MeMe

by Katie on February 13, 2014

I’ve talked some about my MeMe here before, but I never mentioned that she was one of the primary shapers of my world. She went home to be with Jesus and my Poppy on January 31st, and we celebrated her life well lived on February 8th with an abundance of family and friends. My mom asked my sister and I to deliver a eulogy during the service, and we did. Instead of finding new words, I’m copying what I said here. Because she was a remarkable woman and deserves to be celebrated again and again.

Lois Ann Jacobs Warren, March 13, 1921 – January 31, 2014

We are all here to remember, to celebrate, and to rejoice the life of one person. But that one person was a different person to each of us here. She may have been your aunt, your friend or your boss. Maybe all three at different times. One person here was lucky enough to call her Mom. And for myself, my sister and two brothers, she was our MeMe.

But there are so many adjectives and verbs and nouns wrapped up in those two simple syllables, I couldn’t possibly do her justice by trying to say them out loud. It’s a little difficult to find the right words to say when you know all the words in a book wouldn’t be enough to adequately express who my MeMe was, let alone how she was all those things to so many people.

What I can say, and what is probably the most important word any of us can take from today, is the verb that encompasses her spirit and more accurately describes her life than anything else:  Love.

The selfless kind of love. The unconditional kind of love. The do-anything-for-you, be-anywhere-you-need, get-up-and-go or just sit-and-listen kind of love.

Some of you, even though you were able to experience the joy she never failed to bring into a room, didn’t have the opportunity to fully know her. Even for those who did, I think we could all use a reminder, since it has been so long since any of us could fully enjoy her true spirit. 

So I’d like to take some time to introduce you to my MeMe. Because today is a day to do nothing other than celebrate her life. But not who she was – because that would mean that she only was. I’m talking about who she is – because she always will be, in all of us.

For probably two whole years, she drove half an hour, one way, every day, before my mom was brave enough to bathe my sister and I herself. She was talented in more ways than I could count:  two that stand out were her floral arranging and homecoming mum making. She always had something cooking or ready to eat, no matter the time of day. You just never know when someone might stop by. Or when a granddaughter might drop in with half her volleyball team during a two-a-day practice for fried steak and gravy.

She was a business owner. She was the most devoted and loving wife to my Poppy, a man I wasn’t able to spend nearly enough time with, but I’m sure she would have said the same. I can still see her in the early morning hours, sitting in her living room with the dark green carpet, in her blue chairs, drinking coffee and watching the birds and squirrels in the feeders. She loved that. She did not love her neighbor who shot her squirrels.

She would drive my sister and I to the park just to yell, “Weeeee!” with us as she “zoomed” (so we thought anyway) down “The Hill”. Then, she eventually taught us both how to drive down that hill ourselves. Probably long before she should have. How the law never found out about my MeMe and her propensity to enable underage drivers I will never know. But everyone was probably safer with her teaching us instead of our dad anyway.

Her chicken and dumplings and banana pudding were always a hit at potluck dinners at this church. She taught Calli and I the practice of saying our bedtime prayers, and I can still hear her reciting “Now I Lay me Down to Sleep,” “Four Corners ‘Round my Bed,” and The Lord’s Prayer – the same prayers I now pray with my daughter at night, her voice ringing in my ear.

These prayers were always followed with chants of, “Tell us a story! Tell us a story!” Which always led to the same routine:  “Tell you a story? What kind of story?” “About when you were a little girl, MeMe.” “About when I was a little girl? Why would you want to hear about that?…And then she would tell us about her pink crayons at Sunday school, skinny dipping with siblings and cousins in the creek and other shenanigans we are all too far removed from simplicity to enjoy ourselves.

Some of the truest testaments of her sacrificial and equally divided love came in the form of food. When she made brownies, she made half the pan with nuts, half without. I liked nuts; Calli didn’t. Because you know she had to make sure everyone around her was happy and had exactly what they wanted. She was probably the first person to buy Blue Bell’s Great Divide ice cream, so I could have my vanilla, Calli could have her chocolate, and she could still have freezer space. The day Calli asked her to make a chocolate pie, only without the meringue or crust, MeMe happily obliged…and gave my sister a pie pan of chocolate pudding. No request was too silly when it came from someone she loved.

Even after she required middle-of-the-night trips out of bed, she still agreed to sleep in the middle and crawl out between us so we both were able to sleep next to her. I would like to say it ended when we eventually grew out of the need to sleep with her. But I can’t, since I found myself crawling into her bed even until my very last visit with her.

There was only one thing I ever remember MeMe getting upset with us about. Our favorite things to do there were making mud pies in her flower garden and catching crawfish in her ditch. She thought these things were wonderful, and even made her own mud pie, or twenty. But my goodness, using that woman’s favorite colander in the ditch water was not allowed.

Any Anahuac native knows that just like our mom, my sister and I spent the better part of the first decade of our lives in the Voygt’s Variety and Gift stores MeMe eventually ran by herself. I have the biggest, most unsightly scar on my knee, but it tells of the bike wreck I had behind the store the day before I started third grade. Calli and I are both told we tie our shoes backwards, but it’s because MeMe had her left-handed store clerk, Liz, teach us how. Although we’ve long since forgotten the skill, Calli learned to knit and I learned to crochet on the floor of that store too. I’m sure it was just to keep us busy and quiet, but we remember it fondly. We had a giant dollhouse set up in the back that people always wanted to buy. MeMe was quick to let them know it was not for sale. We thought we were special because we got to choose which color notebooks and such went into our brown paper bag of school supplies – everyone else walked in to grab a pre-made bag off the shelf for their grade level. Who knows how many hours my MeMe spent making all those bags just to save a few busy moms a few precious minutes and hassle. If the school supplies made us feel special, our custom homecoming mums really put us over the top. Every year, we walked along the mum section with her, selecting each ribbon she would use to put it together. Once my math skills were advanced enough, she taught me how to make change at the cash register. Because, in her words, she “went to one of those big stores and the young girl working the register couldn’t make change. A shame. It’s a skill you need to have.” And of course, we were taught to always, always count the change back into the customer’s hand, and above all, to tell them thank you and have a nice day.

As I’m sure any child is tempted to do, we began to sneak little trinkets from the shelves. A candy bar here, a bag of marbles there, a bouncy ball or more yarn for a new crochet project. We thought we were pretty sneaky, but while she never said a word, MeMe knew exactly what was going on. Eventually, it began to take a toll on her inventory system. So she finally sat us down. Nervous, with a guilty conscience, and expecting a little reprimanding, I sat on a little red stool behind the counter. But instead of even mentioning our thieving hands, she presented us each with our own little ticket book. She told us we could take anything in her store we wanted, as long as we recorded it correctly in our little books. Inventory problem solved, grandkids still spoiled.

After she closed the store, we spent our time at her house instead. When our mom was working, she picked us up from school on sick days. And on non-sick days, she took us to the drug store for a cup of ice, a scoop of ice cream and a chat with Mr. Metcalf.

She taught us the 23rd Psalm, and I don’t think I ever saw a bigger smile than the day she had us recite it for a few friends she had over. In fact, I’m not completely convinced she taught us so much for concern over our spiritual life as she did to brag a little bit. I think we can all agree she wasn’t above that.

Even when she was left with hardly anything to give, she gave us all she had. Her bingo prizes at the healthcare center became our Christmas presents, and although quite a few of them brought a round of laughter, none of us could ever ignore the true giving spirit behind them. One particular bingo prize Christmas present that stands out was given to my baby brother Mason in 2009. As he opened his little wooden noisemaker, she began hollering at him, “Shake it, shake it, shake it. Shake that stuff!” I asked, “Shake that stuff, huh, MeMe?” To which she replied, “Sure. I’d shake that stuff if I had it.” Let’s just say she held on to her spunk for a long time.

As anyone who cared for her at the healthcare center can attest. There aren’t many people who see entering a nursing home as an opportunity to start a red hat society social club there – and get the nursing home on board with it. She was never more angry there than the day she was told she had to sit out on one of their outings to give someone else a spot to go, since she had never missed one. She just couldn’t see what the problem was with a first-come, first-serve policy where she was always first to sign up. The Baytown Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center has a beauty shop now, due in large part to my MeMe and a couple of her friends there – her perms were a necessity. Up until very recently, she still sat on the front row and belted out hymns when churches would visit and lead singing – she was usually one line ahead of everyone, but singing so proudly. When researching 1921 a few years ago around her birthday, I discovered the year of MeMe’s birth was the year the first Miss America was crowned. So fitting, since MeMe was crowned Miss Golden Years – not just at her home, but of the Greater Houston area in the regional pageant. A beauty queen, inside and out.

And she sure enough dressed the part for that role. I have never before in my life worn a fancy hat, bright lipstick, or many sparkly bracelets. But we really didn’t see a better way to honor the essence of her spirit than by doing so. MeMe, I hope we made you proud, and I made sure your nails were painted for all these people.

She was the only person, our parents included, who never asked my sister and I to stop singing. Our out-of-tune lyrics were music to her ears. This may have been because, as best I can tell, she was probably the person we inherited our highly tune deaf ears from. But it was still appreciated.

MeMe always had a slight bias toward men. The last few years, she never failed to call my dad by name, even if her only daughter’s name eluded her that day. After just the second time she met my husband, Brandon, she kept asking me when I would bring him back, because “He smells good!” She clearly was never able to make a trip to our farm. During college, and especially after I moved to Arizona, she and I took up the practice of exchanging letters, until her arthritic hands finally failed her perfect penmanship. Even then, for awhile, she would recite them to a nurse who would write them for her. That stack of letters is such a treasure. One letter she sent in early 2009 contained the following:  “Can’t wait to see your house. Bet it is pretty. Bet it is as pretty as Brandon.” Which is very good on a granddaughter’s self esteem, let me tell you.

She often signed those letters, “I love you more than you know.” I knew, MeMe. I knew.

Her favorite times were when she had a house full of guests. She was truly in her element when there were people to serve. I’m really not sure she ever ate a complete meal – she was always too busy making sure everyone else had what they needed and refilling my dad’s tea glass – until she finally bought him a special half gallon glass of his own so she didn’t have to get up so much. Our Sunday dinners at MeMe’s house of either roast, rice and gravy or chicken and dumplings are cornerstones of my childhood. We rarely ever strayed from those two meals, but I don’t remember ever getting tired of them. If you’ve ever eaten my MeMe’s dumplings, I don’t think you would have either.

She was a survivor. She grew up during the Great Depression, published a book entry as a survivor of the Texas City explosion, suffered a car wreck and its severe back injury and resulting painful arthritis, breast cancer and its mastectomy, a stroke and its paralysis, diabetes and its amputations. This life took her piece by piece, and she kept a fighting, beautiful spirit through it all. …Perhaps biggest of all, she survived losing every person in the immediate family that raised her, most of her closest friends, and was a 22-year widow to the love of her life. But today, we can cling to the fact that she is standing, walking perfectly. With my Poppy. And I know she couldn’t be happier. During a visit that was now six years ago, she told me she couldn’t wait for this day, when she got to see him again. I am so glad her waiting is over, even though it means ours had to begin.

As I’m sure many of you can relate, she always had an encouraging word.

The day before I left for college, only two and a half hours away mind you, I went to tell her bye. Even though I was probably going to be home for the weekend in two weeks. It would still, by far, be the longest I had gone without her. She was full of encouragement and all kinds of little sayings that day though, and it’s a memory that will always warm my heart. As soon as I got home from that visit, I made two index cards with just a few of the things she had said to me. I labeled them, “MeMe’s Words of Wisdom,” and have kept them in my desk drawer ever since.

This is what they say:

“You’ve been building all this time, now you’re gonna show ‘em what all you can do.”

“There’ll be somebody bigger and better, but stand tall and say, ‘I’m the greatest!’”

“Always look ahead, to the future, down the long straight road.”

“Be brave and daring – always. Be proud – hold your torch high.”

“You’re gonna be the country girl who went to town and did it all!”

And finally, “You’re going to be the best there ever was!”

Those words, from her, will always be my encouragement. I don’t think anyone who was related to my MeMe ever thought they had a bigger fan than her.

She and her niece Faye are the reason Calli and I know the best watermelon is the one that has been buried in a creek bed all day. She’s the reason I understand that painted nails make you feel just a little bit prettier. It is her legacy I followed when my husband and I started our own business we run together, as partners. She’s the reason I know a little hospitality goes a long way. She taught me by example that it’s important to share good times and laughter with friends. She’s probably why my cup of morning coffee warms more than my taste buds. She’s the reason I have fine hair, narrow feet, that ugly scar, and a singing voice only she could love.

So if you didn’t get a chance to fully know my MeMe, I hope some of that gave you a glimpse of what a life well lived hers was.

For most of our lives, my sister and I thought her favorite hymn was Old Rugged Cross or Amazing Grace. We never really asked her, we just assumed because we heard her sing them so much. But in 2007, as I sat in the car with her during the graveside service of one of her best friends, we talked about our favorite hymns. She told me hers was “How Great Thou Art.”

How fitting, for such a good servant of His, to love singing His praises more than anything else. Today, we all know how great He is as well. For the chance to be blessed by knowing and sharing some part of life with Lois Ann Jacobs Warren. Our friend, our friendly dime store owner, our Aunt Tubbin in Texas, our Aint Lois in Mississippi, our mother, our MeMe.

Later, we’re going to sing her favorite hymn together as we celebrate how great He is for taking her Home with Him to see my Poppy and be whole and perfect.

I know, with absolute certainty, she heard the words, “Well done.” 

 

Share

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: