I have always had a fascination with umbrellas, and I know why. My maternal grandmother (Ma Hughes) never left home without one. If the sun was shining brightly she carried her umbrella to protect her from the sun’s rays. If it was raining she carried her umbrella to protect her from the raindrops. The umbrella she relied on was big, black, and offered great protection no matter what the weather – if there were no hefty gusts of wind. In that case, her umbrella was a liability with which she must wrestle.
She was very protective of her stately looking umbrella. In other words, I knew her all-weather protection must be left in the stand behind the door in the living room. Just as her good scissors were not a toy, neither was the big, black umbrella. Or as Ma Hughes called it, her parasol. That’s another thing that fascinated me. She never referred to her great protector as an umbrella. She always called it a parasol. She was the only one I knew who did that. My mother never called her umbrella a parasol, but her mother did. I wish I had asked her why. That question along with many others went unasked. Before I knew it this vapor called life had evaporated for my sweet Ma Hughes. She left this world without telling me why she called her umbrella a parasol.
As a child I would try to get up the courage to remove the parasol from its home behind the front door. I dreamed of parading around in the yard, singing and dancing as I held it high above my head. I never did. As much as Ma Hughes loved me and gave me many privileges, when she said something must be left alone, I knew she meant what she said. There were only three things (actually, four if you count the “in-season” Sears and Roebuck catalog) that I recall she ever told me to leave alone: her postage stamps, her good scissors, and her parasol.
Because I had such a fascination for umbrellas, my mama bought me a child-sized blue polka-dot umbrella for my 8th birthday. While it was much smaller than Ma’s, to me it was just as grand. I proudly called it my parasol, just as she did hers. Playing and parading around with my very own parasol was just as much fun as I thought it would be. On stormy nights when it was necessary to make a trip to the storm house, my blue polka dot parasol went with me. I loved hearing the raindrops patter on it.
As an adult I came to detest using an umbrella as protection from rain. I always succeeded in getting drenched, no matter how hard I tried to hold it at just the right angle. Trying to open an umbrella in the rain and get out of a car while staying dry, all at the same time, is absolutely impossible. And now that it would look rather strange for me to be parading around my yard twirling an umbrella while dancing and singing in the sunshine, I have no use for one whatsoever.
Still, I have a fascination with umbrellas a/k/a parasols, simply because I identify a very special person with them. Like her parasol, Ma Hughes was protection in all kinds of weather and all circumstances. January 4th would have been her 116th birthday. She lived on this earth for 86 years. She was quite a lady . . . she and her big, black parasol.
LaVale Mills is Publisher Emeritus of The Red Bay News.