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Hardy Jackson’s Alabama

Why we will defeat breast cancer

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

I became particularly aware of this when I lost an old and dear friend to the disease.

On a more positive note, several other friends who are breast cancer survivors continue to thrive.

Losses are hard to take. But the survivors show us that the fight continues and there are victories to celebrate.

And when I think of the victorious, I think of Aunt Roscoe.

Aunt Roscoe was a breast cancer survivor.

It was a long time ago – late 1940s or early 1950s, dates get fuzzy – before radiation or chemo and all that. Back then, when you had breast cancer you either died or got it cut off. Roscoe went the cut-off route. Radical mastectomy. Which left her breastless on one side.

So she made herself a replacement, a “falsie,” padded in the shape of the real thing.

You see, Aunt Roscoe was a seamstress. A good one.

When she resumed sewing, Aunt Roscoe found that her “falsie” was an excellent place to stick pins when there were too many for her to hold in her mouth, which is where seamstresses hold extra pins, in case you didn’t know.

Always with her, always within easy reach, her falsie was a novel and convenient pin cushion.

However, the true value of this innovation did not come clear until a year or so later, well after its use became second nature to the user.

One day Aunt Roscoe was hard at work pinning a pattern when there came a knock on the door. Pins in her mouth, she answered it and found a salesman, sample case in hand, ready to show her something that he knew she could not live without.

He began making his pitch.

She could not tell him “no” because of the pins in her mouth.

So while he talked, she absentmindedly began taking the pins, one by one, from between her lips and sticking them in the pin cushion.

Yep, that pin cushion.

Which the salesman thought was real.

(Work on it. Visuals are important here.)

With each pin moving from mouth to cushion, mouth to cushion, the salesman’s concentration slipped and he kept losing his place in the spiel. He began stammering. And sweating.

Meanwhile Aunt Roscoe, unaware of what she was doing and the effect it was having on the salesman, continued to take pins from her mouth and poke them firmly into “it.”

Finally, after the fourth or fifth pin, the salesman gave up.

“Please lady,” he said. “You can stop. I’m leaving. If you are tough enough to do that, there is no way I can sell you anything.”

And he left.

And apparently he told other folks in his profession.

For according to family lore, that salesman was the last salesman ever to darken her door.

Aunt Roscoe lived to a ripe old age and died – not from the cancer, but from one of the other things that gets us all in the end.

But were she alive today, I’m sure that she would have celebrated Breast Cancer Awareness Month with the survivors, wearing her pink T-shirt and doing her part so that one day in the not too distant future, innovations like her personal pin cushion would be a thing of the past.

With women like her leading the way, breast cancer’s days are surely numbered.

Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson is Professor Emeritus of History at Jacksonville State University. He can be reached at hjackson@cableone.net.