I find myself at a loss for words.
Three times I have begun to write this post, and then I return to the beginning to delete everything that was previously written. Because what do you say when your heart is so full with love for a woman who isn’t with you anymore? What do you say when your mind is constantly replaying events in your life, desperate to keep memories alive? How can you find words to describe your love for someone who never needed words to share her love for others?
My mamaw spoon-fed us well after we were able to feed ourselves. That might be the first memory I have of her–sitting at her table in a small kitchen of a small house waiting for my turn. She had a bowl of white rice sweetened with brown sugar and a creamy pat of butter in front of her, and every other bite was mine. People use the expression of being spoon-fed to describe someone who is spoiled (or pampered), and I have no qualms about it, I was “spoilt rotten.”
We slept together at night–snuggled into a thick feather bed in the winter. Sometimes I fell out of the bed. I always knew when that would happen, because I would wake up the next morning with a kitchen chair on my side of the bed–the back of the chair was pushed against the side of the mattress to keep me from rolling out again. We were covered with a thick wool-type blanket, and the next morning along with the news of my plunge to the floor I would hear about how she couldn’t keep the covers on me (and I would see the evidence: nice neat blankets on her side, but a mess on mine…) With a reminder to wear the booties or houseshoes placed beside the bed, she would greet me the next day with an offer for breakfast.
Breakfast was something special at my mamaw’s house. I would stand at her elbow as much as I could before she would shoo me out of the kitchen. Into her skillet she would start cooking meat for gravy–browning the meat well slowly, before removing it to start the gravy. Mamaw had breakfast down to a science, everything would finish at the same time, and we would crowd around the table. This is when family would get together, each of us crumbling a biscuit on our plates before ladling gravy and homemade canned tomatoes on top. We would sip at sweet tea from jelly jars when we were younger, none of us with coffee, save Mamaw. Afterwards, Mamaw would pull a pre-buttered biscuit off of the stovetop where she had placed the biscuit pan. Using a spoon she would carefully pull honey out of the jar, turning the spoon as she went, as to keep the honey from making a mess.
Mamaw hated a mess. She was a particular lady, and no one could do things quite the way she wanted. So, she did it herself. She would brush off the offers to help with dishes, and later she would get her hands into that hot soapy water. First she would wash the cups and glasses, later the plates, the silverware, and finally her pots and pans. All of her dishes were stacked particularly in her drainer. When finished, she would dry her hands on a towel that hung under the sink on a cabinet handle. Smelling faintly of bleach, Mamaw would join her family as they sat around in the living room visiting.
Sundays were special. Mamaw and I would sit in the front seat of Mama’s van, and she would wrap her arms around me. “I’ll be your seatbelt,” she used to say. Then the day came where instead of her arms sheltering me, we would squeeze together within the seatbelt. At meeting I would sit with Mamaw. Mama would be in front of us with kids on both sides of her. Occasionally I would whisper hymn requests to Mamaw–and more often than not, she would give them out. I don’t remember Mamaw ever mentioning the repeated prayers of one of the ladies–and she had nothing but kindness for her even to the end of her life.
Mamaw loved the older friends in the area. I learned to love old people at her side. She would go by to wash and fix their hair, to take them to doctor’s appointments, and just to visit. She would always remind them, “You know, this is my namesake.” Pride filled her voice, and my chest would puff out as she bragged. I don’t remember much of what we talked about at those visits, but I remember them, none-the-less. With Christlike love, Mamaw filled a place in God’s kingdom, caring for others even as she began to age herself. I think of her faithfulness–they mentioned the depth of her testimony at her funeral, the hidden life that she had, reading and praying. I am glad that while she spent time alone with God, she also spent time living her testimony out in front of us. For as long as I remember, Mamaw sat reading her bible every opportunity she could. She read more as she entered the final years, until no longer could she sit and read.
There is no doubt in my mind that Mamaw loved her family. She would tell us, “If you don’t have family, you don’t have anything.” She loved her family, but she loved God more. And you know what? I am so grateful that she did… She loved her children, and we would drive hours for a visit that aligned with special meeting. She would speak of the bible, God’s law, and right and wrong every opportunity that she could. More than anything, Mamaw was unforgiving in her zeal.
Death is a part of life, and Mamaw reminded us of that: “The young MAY die, but the old MUST,” she would say. Knowing that someday she would die didn’t stop me from moving to Minnesota when I was 20, but it sure did bring me home. I didn’t get much mail when I was there for six months, but one card I received from her asked me to return. I did. That winter, Mamaw’s heath started to fail. She couldn’t shake a bug that made her feel pretty rotten, and before long her body began to ache with the pains of “Ol’ Arthur.” Sipping apple cider vinegar and honey in the morning offered some relief, but her decline in health didn’t pick up from there. It wasn’t long that she didn’t feel up to preparing breakfast most Saturday mornings, supper on Tuesday nights, or banana pudding on special occasions…
I can’t speak of the final years of her life much–as much from self preservation as willing ignorance, I distanced myself from it. Mama lived 93 years, but the quality, or extent of her life can’t be measured by that final number. It also can’t be measured in by bowls of ice cream, number of offspring, or blooming flowers transplanted by her. She loved them all, but lived for something greater.
And you know what? She died for something greater too.
Mamaw will be missed, but not forgotten. She lives on in the hearts of everyone that knew her–in her stories, her sayings, and in the recipes that we cook. 1,200 words, and still it isn’t enough to explain the impact she had on my life.
Well done, Mamaw, well done.