|Random quotes, and talk about a great Texas woman I'm lucky enough to know.||[5th.Feb.2008|09:07 pm]|
"You gotta stop wearing your wishbone where your backbone oughta be." - Richard from Texas, in Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat Pray Love.|
Well, flist, I've had two big glasses of Yellowtail Pinot Noir this evening. I've watched American Idol - listen, I like singing and I like being judgmental occasionally, it's a family event, watching that show. I've accepted a counter-offer on The House. (Oh my god. I think I'm buying a house. Deep breaths, deep breaths.) I've squeed about that SGA S5 casting spoiler. I've checked the polls to see where the Dems are. I've learned exciting new things about the caucus system.
Right this minute, I'm lying in bed, listening to the heater blow and Zed purr. Outside, snow is falling fiercely and silently. It's weird - in the darkness it's almost impossible to see what's happening, unless you look at where the streetlight is - then you see wild curtains and skeins of snow, blowing horizontal, glowing sulfer-orange, wild and soundless and thick. (Sometimes I do hear the wind - it makes small, shy whistling noises at the window.)
I got an email from a family friend today, my sister's godfather Paul, an excellent musician who looks enough like Willie Nelson to have been asked for his autograph a time or two. (At least once that I know of, he gave the autograph, and the whole group of us - stopped in a tiny west Texas town on the way to a camping trip, four families' worth of giggling children and adults - got adored from afar by the cook at a greasy spoon diner.)
Paul's mother is in her 90s, a tiny Texas woman named Flomar, known to her grandchildren as Mimi. Flomar was always my Mimi, too, mine and my sister's. I never knew my own grandparents very well, and Mimi filled any possible need for grandmotherly love and devotion admirably.
She is, like I said, tiny - perhaps five feet tall in high heels, and until recently an energetic, dynamo of a small person. Until she was in her 80s, she mowed the lawns of every senior citizen in her neighborhood; she plays card games and Skipbo and dominoes energetically, exclaiming in a soft, excited voice when she makes a good play. In the last year or so she's slowed, had rough times with her health. She can't see very well now, and when you kiss her cheek, her skin is as thin and delicate and soft as fine paper. Her hair, however, is the same bright auburn it's been since I've known her - she must dye it, but I can't imagine asking her about it. (I imagine she would smile and tell me what number of Miss Clairol she uses, but still - there are some questions a grandchild, even a faux-grandchild, just shouldn't ask.)
When I was 12 and my sisters were 9 and 15, my dad and stepmom went to Europe for two weeks, and we stayed at the D_____'s house with Paul and Jane (again, my sister's godparents, our family's dear friends) and Mimi. Mimi taught me how to shuffle cards, and her visiting sister Helen, a fantastic old woman with a smoker's voice as deep as a man's, told me stories about she and her sister Flo, going to dances down on the Bay (that's the Texas Gulf Bay, if you need to know, humid and lush), riding in cars with boys, Flo meeting her husband Zanny and running on the beach, carrying their shoes, sand getting into their stockings. (Zanny died when I was little, one of the first funerals I remember going to; he was bedridden for a long time beforehand, and I remember sitting on the floor beside his hospital bed, which was in the main livingroom of the D_____'s house, drawing Zanny pictures and handing them up to him; he took them in thin hands and praised me in a thin voice, a white-haired, gentle man who was grandfather to me, just as Mimi was grandmother.) When my son Jack turned one, Mimi gave me Zanny's St. Christopher medal, for Jack and for the rest of the family. I put it on Rob's dogtag chain, and it's been to Iraq twice - it's there now, tucked against his ID tags, warm against his skin, I hope.
The e-mail I got from Paul this morning said that Mimi's health is deteriorating quickly. He gave details of her wishes - no heroic measures should her heart or breathing stop, a memorial service at her church followed by a party in the spacious side yard of the D______'s house. The whole family is musical, and Mimi wants certain songs sung by her granddaughters, Karen and Mary Jane, and by her son and daughter-in-law, Paul and Jane. She's asked that I sing, too. I didn't know that before today, and the news hit me like a truck - I saw her at Christmas, kissed her cheek and made jokes with her, held her hand and hugged her frail body. I heard from Paul again this evening and she's a little better, but he doesn't know how much longer she has here with us. If there is anyone who will go on, further and higher, it's Mimi; she's the kind of person who makes an afterlife seem almost inevitable, who makes the world better one person at a time - a hundred people, a thousand, over a lifetime.
She was a lady, through and through, a Southern belle who restores that ancient title to what it should mean. She lived a moral life, and was unafraid, so far as I could ever tell, to do the right thing, calmly and kindly. She and her husband actively supported the civil rights movement in rural Texas throughout their lives, defying Jim Crow laws at the small gas station and store they owned in Freeport, Texas, raising their sons to be unabashed liberals, to be active and activists. The son I know, Paul, participated in lunch counter sit-ins in his youth, spent many years as a counselor and advocate at Paul Quinn college, and then worked as an AIDS counselor and educator in Waco. (One of my favorite stories about Paul is the time he was asked, while speaking at Baylor University in the late '80s, whether or not AIDS was God's vengeance on "homosexual men and drug users." Paul responded calmly that that might be so, but if it was true, it followed that lesbians were, and I quote Paul, "God's chosen people," since they had the lowest AIDS transmission rates of any population in America. Paul wasn't invited back to Baylor for about 15 years; he declined the invitation, but just last year returned to talk to students there, because he decided after soul-searching that it wasn't the students' fault that their administrators were such a bunch of self-righteous pricks. ...That's a quote, too, actually, from Paul's announcement at church the week before he went back to Baylor as a guest speaker.)
...And I seem to have gotten off-topic. I guess my point is, I love Mimi very much. I admire her - she has a serenity about her that I envy and covet and love. She is a good person, in every sense of the word - moral and kind, gentle-hearted and giving and open. She loves to laugh, and her eyes crinkle up when she does. I've never - literally never - heard her say an unkind word about anyone.
I feel privileged to know her. I am sad at the thought of her leaving, and glad to have something to give to celebrate her life, even if it's just a song, and to tell people about her.