Memories of Her

She was a pretty lady. Fair skin, black hair, a big smile and a switch no one could match. When she wasn’t press and curling my hair in her own beauty shop, she was doing work in the church. On any given Sunday (or night of the week), you could find her patrolling the Sunday School department upstairs in our church as superintendent, making sure classes were running smoothly–and checking to see if my friends and I were in sitting in our classes, instead of playing out in the hall. You could find her greeting visitors and members alike during “passing of the peace.” She loved people, and to her, no one was a stranger. They all loved her back.

She would make announcements about special things going on in the church. She was the only I knew that didn’t need, nor request a microphone to speak. Her posture, her voice, her confidence and her charisma made everyone listen to what she had to say. In a scrapbook made for her 80th birthday, I described it as the “It Factor.” She just had this thing about her, and I always hoped just a piece of “It” would trickle down to me.

She was very intentional. An authority figure to some. A mother to all. Though I  never heard her say it, she definitely lived by the motto, “To be early is to be on time. To be on time is to be late. And to be late is unacceptable.” If I had to speak at church, she would throw me a smile and slowly nod her head up and down until I finished. I wasn’t sure if it was a nod of encouragement or approval, but I wanted both. I was proud to be her granddaughter, and I wanted her proud in return. 

As a child, I didn’t stay with her for extended periods too often, but when I did, two things were for certain: (1) I would have to climb to get into her sky-high bed for my 8:30 bedtime and (2) She would be up at the crack of dawn. At 5 a.m., she already had breakfast ready. Uusally rice, egg and salmon or slightly burned bacon.

Once she retired from cosmetology,  she moved one shampoo bowl and one hair dryer to her living room. Still, a few faithful customers would patronize, but when they weren’t there, I always wondered what she would do alone in that house for days on end. She wrote a lot—all kinds of things. Plays, speeches, letters to her children and even her own obituary. I suppose that’s who I get this writing thing from. She kept a written record of everything–family history, her sisters and brothers’ birth dates,  telephone numbers, addresses, milestones, etc. She was the first one to tell me to keep an address book. When my cell phone shut down, I wished I’d listened to her.

When I moved back home, I would visit her often. As I lay on her sofa after work, she would tell me stories about sharecropping in “the country.” She, like so many others, was originally from Mississippi. It wasn’t until she met my grandfather, a quartet singer, while singing at a local concert, that she moved to Memphis. She would tell me about the Civil Rights Movement and even how her father, a biracial man, would pass for white when he went “up yonder to Chicago.” Then, when we thought she had Alzheimer’s Disease, I was always amazed at her longterm memory. My favorite story was about her first time using indoor plumbing toilet, instead of going into the outhouse. She’d seen times change so much.

A few years later, she went into a nursing home after a stroke. By the grace of God, she bounced back, maneuvering her wheelchair or walker. My mom would get her dolled up every Sunday for church and she would eat dinner with the family afterwards. She was always there for family gatherings just as she’d always been. That was a hard, but sweet time.

Visiting her almost daily wasn’t an obligation, but something I wanted to do. Eventually I learned that she only wanted two packages of the “pink stuff” (sweetner) in her iced tea, she wanted her dentures taken out, clothes laid out and a trip to the bathroom after dinner (in that order). She wanted her shoes directly in front of the night table and her television had to be on Channel 5 or TV One. We would even watch Martin, my favorite show, together. Above all, she needed a jacket with every outfit, because “this ol’ lady gets cold.” Though her independence had dwindled, she was still in control.

She began a love affair with Werther’s Original candies. So much so, that all of her children would keep bags of them on hand, just in case her stash was low. There were many other things she did and said that made her so very special. Her wit, her attitude, her strong will made her the woman she was.

On September 19, 2010, as I was holding her hand, Viva Adell Farr Wooten took her last breath. Only a week later, I’m wondering why I was there to feel her burning hot hands, see her eyes close for the final time. It’s something I’ll likely never forget, but I know I saw her spirit ascend into Heaven to be with God. That’s what gives me peace.

The funeral is over. Family and friends have gone, and I’m still crying. I would give anything to hear her refer to me as, “My chile,” call any of her sons, biological or not, “Boy” or any woman, child or adult, “Lil girl”. I would comb her hair one last time because she believed in looking her best or see her eyes to light up when I pulled a few pieces of candy out for her. I would sit with her in silence when it just wasn’t anything else to talk about.

I can’t do any of those things anymore, but I will hear that pretty lady in my heart for always. I loved her, and she loved me even more, just like she did all of her children, so there are no regrets. So as I try to figure out how to move on, yet keep her memory alive, I continue to be thankful to God for giving her to me–to us, the people she touched in so many different ways.

She is missed. She will be loved forever. She is “simply beautiful.”

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