Sunday, January 18, 2009


And Mammaw, my dearest Mammaw, sits ethereal and delicate, her pale hair back and “up” in two little peaks above her temples, her dress white and pristine. Under the loupe, a bit of the upturned hem in the spread of her skirt shows a definite plaid beneath, though invisible in the picture. She holds something clutched at her waist---a just-noticed-by-me doll or bit of lacy hanky, neither of which I ever dreamt she might have owned, and now I’ll never know what it was.

Indeed, her love of beautiful dolls was such, with her telling about homemade ones that she and her sisters played with, and her dismay that I---and by extension, she---were not to receive that collection of satin-clad beauties from Jenny, and instead got books---it was a sad thing for her to remember.

Over the years, I gave her a few “bed” dolls---the Madame Alexanders and others of that sort, with all the satins and laces and furbelows of their eras. They all lay in pomp on her “spare room” bed, moved only for company to spend the night, when they stood arrayed against the dresser, their weighted eyes staring blinkless through the dark at the folks usurping their rightful place.

So, I have no idea what the little wisp of whimsy is in her lap. She seems to be probably twelve, but with her hair already “up” in the picture, and with a grave expression on the little face belonging to a later me, and to my sister, and to one of our girl cousins. It’s unmistakable.

Mammaw married my Grandpa and they had one tiny premature daughter whom they buried out in the far edge of the garden, her little stone greened with the turn of time, and where Mammaw once bent and picked up a silver dollar with her own birth year engraved on it. She took that as a “sign” of some sort, and told the tale as often as any other of her family sagas.

They had Mother and one son, and all lived in that tiny three-room shotgun house until both of the children married. I STILL don’t know where they all slept. Then, when I was a teenager, Daddy and some friends who owed him BIG favors for helping build their houses tore down the old one and built a small ranch-with-porch. Mammaw and Granpa moved into other half of his shop for a month, and I spent every morning with her, cooking a big dinner for the work crew. They’d come and eat, then after the cleanup, I’d go over to the house site and “help.”

I DID “do” the windows---I think I counted eight times round and round the house, inside and then outside-on-a-ladder, to get those things perfect. It was two coats of white on those tiny pane-dividers outside, two coats of varnish on the inside, then a trip each around for scraping off any leftovers, and then one each side to clean and Windex---yep---eight times. I was SO proud of those things, and Mammaw bragged on them as if I'd done roof and rafters, as well.

And when the house was finished, all eight of the surviving siblings gathered there for a reunion. I wish I had those Kodak moments---I guess Daddy had them in some album or another, and maybe Sis saw fit to keep them. She’s the keeper of the records and photographs; I, of the memories.

Mammaw herself never turned the key in a car, never wore a pair of pants, never rode farther from home than Memphis, ate perhaps twice in a restaurant, wrote probably five letters each and every day, and "lived by the clock and calendar and the time for mail to be up." She raised prize-winning flowers and vegetables, had nine white Persian cats, each with one green eye and one blue, could play the heck out of a mandolin, and once danced with Lawrence Welk.

They moved about three steps in the aisle before another lady cut in, but that was as good as wearing those glass slippers. She talked about that trip til her dying day---how Mother and Daddy got the tickets, and surprised her with the show, and how bright it was, and how beautiful to see all the COLORS, though there were all those cameras blocking some of the view, and the Lennon Sisters WERE just the prettiest, sweetest things.

She’d worn a black silk dress with taffeta on the collar and cuffs, and a sparkly pin, the whole ensemble ordered from Sears Roebuck, and a far departure from her usual cotton wardrobe. Years after, she’d just go to the closet and feel that dress, loving its rustly sound as she stroked the sleeves and skirt. She always said she wanted to be buried in it, and so I was horrified to see her in her casket, wearing a bright pink blouse---I’d never seen her in anything but a dress, and the only explanation for running out to Penney and buying that strange outfit was that Mother and her brother knew “she liked pink.” Too late to remedy, too strange to forget. And it's the last casket I ever looked into.

But while she lived, she enriched all our lives---with her stories, her flowers, the cakes and pies and casseroles she carried to the sick and the lonely and the bereaved. We’ll remember the huge meals around her table, the Magical Teapot, the recipes and her laughter and HER memories, as well. That’s why I write about so many of them---they’ve been such a great part of my life and who I am.

1 comment:

Keetha said...

What a lovely ode. Her reaching into the closet to touch the black silk, to hear it rustle - yes.

Great one.