Friday, November 24, 2006

Missing Mary Agnes

If Grandma were still alive I would have called her this morning to sing a silly version of Happy Birthday that includes monkeys, lions and elephants and she would have laughed, just like she did every year. And we would be taking her out to dinner (at about 4:30 in the afternoon.)

The following is the eulogy I delivered at Grandma’s funeral in September 1999 – one of the most difficult things I’ve done thus far. It was completely self-imposed; I felt a real need to do it. Grandma had been sick for several years so I had a long time to think about what I wanted to say when she died. (I apologize if it repeats any information that I have previously supplied on this blog.) I wanted to read it today so I thought I’d share it with you.

I feel that I have been truly lucky in the fact that I have known all 4 of my grandparents. It was a wonderful experience having them involved in my childhood, my adolescent years, and now in my young adult life. Last December I lost my dad’s father. My Papa. But I am comforted by the fact that he’s learned the ropes and is now serving as my Grandma’s tour guide.

Grandma, or Mary Agnes Tuttle Peay, as a lot of you know her… Actually she wasn’t always known as Grandma. You see, I’m the oldest of the grandchildren and have always been somewhat of a practical-minded person. When I discovered that my grandfather, Robert Craven Peay, Sr., wanted to be called Big Daddy, it made perfect sense in my young mind that my grandmother should be called Big Mama. So not realizing the connotation attached to the phrase – Big Mama she became. She hated it! When my brother, Wayne, came along she convinced him to call her Grandma, but I was stubborn even then. Then my first cousin, Caroline, was born, and next came her brother, Craven. Well, Big Mama was more persuasive that I. The score was 3 to 1 and I was losing. I may be stubborn but I’m also realistic and I eventually gave in, but I still giggle when I see the sign on her pantry door that her dear friend, Mary Catherine Neal, cross-stitched for her, it reads – Big Mama’s Kitchen.

Over the last couple of years I’ve thought a lot about my maternal grandmother’s life and realized how much she has shaped who and what I am. And how much like her I have become. Please bear with me while I share a little of this with you.

During my sophomore year of college I interviewed Grandma for a school project. She told me that when she met my grandfather she was living and working in Greensboro away from her family. (She also told me that she had a big belly laugh about his last name – but that’s another story.) I was totally amazed by that fact that my grandmother had lived in an apartment on Tate Street just a couple of miles from where I live now. I had no idea that she had been a single girl on her own. Way to go, Grandma! It’s difficult enough for a 90’s girl to make it on her own. I find you such an inspiration.

Grandma taught me many things. In fact, her lessons are evident in my everyday life. There is a magnet on her refrigerator door that says, “tray a little kindness.” I believe that Grandma lived by the words on that magnet. She was indeed a very kind woman and when she thought one of us had been unkind to someone she would take us to the refrigerator, show us the magnet, and have a little conversation with us. I think that I’ve learned that lesson well. I strive to be kind to everyone I come in contact with and at the same time stand up for myself when it’s necessary. It’s a hard balance to maintain – I struggle with it daily, but I think Grandma would be pleased.

Grandma always told me – there is a place for everything and when you’re finished with something you should put it back in that place. And we all know her home was always perfectly organized. I definitely took this lesson to heart – maybe to my detriment in some cases. These organizational skills have proven to be very useful in the work that I do – but my friends love to tease me when I explain to them how I have to straighten my house each night before I go to bed and how I can not sleep if my shoes aren’t in the closet. [2006 mka says, er well umm, not so much anymore…]

I also learned about the importance of creating an attractive environment for yourself from Grandma. She always filled her home with lovely flowers from her garden and created a comfortable and beautiful living environment for herself and Big Daddy. She was always either inside working on some sort of project or outside in the garden making her outdoor environment more beautiful.

She taught me that gardening is an extremely rewarding hobby. If she were here right now she’d laugh at that. She used to take me on Sunday afternoon walks around the farm to teach me about plants and trees but I wasn’t interested back then. Now when I pittle around with my houseplants and daydream about the garden I hope to have someday I wish that I had listened much more intently to those horticultural lessons. What I could have learned from her and her incredible green thumb…

And speaking of green – I have picked up an affinity for that color from Miss Mary Agnes. If you’d ever been to my apartment you’d soon realize that it is mostly furnished from Grandma and Big Daddy’s basement. There are two pieces of furniture there that Grandma painted antique green. I refer to them as being from Mary Agnes Tuttle Peay’s Green Period. I am preparing to do some painting in my apartment. I suppose that you won’t have to ponder very long to come up with my color choice. A chip off the old block, you might say?

The last lesson I want to talk about is the classy lady lesson. My grandmother was one well-put-together woman. From the top of her well-coifed hair-do to her spectator pumps she was perfectly groomed. It wasn’t just her appearance though – she knew how to treat people. Remember her motto, try a little kindness – she lived true to it. I hope that I can live up to her standards. [2006 mka also says I was in my little black dress, pearls, and dying the hair to color the gray phase in 1999, again not so much anymore on the appearance part of this.]

Yesterday morning I was trying to come up with as many beautiful memories of Grandma that I could. Among the many thoughts that ran across my mind was this one. She loved to watch Lawrence Welk on Saturday nights and many, many times I watched it with her. There was a lady singer on the show who, for some reason, reminded me of Grandma. I used to tell Grandma that and it always made her smile. So here’s to you – Mary Agnes, Big Mama, Lawrence Welk Lady, Grandma – as can be seen by the presence of all these folks here today – your life touched many hearts. Thank you for everything you taught me and for loving me so dearly. I love you Grandma and I miss you.

Thank you for allowing me to share these memories about my grandmother. At this time I would like to invite any of you out there who would like to – to share memories or talk about a way in which Grandma had touched you personally.


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