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Columnist: The ‘unsinkable’ Mollie Sparks

Lynn Walker Gendusa

Contributing columnist

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Mollie Sparks was born among the hardwood trees in Putnam County, Tennessee on December 5, 1876. Her family came to America in 1669 and would call Monterey, Tennessee home for generations.

Mollie’s academic education lasted for two years. Like others in that era, all members of a family worked to put food on the table. The luxury of an education was just a dream.

She married John Thomas Sparks in 1894 and two weeks before her last child was born, her husband died in a sawmill accident. Mollie was left to care for five small children and would eventually raise two granddaughters.

Our history reveals some very famous heroines. Some have walked beside us and we may never have known it. These famous, as well as the unsung heroines, are determined by heroic acts that take extreme courage and strength.

Mollie Sparks was a giant among heroines. She stood erect at 4 feet 10 inches tall and weighed a mere 88 pounds her whole adult life. Yet, she was able to carry the weight of her world on her tiny frame.

When her husband died, she was left indigent. The family lived in a small wooden house with a garden out back. No indoor plumbing, no car, no electricity, and no one to assist her with the enormous task of providing for her young family.

Mollie rolled up her sleeves and, from then on, never sat down. She collected laundry around town to wash and iron for folks. The water came from her well, the washing machine was her hands on a washboard, and the iron was heated on a wood burning stove.

At the end of her long days, she quilted quilts to keep her children warm. Each stitch by her slender, nimble fingers created beautiful, intricate patterns that would be handed down to families she would never meet.

Mollie’s hair grew past her waist that she rolled up in a tight bun at the nape of her neck to keep it out of the way. She had a dress she wore every Sunday to church and would clasp it at the top with a broach that, I am sure, was a luxury.

She tithed all she could on those Sundays and gave away food to those needier than she was. She obeyed the principles of her faith her entire life.

Her children grew into wonderful, sweet caring people. None of them afraid to work and help. She raised them to be kind, strong, good people. They asked for nothing and never complained.

Her oldest son survived World War I and became a fireman. He was burned severely in an explosion. She cared for him and nursed him to health even though her beautiful boy carried scars for the rest of his life.

Another son died at the age of 38 and she was left to raise his two children. They became nurses and gave all the credit of living to the life of Mollie Sparks.

Each of her three daughters, Nancy (Nannie), Florida, and Lucille lived long and productive lives that left an indelible mark on the lives of so many.

Mollie lived to be 94 years old. She endured some of her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren serving our country in 5 wars.

She accepted indoor plumbing in her 70’s only because her son- in -law built a bathroom for her. She planted a garden every year and she always cooked her food on the same wood burning stove. She was stubborn, willful, and could rule a clan with an iron fist. You didn’t mess with the likes of Mollie Sparks.

She never felt life owed her anything other than what it produced. She worked for all that she had and then she gave all she had left to the people that were blessed to know this heroine.

Her belief that kindness, discipline, and faith in God would get you through all things in life was a testimony to a life well lived. Not with abundance of material items but with an abundance of heart.

I often wonder what she would think of this world today?

A world where people complain if the waiter is not getting to them fast enough. A world that has grown less thankful as the years go by. A world where some people think they are owed something just because they live or they are wealthy. A world where some applaud vitriol, crave entertainment, and teach their children by words instead of actions.

I think she would probably get the switch out and set us all straight.

Mollie Sparks taught me a lot of things about life. In my darkest hours when life felt unbearable, I would remember this woman’s daily life and then my problems became very, very small. I could survive anything because her courage and fortitude was inspiring.

My great grandmother, Mollie Sparks, was unsinkable, undeterred and undeniably great.

Sometimes God creates a heritage to help us find strength from those that walked before us. Sometimes we need to look backward to find the courage, thankfulness, and faith needed to travel forward.

Lynn Walker Gendusa is a former LaGrange resident who currently resides in Roswell.