Archive for the ‘Heritage’ Category

I have a little green memo pad of inestimable worth. It’s nothing special to look at — just 80 sheets of ruled paper, 4 inches by 6, with a plain paper cover and metal spiral binding across the top. I didn’t even get it new. It was given to me with marks on the first two pages.

There are directions to an apple orchard scrawled in blue ink.

A handwritten reminder of an oil change at the Exxon station.

And two dates — August 22 and January 9 — that marked some unknown occasions now 20 years past.

I hadn’t realized how well I knew that handwriting until, after several years without seeing it, I opened the cover of that little green memo pad. It was my grandmother’s.

She wrote half in script and half in all caps, with a profusion of dashes. The L’s were extra tall. I remember watching her work crossword puzzles, filling in each letter with its own little flourish. I especially remember the L’s. I see the same flourish now in my mother’s hand. And I have a bit of it to hold in mine — these notes jotted in a green memo pad. It’s one of the little bits she left behind.

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Portrait of MamawMy grandmother’s name was Mildred Pauline, but she went by Polly; it suited her better. Her grandchildren called her Mamaw. She grew up a Henry, but when M.A. Peck came home from active duty and asked her to be his bride, she canceled a date with her beau Maldon Foree, ran off to Georgia, and took the Peck name. It suited her as well.

Mamaw Peck was small of stature, or at least she was by the time I was a teenager. But her personality was bright and lively, and it seemed somehow augmented, rather than limited, by her 110-pound, 5-foot frame. She was a good cook, if not a terribly patient one. She giggled often, head tilted back and — ever since the wreck that broke her jaw in ’92 — hand over her mouth.

She was known in our family for her humorous exclamations and sayings, and also for the words she would accidentally let slip in our presence. Humor was Mamaw’s way of showing affection. She called me Punkin Head until I outgrew it, and then she promoted me to Little Dude. To hear her say those names warmed me more than a hug or an “I love you.” I understood them to mean the same thing.

In her refrigerator, you could almost always find a half gallon of Mayfield’s lemonade. To me, the taste of it is still precisely the taste of a summer day at Mamaw’s house, because I never drank it anywhere else. The freezer never failed to house a carton of ice cream, which Mamaw just called “cream,” and if it had been there for any length of time, there would be hack marks all down in it from the butter knife she used to whack it out piece by piece.

One of Mamaw’s most memorable trademarks was that she left a trail wherever she went. If you sat on her couch, you would usually find a Kleenex stuffed down between the cushions. A piece of dental floss would be lying on the floor nearby. And abandoned bobby pins would bear witness to every room she visited throughout the house.

When she cooked, no matter how much cheese she grated or onion she chopped, she would always leave a forlorn little heap behind, unused. And at mealtime she cleaned her plate — except for that last little bite.

We shook our heads and playfully ribbed her for her funny little habit. Was it an accident? Did she leave her trail simply because it was part of her, like feathers shed by a bird in flight? Or did she drop breadcrumbs because she enjoyed watching the little birds follow along, eating them up? I think the former is true, and the latter is not entirely false. Anyway, we loved her for it, and she laughed right along with us.

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Mamaw at ChristmasEven before colon cancer took Mamaw from us in 2005, each of us had begun gathering up our favorites of her breadcrumbs. Every summer someone in our family would give a particularly sweltering day Mamaw’s designation of H-O-T-T. If you had a head cold, we would say your nose was running for President. And whenever a situation went a little haywire, someone would holler, “Hold ‘er, Newt, she’s a-buckin’!”

I started buying Keri lotion when I could find it. The scent of it is Mamaw’s hands, just as Wind Song dusting powder is her cheek and Bowater paper factory is her kitchen. A whiff of any one of them transports me to that century-old white house with the wide hallway, the dark attic, and the deep closets of my childhood. The off-level kitchen floor, the gold-flecked white countertop, the fat little butter pot, and the mushroom-print curtains are clearly visible to my mind, though my eyes have not looked on them in a decade.

My mom took up the mantle of making a gallon of custard every Christmas, and though it always tastes right, Mamaw’s ability to get the perfect consistency has been somewhat elusive.

As much as I treasure the bits of Mamaw’s life that we’ve intentionally preserved, there’s something even more meaningful about the pieces of her that show up unlooked-for.

Our church does the hymn “Victory in Jesus” just Mamaw’s way: nice and peppy, and heavy on piano. I think of her every time. I also think of her every time I hear the song done more slowly — only instead of seeing her nodding her head in approval, I hear her fussing at the musicians to get a move on.

Sometimes my sister says the word “forgot” exactly like Mamaw did, with that Southern “o” sound that defies spelling.

Last week I found a sparkly sticker centered on a crossbeam of my kids’ backyard fort, and it made me smile. My daughter has a way of leaving a trail.

Sometimes my son tilts his head back just so when he laughs.

And it’s often hard for me to vocalize affection. I’m better at saying something to make you laugh than at saying I love you. To me, they feel like almost the same thing.

I find great comfort in what Mamaw left behind — these marks she made on each of us. Yes, she’s gone, but we are different because of who she was. And something of her endures here, even in my children, who never met her. She’s in their DNA.

Mamaw is present with the Lord now. If they sing “Victory in Jesus” in heaven, I’ll bet she’s got them doing it right. Meanwhile, as I wait to break bread with her at that Feast, I’ll enjoy the breadcrumb trail she left for me here.

Like sitting beside my mother, laboring over a crossword puzzle, until one of us finds a word. Into the boxes go the letters, each with their own little flourish.

I would recognize those L’s anywhere.

Mamaw's memo pad


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