If you are lucky, you’ll meet many wonderful women who will inspire you, nurture you, and teach you. If you are really lucky, you’ll encounter a woman who will change you and completely shape your life. I knew just such a woman.
On a coolish morning, this day in 1899 a little girl was born. It was decided they would name her Minnie Bell McCarley. Like most southern families in that part of the country in those days, nearly everyone had another name by which they were known. Minnie Bell would be called Lucy all her life. That woman was my grandmother; the most important woman in my life. There are so many stories about her. I’ve shared a few here at olbigjim.com. Today, my sister Bonita shared one with me.
This story takes place late in Lucy’s life. I’ll transcribe it just as Bonita gave it to me.
Bonita: “I was sitting with her one day after she started to decline and we were at those double windows by the fireplace and she looked out the window and just laughed and laughed. I asked her what she was laughing at. She (Lucy) said, “Look coming up that road there, that’s that ol’ Jim Wright (my Pawpaw), coming a’courtin’. He thinks I’m gonna marry him, but I’m not. I’m gonna be an old maid!””
Of course, she married Jim Wright and they kept house for around sixty years.
Now, for my story. This one, too, takes place in her declining years. I had joined the Navy two or three years before this one happened. During those years, until she just couldn’t do it anymore, Mawmaw and I wrote letters back and forth a couple times a month.
One fine weekend I decided to take a few days leave to go see Mawmaw. I knew from my sister’s letters that she was slowly getting worse. So I drove straight through from Norfolk, Virginia to Piedmont, Alabama. That’s 655 miles (1,055 km). I stopped only for toilet breaks.
I’ll never forget walking into the front door of the house. I was nearly speechless with shock at seeing my strong, little Mawmaw lying in a hospital bed in the front room. Well, after a few seconds I managed to compose myself and strode to her bedside.
“Hey, Mawmaw! How’re you doing?” Her still clear blue eyes gazed at me curiously.
“Who’s that? Aw, I reckon I’m alright today.” She still eyed me, trying to place my face in her mind’s picture album.
I leaned down closer. “It’s me, Mawmaw, Ol’ Big Jim!” A sparkle came into her eyes as she smiled broadly. “Ol’ Big Jim? Why he mailed me a Mother’s Day card yesterday! Lemme show you.”
She started rummaging through the bedclothes and finally presented it to me. She was fit to be tied because I’d sent her a card all the way from Virginia! Mawmaw looked at me again. “Ain’t that a pretty card? You know, he joined the Navy a while back so I don’t see him like I did when he lived here at home.”
She chatted on, telling one story after another of Ol’ Big Jim’s escapades as well as a few escapades that involved both of us. Those stories are for another time. My mind wrestled with itself. It gave me such joy that she retained the memories of so many things we’d done over the years. But, at the same time, it broke me just a bit because she didn’t realize she was talking to me.
Now, I can tell the story and smile as I share it. It wasn’t so easy that day.