My grandmother died this morning, just short of ninety years old. She spent her last day, Mother's Day, the way she spent her life, surrounded by family, telling stories and making people laugh.
Mary Jo Weatherly was a beauty, pursued by her share of men. What set Albert "Buster" Graham apart from the others, she said, was his clean fingernails. (Take note, boys: hygiene counts.) They married and had six children, four daughters and two sons.
They were Mother and Daddy to their kids and likely would have been Grandmother and Granddaddy to all of us grandkids, had one not attempted - unsuccessfully - to call her Mary Jo early on. She's been Mops ever since, to fourteen grandchildren, twenty-six greatgrandchildren, two great-greatgrandchildren, plus spouses and significant others. If my math is right.
She was the matriarch of all of that, the grand dame of the Graham family.
The family threw her a big 85th birthday party five years ago October. Everyone told funny stories about Mops, and nobody laughed harder than she did. I loved that about her. Yes, she really did back through al of those garage doors and the garage door repair people knew their address. She really did wear houseshoes to the Astros game and one time she left my brother, sister, and me at the grocery store as collateral while she ran home for her coupons.
And yes, everything everyone said about her love affair with dessert was true. No matter what you had, she wanted to try a dab and she'd turn her fork around to get a taste with the other end. Nobody had seen her move so quickly in years as she did when the dessert table was opened at my brother's wedding. And if there was a little bit of jelly left, you should save it because she'd make a cake out of it for my uncle Bo.
Being a mother of six and school lunch lady had taught her to conserve and to make something out of practically anything. She was known for her "swill", which started with a bell pepper and finished with whatever else was in the refrigerator. And she didn't want to run up your phone bill. She'd tell you that, followed by (in an East Texas twang) "Bye, hon." then *click*. Even if you were in mid-sentence. Even if she'd called you.
All of these things will live on in stories told down the generations. There's also the way that certain members of my family are in the process of turning quite Mops-like. My father included. And I, as you know, am turning into my dad.
I can only hope I get her humor and humility, her unabashed love of life and, yes, pie. And I can hope to one day be as well-loved by as many as she was and is.