In 1992, I met my husband. He moved to my town to go to junior college and went to work at the pizza place where I was working. It was clear from our second date forward that we were "the one" for each other. Early in our dating relationship, he took me home to meet his parents & grandmother.
His family lived right across the highway from his grandparents, so he grew up with his grandparents serving as sort of a second set of parents. His 'village' was tight knit and precious to one another. Just down the road, his great-grandparents lived, and his childhood was full of wonderful family times with all of them.
His grandmother, Mammaw, was the one I got to meet in the Fall of 1992. By that time, his great-grandparents were gone, but Mammaw & his Daddy Jack (his grandfather) still lived in that little house across the road from his parents.
From the day I met Mammaw, she felt like family. She exuded hospitality, warmth, and grace. She was friendly and kind, and she listened intently to learn about me and my family. She wanted to know where I was from, what my people were like, what I was interested in, what things brought me joy, and whether or not I'd like a glass of tea while we visited. I was told, from day one, that I should call her Mammaw, because that's what everyone called her. And this was before I was even a member of the family!
In 1994, I married her grandson and she officially became my Mammaw. And in the years since, she has been every bit a grandmother to me as one related by blood. In 2000 and 2001, my only living grandparents died. I have wonderful, fond memories of them from my childhood. And I was touched and so honored to see Mammaw file passed my family at the funerals. She had never met my grandparents other than the day of my wedding, but she was so kind to make the drive to the little town where they were buried because she loved me.
Mammaw was there for every milestone in life --- the births of my children, every birthday party of theirs, the day we moved two extra children into our home, and the day when they moved out & I felt like the rug got ripped from under my feet. She helped us move several times, driving her husband's big truck to wherever we were living at the time and lugging boxes into our new places. And in the past few months, looking at pictures & keepsakes in her home, I've realized she kept every single snapshot, every birthday card, every Christmas card, every handmade drawing the kids sent her. She has always been the kind of person who makes everyone feel like the most important person in the room, sharing smiles and tenderness and understanding.
Mammaw was born to farmers in rural east Texas, "poor country people" as she often referred to herself. She told us stories of days working in the fields and making lunch for the workers & delivering it to them. She loved to share the story of the day her baby cousin Pat was born. Her uncle came and loaded up her family in the back of a covered wagon, covered them with quilts and blankets, and took them for the ride over icy roads to go meet the brand new baby a few miles away. She has told us stories of her childhood, her brother's time in the military, and how proud the family was of his service. Due to his service, she was always deeply patriotic, going to the cemetery every year on Memorial Day to put flags on the graves of the lost soldiers. And even into her elder years, she volunteered at the hospital and often talked of going to visit the "little elderly people" in the nursing homes. This always gave us a chuckle as she was in her early 80s before she gave up volunteer work.
Mammaw raised two children with her husband, Jack. Her daughter Sandy grew up to be a successful educator and had three children of her own with her husband. Her son Jim grew up to be a hardworking oil company lease operator and had two children with his wife. Mammaw could not have been more proud of those five grandchildren -- that is until all those grandchildren (including my husband) grew up, married, and had children of their own. Between the five grandkids, she was blessed with 12 great-grandchildren. And every one of those 12 great-grandbabies adored Mammaw!
When Mammaw's husband passed away in 2000, a piece of her heart broke. But she soldiered on. In 2006, she lost her daughter to cancer. In 2014, she lost her son as well. Mothers aren't meant to outlive their children. But Mammaw continued to push ahead in life despite her deep grief and sadness. Occasionally, she would shed tears and speak in somber tones of the family she dearly missed, but she was generally one of the most happy and positive people in the world.
Mammaw's love for family and friends was evident to everyone who met her. Every person she ever encountered had nothing but glowing words to say about her, and that's a lot of people because you couldn't travel anywhere in Texas where she didn't run into someone she knew!
A couple of years ago, we noticed Mammaw was having some trouble with her memory. Occasionally she'd re-tell a story or call two days in a row with the same questions, only to seem completely surprised by the answer you gave (even though you'd given her the same answer 24 hours before.) And in the past couple of years, the steady decline became clear to all of us as we waited to know when it was the right time to get her some help. On Halloween morning 2020, she was taken to the hospital by ambulance and we all determined that the time had come for her to move out of her home because it wasn't safe for her to be there alone anymore. She spent the next 8 months being lovingly cared for by a local nursing home.
Yesterday morning, 7/18/21, our beloved precious Mammaw left the nursing home for good. She reunited at the gates of Heaven with her husband and so many other loved ones who have gone before. We are all so sad that she's gone, but we are blessed and comforted to know that we will see her again when we arrive to spend eternity in the presence of God.
Larry and I were talking tonight about how it was some weird twisted comfort to know that this is the natural order of things, that it's okay for our 89 year old grandmother to pass away. That she lived a wonderful life, created terrific memories, blessed so many people, and then went to sleep and just never woke up. What a treasure to know she had a peaceful transition to Heaven, no matter how much we'd like to selfishly keep her here with us forever.
Mammaw told us for years that her goal was to live to be 100. We all hoped that would happen. But tonight I know she's got something far more valuable than a milestone birthday. She's got a legacy of a life well-lived, a host of people who remember her for the grace she extended to them, the meals she served them, the kindness she doled out, the way she cared for everyone she met.
Rest well, sweet love. Your work is done here. Your influence and impact will be felt for generations to come. The way you spoke, the actions you lived every day, the compassion and grace you gave, will forever have me asking "What would Mammaw do?" and I will always try to emulate the way you would've handled things.
Rest in Peace by Aron Wright, beautiful song (click to listen!)