pond. After Virgil passed away in 1993 I only had me.” she sadly added.
Birthday celebrations are a big “deal” for the Green family. “My kids and friends meet on the farm three times a year, Mother’s Day, my birthday and Thanksgiving.” Mama Sug celebrated her 85th birthday on October 13th. “At my last birthday we had 70 people on the farm. We had a fish fry and all other kinds of goodies; 10 gallons of tea, lemonade and Kool-aid. Each get-together I have a huge pot of spaghetti along with fried bread.” This sweet lady loves to cook and no one leaves her house hungry. “Everyone likes my ‘Icebox Fruit Cake’,” she proudly added.
Family is what is most important to this honorable lady. She is proud of her 6 children, 15 grand kids, and 32 great-grandkids (all born after her husband Virgil passed away). “Our last born son, Johnny, passed away in 2015 following heart surgery and I lost my son-in-law, Alvin Austin, in March of 2016.” We never expect to bury our children. ***see below
While growing up in my day, a fly swatter was a common “attitude adjuster device” used by many parents. Apparently Mama Sug believed in well behaved children and grandchildren. “When the grandkids were small and visiting, we made them mind and corrected them to be good. They called me “Mean Ol’ Mama Sug”. At her last birthday, one of her great grands presented her a shirt with that printed on it. It prompted a great deal of laughter I am certain.
“My health is good. I am 85 and still drive my car and mow my yard on a riding mower. I have glaucoma and I had cancer. I had breast surgery 10 years ago. My treatments were a little pill. I had to take one a day for 5 years. I never felt bad and I never lost my hair.”
“The kids call me often. The girls call me several times a day. One grandson took up the habit of his Dad, (Johnny’s son). “He calls me every Monday night just like his daddy always did.”
Here’s an interesting tidbit shared by her daughters about how their mom’s breast cancer was discovered. Mary Jo has always had regular check ups and goes yearly for her mammogram. “Mama sleeps on her stomach and one night she said she could feel something in one of her breasts.” stated Cherry, her daughter. Although nothing showed up on a previous mammogram, and the doctors who examined her could not feel anything, Mary Jo was persistent in having it checked out. A tiny nice size lump, too small to be felt of others, turned out to be cancer. As I listened to this story, her daughters and myself all chimed in saying their mom’s experience was much like the story of the “Princess and the Pea”. I would guess Princess Sug is another befitting title for this incredible lady too.
“Well, it’s hunting season now and hunters get up early to go hunting. But they come back in around 9:30 for a breakfast of biscuits and sausage! I love all the bunch and they love me. That’s all that matters!”
Mary Jo’s Grandson
Got new shirts made for this year’s Green Family Reunion. Our family has three a year, Mother’s Day, Thanksgiving and Mama Sug’s birthday. You see, Mama Sug is very special to our family. For a big group of us, she’s our grandmother or great grandmother. But to anyone she’s ever met, you can call her Mama Sug. This lady has been a part of my live since I took my first breath. She lives at “The Farm”, a place that was once the cattle farm of my late grandfather, Red Green – yep, that’s him on the horse.
I, along with all of my cousins, aunts and uncles have many fond memories of this place with my grandparents. We did it all – hunting, fishing, camping, hot rodding, four wheelers, motorcycles, raising cattle, picking peas, and all the other fun stuff that could be done on a farm with your cousins. We didn’t know it then but we were living the best days of our lives! Our Pap passed away in 1993, but Mama Sug has refused to let this family grow apart and is truly the glue that keeps us all together. For as long as I can remember, this lady has taken care of our family like only a person named Mama Sug could. She still does that to this day, even at 85 years old. We have not had shirts made in over 20 years so we got some done for this year. The shirts feature a silhouette of Pap on his famous parade horse, Sundown. Sue Green Austin took this picture with a Polaroid many years ago. On the back is Pap’s Green Acres “graffiti” that he proudly painted on their barn many years ago. It has become the background for many family photos in recent years. The barn is based on a picture of the barn from “The Farm”, our Green Acres – a place we all consider to be the Greatest Place on Earth. This year, at her party, Bobby Green presented Mama Sug with the first shirt and she was so happy she cried. Couldn’t help but smile a little bit myself.
“Many years ago, when I was just a wee one, I was a talkative, mischievous boy (shocker, I know). I stayed with Mama Sug during the summer and her discipline methods were akin to those of the medieval times. Her weapon of choice was either an offender-selected switch from the tree, a flyswatter, or a yardstick – a METAL yardstick. Even when I wan’t in trouble, she made me do such things as pick peas, shell those same peas that same day, and sit still while she and her neighbors drank coffee – things I’d love to do again this day in time. Didn’t take her long to earn the nickname “Mean Ol’ Mama Sug” from her youngest and most loved grandchild! It has stuck for some 25 years now! Breonna had this shirt made for her (thank you!) and she wore it all day today, including to church this morning. By the way, I earned every whooping I ever got from her and it made me the person I am today – for that I am thankful.”
****Note from StC
Throughout the article Mary Jo is referred to as Mary Jo Tabor Green and her parents as Leroy and Florence Lee Tabor.
Mary Jo was born Mary Jo Lee. Her parents were Leroy Lee and Florence Mae Tabor. Florence was the daughter of John Burl Tabor and Josephine Butler.
Johnny, her deceased son, was her third son. Her fourth son is Bobby.