On Mother’s Day, my maternal grandmother, Elector, passed away at the age of 71, surrounded by her loved ones. She was a unique woman, not just in name, but in so many wonderful ways.
The wife of a preacher, she could recite a Bible verse one minute, then turn around and tell a bawdy joke that would leave use all in stitches. She adored Elvis Presley, collected angel figurines, and would watch Jimmy Swaggart on an almost constant loop. At her birthday party a few years ago, she spent a large portion of the evening arm-wrestling with her grandchildren. She didn’t mind when she was given the nickname “Sexy Lexy.”
Though I think she was always beautiful, in her younger years, Mamaw was absolutely gorgeous. I wish the photo on the left had survived in better condition because it’s one of my favorites. I love the gloves and the purse, the kitten heels and the bows on her dress. I think she looks like a movie star, glamorous and chic.
As was common at the time, Mamaw married young. She was 15 when she married my grandfather, Claude, and she remained devoted to him for her entire life. Their relationship was filled with ups and downs, hard times and years of struggle, but I have no doubt that they loved one another unconditionally.
Mamaw gave birth to eight children. An infant son, Tony Curtis—a Christmas baby—passed away at just twelve days old. As was mentioned by the preacher at her funeral, I think being a mother was the job she was put on this Earth to do. She loved and cared for her children and her husband, often at home alone with all those kids while my grandfather was away, preaching and singing. Though some of her disciplinary methods, like the infamous spanking with a butcher knife, might be questionable today, she made sure to teach her children the lessons of right and wrong, to stand up for themselves and strive to be their very best.
I am thankful for all of the beautiful memories I have of my grandmother, for the lessons she taught and the love that she showed. She was devoted and faithful, sharing her wisdom and strength with those she cared for.
I grew up across the road from Mamaw Lec, so her home has a starring role in many of my childhood memories. As a kid, I loved going to her house, running in the yard and riding bikes in “the bottom.” I thought she gave the best back scratches; her nails were always long and sharp. When we went on trips, I’d mail postcards and buy her little trinkets. She kept and treasured them all.
Christmas was always an event, the house full of family. No matter what outlandish thing the grandchildren asked for, she would try to her hardest to get it. I remember unwrapping a Whitney Houston cassette tape at the age of six, so excited and thinking I’d gotten the best gift ever. She might not have been able to buy the most expensive things, but she made sure everyone got a gift they wanted. She never forgot a birthday.
When I was in college, I’d always stop and see her on my way back to school, if I’d come home for the weekend. Most of the time she would cry and tell me how proud she was. She’d slip a $20 bill in my hand as I headed out the door. Sometimes, my grandpa would empty his change jar and hand me a bag full of coins. I would protest and not want to take it, knowing money was tight, but she wouldn’t relent. She wanted me to succeed and tried to help in any way that she could.
One fall, when I’d become invested in learning to cook, she decided to share her mother’s apple pie recipe. Ma Sarah Pies are well-known in our community; my great-grandmother baked them for church functions, funerals, reunions, and Christmas gifts. I was delighted not just to learn how to make those pies, but to get to spend time with Mamaw. We spent the day cooking apples, measuring, mixing, and rolling out dough. In between all that work, she shared stories from her life. That’s a memory I’m so very grateful to have.
One of the things I’ll always treasure was my grandmother’s sense of style. If it was bold, flashy, and obnoxious, she wanted to wear it. She loved blue, but there was nothing she’d rather wear than a red shirt—always on Christmas, but other times as well. If I chose to wear something my mom thought was ridiculous, I could always count on Mamaw Lec to compliment it. She loved floral dresses and bright patterns. She also hated bras and refused to wear one for many years.
There is one dress she used to wear that is legendary in our family. It was a floral print in blue and white. The thing that makes this dress unique, however, is the red bow tie that adorned the front. She loved that dress and wore it often. When she passed away, it was still hanging in her closet.
When Mamaw’s health really started to decline and we knew her time with us was almost over, I started looking for a dress. Most people wear black or dark colors to a funeral, but I wanted to honor her in a different way. Initially, I was searching for a floral print dress in blue or red. My Aunt Donna, likely in jest, said something along the lines of, “You mean you aren’t going to wear a bow tie?” I laughed at first, but once the seed was planted, I couldn’t let go of the idea. After a few hours of searching I found the perfect dress, then later ordered a red bow tie to match.
My dress might have seemed outlandish and ridiculous to many people at the service, but I know that Mamaw would have loved it. For me, it was a fitting way to honor a loving woman that taught me so many life lessons. I might forego the bow tie from this point forward, but every time I wear that dress, I’ll think of my grandmother.
She might not have had riches or gold to pass along to her family, but her example of love and devotion will live on in each of us. I feel so very blessed to have gotten so spend so many years with her and I’ll cherish her memory always.