Southern Voices’ is a reader-submitted platform for stories from the heart. Today’s submission comes from Beverly Keel of Nashville, TN. If you have a story to tell, see our guidelines for submission here.
I always thought I was a daddy’s girl.
After all, I have his sense of humor, blue eyes, coloring and build. My father, Pinckney Keel, was an editor at the Nashville Banner for more than two decades until he died when I was in high school. As I embarked on a similar career path, even launching my own career at that very newspaper, I relished our similarities.
But as I have gotten older, I’ve realized I have just as much in common with my mother, which isn’t surprising, given that she has been the one constant and influential force in my adult life.
At 85, my mother, Gloria Coles, has buried two husbands, raised three children and still turns heads whenever she enters a room, yet remains surprised every time someone compliments her.
Mom is a quintessential Southern lady who sees the best in everyone and the silver lining in every situation, which is something I inherited. Sure, there can be a downside to missing some red flags with people, but I would rather sometimes be let down than to stop trusting people.
She was a good girl who grew up to be the kind of adult that made her parents proud. She raised us with high expectations and standards. There was no doubt we would achieve them, largely out of fear of letting her down. I can’t think of anything worse than disappointing our mother.
But she is also our biggest fan and cheerleader. Thirty years into my journalism career, she still sends copies of my articles to relatives. She wants to hear every detail of every event I attend, often asking, “Did anyone tell you that you looked cute?”
Growing up, Mom was the cook, maid, disciplinarian, family social planner, family treasurer, doctor picker, school liaison, and the adult of the family. Dad took care of the trash and lawn, made us laugh and gave us money. That really wasn’t a fair division of labor.
She was of the generation that appearances matter, so she doesn’t hesitate to let me know when I need some color on my lips. She believes you don’t reveal family troubles to outsiders. You know what the right thing is and you do it — always. You go to church on Sunday and see family as much as possible. And no matter what is going on in your life, you get your work done.
Raised in Mississippi and Louisiana, she was a beauty queen who played basketball. She attended nursing school in Jackson, MS, and then worked in an emergency room, where she met my dad, who was covering a car accident. They met in September, married in December and remained madly in love until he died.
I still remember how they would get in bed early, and he would make her laugh loudly. To me, this has always been the symbol of a good marriage. He supported her and probably couldn’t believe his good fortune that he was married to her. She was the adult in the relationship, paying bills, running and cleaning the household and keeping us fed. He created a party whenever he entered a room, so he kept her entertained and up on current events.
Mom worked as a nurse until the late ’70s, when she traded in her white uniform to work in marketing at Donelson Hospital. She had to dress differently, work in a new office setting and master a completely new set of tasks. I didn’t realize until recently what a scary and challenging time this must have been. Of course, she never let on. She became the hospital’s face in the community, representing it on boards and at local events, and became a spectacular success.
She looked like a million dollars every day, wearing stylish outfits with the perfect accessories, as well as heels and hose, despite having to walk several miles a day around the hospital. Her job later expanded to recruiting doctors, and she succeeded in this too. After all, who could turn down this sweet woman?
I was thrilled when Mom was honored by the Business & Professional Woman’s organization. In a newspaper article about the event, it compared Mom to Florence Nightingale because she is that compassionate and perfect. She dismissed the comparison. “Oh please,” she said, rolling her eyes.
Her co-workers will tell you she is as close to perfect as a human can be. She never raised her voice, was always diplomatic and kind to everyone. She believes in keeping the peace at all costs. She fawns over everyone — and means it — which is something I inherited. A co-worker once called me a “eulogist” as a put-down. I didn’t know what it meant, so I looked it up. It means a person who praises another person. One guess as to where I got that.
My friends always loved coming to Mom’s house, where they felt safe and welcome. Sometimes she is the mom they wish they had. Our house always had the best junk food, so it’s no surprise I have a sweet tooth. I was raised to believe that cake is an acceptable breakfast and popcorn is a fabulous dinner. She loves Coke floats and hates to share desserts. She has also never had a weight problem in her life.
All of the things that drive me crazy about her? I have those same qualities. We are both stubborn women who hate to be told what to do. We prepare too much food when entertaining and try to put people at ease in social situations. We tend to put ourselves last to please others. We naturally keep our feelings to ourselves. When I recently discovered some old photos of her, I discovered I also have her smile. It turns out this daddy’s girl is also her mother’s daughter.
So on Mother’s Day, I celebrate Gloria Keel Coles, a one-of-a-kind, always appropriately dressed angel on earth who makes life warmer and sweeter. I have the best mother ever. I almost feel sorry for everyone else.
Nashville native Beverly Keel is the dean of the College of Media & Entertainment at Middle Tennessee State University. An award-winning journalist and music industry consultant, she is a co-founder of Change the Conversation, an organization designed to fight for gender equality in music.
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