How to describe someone beyond description
Mama’s fourth of July birthday was prophetic indeed, because from an early age she was a firecracker. I describe her this way with the utmost respect and admiration. She could also be called a pistol, a handful, a piece of work, a mess and a little bit rotten. If she were here she would agree to all these descriptions with laughter and maybe a choice word or two. This time of year I can’t help thinking about her, remembering how she spent so many of her birthdays at Aunt Ruby’s, canning green beans in the sticky summer heat, drinking iced tea and laughing.
I’ve written about Mama and spoken about her, reminiscing with people who knew her and trying to describe her to those who never met her. If she were a color, it would be red. Not crimson, not scarlet, not poppy…red, pure and simple. (I think all of Mama’s sisters had their own colors as well, and I will write about those in the future, I’m sure.) Red connotes love, passion, warmth and fire, all of which Mama had in spades.
I have also described Mama as both sweet and spicy. Her heart was enormous, as was her personality. She had the biggest heart of anyone I ever knew, and she loved her family and friends with her whole soul. She also had more people sense than anyone I’ve ever met, and she could smell BS from a mile off. She got aggravated quickly, but she also got over it quickly. And she was never too proud to apologize if she felt she had wronged someone, a thing that is really hard for most people.
She loved to laugh. That’s what I remember more than anything, her laugh. She laughed with her whole body, so loudly it seemed that the walls shook, and so hard she sometimes peed her pants!
She had a singular way of talking and expressing herself. Mama’s speech was always colorful. Countless times have I heard her holler, “Good garden seed!” or “Good night!” when expressing annoyance or surprise. And “mess and gomm”, as in, “Don’t be messin’ and gommin’ in my kitchen!” (I’m not sure how “gomm” is actually spelled, so forgive me if I am in error there). And “ticky-tassy”, as in, “Quit ticky-tassyin’ in and out of here!” If someone was shocked or outraged, she might say that that person “…like to have sh@t little peach seeds!”
Her sense of humor was also, sometimes, a little off-color. She enjoyed jokes that could be considered racy, but never what I would call filthy. And I don’t mean to give the impression that she was without any kind of verbal filter, because she could be dignified and ladylike when those qualities were called for. Among family and close friends, though, Mama was just Mama, no airs, no nonsense and a lot of just plain fun.
Mama taught me that a lady always wears a slip if light can pass through her skirt, and that snagged pantyhose and chipped nail polish are tacky. She taught me that walking in heels is an art form, and if you can’t walk gracefully in them, they’re too high. She made sure I knew there was nothing that she or God couldn’t forgive me for…and she asked me for my forgiveness more than once. She was my Mama first and always, but she also became my friend after I got grown and married.
And she adored Jeff, almost as much as if he had been her own son. They got along well from the start and had a close, warm relationship, something I have always been thankful for. Each understood the other’s sense of humor, and Jeff, to his credit, could both take it and dish it out, which earned him instant respect in our family! After he and I started dating, Mama was the one who pointed out, “You seem to laugh a lot when you’re with him.” She knew, I think before I did, that he would be the man I’d marry, and she always said that if she could have picked a husband out for me herself, she couldn’t have picked any better.
I miss her every day…but I also know she is with me every day. Sometimes when I get really tickled at something, my laugh sounds like hers. Her expressions find their way into my speech on a daily basis. Any spirit or feistiness I have definitely come from her. So does my heart for the elderly, the mistreated, the sick and the misunderstood. She was tender and strong, sweet and spicy, complicated and straightforward.
She was Mama.