The state of Tennessee is famous for many things like; country music, church communities, whisky, barbecue, rolling hills, sweet tea, fried catfish, Memphis ribs…and 9 gray haired seniors, also known as “The 9-Nanas”.
And although they may not be listed on the official Tennessee roster of things to “see and do” in the Volunteer State, they’ve become synonymous with the phrase “Southern Hospitality,” for their warmth and kindness.
Their mission began over 35 years ago over a card game one hot afternoon. As the ladies were reminiscing about the “good old days”, their neighbor, a couple they fondly called “MaMaw and PaPaw” would perform random acts of kindness for those neighbors in need, who may have needed a kind word, or perhaps a shoulder to cry on.
The ladies recalled how “MaMaw” would scan the daily paper, reading about someone who may have lost a loved one, or about a family in distress, and she would instantly head to her kitchen and begin baking her famous pound cake and take it to their home, without even knowing them personally…many were complete strangers, she felt needed a kind gesture.
And thus, these 9 ladies decided then and there to form a sisterhood that would span the next 35 years of doing good deeds for those they didn’t know, just like their mentor “MaMaw” had been doing for decades.
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The ladies, however, needed money to go along with their good deeds. And that’s when they decided to do all of their own laundry, setting aside the money needed to fund their good deeds. They also swore never to tell anyone of their new-found-mission, not even their husbands.
“I admit, I protested at first. There’s just something about laundering that I don’t like. But I was outnumbered! So among the nine of us, we’d put aside about $400 a month and our husbands never noticed a thing. Their shirts looked just fine.” says one of the sisters.
Within a few months the ladies had saved a sizeable bankroll to begin their good deeds. They kept their ears open and read the daily paper as they scampered around the community doing their daily errands. Trips to the supermarket would be an idle place for friendly neighbors to share gossip about someone’s misfortune.
Whenever they heard of someone in need, they’d step in to help. Perhaps a wife who just lost her husband and needed to pay some overdue bills, or a dad who just lost his job and needed warm clothes for his kids. The ladies would also include one of MaMaw Ruth’s pound cakes and a note that said “Somebody loves you.”
“We’d drive through low-income neighborhoods and look for homes that had fans in the window. That told us that the people who lived there didn’t have air-conditioning. Or we’d see that there were no lights on at night, which meant there was a good chance their utilities had been turned off. Then we’d return before the sun came up, like cat burglars, and drop off a little care package.”
However, after almost 35 years, their “Secret” was finally uncovered. Their husbands were in awe over what their wives were doing, and they wanted in on the fun.
“They were amazed that we were doing this and even more amazed that they never knew. We can keep a good secret! All but three of them are retired now, so sometimes they come with us on our drive-bys. In our area, all you need is an address to pay someone’s utility bill, so we keep the men busy jotting down numbers.”
All this goodwill over a card game, one hot afternoon in Tennessee, 35 years ago…amazing!