Wednesday, March 29, 2017

My MeMama

March 29, 2017.

I've had that date marked on my calendar for, oh, about 10 years now.  It all started on March 29, 2007.  We had just moved to Mississippi.  I wasn't feeling great, but I didn't know yet why (oh, hello, Hannah Kate!).  It was MeMama's 90th birthday.  They were having a little birthday party for her so I called her before the festivities began.  I told her I just knew she was going to make it to 100 birthdays.  She'd made it to 90.  So 100 would be no problem!  We had that conversation many times afterwards, too, and she always responded with the same thing:  "Oh, no I'm not!  I hope I don't have to live that long!"  Every. time.  And then I'd tell her, "I hope I live to be 100."  She'd always say, "Oh, no you don't!"

Years passed.  And we celebrated her 95th birthday.
Then came 96.  And 97.  And 98.  And 99 years old.

But at 99 years, 10 months and 9 days old, MeMama celebrated her eternal home going on February 7.  There won't be 100 birthdays.  That's so not what I had planned for today.

So let me tell you about this lady.

She grew up the daughter of tobacco farmers in south Georgia.  She had two brothers and three sisters.
As a teenager during the Great Depression, I think that was the single biggest event that shaped who she was the rest of her life and framed her worldview.  It had a remarkable impact on her, as her family was very poor.  I actually interviewed her and wrote a paper about her life during the Great Depression for my college freshman American History class.  I have looked and looked for that paper many times since, but I can't find it.  I thought I'd saved it, but I guess not.  MeMama wasn't one to really talk about her past.  There's so much about her younger years that we just don't know.

I recently became interested in genealogy research, and I decided to begin with her family because we know so little about them in comparison to my other grandparents.  When I visited her at Thanksgiving, I had the best time!  That's the best visit we'd had in several years.  I didn't take the children with me that time (even though she always loved seeing them and always asked about them), and I think that made all the difference in the world.  She'd get easily distracted, but not this time.  It was just the two of us.  I asked her to tell me about her life as a little girl.  I didn't get much.  The first thing she told me was that she was born in LaGrange.  What?  What!  I'd always thought she'd been born in Tifton.  But she explained to me that, at the time, her daddy was working at a factory, and they were living with Grandpa Will in Alabama.  I'm not the only one who didn't know she wasn't born in Tifton.  Her daughters put that as her place of birth in the obituary so we all had a nice little giggle about that.  I don't know how old she was when they moved to Tifton but she was a tiny girl.  

The next story she told me was about the first time they had a lawn mower.  It must've been a push mower.  And she was older then.  She said she wanted to push it so badly, but her daddy wouldn't let her.  Well, she did it anyway.  And she got caught.  And then she started laughing so I don't know what happened once she got caught because she never quite finished the story, but she sure thought it was awfully funny.

I've no idea how she met her first husband.  All I know is he was a Chief of Police and then a Georgia state patrolman.  They had my Aunt Gail.  Again, this is something she never talked about, but he died as a result of high blood pressure and kidney failure.  Aunt Gail was in the 1st grade at the time.  She said a state patrolman came to her classroom one day and told her teacher he needed to see her.  She knew something was wrong.  MeMama was 29 years old (at least, that's how old I think she was).  The Georgia State Patrol provided her with a job at their headquarters office in Atlanta.  So she packed what few belongings she had, and she moved to the big city with Aunt Gail.  I can only imagine how difficult this must have been for her.  It's a long drive from Tifton to Atlanta and a world of difference besides.  They lived with some relatives of Mr. Shaw (her first husband).

It was during this time in Atlanta that she met my Granddaddy.  At the time, he was a rather handsome bachelor who'd returned from traveling all over Europe and the shores of northern Africa during his time serving in the United States Army.  He'd moved back home to the farm in the tiny town of Zebulon about an hour south of Atlanta.  He has some of the most fascinating pictures of his time in Europe and Africa, but that's something he didn't want to talk about either.  He once said that if he ever got home, he'd never leave again.  And that's about the way it went.  He came back home to work on the farm, and he never left.  But, somehow, he met this pretty girl who was living in Atlanta.  She was one of the daughters of the people MeMama and Aunt Gail were staying with.  I asked Aunt Gail how they met, but she didn't know.  All she could say is that the girl was "real pretty."  So, of course, my next question was how in the world MeMama swept him up off his feet!  Aunt Gail didn't know the answer to that either.  But, somehow, she caught his eye, and she caught it quick.  Within two years, MeMama and Granddaddy were married (the year was 1948), and he moved her and Aunt Gail down to the farm.

And, let me tell you, she never looked back!  I can't even imagine her ever living anywhere else besides on that farm digging in the dirt, fishing in the pond, picking up pecans, snapping beans, shucking corn and (did I mention?) fishing.  
Let's just say farm life and farm wife was what she was made to be.  My Granddaddy raised Aunt Gail like she was his very own, and she really was.  Four years later my Aunt Gail got herself a sister.  That would be my mama.
Aunt Gail was 12 years old at the time.  That's why there's such a big age difference between the two of them and between my cousins and me.  Now, before Mama was born, MeMama was expecting a baby boy, but she miscarried him.  I can't help but think how, at such a young age and as a young wife and mother, she'd already experienced so much loss.  But she never let it stop her.  She never looked back.  She just kept on going.  I guess that's how it was during the Great Depression, too.  You just kept on going.  I also think that's why she never much talked about those early years of her past.  She definitely wasn't one to live in it.  She kept on going.  And God was so good to her!

Besides the farm, MeMama was very active in her church, and she loved spending time with her girlfriends.  She taught children's Sunday School classes and kept the nursery.  She always loved kids!  She also sang in the choir.  When she was 60 years old, she decided she wanted to learn to play the piano just so she could play hymns at church.  So Granddaddy bought her a piano.  She learned to play a little bit, but that piano was given to me about eight years later.  That's the one I learned to play on and still have today.  She was all the time getting together with her friends (mostly to go fishing), and she talked about them all the time.  She had endless stories about Ms. Bertha and Ms. Merrelyn and Ms. Evelyn and Ms. Ethel and Ms. Loette and Ms. Berta and Ms. Lucile.  Those are just a few of the names I remember.

Her name.  I think all grandmas get really excited about choosing their "grandma name."  I'll bet you've never heard of a MeMama before!  So here's how that came to be.  Kerry was the firstborn grandchild. My Aunt Gail would always refer to MeMama as "my mama" in conversation.  So that's what Kerry thought her name was, and his first pronunciation of "my mama" was actually "MeMama." (Kind of.)  So that's how we came to call her MeMama.

Now. About ten years ago, I was informed that MeMama's name was, in fact, not MeMama (ME-mama) at all but MaMama (MAY-mama) and that I was the only one who called her MeMama. So all these years later, she's not MeMama but MaMama? Obviously, there has been a mistake. But I started listening. And, sure enough, it seems like everyone else calls her MaMama, although the ay is rather subtle. All I can say is that everyone else is mistaken. Because she is ME Mama. And that's what she'll always be to me!
Cindy and I had this same discussion yet again after she died.  But, this time, Kerry was there.  And do you know he doesn't call her MeMama either?  I mean, he doesn't even call her MaMama!  He calls her MraMama!  Oh, man, did we all chuckle about that.  In the end, it doesn't matter.  She answered to all of us.  

The day before her funeral, Bro. Clay called and asked if we'd all sit down with him.  He wanted to hear our stories about MeMama, wanted to know exactly what we wanted him to share.  We sat in a circle in Aunt Gail's living room, and I just had the best time listening to Mama and Aunt Gail and Cindy and Kerry telling their stories.  But you know what?  We all had the same stories.  She did the exact same thing with all of us.

MeMama was a very "hands on" kind of grandma.  I was so young that I don't remember it, but she and Granddaddy went to the beach with us a few times.

There wasn't much we did that they missed.  MeMama even went to my college graduation.
Man, I used to LOVE going over there to her house.  If I had to think of one word, just one word, to describe MeMama, it would have to be FUN.  She was all kinds of things, but she was a fun grandma.  She was spunky and a tough ole bird.  Whenever we went over there, she played with us from the time the sun came up until the time the sun went down.  It was a real treat to spend TWO nights over there during the summer times. My two favorite things to do with her were making mud pies in the driveway and walking through the woods.  She'd haul the water hose over to the driveway and wet it down.  Then she'd pull out that old bucket of old metal measuring cups and spoons and little tin pie pans.  I'd "bake" all sorts of things, and she'd sit right there in the middle of the muddy driveway with me and do it, too.  Playing in the mud wasn't something we did at my house.  And I'd always beg her to take us walking through the woods.  Those were the best woods, and she knew absolutely everything about them and what grew in them, too.  She'd always take a big stick and off we'd go.  She'd dig all around in the dirt for all kinds of things.  She knew which berries we could eat and which ones we couldn't.  Bro. Clay was taking notes of all the things we were saying.  I wasn't sure what he was going to do with those notes, if he was going to just read them word-for-word or what.  He did to some extent.  But then he said that she loved taking her grandchildren on treasure hunts because there was always something to look for.  Yes, yes, that's exactly it!  I'd never thought of it in those words before, but that's it.  Life with her was one big treasure hunt.
I can remember Mama getting aggravated sometimes because she'd call MeMama to "check on her."  And you never could get her on the phone!  She was always outside!  She was mostly fishing.  Have I mentioned how much she LOVED to go fishing?

I mean, she spent hours and days on the bank of that pond.  She'd grab her pole and walk right on through that pasture and straight to the pond.  Granddaddy didn't care a thing about fishing.  But he'd fry those babies up after she cleaned them. Those fish fries are one of my favorite memories growing up.  We'd all sit outside around the picnic table and grab a fish or two out of the brown paper bag he'd dropped them into to drain the grease.  And we'd have all the fixin's, too.  This would also be a good time to mention that we'd eat syrup on our hushpuppies! There's nothing like it. I thought everyone did it. Until I moved to Louisiana.  You should try it!

So if she was outside, but she wasn't fishing, she was picking up pecans.  Or snapping beans or shucking corn.  Or messing in the flowers.  Or picking figs or muscadines.  It's so funny to me.  She always had dirt under her fingernails.  Except on Sundays maybe.  But those fingernail were also always painted bright red or hot pink, too!  She had about three closets of clothes and shoes.  Oh, the shoes.  High heels, at that.  She'd let me walk around in those heels.  She'd also let me wear her makeup.  Again, that was something else I didn't do at my house.  She had lots of costume jewelry, but I always had my favorites that I'd wear.  She loved big, bright jewelry, especially her earrings, or "ear bobs" as she always called them.  Her ears weren't pierced so they were all clip-ons.  She always had on a necklace and ear bobs whenever she went anywhere.  Lipstick and rouge, too.  Red.  Red was her color.  She didn't much care for pastels.  She liked all the bright colors.

MeMama always had something on the stove.  And there was always a little plate of biscuits or something sitting there, too.  Pound cake.  She loved pound cake!  And she sure could make a good one.  Except for that time back in the 80s when she cut back on the eggs for cholesterol reasons or something like that.  But she could make a pound cake.  But you know what my favorite thing about her kitchen was?  The stacks of Ramen noodles in her pantry (because they were "on sale")!  I couldn't wait until lunch time so I could choose which flavor I wanted.  Needless to say, we didn't have Ramen noodles at my house.

If she was inside but wasn't in her kitchen, she was sitting in her chair crocheting.  I can not tell you how many times I asked her to teach me how to crochet.  I just never could get the hang of it.  But you know what?  She never told me no.  She never got frustrated with me.  Every single time I asked, no matter how many times we'd been through it before, she'd do it all over again with me.  I never even made a row, much less a scarf.  I've no idea how many afghans she crocheted over the years.  Probably hundreds.  And baby clothes, too.  She even sewed my Mama's Barbie doll clothes.  Then they were passed down to me.  My girls have played with them, too.  I have several blankets she crocheted, but my favorite is the one she did for Mason.  Well, she didn't exactly make it for Mason.  She made it for my first child.  Seth and I had been married maybe two years, and I had to make a trip home for some reason.  I can't even remember why.  On this trip home, she gave me a beautiful, multi-colored baby blanket.  When I asked her why she was giving it to me, she said, "Well, I wanted to go ahead and give it to you because I'll probably flop out by the time you have a baby."  And to think she was barely 85 years old at the time.  She knew all three of my babies before she "flopped out."  Even though we couldn't go home often, she always asked about us, and she always remembered that Mason played baseball and Hannah Kate took dance.

This was the first time she met Mason.  He was about six weeks old when we made our first trip.
During our visit in September 2010, we tried to get a picture of MeMama with Rob and me and our children (at the time).  But, you know.
This was our visit in 2011.
This was the first time she got to meet and hold Ellie.  It was July 2013.  See . . . she's wearing her make-up and her pearls, and her nails are painted!  I very clearly remember that she made sure to dress up for us on this day.
This was another visit the following year. 
And board games.  Besides shoes, she kept a lot of games in the closet, too.  I'm not much of a board games kind of girl, but I'd always play checkers with her.  She taught me how to play a mean game of checkers, and I, in turn, taught my own children.

You should already know by now that Cindy and I share the same birthday.  And MeMama was a March baby, too, so we always celebrated our birthdays together.

I always thought that was the most special thing ever.  It was one of my favorite times of the year.  I didn't know until recently that MeMama named me.  I asked Mama why she changed her mind about "Sandy," and where "Julie" came from, and she said MeMama suggested it.  And it seems she named Cindy and Kerry, too.  Gosh.  I wish we were celebrating 100 this year.  Oh, how I do.  We had such big plans.  It was going to be Pauline Cannafax Day (seriously, as declared by the Mayor!), and she was going to receive a birthday card from the President (I think we still might've gotten that card).  But even though we won't celebrate 100, Mama was quick to remind me that MeMama celebrated 100 Christmases.
That's something, isn't it?  And she saw 1917 all the way into 2017 so she did see 100 years on the calendar.

These are the flowers Cindy arranged for her.  Some of the ones you see tucked in there actually came right out of MeMama's yard.  Yep, her flowers are still blooming, and they always will be as long as Cindy has anything to do with it.
MeMama also told Cindy she wanted a fishing pole.  So, as usual, Cindy worked her magic and the grands, great-grands and great-great-grands honored her with this beautiful arrangement.  These flowers are just as colorful as she was. 
When we were all sitting around reminiscing that day before her funeral, Bro. Clay asked us if there was a particular passage of Scripture we wanted him to share or if MeMama had a favorite verse we wanted him to share.  None of us could think of anything.  I mean, she taught all those good ole Bible stories to all the children who grew up in her church for years and years.  We told him to just use whatever the Lord laid on his heart.  So on that day as we gathered together, Bro. Clay shared 1 Corinthians 13.  The Love Chapter.  Huh.  I've been to a lot of funerals, y'all, and I've never heard that particular passage of Scripture preached at one.  After he read the chapter in its entirety, he focused the rest of the service around the very last verse.

"And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love."  ~1 Corinthians 13:13

Bro. Clay reminded us first of all that faith in Christ is the most important thing to have in life.  He reminded us that, as believers, we are never without hope, even when we have to say goodbye to our MeMama.  And then he talked about love and how and why it's the greatest.  He talked about God's love.  He talked about how MeMama loved, and he began to retell all of the memories we'd shared with him that day earlier.  Yep.  I'd say he nailed it.

"Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth."  ~1 John 3:18

That was exactly what MeMama did.  She wasn't one for flowery, impressive words.  And she wasn't real touchy-feely.  She didn't tell me, "I love you," every time she saw me or talked to me.  But she SHOWED me every. single. time. I saw her and spent time with her that she loved me.  She lived it through mud pies and treasure hunts and crocheted blankets and fish fries and pound cakes.  She loved big, and she loved hard.  I didn't even realize it at the time.  I was just having fun and couldn't wait until the next time I could go to her house!  

She was the best grandma!  I mean, everybody needs to have a grandma like her.  Everybody needs a MeMama.  And, so, if one day I'm a grandma, I want to be just like her!

My MeMama.

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