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