Take Out and Help Yourself…..

Today as I was cooking a big noon-time dinner, I thought about my great Granddaddy Holder.  He was my Mama’s granddaddy, and we all loved him dearly.  He lived in a house on a slight incline, so when we drove down their road we were looking up at the steps up to their screened-in front porch.  The pond he loved to fish in was just down the road a piece, also on his property.

I can remember visiting him and Granny Inez from when I was very young.  She was his second wife, as my great-grandmother who had the beautiful red hair and taught my Mama to cook died when Mama was 14.  That was one of the worst heartbreaks of her life I think.  Granny Inez never treated us any differently though.  I can recall times when her grandchildren were there too, and we had so much fun.  I loved playing on the porch.  I think they were the only folks I knew with a screened porch at the time.

I stayed the night with them one time when I was spending a few days with my Great Aunt.  They got an early start in that house–Granddaddy and I were up and headed out to his truck to check around the farm by a little after 5.  We were back home and ready for breakfast around 6:30 or so.  I remember the ham, red-eye gravy, biscuits and well, just all the fixin’s.  I LOVED that gravy.  The way it soaked into those biscuits.  Some kind of goo-ood, I am telling you.

pic of table full of food

Granddaddy was a gentle man but he was strong too.  He had lost his hand in a mill accident many years before.  I don’t remember being frightened by his arm.  It seemed to make his hugs even better actually.  When we were all over there to eat with him and Granny Inez, that table was creaking from all the food spread out on it.  All kinds of vegetables and a ham or roast, cornbread or biscuits, and desserts.  I remember Granny Inez’s specialty was a lemon cheese cake (not cheesecake, this was layers of cake with something like lemon curd as a filling–divine!).   The best part was I don’t care how high you piled your plate or if it was your first go ’round or not, Granddaddy was known for saying, “Take out and he’p yourself, you ain’t et hardly nothin’.”

To me that was the epitome of Granddaddy’s hospitality.  If there was food on the table, he wanted to share it.  Maybe that’s where Mama got it from–feeding folks was one of the ways she said “I love you.”

It’s a sweet saying that has been heard around the table at home all my life.  It’s a way to remember Granddaddy, a generous man who was intelligent and hard-working; he served as a judge in his county as well.  But it’s also become our way of showing love, just as Granddaddy did–a way of saying, “If I got it, it’s yours.  He’p yourself.”  And I particularly like to hear it at big meals like Thanksgiving–that part about having et hardly nothin’…..yeah, in that case, I will have another go at it., thankyouverymuch.  There’s such generosity and grace in that.  Just like in my great Granddaddy.

Mama Read Books and Daddy Listened

My brother is working on a special project, and he mentioned something that has me thinking about Mama and her books.  Mama loved books.  She read a lot of different kinds, but mysteries were among her favorites.  She also liked novels like “Saving CeeCee Honeycutt” and “Salvation at the Dairy Queen”–novels about people and their “real life” struggles and how they worked through them.

But Mama’s very favorite books?

The ones written for children.

Mama loved reading aloud to us as we were growing up.  And for the past almost eighteen years, she loved reading to her grandchildren.  For my oldest’s first birthday, she got a tire swing in the yard from Daddy and a book and little stuffed kitten from Mama.  It’s always been about the books.  Mama loved picking out books for different children of the family.  It was like a treasure hunt to find just the perfect book for each child.  She and Daddy always kept copies of “Our Animal Friends at Maple Hill Farm” in the trunk of their car.  We loved it growing up, and they loved sharing it with children they came across on their day to day journeys.

Our family favorite growing up--Mama and Daddy loved sharing it with children they met

Our family favorite growing up–Mama and Daddy loved sharing it with children they met

One of my happiest “Mama reading” memories is her reading “Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You?” aloud.  Her voice was so animated.  The best sound was the hippo chewing gum “Grum, grum, grum.”  Mama would work her jaw and you just knew that was exactly how it sounded.  I also loved hearing her read aloud, “Listen Buddy.”  She brought Buddy to life in such a way that you just couldn’t forget the story.  And there were so many more.

Mama brought just such books to life for her children and grandchildren and hundreds of elementary schoolchildren over the years.  She loved reading aloud at Byron Elementary to many children in grades kindergarten through third.  I recently found her storytime plans, complete with booklists and the fun experiments from  “Apples, Bubbles, and Crystals: Your Science ABC’s” that she shared each week with the children.  It was something she and Daddy enjoyed planning together.

Daddy supported Mama and her love of reading to children.  (It’s funny to think that he and I heard her reading out loud to children the same number of years.)  He helped her plan her storytimes for the children at the schools by going shopping with her for just the right treats, science experiment materials, and helping her come up with themes and ideas.  He even asked me to embroider “Lady Reads-a-lot” on a shirt for her.   There was one time when Mama was reading aloud that I really realized the abundance of love Daddy felt for Mama.  Daddy wasn’t always vocal about his emotions, but his actions more than let you know how he felt.

One of Maemae's more recent favorites--"Counting Crocodiles"

One of Maemae’s more recent favorites–“Counting Crocodiles”

One afternoon in October of 2011 I was sitting in the living room with Daddy, who was resting in his hospital bed set up in there.  My brother and his family were visiting, so my littles and his were in the “big room” with Mama.  She was reading aloud to them.  We could hear her voice but not necessarily the words as she read.  Daddy was talking and then he grew quiet.  He closed his eyes and smiled so big.  He opened them and looked at me with so much love on his face it took my breath away.  “You hear her?  There she goes.”  He chuckled softly.  He turned his head towards the window and listened.  And Mama was off, reading another story with her animated voice.  I think it was “Little Red Cowboy Hat,” another family favorite and one that Daddy also loved to read.

I remember that look on his face, and I am thankful for it.   Daddy loved Mama with all his heart, and in that moment it shone through every fiber of his being.  He was an encourager and pushed Mama to chase her dreams.  He knew she was talented and believed in her even when she couldn’t believe in herself.  We all should have at least one person like that in our lives, someone whose love for us shines through and who runs alongside us, cheering for us as we go, believing that we can…..and helping us see it through.   That’s the best stuff there is–having a cheerleader when you are going for it, a party-thrower when you make it, and a shoulder to cry on and arms to hug you when you don’t.

If you have someone like that, go now and tell ’em you love ’em or give them a big hug or write them a note.  Whatever.  Just appreciate them and love them right back.  Know you are one of the lucky ones.  Because you really are.

Love Ya, Dear

She was regal and elegant and loved the Dukes of Hazzard.

She was regal and elegant and loved the Dukes of Hazzard.

It was three years ago this morning that I got a call from Mama.  “She’s gone,” was all she could choke out before she broke into sobs.

Mama would call my great Aunt Eloise, lovingly called “Aunt Wease,” every morning and every evening to check on her.  Mama traveled the hour and fifteen minute trip down to see her and stock her pill caddy with all her medicines at least once a week.  When Daddy went to Emory for those many weeks, and when Mama couldn’t leave him, my crew and I went down.  I am not happy about the reason, but I am thankful for those visits.

That morning Mama had tried to call and had not gotten an answer.  She had to drive Daddy to an appointment up in Macon for his MRI, so she waited and tried again when she got to their office.  When she still didn’t get an answer, she called Aunt Wease’s sweet neighbor, who basically had to break in and found her.  Bless her, she had passed on in her sleep.  Peacefully.  We were heartbroken.  And thankful.  She was at the point of having to make some hard decisions about moving out of a home she knew better than the back of her hand.

I told Mama I would pick Daddy up so she could make the long and lonely drive down.  I picked him up and spent the day with him at their house.  A day that was very long for Mama.  Making calls.  Planning.  Answering questions.  Making decisions one is not equipped to make in that state.  A regimen I now know all too well.  Bless her.

She asked me that evening if I wanted to speak at the service.  At first I said no.  But as I thought about it, I could not let her only be remembered by the pastor who had maybe met her once.   So I sat at the keyboard and poured out my memories and my heart.  I gave the eulogy that first Saturday in May looking out at my Daddy who was fighting his own battle with death, and my Mama, sitting holding the hand of my baby girl.  My Mama lost the woman who was a mother to her, and we had lost our grandmother.

It was after this service that Daddy teased me and asked me if I would give his eulogy.  I said yes, praying it would be a long, long time.  It was a way too soon eighteen months later.  

She was a wonderful contradiction of pearls, never wear white before Easter or after Labor Day, color coordinated everything, ending a phone call or visit with “love ya dear,” and loving those Duke Boys or taking us fishing.  What follows is what I shared that day about a beautiful woman who loved me as a granddaughter and helped shape who I am becoming–

May 1, 2010

Eloise Holder McQueen was many things before I came to know her—a daughter, a sister, a friend, a hard worker, and a wife. When I came to know her, she was just Aunt Wease, and yet she was so much more. From her jelly jar glasses to her love of easy listening music and the Dukes of Hazzard, she was a fascinating woman. She made me feel special—she never failed to make me feel beautiful, from when I was little, playing dressup in her clothes, until the last time I saw her. She taught me about beauty—“The sooner you wear makeup, the sooner you’ll need it.”

In the true essence of “it’s all better at Grandma’s” I can still taste the PET milk she
had—the best in the world, nothing like what Mama had. She made me feel grownup. She took me to her ladies’ meeting and she let me drink coffee (which was mostly the aforementioned PET milk!). She shared her wisdom—“If you hold your nose when you go under water, you’ll make your nose pointy.” She was a wonderful cook (or so I thought)—I thought it was a true sign of class to put almonds in casseroles like Aunt Wease always did. She was a classy and beautiful lady. When she loved you, she loved you fiercely and she loved you too much to let you slide. Recently during a visit, she pointed to my younger daughter and said, “She has beautiful hair.” I murmured a thank you, to have her promptly say, “It would be really beautiful if you’d run a brush through it.” (She was right!)

I also recently learned that she was not the cook that I remembered—she told me stories, laughing, about how she really didn’t like to cook. She had a great sense of humor. Over the years, Uncle Ray encouraged me to tease her constantly, asking her when she was going to get her hair fixed, though she had just been to the beauty shop the day before. This is something she and I have continued over the years. We still shared a love of Tweety Bird that Uncle Ray started years ago. Mostly she gave me the gift of time—we played Go Fish, she took me for ice cream, she took me fishing, we talked, and we laughed.

I have been blessed to know many strong women in my life—my Granny, my friends, my aunts, my sisters, and my Mama. Just as much a blessing are the strong men who love them and encourage them to be strong. Aunt Wease was just such a spunky woman, blessed by just such a man, Uncle Ray. They were best friends, travel companions, and so very, very dear to me. My favorite memory of them, and there are many, is when my friends showed up to go to our high school graduation together, and they told me there was a couple stopped on the side of the road about a mile from our house, putting signs on their car. It was Aunt Wease and Uncle Ray—putting on “Tara is Tops” and other such made up stuff to celebrate with me. Such silly fun.

God blessed me with Aunt Wease, and Aunt Wease gave me three great gifts—
She loved me fiercely.
She adored and loved on my children and not only allowed, but encouraged them to do things I was never allowed to do in her beautiful home!
She raised my Mama with love and kindness to be a strong woman too. Her legacy lives on through us today. Love fiercely, travel with laughter, give great hugs, be strong, and always say goodbye with “Love ya, dear!”

Aunt Wease and my Mama.....love ya dears!

Aunt Wease and my Mama…..love ya dears!