Wednesday, February 24, 2010


I decided to dedicate my first post to my precious grandma, "Mema," because I think the world would be a better place if everybody had experienced the privilege of having a Mema.  My Mema's name was Phyllis Elaine (isn't that a lovely name?) and she was one of the best cooks in the western hemisphere.  She cooked enormous feasts on the scale of a Thanksgiving dinner every single Sunday for as long as I can remember, and certainly before that.  All day Saturday, she cooked and baked in her tiny kitchen in preparation for the arrival of children and grandchildren on Sunday after church.  And she had to be prepared, because we didn't knock!  We swung open the screen door and stampeded inside because we could already smell what awaited us.  If Mema had tried out a new recipe from one of her church cookbooks (if you don't know what that is, it's when a bunch of church ladies get together and make a cookbook for a fundraiser, usually a mission project... and if you've never seen one, you've missed some fine recipes and a great source of amusement!)  then she would always give a disclaimer for the dish.  She would say, "Well, I don't know if this is going to be fit to eat!  The (cake fell/ top's burned up/ stuff smells funny/ choose your own ridiculous criticism of the food that nobody believed.)  I think I'm just going to throw it in the trash.  I'm ashamed for y'all to see it!"  Of course everybody would protest, and never once did any of her self-criticisms prove to be true.  She was a wonderful cook, even if she was hard on herself.  Of course, like most cooks, she always felt that her cooking would never be as good as her mama's!
Not only did Mema cook wonderfully, she also tried to please everyone in her cooking.  She's the only person I know who ever made "Bananaless" Banana Puddings.  See, a few insane members of our family have this problem where they don't know a good thing when they see it, so they would pick the bananas out of their banana pudding.  From then on, whenever she made it, Mema would make two: Banana Pudding (for the sane ones of us) and Bananaless Pudding (for the crazies!).  And she didn't do it because anybody fussed or complained or requested it.  She did it out of love.
That's how Mema did everything.  She would sacrifice everything she had for the ones she loved.  We saw that love most vividly when she got sick.  In the summer of 2005, Mema went in for a routine yearly exam with the gynecologist.  He thought he felt something in her abdomen, so they ran some tests and went in for an exploratory surgery.  We are all devasted to hear that the doctor's suspicions were confirmed and what he had felt was ovarian cancer.  The doctor was able to remove all the tumors, and Mema bravely went through months of chemo and was declared cancer free.
In August 2008, it was discovered that Mema's cancer had returned.  She had tumors in her abdomen and in her liver.  She endured another painful surgery, followed by a severe infection.  She endured more months of chemo, but ultimately she just wore out.  She had some better months in the spring of 2009, and she was back out of bed and cooking those feasts during that time, even though we now know she probably did not have the energy to do that.  Even though she must have known she was losing her battle, she was still worrying about taking care of her family.  I remember during one particularly violent summer thunderstorm that year, she called me to make sure I was okay because she knew I was driving to summer school.  When I was getting close to graduating with my masters degree, she frequently told my mama that she was hoping so much that I would be able to get a good job.  Even when she was dying, she was worrying about other people.  When she was freezing in the bed when she had gotten so tiny and frail, she would tell us to turn on the fan (we didn't) because she could tell we were hot because she had the heat turned up so high.  When kind church members would bring her food she knew she wouldn't be able to eat, she would still try to sit up and smile.  The next to the last day I saw her alive, a sweet lady brought her and my grandpa some cupcakes.  Mema could not life her head, but whispered, "Oh boy, that sounds good."  She wanted that lady to know she appreciated what she was trying to do for her.
The day Mema died, I sat at her feet all day.  I knew she was ready to go, because she had told me so.  All that day, she was in a deep sleep.  At about 7:30 pm on October 10, 2009, Mema went to Heaven.  I know she went because right before she took her last breath, she opened her eyes for the first time that day, and she had a look of amazement on her face.  I don't know what she saw, but I'm certain she's with her Lord now, and she's cancer-free.  But oh, I miss her so very much.
When they took her body from her room at the hospice house, they played her favorite hymn, "How Great Thou Art."  I like to think that maybe she's singing that song in Heaven now.
I can just hear her beautiful alto voice, "Then sings my soul...."     

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