Sunday, May 8, 2011

Here's to a Legend

There is something quite profound about live drama that can touch you in a way that television and cinema cannot achieve. I must have been around seven years old when I first experienced live theatre. The play was “Our Town”. At that age, I didn’t follow all of the plot line, but I can remember being quite impressed. On top of that, I was able to see the cast members back stage afterward. The reason I was able to mingle with the cast is that my mother was the director of the play, and the production was done by the senior class of Dadeville High School.

My mother, Mary Elizabeth Cook Kinnaird, was a Southern lady of class who believed that if you had Shakespeare, the Bible, and a silver tea service, you were set for life. She had a mission to bring culture wherever she lived. I witnessed firsthand how she sought to bring education, culture, refinement and faith to a small mill town where opportunities could be both limited and limiting. She would have been ninety years old on May 10, but she departed this life during the summer of 2000 at the age of 79.

She did all of those motherly things: kissing skinned knees to make them better, baking cookies, reading bedtime stories, sharing her children’s wonder at a snail on a leaf or a bug in a jar or a bird taking flight. Because she was also a high school English teacher, she had an influence on many other lives as well. My mother saw teaching as her calling and she was always very proud when she saw one of her former high school students doing well in life.

On a couple of occasions I had the privilege of hearing from her former students. Once I was at a gathering, and someone who saw my name asked if I was related to Mary Kinnaird. He then spoke with a kind of hushed pride that she had been his English teacher at Dadeville High School. “I didn't fully grasp when I was 16 the significance of all of those literary works she guided us through," he told me, "but by the time I was 40, I realized how much we really need that wealth of wisdom that is available in literature.” On another occasion, one of my former classmates happened to show up at my place of work. She told my work colleague, “His mother was a legend in our hometown.”

As a teacher, she was also proud of the high school plays she produced. In addition to “Our Town,” I recall seeing such classics as "I Remember Mama," "You Can't Take it With You," “Cheaper by the Dozen,” and "Pygmalion." These plays had appeared on Broadway, and I saw them for the first time at the Dadeville High School auditorium. My mother saw those plays and the many others her students produced as vehicles for her students' talent, and as one more way to give back to the community.

As a woman of faith, she continued in her role as teacher. She was just as comfortable teaching the Bible in her Sunday School class as she was teaching Shakespeare and Mark Twain to her high school students. She loved promoting education and the church. I can't tell you how many prospective students she took to Judson College (her alma mater) in her years as teacher, and there is no telling how many others she encouraged to go on to higher education. When the time came that she could no longer teach, that was a loss that she grieved over.

She certainly left the world a little better than she found it. That is the inspiration and challenge for all of us as we live our lives. She may have been a legend, but she was also my mother. I certainly think lovingly of her whenever I think of homemade cookies, bandaged knees, bugs collected in jars by kids, bedtime stories, literary works, live theater, and any number of other things that make life large and sweet.


Silver tea service photo by Miki Duisterhoff (Getty Images)



  1. This is an eloquent tribute to your mother, Charlie. As someone who teaches college English and works with scores of present and future English teachers, I appreciate the way folks like your mother have brought culture (in the best sense of that word) and its wisdom to so many students. Happy Mother's Day, Mary Kinnaird: your spirit animates many lives today.

  2. Charlie, I knew your mom as well, and all those things are true. You have inspired me to write a tribute to my wonderful mom. I am working on it a we speak. Thank you for the inspiration. I am much like your mom in what it takes to be set for life...the Bible, Shakespeare, and an iPad work for me. My mom would have opted for the silver tea set.

  3. Steve and Mark, thanks for your comments. Mark, I think your idea of writing a tribute to your mom is a splendid one! She was indeed a gracious lady; she raised three great kids, and she made the best sweet potato casserole I've ever tasted. She and my mother would have got on famously if they had lived in the same town!

    I think it would benefit anyone to write a tribute to their mom or dad, or even a letter of appreciation - whether they are living or not.


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