My Mema died this weekend.
I am finding myself at a loss for words… She has been on a bit of a decline in her old age. My Papa has been taking care of her over the last few years and I have seen the toll it’s taken on him.
The last time I saw them, I went to North Carolina for a visit with my son. I think this was in the summer of 2008, but as I stop to really gather my thoughts, I think it might have been 2007. Too long, for sure.
She lives in a small little country house in, what used to be, a small town in North Carolina. As a child, we would go visit our family there, and our signal from our backseat positions in my Dad’s church-bus-sized van was that our ride would move from paved-smooth to what we called “Rocky Road.” I still don’t know the name of her actual street — I think it’s Spring Valley…? Something like that… But we always called it Rocky Road. I suppose back in the mid-eighties, it was a gravel road, but I can’t be certain.
She used to have this great big metal glider/sofa thing on her concrete porch. It was green and even on the hottest summer days, it was always chilly to sit on, shaded by the roof on the porch. As a teenager, we went to visit and they had replaced it with a more modern iron and wood version, still with a gliding feature, but it wasn’t the same. I remember feeling disappointed and almost angry that they didn’t ask me if I wanted that glider for my (non-existent) porch.
My Papa used to have Coon Hounds in the back yard. The entire perimeter of their backyard was a labyrinth of fences and kennels and tool sheds and I recall darting in and out of the nooks and crannies back there, dodging the slobbering pack of unruly barkers. My dad’s side of the family is delightfully “country”, but the accent that would take over my Papa’s voice when he would shout orders at those dogs almost felt far fetched.
My Mema was a quiet woman but a incredible matriarch. We would gather at her home for Thanksgiving or Christmas or Easter and there would be so many aunts and uncles and cousins all over her home that it was dizzying. She had a small little kitchen, but you would never know it, with the spread of food she would throw together for the huge crowds. She used to make cucumbers with vinegar just for my sister and me — and every time we gathered, she would retell the story of how she made a huge pot of collards when I was a toddler and upon offering it to me, was met with a twisted toddler’s face and the word, “YUCK!” Later on in the day, she kept spying me going over to the heaping bowl of greens and stealing a pinch and snarfing it down before anyone caught on.
There was always Pepsi in their fridge.
ALWAYS. In fact, on my last visit, the boy child and I left out very early on our ride home, to try to avoid some of the traffic in the larger cities we were to travel through. Papa packed me a cooler with a few tubs of North Carolina BBQ and four small glass bottles of Pepsi. My first thought, “Where can you even BUY glass bottles of Pepsi anymore?” My answer: at Mema and Papa’s grocery store, of course.
Mema used to always make me a chocolate pudding pie, too. God, they were so good…
She always made hushpuppies, too…
Mema had a pet squirrel at one point — in fact, from what I recollect, she had a few. Papa installed a screen door, like the kind you’d put on your front porch, in their laundry room so that “Baby” would have her own space. In that room, you’d find nuts of all sorts tucked into corners and under rugs. Mema wore those amazing short sleeved housecoat/smock things, with the pockets on the front… And she’d sit around the house with that squirrel on her shoulder or peeking out from her pockets.
Papa always wore coveralls… Or overalls… Or some other sort of ‘alls kind of clothing.
My Aunt Sissy lived next door — always had. (Are you understanding how country this side of my family is yet? A mema, a papa, and and aunt called “Sissy” — it was terminal). Sissy had always taken care of Mema and Papa and they all attended church together at this itty bitty little chapel that was nearly an hours drive from their home. Sissy would sing sometimes at services. I went to church with them when I was in town — this is huge because I am a proud and determined Agnostic, but attending country church with your country grandparents when you’re in the country is an entirely different experience than being dragged by your mother on Mother’s Day to her church. There were only about twelve people at church and everybody had arthritis or blue hair or something similar. I remember the church service being a little strange, but comforting in a “this place smells like Mema’s house” kind of way…
She used to keep little candy dishes all over her house with those orange sugar-coated gummy candies. And every shelf in her home had some kind of figurine or picture frame with a picture of some grandchild or great-grandchild, usually outdated by several years.
After Papa got rid of the Coon Hounds, they build a storage building of some sort — it could only be described as an old man’s bachelor pad. It had a pool table, a bed, a bathroom and a kitchenette. I remember that the radio that was in there shocked me one time — I was certain that it was at least a hundred years old. Mema was a pool shark — she was short in stature, but she would never even lean over her cue and aim, she would just lower her cue to the ball and would flick it back and strike the white ball and sink almost every shot. It was unreal to watch.
I will miss her — even though I haven’t been to visit as much as I feel like I should have, it’s a different sort of thing knowing that someone isn’t going to just BE THERE anymore. I’m mostly worried about Papa. I know he’s going to be lonely in that house without her. They’ve been married since the seventies. He was her second husband. My dad’s biological father died when my dad was a very young man, but Papa always considered me his. I’m sure everyone feels this way, but I always think I am his favorite grandchild.
I love you, Mema.