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

Hi Paula,  I idolize you!  I too am a single mom with two boys and keep trying to figure out how I can be as ambitious as you.  I frequent Johnnie’s
rest. and bakery (Gabriel’s)  She is also a delight.  I hope someday to meet you.  Isn’t it amazing what we endure in a lifetime and survive; there is truly a God!

By Shirley McFall on May 05, 2010

I loved the article you wrote of you and your mother.  The pictures were so cute.  She surely is looking down at you and smiling.  She is so proud!  We are also proud of you.  I am your biggest fan, and most of the time I watch your shows I get tears in my eyes from something you say or do.  You are genuine and it shows on tv. that is what I like most about you.  Oh yeah, I love your recipes too. HaHa Keep up the good work, I love your sons too, you can also see they are genuine people too.  Happy Mother’s Day to you!  Your mother is smiling.

By Tammy Jeanneret on May 05, 2010

Hey Paula,

I love your spunk and those pictures of you and your momma. She certainly must have inspired you in a big way.  My mom passed away in March and it was devasating.  I use to sit up on the kitchen counter and watch her cook.  She was a great southern cook too!  Thanks for being such a wonderful example of how hospitable southern women are (and great cooks)!

Love ya,

By Nancy on May 05, 2010

Paula, thank you so much for sharing that story. It touched my heart. I do believe the pepper went from your momma into you! I too am a spitfire born to a calm momma, in my case I have a Aunt Patty instead of an Aunt Peggy. She showed me how to be tough. I guess God just puts us where we need to be..and you sure have made the most of it. The pictures are beautiful..I think you look like your momma some. I’m wishing you a very happy Mother’s Day, from one momma of a beautiful boy(s) to another!

By Erin on May 05, 2010

In honor of my Mom, Alice, and for Mother’s Day—I’m sharing a special Paula Deen story. Alice absolutely LOVED you Paula! She thought you were a “hoot”. A few years ago Paula published her Memoirs. I knew my Mom would love it—I gave it to her on Mother’s Day. In our family we have a tradition of writing a little something in the front of the book to the person you are giving the book to to, mark the date, a sentiment and sign it. Well this time I thought I’d be funny and write the note from Paula Deen. I started with “Hey Y’all - Alice” and then continued with I hear you are a hoot and we are cut from the same cloth. I went on to say that Paula heard about how my parents had come to her restaurant in Savannah over the Winter on their way to the Florida Keys, but missed Paula as she was taping at Bubba’s restaurant. But Alice was able to meet Paula’s cute son, Bobby, in their gift store and said “hey Bobby” and I went on and on the best way I thought Paula would, and finished with you and Bob come back and see me next year and we’ll have a glass of wine and some laughs. Love, Paula”.
> Well my intention was that my mother would think it was funny and get a chuckle—knowing it was from me and I wrote it. However, she was on cloud nine—she couldn’t believe Paula wrote to her and went on and on and how did you do this, how did you get this. So I couldn’t disappoint her and burst her bubble, this was her idol. Well I had to continue the yarn—Mom it was a lot of work, but I had a connection, who had a connection and well they knew Paula and well that was it. She believed me and made a copy of the letter. She told every friend she knew that Paula wrote her a letter and signed her book and well she said it was her best Mother’s Day present ever that I would go to all that trouble for her and get Paula to write something so personal to her. I never told her the truth.

> When my mother passed away in July 2008, my Dad gave me an envelope and asked me to have it placed in the casket. He found it in her purse. It contained a couple of pictures of the three grandchildren, some tic-tacs and this worn out piece of paper folded up, it was the copy of the letter. My father said that she took it everywhere she went and showed it to everyone she met.

Thank you Paula for all the joy you gave to Alice.  Happy Mother’s Day to you.

By Marielaina Lorrey on May 04, 2010

Paula, My mom didn’t raise me but I got to know her later on through the years. She had a hard life and I understand why I didn’t live with her. She just passed away at age 92 this year and I appreciate the time that I got to spend with her. I realize that her life was not what she planned but she made the most of it. Her laugh is what I will remember most. That is what I love about you, is your loving laugh. No matter what, we need to laugh to get us through the good and sad days.

By Judie Blandin on May 04, 2010

I love what you wrote about your Momma.  My Mom died five years ago from cancer.  The first six months were so difficult, but I have good friends and God sent a special family into my life a year after she passed. They said they were adopting me and they have.  God knows what (or who) you need, when you need it.

By Twila Treece on May 04, 2010

I was raised on a small farm in West Virginia by my grandmother and grandfather.  My grandfather died when I was seven and I then lived with my Grandmother until my marriage at 16. My Grandmother died when I was 24.  She was the most important adult that had ever been in my life.  As I have gotten older, I’m now 50, I feel the values that my Grandmother taught me through my young years were a turning point in my life.  I miss her everyday and look back and wish I had written down some of the things she told me about the old days and also about family.  She was the true BACKBONE of our family and one that I miss very much.

By Jacqueline Ramey on May 04, 2010

Hi, Paula!
Thank you for sharing your memories of your Mom with us.  I lost my Mom when I was 49 and it still seems like only yesterday that we were sharing all the special moments of our lives together.  She was an extraordinary baker, and I
learned so much from cooking with her.  Holiday baking was the best!  We would bake dozens of cookies together to give as gifts and to enjoy with family.  My grandmother was also a great baker.  Her famous “Mary Oliver” cake was my favorite. This recipe and other family favorites were compiled in a 5 generations cook book, published by my late Aunt Hazel’s advertising business firm that we all worked for. This cookbook is my comfort and keeps me connected to
the women in my family that had such an impact on my life. I am proud to continue to carry on the family food traditions that they so lovingly started.
I wish you, Paula, and all the special mothers, grandmothers, and aunts out there, “Happy Mother’s Day”!

By Louise Waugh on May 04, 2010


By DEBBIE RICE on May 04, 2010

  I enjoyed the story about your mom….this will be my first Mother’s Day without my mom and I miss her so much. I miss the everyday phone calls just to say “hi, whatcha doin” , and being able to call her when I forgot a part of a recipe I wanted to make, because since my grandma, then my mom, now me, recipes were just passed down, not written down !! Thanks for always brightening my day with your tv shows, I love, love, love to watch.
Take care and have a wonderful Mother’s day !!

By Brenda Schild on May 04, 2010

Thanks for sharing your memories of your mother with us.  My mother passed away in August 1985 at 55 years old, you would have loved her if you’d ever met her. Her philospy on life was keep them warm, or cool(according to the weather outside)and well fed. She cooked continually for everyone who came in.
I was never accepted as a decent cook until the last two years of mothers life (my worse two years,became my very best memories of shared time with mother). She actually let me cook in her kitchen and praised my cooking. She was very ill from 12 years old until she died in 1985 but she loved seeing everyone well fed and cutting up. I miss mother today as much as the very first day without her.  We never agreed on everything but we understood each other.  She wanted more for me and my brothers, dreamed one day we would be “Somebody” We are, we’re her children!
May 1st was her 80th birthday and May 9th is Mothers Day but this year she is one happy angel Dad joined her in Heaven March 1st 2009.

By HONEYBEAR2 on May 04, 2010

Paula,I lost my Mother when I was 35 and with her death I lost my way in life. Thank God I found my way again! I think we are never ready to lose our Mothers because no one understands like she does. If for no other reason you Momma would be so proud of you for the great Momma you are. I saw your show last week where you cooked your Momma and Grandma Paul’s recipes, I cried with you.

By Fran Scruggs on May 04, 2010

Paula’s tribute to her mother is precisely why I admire her so. She is real, doesn’t pull her punches, and always finds the pony hidden in the gift box of horse poo! I lost my beautiful 88 year old mother this past January. Reading this was tearfully timely, combining reality with love. Thank you, Paula

By Charlotte Allan on May 04, 2010

I love reading your incredible stories and this one really touches me since I lost my Mother at 23 as well. My Mother was my best friend and I hope she’s peeking through the clouds smiling at me because with my memories I smile thinking of her!!!

By Annette O'Bell on May 04, 2010

I think no matter what you are a very good lady as well as a momma to your son’s daughter in-law and grand child. I alway’s tell my kid’s that when I do finally grow up I want to be a lady just like you. Paul I luv you,my whole family luv’s you!! Happy Mother’s day to a wonderful lady..Juanita (with respect to you from L.A.)

By Juanita rios on May 04, 2010

Paula, Thank you for sharing your story about your mother. I lost my Mom when I was 18 (She was only 47). She didn’t get to teach me to cook. Though I remember watching her cook. She would add a pinch of this or that and just know that was the right amount. I now am a mother of a 11 year old and her and I cook together with your recipes that are so easy to make that you don’t have to go to a special store to find the ingredients for. We love your show and recipes. And Your family. Hope to make it someday to Savannah,GA. I hope you have a Happy Mother’s Day! and to all the Mother’s a Happy Mother’s Day!

By Sandy Teel on May 04, 2010

Paul, love to hear stories about you and your family.My momma died 7 days before my 6th birthday. I spent some time in a foster home and then was on my own since the age of 16, never really knew much about cooking and then I found YOU.I love the recipes and whenever I come stateside I pick up one of your books. I loved your show but love to see you teaching some of these younger girls how to cook.Keep up the great work and keep those recipes coming…..Sharon

By Sharon on May 04, 2010

Thank you for the story.  We must always remember that our mama isn’t perfect.  Good or bad she is there to show us the way.  We can grow up to be exactly like her or take the best parts as a model and be our own woman.  She was so different than me, but I thank her for it.

By Karen Cortese on May 04, 2010

I miss my mamma too Paula.  She died when I was
34.  She could not cook a can of beans, but she
had a powerful laugh like you!  I still can’t look
at her pictures.  It makes me miss her more.

Happy Mother’s Day to you!

By Vanessa Newcomb on May 04, 2010

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