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Hey Y’all: Mama was an Affirmation of Life

Mary Grace Evans Ratledge 
June 27, 1918 – January 31, 2012
Mama was an Affirmation of Life

Marlene Ratledge Buchanen

Born to well –to-do farmers in South Georgia, Mama saw the depression take everything they had.  She was no stranger to responsibility. She learned to work hard, plowed fields, and harvested crops. She began working at night in the cotton mill changing spools at age 12. During the day she attended school. She learned to negotiate in business by following her father and listening to the deals made on the sale and purchase of farm goods. During her early years she also learned to care for the sick and dying. 

In 1937, at the age of 19, she came to Atlanta. She said she had one suit. It was a wide whaled black corduroy. She had one pair of dress shoes. They were her white heels she was required to wear at high school graduation. She saved for months for those shoes.

Mama was living with a relative who owned a stall at the Atlanta Farmer’s Market. She worked for him and he took all of her earned money except for 15 cents a week. He said it was for room and board. Yet, she had to eat the damaged fruit and vegetables at his stall. She saved the money and each time she had accumulated one dollar, she mailed it home to her parents. 

As soon as she could she took a job at White Provision Company, later to be known as Swift and Company. Her first job was counting livestock on the killing floor. Eventually she moved into the accounting depart and no longer had to be “ankle deep in blood and excrement.”  

She met Daddy, James Edward Ratledge, on a blind date while at White’s. A group had a picnic at the old Atlanta Water Works, which had a park around it. She said he was the handsomest thing she had ever seen. He was over 6 feet 4 inches and had beautiful blue black hair. He was wearing a white suite with a black shirt and a black sling supporting his injured arm. She said that was it. Love at first site. And Daddy said it was mutual. 

She married “the love of her life” (May 1, 1943) and then sent him off to war. To his beloved he sent 746 letters while he was away. She lived the life of the wife of an Atlanta police officer upon his return. They had a long and happy life together and raised an accomplished daughter and helped raise and nurture their grandson.  

Mama was a women’s libber, not because she was a suffragette, but because she knew women could and did make good business people. They did not have to be subservient to men. She worked in male dominated jobs almost all of her working life. She was the top seller for Independent and Durham Insurance Companies several times and was offered the position of vice president for the home office of Durham. Mama never had to be second and she did not back down when there was disaster or conflict.  

She set national records in the 50’s and 60’s with Durham and Independent Insurance companies. One of the few women agents at the time, doing what was normally a man’s job. I don’t think she considered any job beyond her ability, nor her gender…but, as a woman, she made choices to turn down a promotion and keep her family from uprooting, and she changed from a long time career and went to work in the public schools. She eventually had the responsibility of handling discipline. 

And if you knew her…you could just imagine how well she did her life. To hear her speak of these things was like listening to someone describe several lifetimes…not just one. 
I didn’t have to look very far to find a person of substance to model after. I drew inspiration. A wife, a mother, a grandmother…but Mama left a mark in this world much deeper than that. She left a legacy of strength, endurance, incredible fortitude and a constant willingness to give back to life what life gave her. 
And yet…a whole other lifetime was spent creating and maintaining their beautiful yards. She and Daddy knew only hard work and not much play. One of the things that gave them the most pleasure was creating beautiful flower gardens. Hundreds of azaleas and camellias were planted in detailed beds with statuary and other features. 

One of her favorite sayings was “The Earth Laughs in Flowers” and around her the Earth laughed out loud. She gave every day its full reward and stayed determined that she would see another tomorrow and greet that day the same. 

Her family was dear to her. She embraced her son-in-law Snell as a son. She also had a very bright spot in her life, her grandson James. She left an indelible imprint on this remarkable young man. They maintained a bird sanctuary together in the backyard. She taught him all about flowers and birds and animals and in James’ words… “Grandmama spoiled me and I loved it.” She was a great gift to him and him to her. 
Time changes all things…

On December 1, 2011, she was trimming shrubbery and decided she would cut down a small tree that had died in the front flower bed. When her lopping shears wouldn’t do the job, she got her hand saw. When the saw wouldn’t do the trick she went back to the little white barn and sharpened her hatchet. That did the IT!  Job complete! 

At 93 and a half (DON”T forget the half she would say! She worked really hard for it.) At 93 ½, she was chopping down a worry-some tree and cleaning out flower beds and loving it. 

This time though, it took a greater toll. Over the course of the next 2 months she found herself dealing with several problems. Her body was having a hard time keeping up with her very witty and sharp mind. Every morning she would tell me she was ready to “get up and at ‘em”. She had things to do…but time was finally catching up. “Mama loved color. She loved flowers. She loved hard work and knew no other way to handle anything except in full force. She helped her family as much as she could and she loved us deeply.

When I look in the mirror, I see her in me. When I look at James, I see her love in him. This is what leaving a legacy is all about; ya’ll! Happy Mother’s Day to all of you, Mamas. Life is sweet because Mama said so! 

A southern humorist, Marlene is the 2020 Georgia Independent Author of the Year for Life is Hard, Soften It with Laughter and 2021 GIAYA for A Place with a Past. Marlene is available for speaking engagements. You may reach her through her website