Thursday, January 12, 2012

Lessons Learned

Today would have been my Ma-Ma's birthday. Because she died on January 17th, this is the time of year where I often think about her. It's been 13 years since she passed away, and I still miss her all of the time. So, I would like to reflect a little on her life and the lessons that I learned by having her as my grandmother.
1912 (approximately)
Ma-Ma was born in Magnolia, MS in 1907 to my Mommee and Poppee, and was adored by her parents. She had a little brother whom she adored, named Milton, but better known as Buddy. When she was five, Mommee found her "playing" the piano on the hall tree (they didn't have a piano). Mommee signed her up for lessons, and the music part of our lives began. She graduated from Tulane (the girl's section, which was called Sophie Newcomb) in 1929 with a double major in piano and organ performance and a minor in voice. That November, she married my grandfather--less than 2 weeks after the stock market crash. So, she started out in marriage with basically nothing. She always said that they never went without food, because people would pay my grandfather with chickens, vegetables, and anything that they could give him for his services (he was a doctor).  She learned to cook healthy because of my grandfather's health. He had contracted tuberculosis when he was a resident in New Orleans (he was also a graduate of Tulane medical school), and struggled with TB for several years. My momma was a beloved only child (although not an only child by choice), but Ma-Ma always said that none of us were spoiled--we were just "well-loved"! She loved the children of the town, and would do anything for them. She accompanied them in contests, played for their weddings, supported them, helped raise them and loved them like they were her own. Ma-Ma raised camillas, and even grafted them. She loved to arrange flowers, and the boys in the town would come to her and she would make their corsages for the dances and special occasions (I'm sure that the florists in town weren't happy). Of course, she did it for free.
March, 1954

Five weeks before my mother and daddy were supposed to get married, my grandfather came home for lunch, and laid down to take a nap. When she went in to wake him up, she discovered that he had passed away--at the age of 51. Somehow, she and Momma got through the wedding (they didn't change the date--just scaled down the reception). I can't imagine how she did it--or how Momma did it, but they did, because that's the type of women they are.

Five years later, Ma-Ma moved to Greencastle to help Momma, who by this time, had a four-year-old and a two-year-old and number three on the way. Personally, I think it was her best move ever, but she never did care for the north or being cold, or the snow.  She never did really forgive my momma for moving her up here.

She loved us dearly, though. The first year she lived in Greencastle, my older brother contracted rheumatic fever and my younger brother was born. While Steve was confined to bed for six months, and my mother's hands were a bit full, Ma-Ma would take me to her house and we would cook. So, from the time I was about two, she would put an apron on me, pull up a step-stool, put me on the stool, and let me "cook". My job was to stir whatever she was making. She always told me I did a wonderful job and that her food tasted better because I helped. When I was five, the two of us spent the month of November in Mississippi with my great-grandfather, and she taught me how to do embroidery and then sewing. I spent the month making a Christmas gift for Momma. She always had so much patience with me, but made sure that I did my best. How I miss being able to call her and ask her questions about cooking or sewing. She would have loved seeing my quilts and all of the madrigal dresses I made last year. And the music! At one point or another, through the years, she taught all three of us piano (although we had other teachers, too). She encouraged us in whatever instrument we wanted, and patiently drove Michael and me to lessons over in Terre Haute every week.  I can still see her little foot keeping beat to the music on television shows. I don't think she was even aware that she did it! Once PBS came around with the classical music shows, her life was complete. I remember going into her house one Sunday, and the PBS special was Vladimir Horowitz playing for the first time in many, many years in his home country of Russia. Tears were flowing down her face as she watched this incredible musician play some of her favorite numbers.
Piano Lessons!
Stephie described her as a "firecracker". That is an understatement. While she loved us dearly, she also let us know when she wasn't happy with something that we did. Momma and I made the mistake (in her opinion) of marrying a "Yankee". We were her "Yankee" grandchildren (we were, obviously, her only ones), but that's how she would introduce us. She never really did forgive Momma and me for not marrying a southern boy! When she died, we took her back to Mississippi to be buried next to her beloved husband. People came from all over to tell us how much she and my grandfather meant to them and their family. It was without a doubt the most touching thing that I have ever experienced. She had not lived in Mississippi for over 40 years, and these people that came were barely able to make it up the steps of the church, yet they made a special point to come see Momma and the three of us just to tell us how much they loved my grandparents.

Lessons learned from my Ma-Ma: Love your family with all that you have. Stand up for what you believe. Keep learning until you draw your last breath. Do what you love to do, and do your very best in all that you do, and you are capable of more than you think.

There's a part of Ma-Ma in all of us. While I love that she stood up for what she believed, there were many times that she could have been a little more--well, understanding. She did have a temper and if she didn't want to do something, she wouldn't do it! If she got really mad at you (especially if you messed with one of us), you were done for. So, I'm still learning that while standing up for what you believe is a good thing, you can still be loving in your convictions. I'm still working on that. Obviously, I never knew my grandfather, but Momma always said that he was the only person she knew that could really handle my grandmother. :)  I know that the two of them loved Momma dearly, and Momma in turned passed on the love to the three of us, and my job as a mother is to pass the unconditional love on to Stephie. If I am half the mother that either my grandmother or mother have been, I feel I will have done pretty good.

Ma-Ma, I miss you, but I see parts of your legacy in all of my family, and for that, I'm thankful.


  1. Julie, what a beautiful tribute to your Ma Ma.

    1. Thank you, Char. She was a special woman.

  2. Just wanted to tell you that I love your blog. When I read it I hear your voice in my head.

    1. And I love yours. And, I love you and miss you. Just another way for us to keep in touch with each other.