Mimi Memories

{To my readers: The kids and I got back from Mo-Ranch in the Texas Hill Country on Monday evening. We had a great time with my parents and the FPC Dallas church family. (Mo’ memories and pics coming soon.) While we were there, we got the sad news that my grandmother, Mimi, passed away. But she ended life with a good day. Her niece took her to a Casino, and Mimi told her it was the most fun she’d had in a long time. She died that night in her sleep. The following is a tribute to her.}

She was not a “Norman Rockwell grandmother”. She didn’t bake, she didn’t always say the right thing (in fact,  she often said the wrong thing), she didn’t usually have words of wisdom or compassion, but she did have candy!  She was a little rough around the edges, a little hard to be around sometimes, a little hard to accept sometimes, but what I know for sure is…she loved me a LOT. And isn’t that really the main job of a grandmother? She was my Mimi.

As a child, I remember playing in her front yard here in Lake Highlands, just a few blocks from where I now live, climbing through the tall monkey grass on the hilly slope, catching lightning bugs in the summer. And the horror/awe I felt when she showed me and my little brother how to turn a lightning bug into a ring, by severing the head, and sticking the glowing tail on your finger. Not very “Norman Rockwell”-ish, but I don’t think I would have remembered that experience were it not for the dismemberment factor.

When I was 3, Mimi would pick me up at day care, and I would go to her house for a snack before she took me to my ballet lessons. I remember sitting smack dab in front of the big TV box (you know, the old wooden kind that was a piece of furniture itself), eating M&M’s out of a little cup on the floor in my pink tights and tutu, and watching Richard Simmons or Wheel of Fortune. Actually, a lot of my Mimi memories involve candy and TV, and not much real interaction. As a parent now, I strive to create and invite more authentic personal connections for my own children in their close relationships, but I see now that this was how Mimi expressed her love, by sharing two things that she loved with us, TV and treats, even in extravagance. As Mr. Rogers sings in one of my favorite songs, “There Are Many Ways to Say ‘I Love You’.”

Jake and I would stay at Mimi and Gigidad’s house on Wednesday nights while Mom and Dad were at choir practice, and after our bath, we would run into the living room where Mimi would have a snack (Cheetos, marshmallows, M&M’s, ice cream) ready for us in front of Donna Reed on Nick at Night.  My parents must have been thrilled!  As we got older, the treats and TV continued. We would spend the night or even weekend at their little trailor house at Cedar Creek Lake, and she would let us fall asleep watching “I Love Lucy” episodes, snacking on store-bought cookies.  (Perhaps this explains why Mimi didn’t have any of her own teeth in the end.)

I  remember her home-made lemon ice cream at the lake, and helping her stir it up in the old-fashioned ice-cream maker with the salt. Yummm! To me, this taste was Mimi, just like a slice of white bread with butter was Gigidad. And it usually followed a meal of fried everything – catfish, hush puppies, okra, and french fries. Since she’d come to live with my parents in Dallas when Gigidad died a little over a year ago, my kids could always run back to her room to sneak a Nilla wafer or some forbidden treat. This was how she showed her love, by indulging us, right or wrong.

We incorporated these loves (TV and treats) into a ritual of sorts for our own kids to experience with Mimi, their great-grandmother. We called it “Mimi, Movie, and Milkshakes“! Mind you, the “milkshakes” are actually healthy fruit smoothies, but the kids don’t know the difference. The movie could be anything ranging from a Planet Earth episode to “Up”, the most recent movie we shared with Mimi, Michael James resting against her on our couch and holding her hand in the “scary” parts. He loved to feel her soft, flabby skin, and look through the thinness of it to her veins. She liked the physical contact that he gave her – something every human spirit needs, but it had become sparse in her lonely, widowed life.  Michael James gave her affection more freely than anyone else, and they had a special bond. (We plan to tell him and Ellie the sad news this weekend before the kids spend the night at GareBear and Beffa (and Mimi’s) house.)

I thought of her tonight as I saw my New Year’s resolution list by my bathroom vanity. I had “penciled her in” on this list of priorities, things to do every day, made in pen: walk, rest, read,  good things, bed by 10, and then as an afterthought, “Mimi”. I meant to call her, check on her, visit her, something so that she knows she’s cared about every day. Sounds so simple. But as it usually goes with resolutions, I suppose, I haven’t done great at keeping any of them on a consistent basis. I often felt like all I had left for Mimi was the very dregs of my tank of energy – whatever was leftover after working, parenting, keeping a house. And it was never my best. And yet, she never complained about what I didn’t do for her, but always appreciated what I did. “I just don’t know what I’d do without you and the kids”, she’d say. Or “I just appreciate you calling me.” Still, it wasn’t enough. I never found her a place to play bridge after Gigidad died, I never took her to use her gift certificate at NorthPark like she wanted to, I never helped her figure out how to check the voice mail on her phone. But I did clip her toenails once, I did take her to a movie recently, I did pick up a burger for her on her birthday, I did mean to do so much more, and I just wasn’t ready to take her off of my list.

In the last year, I’ve often felt overwhelmed with the weight of her sadness, her physical needs, her pain and loneliness. And my body and brain would become exhausted after caring for her in addition to my own small children – getting them each buckled into my car with all their stuff – walkers, oxygen, diapers, stuffed lions, pacifiers, purses – and then after getting them home, they each needed things from me – water, milk, wine, TV remote, more ice in the water,  spilled milk, spilled wine, napkins, how do I change the channel? And in the midst of it all, she would say, “Lowry, you need to sit down and rest. You never stop moving.” Aaaagh!

When she died this weekend, there was relief…a compassionate relief that her pain is over, that her depression is no more, but also a selfish relief  – that I will not carry this burden anymore – the burden, the guilt of needing to somehow do more for my grandmother, more than I’m doing, more than I have the energy or drive to do. But I am still in disbelief that she is gone, that I can’t call her from the four “favorites” on my phone to touch base. That she can’t come over this Sunday evening when Dustin cooks dinner (he was finally gonna make her a birthday cake), that the kids and I can’t stop by to bring her hand-picked roses from our bushes, that we can’t drive through Keller’s to sneak a real chocolate milkshake while Dustin is getting the kids down, that she can’t be here to keep me company now that Dustin is working nights. Her chocolate Jell-O pudding is still in our refrigerator from when she stayed here just a couple of weeks ago! How can she be gone?

And then, I realize there is sadness, sadness that she is gone, that she’s no longer just a phone call or few blocks away. And then I realize that I actually saw and talked to her more than anyone outside my household. She was a constant, she was a companion, she was a comfort. She knew me better than most – not only had she changed my diapers and watched me grow – into an adult, into a wife, into a mother – but she witnessed me losing it and holding it together with the kids, she heard me and Dustin argue, she saw the ins and outs of our routines, the love and laughter of our lives.  I didn’t pretend not to be exhausted in front of her. I didn’t pretend not to be irritated in front of her. I didn’t pretend not to be joyful in front of her. Because I knew she loved me unconditionally, with the love of a grandmother. But now I realize, she had become more than my grandma, she was my friend. And that’s how I’d come to love her, and that’s how I’m missing her now…

Comments

  1. Hannah Ferguson says:

    Dear Lowry,
    What a beautiful tribute to your grandmother. I am very touched by your loving words and memories and my heart goes out to you and your family. You will be in my thoughts and prayers.
    With love,
    Hannah

    • mommymanders says:

      Thank you sweet Hannah. I’m hoping your Mimi is well, and I know she must be so glad to be around you and your little girls! It is just such a blessing to have that connection across generations.

  2. Sherri Fry says:

    Lowry,

    I’m so sorry to hear about your grandmother’s passing. I know that memories of our loved ones can be bittersweet. Your post brought back so many feelings for me! Thank you! My grandmother was Nenaw. I started calling her that when I was a toddler and now the whole family refers to her as, Nenaw. Like your grandmother, she was very unconventional. In fact I’m quite sure she had a “checkerd past”. I was her favorite. She was never the same when anyone else was around. But we had such a special bond. She loved the Atlanta Braves. We must have watched every episode of Matlock, and Murder She Wrote together. I used to play dress-up in her clothes and wear her “cold cream”. I played beauty shop and brushed and curled her hair. She helped me SO much through my parents divorce!! I was a teenager at the time. I stayed with her for a week to help her through the shingles. I stayed with her for a week when she found out that she had throat cancer. And do you know, she quit smoking the day she found and and never touched a cigarette again?! I miss her very much. After I read your post, I called my mother on the way home and we talked for an hour about her, laughing and remembering such funny stories.
    Love,
    Sherri Fry
    Mommy to Elizabeth (6), Nanny to Keaton (3), Farren (18 mos.)

    • mommymanders says:

      Dear Sherri, Your comments made me tearful – how wonderful to hear about your Nenaw, but I’m especially moved that my post moved you to have that special phone call with your mom about her. As I will tell my children tomorrow when we talk about Mimi’s death, I believe that sharing those stories and talking about the ones we loved who are gone is the way that we keep their spirit alive in our hearts. I’m so glad you can honor Nenaw by re-telling those funny stories. Pass them on to Elizabeth, as well. They will be very special to her. Love to you!

  3. Kristie says:

    Thank you as always Lowry for being brave enough to share your true feelings. Your post made me stop to remember my Nana & Memaw who I still miss dearly and have so many memories with – the good, the bad & the ugly. But mostly good, fond memories. I hope my kids have such special memories with their grandparents.

    • mommymanders says:

      They already do! I’m so glad my post encouraged you to remember your own grandparent stories – pass them on to the kids while they’re still interested!

  4. Dani Perry says:

    Lowry,

    I have not spoken to you or even seen you in forever but your Dad told me about your Mimi last week. I am so sorry for your loss. I have my own memories of your grandparents as my great aunt and uncle and what memories they are! Anyway, your Dad told me I should read your blog so here I am!!

    Take care!
    Dani Perry (your cousin!)

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  1. […] Peggy was, but she was still my grandmother, and I still love and miss her. (See my tribute to her ”Mimi Memories”.  The pastor had done a beautiful job describing Peggy as someone who set up a veritable […]