My Momma’s Gift

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My Momma’s Gift

By Paula Deen

My girlfriends and I grew up wanting to be just like our mommas—to do our hair up big and prance around in saddle oxfords. Our mommas were beautiful soft-spoken ladies who minded their manners and their waistlines, not letting themselves get out of size 12, which was like an 8 back then.

But when us girls grew into young ladies ourselves (though a little rougher around the edges), we started to butt heads with our mommas, trying to make our own way in the world. Some were lucky—they passed through that stage and came out on the other side with a better understanding of each other. Sometimes they even became the best of friends.

But sometimes you don’t get the chance.

It would be easy to put on rose-colored glasses and tell y’all that I’m just like my momma—that like her, I’m all put together and poised. But that would be a boldface lie. Truth is, I’ve always been more like my Aunt Peggy. To this day, that woman loves cutting a business deal even better than eating. She’s tougher than a two-dollar steak and I credit her for making me into a strong woman. If Mother had been living, she would’ve said to me, “No honey, you can’t do that. You can’t. You’ll kill yourself.” But Aunt Peggy was there saying, “Yes you can, now do it. Get in there and do it.”

So I did.

I was only 23 when Momma passed away—just becoming a woman myself. If she’d been with me longer I might’ve turned out more like her, but the world had other plans for me. After Momma passed, my Aunt Peggy and the other wonderful women in my family came to my rescue, filling up that big ol’ hole in my heart with love and giving me the strength to do more than I ever could’ve imagined.

I loved my momma so much. I haven’t done everything the way she would’ve done it, but she’d be proud just the same. I believe she can see me through that little peephole in the clouds and I know that she’s beaming with pride. I just wish she could see it all from my side instead of from the clouds.

But wouldn’t you know there’s more to the story. You see, mothers can be complicated—and mine was no exception. Folks say that before I was born my momma was as mean as a snake. Feisty. A daredevil. They say that once I came into the world, she softened. She became very tolerant of people’s shortcomings and would walk five miles out of the way to keep the peace. Maybe that’s what happens to some of us when we have babies, even if it didn’t happen to me.

Like I said, maybe I’m not much like the momma I grew up knowing, but I take comfort in thinking that all that pepper she had once left her and came to me—her little spitfire. It’s just one of the many gifts that I’m grateful for this Mother’s Day.

Note: The images at the top of this article are of Paula, as a one year old toddler, and her Momma.

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Reader Comments:


Loved your special on Ancestry. My family, too, comes from Lee Co. Ga. Iam EXTREMELY interested in where your aunt got a copy of your grandfather's 1862 birth certificate. I have received NO help in discovering where to look for MY relatives from Georgia officials. I realize that you had professionals looking for you, but does your aunt know where she got her copy of the 1862 birth certificate. That would help me begin my search into my Lee Co. Relatives. They were residents for many many decades there also. Thank you so much. Donna Hernandez

By Donna Hernandez on May 23, 2012


i love paula, her sons her aunt and uncle and michael, and of course little jack i feel sorry for her losing her beautiful momma at such an early age but im sure your momma is very proud of you and all your accomplishments. your sons are very handsome and respectful to you and all.brook is a beautiful woman and so is katie, i am so happy that you have a wonderful life but please take care of yourself, i too have diabetes and we can live with it, we just have to be careful. my love to you all mrs. nugent (cookie)

By lillian nugent on January 29, 2012

Wow!! You sure look like your Mom! A beauty at that. Love your show and who you are as a person. My Mom is still with us at 83, doesn’t cook much anymore, leaving that to her three daughters now.Thanks for sharing your wonderful self and recipies with me and my family.

By Mardi Bond on October 06, 2010

I came from an italian family both parents were italian,she passed away in 2004,i think of my mom alot, she made the best pizza she would make 5 big sheets, i never tasted pizza anywhere as good as hers. when she passed we tried to find her recepies,but she didnt have to many because she made things from memory.

By Sandi Deck on May 19, 2010

Hey Paula,
I feel youre pain gf! Me and my mom were veryclose and it took my momma passing away for me to grow up.I tell my daughter that all the time, But as much as I hate to admit it, she is growing up to be a wonderful loving daughter and mother..Im just glad I got to see it…I love you and would love to meet you someday.I was born in Savannah, october 12, 1955….dont know if you were there then but im sure we prolly would have grown yp together to be good friends..,lol…Thanks for all the laughs and good recipies you have given us.We Really do try them..Libby

By Libby on May 18, 2010

dear paula thank you for sharing with us about your mother i lost my mother in june 09 i miss her very much she cooked baked and anything with food we as kids would make cookies and candies and sell them for chirstmas money we would have standing orders for the next year so keep your memories in your heart and your life becomes better because we begain to become our mother before we know it have a happy summer and good cooking jerrie

By jerrie on May 18, 2010

dear paula i enjoy your show very much and i do fix a lot of your recipes we have a paula deen night we pick out our theme for dinner and we have lots of fun we have family and friend over and i have a 2 yr grandson that wants to cook he goes to the stove and trys to turn the knobs touches the oven door goes to the fridgerator and to the pantry for the pans he will let me get the food in the pan but after that he wants me to hold him while he has the fork ready to turn the meat im trying to find him a little chefs hat the funny thing he only does this for nana lot of happy cooking jerie

By jerrie on May 18, 2010

Hi Paula,Unlike you I still have my Mom. She is 91, and as fiesty as ever. She is blind, and now weighs 135 lbs., but she is still Mother. I take care of her and I am cooking more now than when I was 60.She won’t eat sandwiches and doesn’t like soup..see what I mean? Yep, mean as a snake, lol.Love you, the kids, your loverboy, lol   and the show.Just keep on being you.

By Wanda Thornbrough on May 12, 2010

I enjoyed seeing your photos and reading your story.  Mother’s Day is also difficult for me.
I try to be a good mother and enjoy it for my daughter and son. 
I moved away from my family when I married and was only able to visit with them once or twice a year.  We had planned on moving in a retirement community together. 
Having an interest in genealogy, I became consumed with getting information from my older relatives, thinking my parents would be around for a long time.
Unfortunately fate had a different idea.  I watched my 93 year old grandmother cry about not being able to help her daughter (my mother) when she was dying.
I thank God I had 3 months to spend with her during hospice, when the hospital said she probably wouldn’t last a week when she came home.

My mother was very special - unconditional love was her gift.  I try to remember happy memories of her when I am feeling sad.  It helps.

By Linda Tubbs on May 12, 2010

Paula I know what is like to lose your mother to alzheimer’s. My mother died at 80 yrs. I can also cope with what you are saying about not knowing you. My mom didn’t know who i was i thought i would die. She knew all my other brothers & sisters. But my dad told me she was not herself which i knew that but it still hurt. But i know now my mom did love me and she is in heaven looking at me now. Paula i also lost my husband in 2005 to cancer now they are all looking at me from heaven and i can’t wait till God comes for me. Love you Paula watch all your shows got all your books.

By Gayle Nelson on May 11, 2010

I too lost my Mama when I was 21. I loved my Mama so much. She was always doing for others and never took time for her self. I wish I could repay her for some of the things ahe did for me. I wish I could tell her one more time how much I love her and miss her.

By Gloria on May 11, 2010

Paula thanks for sharing your life with us.  I lost my mom las March to Alzheimer’s disease.  She was only 61.  It was the hardest thing I have ever gone through.  In her last few
months of life visiting her in the nursing and not having her recognize me was so difficult.  They day she slipped into a coma after a massive brain seizure my oldest of two sons was going to visit her to introduce her to his son.  Her great grandson.  Their is a whole the size of Texas in my heart that she didn’t get to meet my grandson.  She was in a coma for 7 days and I didn’t leave her side.  I prayed so hard that to God that I couldn’t go on without my mom telling me she loved me just one more time.  God’s love abounded when for a very brief period I was sitting with my mom that she woke up and told me she wasn’t doing well and that she loved
me.  She slipped back into her coma and passed away two days later.  I had peace that she’s complete and healthy in heaven but I am selfish and want my best friend here with me.  She always told me I could do anything I put my mind to so I want you to know that my entry into your Philly contest is a tribute to her.  She’s my biggest cheerleader and I am who I am today because of the love and constant direction and support she gave me.  I’ll miss her forever!

By Leisa Perkins on May 11, 2010

Thanks for sharing about your Mom. I love the pictures! I am lucky enough to still have my Mom. She will be 84 next month and she is still on the ball. She taught me to cook, even when you think there isn’t anything to work with. She even has a boyfriend and they ride around on a 3 wheeled Harley. It’s amazing and I fill so blessed to still be able to talk to her each day. When I lose her I will be lost too!

By Kathy Davies on May 10, 2010

Hi Paula I love you, your books, shows,and hope to meet you some day. Keep up your good work, I also love your sons, they seem to take after their mother when it comes to cooking.hope you had a great mothers day.

By Zayda Koerner on May 10, 2010

Hi Paula, I love reading your stories and watching you and your family on TV.  I lost my Mom 9 yrs ago and I still miss her everyday.  My Mom was a very sweet lady - to everyone else.  To me - well, I was very intimidated which she thought was very amusing.  But I have to say in her later life (she was 66 when she died-I was 50) we did finally draw closer.  And since her passing I found out things of her childhood which would account for her running away at 14 to marry my dad.  I do still love & miss my Mom so much. She’s in my dreams too.

By Pam Wheeler on May 10, 2010

Paula I’m so sorry your mother’s day was bittersweet. I can’t imagine not having my mom in my life… I lost my dad and wonderful Mother-in-Law 10 years ago. My Dad would have been 73 on the 3rd of May. When someone you love becomes a memory, then every memory of that person becomes a treasure!
Here is my poem for you!

If Roses grow in Heaven, Lord please pick a bunch for me, place them in my Mother’s arms and tell her they’re from me. Tell her I love and miss her, and when she turns to smile, place a kiss upon her cheek and hold her for awile. Remembering her is easy, I do it every day, but there’s an ache within my heart that just… won’t go away…HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY MOM! I SURELY DO MISS YOU

By Valonda Seward on May 10, 2010

Thank you for sharing your story with us Paula.  I think every girl who has lost her mother can relate.  I don’t think anyone can fully understand how difficult it is to wrap your mind around trying to navigate your way through motherhood without your own mom there to help guide you.  I always assumed my mom would be there for our family…planning holidays, watching my baby and giving me advice whenever I needed it, not to mention being my best friend after years of butting heads while I worked my way through my teen years.  Now here I am almost six years after she passed very unexpectedly, raising my now 10 year old daughter without her guidance, planning and hosting all of the family holidays and wondering how in the world she did it for so many years making it seem effortless!  She too had lost her mother early…the year before I was born.  That said, we never felt like we were missing anything, because she made everything complete and so special.  I don’t know if you ever truly get over losing your mother, but with the help of our own children and our responsibilities to them, we press on and do the best we can…all the while hoping our moms would be proud of the job we are doing.  I think she still checks in on us, and hopefully she is proud of me.  Keep the faith and keep up all of the good work you do.  You do so much for so many and we are so blessed and thankful to you for it!

By Chris on May 10, 2010

I lost my mom about 12 yrs ago and i still miss her like it was yesterday.My husband lost his mom baCK in April of this year and this was his first MOTHER DAY with out her.My heart hurt so bad for him.I feel for anyone that didn’t have thier mom on that day, I known you have memories but make sure you take alot of pitures.GOD BLESS

By Barbara Daniels on May 10, 2010

Will you adopt me?  Just thought I’d ask, I’m 50 and housebroken.  Don’t take up much room.  I’m a cooking disaster!  Love YOU and Love you show!  Thanks, I’m a southern gal and proud of it!XOXOXO!!!Camilla

By Cami Gorsky on May 10, 2010

Hi Paula,

You sure look like your momma.  I don’t think we ever get over the loss of a parent.  My mom is 85, and each day I am blessed by her still being with me.  Lately, she has had her bouts with illnes, and I do wonder what it will be like without her.  She has been my one and only true friend.  I am an only child, and have always been close with my mom.  When I lost my dad it was devastating.  Although it is easier each day that he is not here with me, I do have the great memories.  My mom’s memories will be my blessing as it is yours.  Thanks for sharing and I hope you had a wonderful day thinking of your mom and being with your children.

By Mary on May 10, 2010

I loved your story about your Mom. She left you way to early. I’m so sorry for that. I miss my Mom also. She passed away Oct. 23, 2007 from colon cancer at the age of 90. I was there by her side along with other family members. I miss her so very much. At least I had my Mom longer that you did. For that I am so thankful. Her birthday would have been May 12. Thank -you for sharing your story about your Mom. Hope you had a Happy Mother’s Day.

By Amber Block on May 10, 2010

Enjoyed hearing about your mother and seeing the pictures. I lost my mother just over 21 years ago. She was just gaining some recognition for her talents and preparing for her first solo art show.  The director of the museum said she was the finest primitive painter in the U.S. She got sick and died, with many unfinished canvases. She also taught piano and played organ for her church. She could do anything and I sure do miss her cooking!  She only wrote a few of her recipes down.  I spent a lot of my growing up years in my mother’s kitchen, and my great-aunts’ kitchens, and my grandmother’s kitchens.  They never measured and I tried really hard to learn how to make some of the family favorites.  They all cooked with a handful of this and a sprinkle of that.  Now, I’m the oldest person in the family and I don’t remember how to make some of the dishes, or who a lot of people are in the old family pictures. 
I had the wooden kitchen stool that was in my great-aunt’s kitchen and where I spent a lot of time, watching her cook and just talking to “my second mama”.  I spent a lot of time with her.  She didn’t have children, as did my other great-aunt.  I came along after they lost their mothers, so I was really spoiled!  When Daddy got mad at me or I was scared, I would run across the street to my great-aunt!  She died at age 94.  My mother was only 67. 
Now I’m a mother and grandmother, and they all live with me! I try to pass on the things that I can to the next generations.

By Cecelia Heinrich on May 10, 2010

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