On Milestones, Marshall and My Mother, Hilda Ferne

Lyn Scarbrough

November 16, 2020 at 1:56 pm.

(My mother and father during World War II.)

As far as sports go, this weekend wasn’t much, and much of that was bad.

Fifteen scheduled college football games weren’t played. Some were postponed, others cancelled altogether. That included six games involving teams ranked in the Top 25. The coronavirus nightmare is having an impact on how conference championships, postseason bowl games and College Football Playoff selections will be handled.

As I’m writing this column on Sunday afternoon, the final round of The Masters, “a tradition unlike any other,” is being played. For sure, this chapter of the legendary golf tournament is “unlike any other,” postponed from its usual April timeframe, played for the first time ever in November.

But for me, this is still a memorable weekend.

Today is the birthday of my late mother, Hilda Ferne Hyche Scarbrough.

This year, 2020, has been one that most of us would like to forget for many reasons.

Not so, 1920. A century ago. It was the year that my mother was born.

My mother was a sports fan, kept up with it and understood it. She didn’t have much choice.

The youngest of eight children, she was the only girl. Some of her brothers, who ranged from 20 to six years older than her, played football for the local high school several miles up the road, the Hueytown Golden Gophers. The brothers were probably overprotective back during the days of the Depression. She was “Sis” to them.

Then, she married my dad, Ray Scarbrough. He had graduated from Gadsden High School in 1932, where he was student body president and an all-state football player. He played football for Wally Butts at Georgia Military College, then for Shug Jordan and Jack Meagher at Auburn in the mid-1930s.

So, in order to survive, she had to know and love sports.

After serving in the Navy during World War II, my parents moved to western Jefferson County, Ala., where they built a two-bedroom house in Rock Creek in the early 1950s. They lived what most would consider a simple life with a few passions – God, family, friends, community … and sports.

They passed all of those along to me, including the love of sports. Only a few things stopped me from being a great athlete … size, speed and talent. But, I learned that I could still have a passion for it and have a career that involved it. For all of those things, I’ll always be grateful to my parents.

There were a few things that even people who knew my mother really well for a long time didn’t know.

Her birth name wasn’t Hilda Ferne. The names were misspelled on her birth certificate and that wasn’t corrected until my parents married on April Fool’s Day, about seven months before Japan attacked Pearl Harbor.

She was a clogger, but never in public. She had clogging shoes and would only click her heels and toes on the hardwood floors in the hallway inside the house. I only saw her do it once.

But there were some things that people did know about Hilda Ferne.

She was talented, especially with music. She was the first pianist at her home church, Union Hill Baptist, when it was founded in the back of my grandfather’s store in the early 1930s. After moving back to Rock Creek, she was at the Union Hill keyboard every week for several more decades until age caught up with her. She loved hymns and Southern Gospel.

She could also play the ukulele and the harmonica. Not long before her death, suffering through Alzheimer’s when she didn’t know who anybody was, she could still play a mean harmonica, not missing a note of the last song she could remember, “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder, I’ll Be There.”

She was an educator, working first as a substitute teacher, then as a school registrar from the late 1950s through the 1980s. She understood the importance of education, stressing the importance of students taking responsibility, serving as a mentor to many over the years. There are probably some reading this column who are among those that were positively impacted by her example.

Some honored her, through cards or letters, others with gifts at Christmas, some with calls when she retired. A few others were more unique, none more so that the one bestowed by my longtime friend Steve Price.

His was a 1955 green and white, four-door Chevy Bel-Air, his pride and joy … that he named Hilda Ferne. My mother knew about that, saw the car when it came to Rock Creek. But, I’m not sure that she ever understood the significance of that namesake or realized how much she was appreciated and respected by friends, her church, her family or the young people with whom she had contact.

There are a lot of people that share this same appreciation for their parents, for being raised and influenced this same way. We are immeasurably grateful to them and to God.

It also wasn’t lost on me that this weekend marked another milestone.

On the weekend of my mother’s 50th birthday, the Marshall Thundering Herd football team played East Carolina in Greenville, N.C. The Pirates won that game, 17-14, but few will remember anything about the game itself. No football fan alive then will ever forget what happened afterward.

Near Ceredo, a small town along the Ohio River in Wayne County, West Virginia, the Southern Airways DC-9 aircraft returning the Marshall team from the game crashed into a hillside approach to the Tri-State Airport, killing all 75 on board.

Victims included head coach Rick Tolley, five members of the coaching staff, athletic director Charles Kautz, team trainer Jim Schroer, Sports Information Director Gene Morehouse, 25 boosters, five crew members and 37 members of the football team.  It is considered the greatest tragedy in American sports history.

The movie, We Are Marshall, the story of the crash and its aftermath, including the resurrection of the football program, is one of the best sports stories ever told on screen. If you’ve never seen it, hopefully you will.

That Marshall team and the crash were remembered this weekend in Huntington, W.Va., where the undefeated, No. 15 Thundering Herd defeated C-USA rival Middle Tennessee.

This weekend, with my mother’s birthday and the Marshall tragedy, was a reminder of lives well lived and lives cut short. Celebration and sadness. Milestones and memories.

It’s been a decade since my mother passed away and today is 100 years since she was born.

Happy 100th birthday, Mother. Thanks for your love, for the love of friends and family, the love of church and music, the love of sports and the love of life.

No one could have ever wanted any more.