Maw: A heap of wisdom and a side of macaroni

Holding hands her last week

It’s been one year today since I saw her take some of her last struggling breaths.There is not a day that goes by that I don’t miss my grandmother, better known in our family as “Maw”.  I know, how red neck, “maw”.  However, I am the oldest grandchild so I guess that I am the one to blame for that term of endearment.  However, Nancy Merle Stratton Mann was proud of that title. I miss her nagging love and her macaroni and cheese every day.

Losing my grandmother during the first year of my son’s life was filled with irony.

Maw meets Cooper

While he grew healthy, she wilted. He learned to feed himself, I fed her. He learned words, she forgot hers. He learned to walk, she became idle. Two opposite ends of life’s spectrum but all fleeting moments on this journey. Somewhere between taking our first breath and learning to walk to taking our last breath and forgetting how to walk, we impact our family, friends, colleagues, and even complete strangers in ways we might not ever know.

I don’t think we really know the beauty of life until you experience the loss of life. What I mean by that statement is we rarely embrace who a person is and what a person has taught us while they are alive. Maybe we do in fleeting moments-but not profoundly and whole heartedly. It’s not until someone is gone that we experience the absence of what was there that will be there no more. That may sound like a “duh” statement. However, absence means different things for different people and different relationships-from love and support to shackles and chains and everything in between. When I sum up the countless hours I spent with my Maw over 33 years of my life, I have summed up a little what I have learned from her that others may benefit from, below. Some of this wisdom comes from her strengths, while others come from her weaknesses (even though she was Maw-she was still human). Below are the spoonfuls of wisdom I learned from Maw.

Believe in something greater. For my grandmother, this was without a doubt the Holy Spirit. For others, it might come in the form of something else. However, there is very few days that I remember her not humming a song, saying a prayer, or quoting something about faith. Believing in something greater carries you through the good and carries you through the bad.

Spread your wings, but home is where the heart is.  I can’t say that my grandmother ever had the luxury of spreading her wings as far as the experience of higher education (heck she didn’t get the opportunity to graduate high school) or extensive travel is concerned. Frankly, this is an area where we differed. She was content at home; I have a desire to see every corner of the world. However, no matter where my journeys have taken me-it is true that home is where your heart is. No matter how much I hated telling her goodbye and listening to all of her frets about me being gone when I would leave for work or pleasure…I always enjoyed seeing her smile when I returned.

Do your best and be a winner. Whether it was a bake sale or a beauty pageant-my grandmother was there with me to win it. Reflecting, she may have lived vicariously through all of us. But none the less, I can probably thank her and blame her for my Type A personality.

Rest yourself. I can remember when I was a young girl, my grandmother would constantly say “Stacy, rest yourself.” You see, I had lots of questions and lots of things to talk about when I was little (guess that is still true since I am blogging). In an attempt to keep my mom from strangling me, Maw would just say “rest yourself” in other words, quit talking. She could have said shut up, don’t’ say a word, or a dozen other things. Or let my mom strangle me for goodness sake and just put an end to all the talking and questions. However, “rest” has a profound undertone. When you rest, you listen. And in life, it’s important that you have quiet time to rest and listen to others as well as your heart.

If the shoe or bra doesn’t fit-something is wrong with it.  My grandmother suffered a lifelong battle of finding a shoe that fit her long, narrow foot and a bra that fit…well, her curves. I can’t even begin to count the number of shoes and bras my aunt and mother brought home for my grandmother to try on over the years (she hated fitting rooms). None of them fit right and usually all got returned. However, she never gave up hope of finding the perfect pair or the right fit. Most importantly she never questioned her body or at least she never caused me to think she did. I think that it takes a lot of endurance and confidence. Maw, I’m still looking for the perfect bra too…but really, you could have given those genes to another grandchild.

If you have a dog-name him Tip. Really, what this means if you find something that works and you like-why change it. I honestly lost count, but my grandparents have had at least 3 or 4 dogs that all look alike and are all named Tip. In the chaos of constant change, sometimes it’s nice to have something that stays the same-even if it is just your dog’s name.

It’s all in the eye of the beholder.

Nancy Merle

My grandmother was a “real looker” when she was younger. I think she looked like Project Runway material! My grandmother was unique in the sense that she had one blue eye and one green eye. Sounds kind of odd-but it was kind of neat. Ironically, Tip 3.0 (or maybe 4.0) also has a blue and brown eye (he is still alive and faithfully hanging out with my grandfather).  I learned from my grandmother that no matter your actual or perceived degree of beauty, riches, etc. treat everyone the same. When we see each other as the same-we treat each other as the same with love, kindness, respect, and dignity.

Control. It’s more than a Janet Jackson song. My grandmother was what we could call a bit of a control freak and a worry wart. I have this same tendency but waving goodbye to my husband as he left Iraq-changed that a bit for me. The moment we realize we have no control is actually the same moment when you learn you have the most control (think about that a second). I don’t think Maw-ever lost control. She liked to know where all of her kids and grandkids were at all times-that was like 20+ people!  And, well she had weekly, if not daily, reports from most of us in the family. Maw wasn’t a big fan of TV but enjoyed her police scanner.  She loved listening to the dispatch calls….I am sure she heard one of us get pulled over a time or two! None the less, I always watched her struggle with control. I believe she truly felt if she controlled and knew everything, then nothing bad would happen. As luck would have it, she had a pretty good run at nothing happening to our family-all healthy and relatively boring. I have to say, her struggle with this, has taught me not to worry-that’s its interest paid on undue debt. Enjoy life, because it’s the moments you don’t worry about and the moments you lost control that you tasted life the most.

Memorialize. My grandmother honored the deceased members in her family EVERY Memorial Day by placing flowers on their graves. We would load up in the car as a family and go visit various gravesites. On our visits to the gravesites throughout our county, she would tell us about the person, who was who, etc. I wish I would have written it all down over the years; especially the last year we went. I could kick myself for not doing it. But I was a clumsy 9 month pregnant woman and she was a clumsy 80 something year old, and quite frankly, I was pleased we both made it back from the gravesites without any broken limbs. Anyways, these yearly visits and her fake flowers taught me the importance of remembering there is a story in every name etched on those monuments and an aching heart somewhere.

Water your flowers. Cover the flowers. Get milk. Get in the basement. When a summer day was going to be a scorcher, my grandmother would call and say…”you better water your flowers.” Likewise, when we would receive a late frost, she would call and say, “cover your flowers.” If snow was forecasted she would call and say…”better get some milk” (which I always did even though I hate milk…better safe than sorry, right?). If it was calling for a thunderstorm she would call and say “you better get in your basement.” None the less, what my grandmother was telling me was be prepared for whatever event life was throwing at you. And… you will have pretty flowers and milk in your fridge.

Let’s be real, there are SO many things I learned from Maw that I will always cherish. I hope the few things I have listed have caused you to think or provided you a chuckle. I wish she were still here to enjoy my rambunctious Cooper, to experience the great accomplishments of her other grandchildren, and to tell me her secret ingredient in that dang macaroni and cheese (I think it was probably love and maybe a little saliva from taste testing).

Today, I wish my spoon was full of maw’s macaroni and cheese; which ironically is my son’s favorite food!

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