This is dedicated to the memory of Wendell Smith, who grew up across the street from my grandparents and loved my grandmother like his own, and was loved by her in the same way. Wendell called her Mama Dulcie just like the rest of us, and it was he who preached her funeral in 1991.
Dulcie Pauline Cotton Spencer had a way about her. A way that was warm, inviting, accepting of every person for just who they were. She was the best example of Christ’s love I’ve ever known. She knew Him well and loved Jesus with reverence and solid trust.
One of my earliest childhood memories of my grandmother is how she prayed on her knees every night at bedtime. With her braided hair unwound from atop her head and falling down her back over her homemade white gown, she spoke to the Lord. As an adult, I remember the many times I walked into her house and into her conversations with Jesus. He was her constant companion.
As a small child of barefoot summers, I remember the pain of getting a sizeable splinter in my foot and how Mama Dulcie placed a small piece of fat meat over the wound and wrapped it with a rag torn from a clean, but worn thin, pillowcase. (Repurposing, we call it now.) The splinter eased itself out. As an older child, I remember afternoons that she sent me to the garden for a fresh head of lettuce. I would wash it and then stand beside her and watch as she poured hot bacon grease over the lettuce, turning it into a wilted salad.
She was a cook that no would could top. I don’t suppose her kitchen ever knew a day without bowls of vegetables and platters of meat and a dessert of some kind. She loved cooking and loved even more sharing it with others. It was a delight to my grandparents for someone—anyone—to stop by for the noon meal. No need to call, food was always plentiful at the Spencer house. Chicken and dumplings was the grandchildren’s favorite and the dish she prepared regularly for friends and neighbors. In a small town, when someone is sick, you take care of them and their families with food. In my kitchen, I have a framed copy of Mama’s recipe for chicken and dumplings from the Medina Baptist Church cookbook. It was written just like she would verbally give it to you and what a treasure that is! “Use a good chicken” is one of the instructions. (For you of today’s generation, that means select a plump young hen big enough to feed several people.)
Mama Dulcie had fourteen children. Seven born to her and seven who married into the family—she and Papa knew no difference. There were sixteen grandchildren and I’ve lost count of the great-grands. Love flowed so naturally from Dulcie Spencer. Just like Jesus, she had no favorites; yet she loved with such abundance, that I think each one of us felt like we were her favorite.
Mama Dulcie took life seriously and she took her “soaps” seriously. It was a mystery to me that a woman so pure could enjoy stories that even in the 50s were a bit racy. Her favorite was “As the World Turns” and when the marriage of fictional characters Bob and Lisa became troubled, Mama wrote to Lisa. She told her about wrong and right and encouraged her to mend her ways. Are you smiling? Well, Lisa wrote back—I have the letter! She thanked Mama for writing to her and for her advice. But as I recall, Lisa continued to be a bit of a wild child, likely a great disappointment to my grandmother.
Mama Dulcie sang when she ironed, when she cooked, when she mopped the floors, pretty much all the time. “In the Sweet By and By” and “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder” are two of the hymns I remember most—and she sang only hymns. She loved to paint and her pie safes had more coats of white paint than one could count. My mother, Mama’s firstborn, said Mama would rather paint than dust. There was just something about a fresh coat of white paint that made her very happy.
My grandmother was a gentle soul. She was kind and generous. She knew how to love and chose to see only the best in everyone, and this brings me to a story about Wendell Smith that he told me a few years before he died. While Mama and Papa were at church, Wendell, just a little boy at the time, went into their house (doors weren’t locked then) and into the kitchen and there saw the banana pudding Mama Dulcie had left on the counter to cool. He set the whole bowl of pudding in the middle of the floor and with a big spoon dug in. He said my grandmother’s only words about it were “Bless his heart, he must have been hungry.” Someone else might have been annoyed, even angry, but not this sweet lady.
One other memory given me by Wendell was this: “The Sunday before I announced my call into the ministry I gave my testimony, then Bro. John Pippin preached about five minutes and gave the invitation. It was during the invitation that six people responded giving their lives to Christ. During the invitation Mama Dulcie got up, walked up the aisle and got Bruce and Bryan (two of her grandchildren) and with one on one side and one on the other she brought them down the aisle and to Christ. Such was her faith that she wanted her grandchildren to be saved.”
I think I want to close with that memory. It says who she was. A woman who loved her family and her Lord and made sure the two were connected. She was the wisest woman I ever knew.