Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Here's to you, Maw Maw.

Pat and Muriel Underwood Wilson on their Wedding Day
July 26, 1903
My paternal grandmother, Muriel Underwood Wilson, was there the night I came into this world, and she gave of herself until she went out of this world. On April 6, 1970.

A widow since Paw Paw died in 1943, Maw Maw lived only a mile or two down the road. We saw her just about every day as we grew up. She was with us on birthdays and holidays; she was there to help each time a baby was born.  And she was there to help when we were sick. When we all had Chicken Pox at the same time she took Patsy and me to her house, where she spent sleepless nights bathing the lesions, feeding us soup and telling us stories.

Maw Maw always read her Bible each night, and one of my first memories is standing beside her worn leather chair, watching her lips move silently as I waited for her to finish. She loved gospel songs, and one of her favorites was How Great Thou Art.

She also loved The Grand Ole Opry. She listened to it on WSM, Nashville, every Saturday night for as long as I could remember. She turned the radio up loud as we listened to Kitty Wells, the Carter family, Hank Williams and Little Jimmy Dickens. One night when Terry, Patsy, Mary Ellen and I were there, she positioned us around the living room and we all square-danced. She laughed and clapped, swirling around the room like a pro, feet slipping and sliding to the beat of the music. Just for a moment that night I glimpsed the young woman she once was. 
Patsy and I often spent Saturday nights with her, and we loved nestling together in the big feather bed, waking to the smells of coffee perking, sausage frying and oatmeal bubbling on the back of the stove.

We went to Bardwell with her most Saturday afternoons, where she took us to Petrie’s Drug Store on Front Street and bought us ice cream cones, then on to shop at Stockton’s Drygoods Store. When we were older she dropped us off at Milwain's for the picture show, visiting with her Bardwell friends until it was time to pick us up.

She took us to the fair, the circus, and to Cairo, Mayfield and Paducah on shopping trips. Sometimes she prepared chicken dinners for us to eat on the way. We had our own tailgate party there beside the road, biting into crisp, tender chicken legs, digging into potato salad and coleslaw with real silverware and guzzling frosty Pepsis kept cold on ice in a washtub in the trunk.

Maw Maw loved to fish and she loved fish. "Think I'll catch us a mess of Catfish for supper," she said, "Come on y'all." We ran along behind her as she took off at a fast clip toward her pond behind the house. She always caught a big mess, and she had them cleaned and in the frying pan only minutes later. 
She often took us deep into the Mississippi River Bottoms where we spent afternoons picking up huge paper-shell pecans. And one time we weren't the only ones there.
"Who's that over there?" Terry said.
Not far from us was a man who looked as big as the Jolly Green Giant. He had one grass sack full and was quickly filling another.

Maw Maw rushed toward him, we following along behind. “You probably don’t know it, but this is my land,” she said, “So maybe you better go ahead on.”

The Jolly Green Giant dropped both grass sacks and took off down the hollow as quickly as his big chunky legs could carry him.

Maw Maw took us to Vacation Bible School each year, where she always taught a class, and Sunday School and church. She taught a class there, too.

She rose early, those Sunday mornings, and prepared dinner so it would be ready when we got home. We could smell the pork roast as soon as we hit the front steps, along with slow-cooked green beans with hog jawl and boiled potatoes. There was always coleslaw, hot biscuits and sliced tomatoes in season. For dessert there was often apple pie, just sweet enough; just tart enough, with crust so tender and flaky it that melted in your mouth.

“How do you make it so good every time?” I said, “It always tastes the same.”

She smiled, “Oh, just sixty years of practice, I guess.”

She visited the sick and helped people in need. She was a midwife in her earlier years; in bad weather, when the doctor couldn't get there in time, she delivered the babies on her own. Including her nephew. And, at their requests, she helped dress many ladies of Mississippi Baptist Church and did their hair. For their wakes.

Many Sunday afternoons, Maw Maw told us stories about the past, Patsy and I peppering her with questions:

“Why does Miss Nannie go to sleep every Sunday at church?”

"She can’t help it."

“Why does Miss Eda start crying and run out of church sometimes?”

"She can’t stand crowds."

“Why does Mr. Ed look like an owl and wink one eye like an owl all the time?”

“He’s always been that way.”

“What’s wrong with Mose’s neck?” (It was scarred and mottled.)

“That’s just part of his neck.”

Every Christmas Eve, Maw Maw arrived around twilight, the trunk of her car loaded down with presents. She wasn't much for fancy wrapping paper; most gifts were still in their brown paper sacks, the top twisted in a knot and tied with a red or green bow. I’m no good at it either, and each time I struggle with wrapping paper, I think of her.

Christmases were never the same after we lost her. I found myself at the front door, that first Christmas, watching for her Green ’57 Chevrolet. I went out in the yard later that night, looked at the North Star, and sent her a prayer. I have no doubt she heard it.

Not long before she died, Maw Maw gave me a Magic Lily bulb. I didn’t want to bother with it since nothing I planted ever came up. But she insisted, so I took it home to Illinois and planted it. Because I told her I would.
“It’ll never come up,” I told my husband and six-year-old daughter, "Never."

About a month after her death, I opened the back door and there it was, standing straight and tall. In full bloom.

I think of her often. And I'm thinking of her today. It's her birthday.

So here's to you, Maw Maw.


Laura K said...


Grand Rivers is planning a storytelling festival! This year it will be held in October the same time as our Hunter's Moon Festival but will later move to it's own date as it builds.

I'd love to talk to you about hosting you at Green Turtle Bay as our own storyteller...interested? Please email email me via my blog.


Suzanne said...

I know I say this a lot, but seriously, this is just a wonderful post. I am vahklempt.

Kari & Kijsa said...

Wonderful writing! Have a blessed Sunday,
kari & kijsa

All words and pictures © 2008 Brenda G. Wooley