Lessons Learned from a Palmersville Legend


By Nelda Rachels (first published in Hometown



      In 1975, I was fortunate to move to Palmersville,

just up the hill from Opal Mayo and her husband,



      Soon, I was pulling my two young children in their

little red Flyer down the road to her farmhouse for

occasional visits.  Mr. Mayo would die soon after

this, but I would get to know well "Mrs. Opal," a

woman of near legendary proportions, who lived in or

near the Palmersville community from 1906 to 1987.  It

was at her home that I learned the lessons of

hospitality, frugality, and piety, which were

hallmarks of her character.


      Like most women of her generation, she immediately

wanted to ply my children and I with food or drink the

moment we entered her home.  She would have,

proverbially speaking, killed the fatted calf to

fulfill her notion of hospitality.  However, there was

never any need for such extreme measures because her

larder was always full.  So one of the first lessons

she taught (and the hardest to learn) was to prepare

ahead for visitors.  I learned that everything she'd

prepared had been made in the time-honored fashion (by

scratch) and that she often made her pies, cookies,

and cakes in multiples so that not a bit of oven heat

would be wasted.


      That frugality, to utilize every kilowatt, may be the

most legendary aspect of her character and perhaps the

one I most admire in this age of excess.  The old

adage, "Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do

without," was her life's motto.  I think because she'd

grown up during hard times, she knew that what you had

today could be gone tomorrow.  I remember the day she

dug up some of her Red Emperor tulip bulbs to share

with me.  She saw me looking at her shovel, its edge

worn away to resemble the eastern border of Tennessee.


      "Maybe you think I need a new one," she said,

laughing.  "Irvin used it settin' trees while he was

in the CCC during the Depression, but it's not so worn

out that it can't dig up a few tulips yet."


      Mrs. Opal's piety was also legendary.  She attended

the Palmersville Church of Christ and never missed a

service that I remember.  Even when she was actually

"unable" to drive, she drove to church anyway, too

independent and strong-willed to ask anyone for a

lift.  And despite a lifetime of listening to sermons,

I think she rarely let her mind wander because she

always took notes on every sermon in a stenographer's

notepad.  In addition, she never engaged in gossip,

read her Bible "religiously," and filled a large block

calendar with information as to meeting times,

preachers, and VBS dates.


      Those yearly calendars also held information as to

visitors, events, and weather.  Once, I glimpsed a

stack of yellowing calendars in an upstairs room.  I'm

sure one of them held information about the Dust Bowl

years, the time when she bought one of her few cans of "store-boughten" corn.


      I guess I was a bit disappointed when no auction was

held after Mrs. Opal's death.  I only wanted to bid on

that shovel, which, for me, most represented Mrs.

Opal's history and character.  I'd be tempted to hang

it near my mantel as a testament to her life.

However, I think she'd be more pleased if I used it.

No doubt, she'd say there is life in that old shovel