This past week, my family said goodbye to my Mamaw. She was 89 and had been in failing health for the past few years. Her going was unavoidable but I wouldn’t have been ready even if she had been 189.
I grew up living next door to Mamaw and Papa my entire life so they were always a part of my dailiness. Papa could always found in his garden tending to his show-stopping tomatoes and as a retired carpenter, was always tinkering with a wood-working project. If Mamaw wasn’t in her flowers she was in the kitchen. After I married I spent a day with her so she could teach me how to make her perfect chicken and dumplings. I never have been able to get them right (she made the flat noodle dumplings and mine always turn out too puffy) but the memories of trying are priceless. I have discovered that Mary B’s makes a frozen version that is a pretty good knock off but they are not the same.
Lots of things will never be the same now that both of them are gone. The hardest thing about the funeral was going back to Mamaw and Papa’s house afterward and knowing that a generation had passed the likes of which will not come our way again. They wouldn’t recognize our world today – in fact Mamaw never drove a car once in her life. She had no clue about iPods or iPhones. She just loved her family and enjoyed recounting her life as a child in the Tennessee countryside more than anything. She missed the farm, the spring house, and her horse named Edith Esther Stella (okay, I just forgot the rest of the names. Help me out here, Mom). The horse had about seven names because she couldn’t make up her mind between all that she liked. She laughed extra long and hard when I told her it must have taken a long time to giddy up.
My heart is so full of both of my grandparents and there are many things I could share that would mean nothing to anyone but me. There is one thing that sticks out though that will always be my favorite time with Mamaw. Let’s see if I can get through this.
My Papa died in 1995 somewhat unexpectedly. It was already a very sad season for me because a short time before that I had miscarried my first baby. At the time, Luke and I were in college in Kentucky and so we traveled home for the funeral. Luke stayed with his parents but I stayed with Mamaw because I didn’t want her to be alone. I was terribly sick with bronchitis and that night could not stop coughing when I went to bed. Mamaw got up, brought me cough medicine, and in a shocking move asked me if I wanted to come sleep with her. I knew she was asking as much for herself as for me.
We laid awake in bed for a long time. Mamaw liked to talk but our conversations were typically shallow. My family is not one given to expression of deep sentiment or shows of emotion. So again, it was shocking to me when she asked, “Lis, what do you think happened to make you lose the baby?” I told her I had no idea and that it was just one of those things that will have no explanation until the Lord tells us one day. And then she said, “I know you’ll get to have another one. You’re going to be okay.” I said, “I know, Mamaw. And you know what? You are going to be okay, too.”
And there we lay, two women grieving personal losses and yet sharing them by virtue of our lineage. Something about that exchange caused me – in my own mind anway – to understand that in the course of that night I was no longer regarded a child but as one entrusted with shouldering a hard thing instead of being shielded from it. I never loved her more than I did on that day.
I miss her. I miss the era and simplicity she represented and I miss that I never had to wonder where I stood with her. She was a safe place. I say goodbye to her knowing I’ll never be half the woman she was. We live in a time where intention has replaced action. Where frozen biscuits have replaced those deftly rolled out under a skilled hand. Where we have family reunions on Facebook. Where we wish things could be like they were 50 years ago but in our hearts we know we can’t go back.
The last time we talked while she was in the hospital – more lucid than I had seen her in months I might add – I said to her, “You are my favorite, Mamaw.” She said, “You’re my favorite, too.” She was too polite not to respond in kind but I’ll carry it as truth as long as my sisters and cousins will allow it. I can pretend I was her favorite but I don’t have to fudge to say she was mine.
I love you, Mamaw. I’m glad that you are finally okay. And you know what? Though it’s going to take some time, we are going to be okay, too.