Backroads: A Mother’s Day Tribute to “Bubba Jean”

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The last photo of Laverta Coffey

Her name was Laverta Jean Bruce Coffey, but her four children and several others she raised affectionately called her “Bubba Jean” and somehow the name stuck. In high school, the first time she laid eyes on a quiet, blond-haired boy by the name of Saylor Coffey, she announced to everyone, “That’s the boy I’m going to marry,” even though they hadn’t been formally introduced. It was something she knew in the depths of her heart and as fate would have it, they married right after graduation.

Becoming Saylor’s wife (or Billy as his family called him) brought a different way of life right from the start. Like so many young couples, they started their married life together living with Billy’s parents until they could build a house of their own in the remote mountain village of Love. Always a homebody, Laverta wanted nothing more from life than to be a good wife to the husband she adored and called “my honey,” and bear his children. They had four; Teresa, David, Mike and Rebecca, who were the delight of their mother’s heart.

Laverta was a naturally shy woman when around people she didn’t know, but at home on her own turf she was an outgoing lady with a quick wit, making everyone around her laugh.

I made her acquaintance in 1980 when I moved to Love and became neighbors with the Coffey family. I interviewed the Coffeys when writing an article about bluegrass music in the Backroads newspaper. They were a family blessed with an abundance of musical talent. From the playing of stringed instruments to their beautiful vocals, they were always in demand at gospel sings and church homecomings. Laverta played an upright bass and rounded out the vocals with her low alto voice.

She had short black hair streaked with gray and merry brown eyes. Her ample lap was always filled with squirming children or some type of animal, both of which she’d rise to the defense of if she thought someone was mistreating them. But what I remember best about Laverta was her laughter, rich and full-bodied just like the rest of her.

I remember one winter she slipped on ice and broke her ankle. I was out delivering the Backroads and when I came to the door, Laverta yelled, “come in and sign my cast!”  She was lying in the living room with her foot propped up and wasn’t satisfied until I came in and wrote a bit of nonsense on her cast.

Sometime in the late 1980s I began attending the little country church at the top of the mountain where the Coffeys were members. I loved sitting one pew behind them, watching their crazy antics as they filed in for services. It did my heart good to see such unabashed joy in a family and it strengthened my belief that happy marriages still existed. Laverta’s quiet faith grew in the years that followed, and her children knew they had a mother who prayed for them every day.

As our friendship grew, I found we both shared the same interest in photography, but Laverta went one step further and set up a darkroom in the bathroom of her home where she developed prints of her family.  

She had just started going with me on some of my interviews when the unthinkable happened. At forty-two years of age, she lost her life in an auto accident.  The Coffey family as well as our community was numb with grief. There were so many at her funeral they had to open the church doors and windows so people standing four-deep outside could hear the service. Healing was a slow process, but gradually the family began to go on, their faith deepening through the tragedy.

Five years later another unthinkable thing happened. The neighborly friendship Billy and I had shared suddenly caught fire and we married in the spring of 1993. I found myself living Laverta’s life, with a loving and supportive husband along with four more children and the grandchildren I knew she would have loved gathering on her lap.

When we moved to our new cabin, I came across the last studio portrait of Laverta and Billy in one of the closets of their former home. I dusted it off and hung it on the wall along with our other family pictures so everyone could see and know she was a welcome presence in our home. Laverta was a dedicated, Godly woman who loved deeply and knew the power of prayer.  

And that is why on this Mother’s Day I’d like to pay tribute to the special woman who will always be revered and remembered by those who loved “Bubba Jean.” 

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