Mother’s Day 2024 — Blood Harmony


It became a tradition when Mama died 15 years ago, that I would drive the winding, mountain roads and travel to a little church in the piney woods on Mother’s Day.

Aunt Kathleen would always act as though she were happily surprised that I came to spend Mother’s Day with her. That is the kind of humility that always ran strong through her – she never found herself deserving. What a saint.

I’d always sit beside her on the little stage with the choir where they would spend an hour singing old-timey hymns like “I’ll Fly Away”, “Just A Little Talk With Jesus” “This World Is Not My Home” and other lovely songs filled with theology.

In the mountains, most churches sing by shaped notes that call for harmony in alto, soprano and bass. I can’t carry a tune but I try. Various members of the church take turns picking out a hymn and leading it. Once, a man announced his selection to be sung during the passing of the collection plate so everyone in the tiny church, stood to sing “They Shall Walk With Me In White.”

This hymn, taken from what John wrote in the book of Revelation, has three-part harmony including a wonderful alto burst. From this small choir with less than 20 people, I thought I was hearing angels sing. Aunt Kathleen was singing pitch perfect while three lovely women joined her. It was gorgeous.

It took the rest of the song before I realized that Aunt Kathleen and the other three were blending in “blood harmony.” It may be a mountain term but it means this: It is the purest form of harmony that comes only from people who are related by blood and have “biologic chemistry.” It’s effortless and beautiful.

The reason I couldn’t harmonize with Aunt Kath is that she is my aunt through marriage. The three women singing with her are all blood related.

Their family name is Carder but Aunt Kathleen said they were part of the clan that included June Carter Cash and Mother Maybelle.

“We just changed the spellin’ of our name,” she said.

Oh, if only I had a recording of what I heard that day. Last year, Tink and I went up to the mountains to spend Mother’s Day with Aunt Kath, who, again, professed great surprise when I walked in. Unable to have children, she took me on as a baby and loved me mightily. She told me stories that I would never have known without her.

“One Sunday, we were visiting with Mr. and Mrs. Miller (my grandparents). Your mama always had you dressed like a little baby doll. You were in a little ruffled dress, socks with lace trim and black patent shoes.”

This part I need to explain: In the mountains, folks had chickens that wandered the yard. Some people called them yard birds. Usually, the scratching of the chickens kept the yard bare of grass so they swept the yards with a broom. Up in the hills, no one ever thought of putting a chicken in a cage. Mountain people were way ahead of their time on that.

“The chickens had dug a hole and it’d rained. It was a big mud hole. I looked out the door, just in time to see you plop down in the mud in that pretty little dress.” She called urgently to Mama, who calmly looked out to see me splashing and said, “Oh, leave her alone. It won’t hurt her to get dirty.”

This year I won’t be at church with Aunt Kath for Mother’s Day. In a hospital bed, my beautiful aunt is drawing toward her last breath. By the time you read this, she may have even reached the gates of glory.

My heart hurts terribly but this I know: She’ll be singing blood harmony with the other saints.

[Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of “St. Simons Island: A Stella Bankwell Mystery.” Visit to sign up for her free weekly newsletter.]