She was here

I miss my great-grandmother.

This morning I lay in bed squeezing my eyes shut, the better to hold in the last filaments of the memory-dream I awoke in the midst of. I could almost believe that I was five or eight or twelve, curled up in the chenille-blanketed bed in the back bedroom. If I strained my ears in the quiet Georgia morning, I could hear the time-distant, early-morning bustle of Chicago's Halsted Street, just one street over from Big Mama's house near the corner of 95th and Green.

Maybe I thought of her this morning because next week is Thanksgiving and the last time I saw her was Thanksgiving Day '99. Maybe it was because she stretched out across the cosmic divide of heaven and earth and met me in my dreams. Perhaps we ate cones of New York cherry ice cream while I told her all about the kids and how my life has turned out. She died just as I was crossing into the third trimester with the twins. I like to think that they knew her–that after she died, the twins and Big Mama occupied the same transitional space, and that she cared for them as they were crossing paths.

I miss her, but I am not sad. She lived a full, long life. She loved and was loved.

I'm cheating a bit here. I'm copying and pasting an entry from the online featured pregnancy diary I wrote when I was pregnant with the twins. Below is part of an entry that I wrote about her three weeks after she passed.


This next part will ramble, because I have all of these
memories and experiences of her that are all sort of hitting me so fast
that I don't feel like I can organize them all in to a decent pattern
of thought. These are my favorite and most cherished memories of her,
and I guess my real point behind doing this is chronicling these
memories for the sake of my children, who will know her in spirit but
never in person.

The most amazing thing about Big Mama was the quirkiness of her
personality. She was very spiritual, but by no means was she the old
grandmother that bakes cookies and sits in a rocking chair knitting
blankets. She smoked, and had the raspy voice to go along with it. She
found humor in some of the oddest situations and loved to shop
(favorite stores: Zales and Marshall's). When she got cable and
discovered the Home Shopping Network, that quickly became her favorite
channel. She knew every host, the names of their spouses and kids, and what times
their segments aired, rambling about this item or that. Her favorite
segments were jewelry
and electronics. We spent the summer with her when I was eight, and all
we did was watch HSN and work on word searches together. However boring
this may sound, it was actually fun spending all of that time with her.
She would laugh so heartily at all of the hosts' stupid jokes, that I
would laugh equally as hard at her thinking those corny jokes were so
funny. By the end of the summer, I knew the different grades of cubic
zirconia, the types of chain links, and approximate costs for various
pieces of jewelry. I also had a good assortment of fake jewelry and
great radio to take home, too.

I can't talk about Big Mama without telling the most hilarious
story about her. The two things about her that reminded you of old
ladies are the facts that the only dogs she ever owned were poodles
(she had a different one each time we went back to Chicago) and that we
never heard her say a single cross or curse word. Well, that's not
entirely true. It was actually one of her poodles that lead my sister Chanel
and me to the same discovery — Big Mama actually knew how to get mad
and what a curse word was. It was during the same summer that we raided
Home Shopping Network. I was eight and Chanel was three, and the two of
us were sharing a bed in the back bedroom. We had just settled in and
were drifting off to sleep when all of the sudden, Big Mama's newest
poodle, Fluffy, exploded into the room with Big Mama hot on his tail.
She had the meanest expression we had ever seen on her face,
and she was brandishing a rolled up magazine. Just as Fluffy was about
to dart under the bed, she grabbed his collar and swatted him on the
butt while saying in a raspy growl, "I'm tired of this dog pissin' all over the damn
place." Chanel and I gasped and whipped our heads toward each other,
both of us wide-eyed with disbelief. After Big Mama dragged Fluffy out
of the room, still fuming and muttering under her breath, Chanel and I
spiraled into a fit of the giggles that kept us awake for the rest of
the night. The next morning, every time we looked at Fluffy, we both
passed this secret smile between us and started laughing all over
again. That story still makes all of us laugh until we can't breathe.

Random thoughts about Big Mama

  • The only time I ever eat New York Cherry ice cream is with Big
    Mama. It was a flavor that we subconsciously reserved for sharing with
    each other. We would each have a cone after dinner. I'm pretty sure
    that the only time she bought it was when we were in town.

  • She regularly prepared and ate spaghetti like it was a
    side dish, never the main course. Customary meals were spaghetti with
    fried chicken, spaghetti with pork chops, or spaghetti with fish. Yeah,
    that's right — spaghetti with fish.

  • Speaking of fish, the only time I ever ate salmon patties
    is when Big Mama made them. Mom even tried to make them once and they
    just weren't the same. That goes the same for potato pancakes, too.

  • The same dog-spanking-and-cursing summer in Chicago, Big
    Mama revealed to three, almost four year-old Chanel that she wore
    dentures. One evening we were all eating dinner (spaghetti and
    meatloaf, I think) when Chanel suddenly said, "Big Mama, you have
    pretty teeth."
    Big Mama grinned and suddenly pushed out her top dentures. Chanel, with
    all the innocence of a young child, exclaimed through a mouthful of
    noodles, "WOW! You're gonna getta lotta money from the Tooth Fairy tonight!!"

  • Those same dentures used to soak in a glass of Efferdent
    next to the bathroom sink every night, right next to my great-grandfather's glass eye. He used to
    keep it in the soap dish. I told you they were quirky.

  • Big Mama always kept the closet in her bathroom stocked
    with extra toothbrushes, first aid kits, mouthwash, soap, tissue (both
    facial and rolls), floss, towels, Alka-Seltzer, Pepto-Bismol, Tylenol,
    and every other toiletry you could possibly think of. It was almost as
    if she expected the entire continental Army to drop in seeking refuge.

  • Cole slaw. Yes, cole slaw. She spent hours (literally)
    making one giant bowl of cole slaw. She started with fresh heads of
    cabbage, and would sit methodically cutting them into tiny slivers with
    a knife she had only for that purpose. When that was done, she would
    peel and slice carrots in the same fashion, then toss them in with the
    cabbage. The best part was the apples. She would find the largest,
    sweetest-looking apples she could, and peel them with such meticulous
    precision that there was one long, thin, curl of apple peel. She would
    always give those to me to eat. Then she would slice the apples into
    slivers and toss them in with the cabbage and carrots. Finally she
    added some raisins (always the Sun-Maid brand that comes in the big red
    cans), and mixed it all together with healthy dollops of mayonnaise
    (only Helmann's would do). God, I loved her cole slaw. When she was
    making it I would pop in from playing outside to see which step in the
    process she was on, and when she was finished, she always called me in
    so I could have the first helping. I never ate anyone else's cole slaw. I don't
    think I ever will, either. The morning after we found out she passed, I
    woke up with the aroma of her cole slaw in my nose and the feeling I
    had whenever I ate it. That morning I shed my last tear at the loss of

  • Finally, no matter what time I woke up, Big Mama always
    seemed to have a sixth sense about when that would actually be. I could
    wake up at 8 am on one day and 10 am the next, and no matter what time
    I came stumbling into the kitchen
    she always had breakfast piping hot on the table for me. Grits with
    butter and sugar, bacon, scrambled eggs, and toast always started off
    my days.


I think sometimes our lost shout to be heard and by remembering and telling, we give them a voice. "I was here," they say.  "Don't forget that I was here."

11 thoughts on “She was here”

  1. Just beautiful. I need to do this for my grandmother before I forget even more. She was nothing like yours but special to me in a different way, and reading about your Big Mama brought some of her back. Thanks.

  2. Oh man, they just don't make 'em like they used to. The rolled up magazine dog swatter. The dentures in the glass. Spaghetti as the side dish. Salmon patties and hot breakfast waiting on the table… it just doesn't get any better than this.

    Your great-grandmother sounds like she was–and still is, thanks to your wonderful memories–an incredible, beautiful woman. Thanks for warming my heart this morning…

  3. (Another here from Blogger Bingo)
    What a gorgeous tribute. You really brought her to life for us–she sounds like such a unique, lively woman.

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