My beloved Bigmama died on this day 23 years ago. It seems impossible that so much time has passed since then, but I’ve been married to a man she never knew for nearly 13 years and have 3 boys that never had the privilege of knowing her and how much she would have adored them. When I look at it that way, it really is an entire lifetime that she’s been gone. I wrote the following several years ago as a way of honoring her memory and it remains one of the favorite things I’ve ever written.
I had a very close relationship with my Bigmama growing up. Even though I saw her almost every single day, her house was always a place where magic happened. When I think about her, I love to remember the summer weeks that my girl cousins and I would spend with her each year after school was out.
One of our favorite pastimes was playing restaurant on her back porch. We’d haul out tiny water-filled glasses, line them up on a weathered shelf, and plop a freshly picked plum in each to create our version of a martini. I’m sure we probably faked an accent while we were serving them to one another that would have made Mrs. Howell of Gilligan’s Island proud (our only model of “high society”). Bigmama must have had a good laugh inside the house as she watched us pretending to be sophisticates with our plum-water “martinis.” Don’t ask me how any of us even knew what they were called.
My favorite memories of those lazy, humid Southern nights, though, were the beauty contests we would hold while Bigmama watched Lawrence Welk. I can picture her living room now: Bigmama sitting in her chair, windows open to try and catch a breeze (the only air conditioning was provided by window units in the bedrooms), air heavy with the competing smells of honeysuckle, Dove soap, and burned hamburgers. Although Bigmama was a wonderful cook and she tried mightily to provide us with our favorite foods, she was never any good at burgers. Each of the 4 of us would ceremoniously parade out of her bedroom, colorful quilts draped regally over our nightgowns, and proceed to dance along with the night’s best champagne music, happily tossing off our capes and twirling along with Bobby and Sissy. Her glasses reflecting the neon glow of the tv set, Bigmama would judge and proclaim a winner. Invariably we would end up having 4 separate pageants each night just so each of us could take a turn wearing the crown.
Bigmama has physically been gone from us for many years now, but whenever I hear chirping crickets on a hot summer night, or catch the scent of honeysuckle, I am transported back to those magical evenings and I’m 8 years old again—playing solitaire with real cards, sleeping in a featherbed, and dreaming of being the prettiest girl in the world.