A Mother’s Day throwback column: The path not taken

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This one was published about three Mother’s Days ago.

My mom didn’t set out to be the “Welfare Lady.” It just worked out that way.

No, what my mom wanted to be when she grew up was a writer and a journalist.

Not sure exactly what order she would place those two. Certainly you can be the former without becoming the latter. In this case, though, that vice-versa thing doesn’t work very well.

To get there she did all the things an aspiring writer was supposed to do. The youngest of five children born and raised in the Stokes County town of Walnut Cove, she studied hard with a dream of going to the University of North Carolina and its esteemed School of Journalism. She encountered one immediate roadblock common to girls born in her time. They couldn’t attend UNC as freshmen.

Barbara Tuttle shrugged and made it work.

She elected to go to Guilford College for a couple of years with the intention of transferring to UNC. While there she encountered a future congressman by the name of Howard Coble. To this day, Howard always asks about my mom. She produced quality work at Guilford, which isn’t much of a shock now that I think about it, and indeed won entry into the UNC School of Journalism as a junior. While in Chapel Hill, she encountered a future TV news icon by the name of Charles Kuralt, which she occasionally mentions when the old days come up. And even though she never met future Times-News editor Don Bolden, they were in the J-School at roughly the same time. Neither has memory of the other.

Once again, she produced quality work, which, well you know. She did, however, encounter one immediate roadblock common to all UNC graduates up until 2006. She failed the required swimming test twice and never really passed it. She simply refused to take it again. She got her degree anyway and never learned how to swim, spending the next 61 years terrified of the water.

Her first job out of college was in newspapers at the Bertie Ledger down in Eastern North Carolina. She was a far piece from her home and longtime boyfriend Ed Taylor who was in the Air Force. She moved to Windsor and roomed with fresh-from-college women she met. Even then not many women were in newsrooms and the few who were there were assigned only features.

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She was there for a couple of years, winning a North Carolina Press Association Award for Feature Writing.

When Ed Taylor returned to Stokes County, she left Windsor for Winston-Salem, taking a P.R. job with what was then known as Wachovia Bank and Trust. They made plans to get married and build a house in Danbury, where my dad was born and raised. It was off the beaten path — well off — but she made it work.

When the first son came along — who was me by the way — going to Winston-Salem each day seemed impractical. A newspaper job was impossible. When the second boy came along in 1962, she simply gave up and decided to look for employment close to home so she might be able to better watch two rambunctious boys.

The Stokes County Welfare Department, which is now known as the Department of Social Services, was less than a mile away and the kind of job a college-educated woman could get in 1963. That’s when she became “The Welfare Lady.”

She was among a handful of people who did a job that now requires dozens. My mom investigated child abuse cases, recruited foster parents, removed children from dangerous homes or found them places to stay when something went wrong. Like a newspaper reporter, she was sometimes called out at night for emergencies. She knew every law enforcement officer and they knew her. The families who dealt with her regularly sometimes called her “The Welfare Lady.”

It was not always said in a pleasant tone of voice.

It was a tough job, an important job and a job that was almost never as much fun as being a reporter.

She had horrible days that made the tolerable ones downright lovely by comparison. And then she came home and made sure we were fed, clean and clothed while my dad watched TV. Men haven’t evolved much over time.

I first started to learn about how much my mom gave up to raise us when I was a freshman at Guilford College. I was enrolled in an English course taught by the legendary Mildred Marlette, a World War II WAC who commanded respect. I knew she taught my mother and told her so. Mildred replied: “Barbara Tuttle . . . is she still writing?”

I think of this nearly every day as I work in the field my mother would’ve chosen for herself had circumstances worked out differently. In many ways, I believe my

newspaper career is an homage to the path she didn’t pursue.

Thanks mom. I probably haven’t said it enough.

2 thoughts on “A Mother’s Day throwback column: The path not taken

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