And Sarah Creamer has much to learn from the Hereford.

But the story One Good Mama Bone actually began when the author Bren McClain was ten years old, and she “caught a glimpse of the divine.” Farmers were weaning calves from their mothers. She writes, “I couldn’t (help the mothers.) But then something came to me - I could tell their stories. I could tell about the way they love their babies, about their bond, this maternal one. This piece of the divine.” A quarter of a century later, McClain lists Mama Red, still alive, in the Acknowledgments of her debut novel. “With the help of all these champions, I made good on my promise to you, girl. I delivered. We delivered your piece of the divine.”

Alice Stephens writing for the Washington Independent, says, “One Good Mama Bone is a true American story because it is a hybrid of genres: The plot is Southern Gothic, the twists and turns are fairytale, the prose and characters are folkloric.” 

When Sarah Creamer was a little girl, her mother told her she didn’t have one good mama bone in her body. Like most children, Sarah believed her mother. That is, until she was left to raise the infant son of her best friend sired by Sarah’s own husband. Six short years later, the widowed Sarah feels all alone trying to raise someone else’s child until she meets Mama Red who shows by her actions what maternal love looks like. Sarah realizes she has far more than one good mama bone to her name.

On a small South Carolina farm in the 1950s, Emerson Bridge, so dubbed by his dad because he likes this name he has seen on a road sign, joins 4-H and agrees to raise a steer for a year. Breaking the first rule of competition  – don’t name your animal – he names Mama Red’s son Lucky. Together, Sarah and Emerson Bridge set about surviving.

Best selling author Mary Alice Monroe, a South Carolinian native, writes the introduction to the book. These two writers met when Monroe was a presenter and McClain, a writer in the making, at a South Carolina Writers Workshop. They bonded immediately.

About One Good Mama Bone, Monroe writes “This book is everything that Bren is -smart, confident, unflinchingly honest, witty, wise and possessing a reassuring wisdom and kindness that carries the reader from the heartbreaking beginnings to a morally and emotionally satisfying conclusion. Bren McClain’s debut novel is a tour de force!”

Monroe also tells about McClain’s two encounters with the late Pat Conroy. McClain first met the famous author in 1995 at one of his book signings. She told him she was trying to write a novel. He gave her a card with his agent’s information and told her he hoped to read her book someday.  Some day 20 years later, came and the University of South Carolina published her book under Story River Books, founded by Pat Conroy. When she attended Conroy’s birthday party shortly before he died, she thanked him for his encouragement and for his involvement with Story River Books. He asked her the name of her book and when she told him, he flung his arms and said, “The COW!” 

McClain says, “To be escorted and ushered in to my publishing career via Pat Conroy’s enormous heart, it doesn’t get any better than that.” 

Bren McClain was born and raised in Anderson, South Carolina, on a beef cattle and grain farm.  She has a degree in English from Furman University and is an experienced media relations, radio, and television news professional. 

She says, “I believe that writers have stories that are ours and ours alone to tell. And so I anchor in that. I believe heartily in that. I believe that if I have a story to tell, it’s going to find its way.”

One Good Mama Bone won the 2017 Willie Morris Award for Southern Fiction and the 2019 Patricia Winn Award for Southern Literature. 

• Jamie Denty can be reached at jamiedenty@darientel.net. Please visit:  “From My Back Porch” at jldenty.wixsite.com/jamiedentycolumns. A “new” old column is published most Mondays.