The other day, my friend L. mentioned seeing pictures of a baptism (Protestant) and seeing someone perched on the corner of the font with a laptop, so that family elsewhere could see the whole thing via Skype. What a strange world, isn’t it? Today, at eleven Pacific is my grandmother’s memorial service. My passport is in the secure hands of the UK Border Agency, so I will attend via Skype as well, a virtual fly on the wall.

When I took down this tribute to my grandmother on the 9th of January, a few people emailed and asked me about it, so today, I’ll put it up again, knowing that today candles are burning and family is arriving, and memories — tidied up for nostalgic consumption — are being shared. Since I’m not there, I’ll also remember Dea’s belly laugh, her interesting strings of palindromic Navy vocabulary (aka swear words), and how she whinged about no one loving her enough to bring her donuts (really, she was the world’s worst diabetic). She was larger than life, and so remains.

My Dear – or Madea – Anita, was my grandmother. Or, rather is; I suppose she always will be. Today she died. I’m sorry you didn’t know her. You would have liked her. She loved…

  • Her God. She left school in third grade, so didn’t read terribly well, but my earliest memories of her were her long, morning prayers, and silent Bible reading, her mouth working over the words.
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  • Her family. My Papa, to whom she was married from 1942-1993 – from the age of fourteen. Her twelve children, and their myriad grandchildren. All of her grandbabies, and all of her greats and twice-greats. She remembered birthdays, favorite foods, favorite colors, and loved nothing more to have a houseful of squealing, squalling, bickering, eating-her-out-of-house-and-home relatives. She loved family reunions.
  • Her music: she would hum and sing all day long. She had a thin, weak voice that sounded like a child’s singing – she was untrained and slightly off-key, but happy. Perfectly happy. Ella Fitzgerald, old hymns, advertising jingles – it didn’t much matter if she was in the mood to hum along. Sometimes she danced, a slow foot tapping, hips swinging, the odd finger snap. Usually her hands were too busy to stop for too long, and only one foot moved, but she danced her own way.
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  • Her shoes: When I was about nine, I counted thirty-five pairs of pumps alone in her closet (not to mention flats, slippers, or boots), two-toned spectator pumps, the stylishly feminized wingtip types, dyed satin ones leftover from weddings, some with bows, some with buckles. She changed shoes twice a day – along with outfits. The woman was the Imelda Marcos of Patterson, Louisiana. The woman loved her clothes.
  • Her jewelry: I counted her rings once. And then lost track. And there were jewelry boxes she wouldn’t let me play in. There’s a good side to having twelve kids: Christmas. Birthdays. Mother’s Day.
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  • Her country. She happily waved goodbye to all of her sons in the Navy. The one Army son-in-law was looked upon with amusement.
  • Her food: Red beans and rice. Jambalaya. Étouffée. Gumbo. This was not a woman who turned out a loaf of bread – that’s what the Wonderbread factory was for, thank-you. She had other things on the hob – buttermilk biscuits. Beignets. Pecan pralines. Something as simple as grits and eggs would come to you creamy hot and peppered and perfect. She even managed, with furrowed brow, to make vegetarian versions of things, for which I will always love her. She wanted us all to eat.
  • Her hard men: John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Chuck Norris & Claude Van Damme. No, seriously. The woman could watch “cowboy pictures,” and Dirty Harry all day, in between endless rounds of laundry and cups of black chicory coffee.
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  • Laughter: she loved swearing at the squirrels in her pecan tree — and shooting beans at them with a slingshot. (In the country, people eat squirrels.) She loved listening to my Papa telling his rambling stories, aka, lies. She loved listening to my sisters and I argue, because we, with our cushy lives and education, were utterly foreign and nonsensical to her. She thought even our squabbling was funny. She loved her world – the neighbor’s cats, the cow next door, the bulbs rising in the spring, the cherry blossoms.
  • She was Pond’s cold cream, Noxema at night, and Glorious by Vanderbilt on a Sunday. She was tuneless humming, tight hugs, and efficient hands. She was a blessing to this world, and now you know her a little bit.

    All the world’s a stage, and Madea’s show had an amazing run. Onward she goes, to her next performance.

    Anita Allen Francis, 1928-2012. May her memory be a blessing.

8 Replies to “{madea}”

  1. I’m so glad you posted this beautiful tribute again. Thank you so much for sharing her with us. Will be thinking of you today, watching everything via Skype. Love and prayers to all. ♥

  2. OH! I am so very sorry! I dread losing my grandmother the way I dread losing my partner. It will happen to me someday, and when it happens to others it is like a knife to the heart.

    It is true I did not know her, not really. But I feel as though I have a passing acquaintance through Mare’s War. I think you may have already breathed a little immortality into this remarkable woman. Thank you for the tribute to the REAL woman that you knew and loved, who knew and loved you.

    xxxx e

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