This has been a rough week. I was still grieving for my friend Chris when I got a message very early Friday morning that my grandmother Frances Wright had been in an accident while seeking shelter from a bad thunderstorm that was rolling through. At about 3am she and Clyde were heading out to a storm shelter behind their house, and she fell in the darkness and hit her head against a railway tie that was used as part of a pathway. She suffered massive internal hemorrhaging and was pronounced brain dead by two neurosurgeons at around 6:30am in Jackson, MS. My aunt Robin and cousin Jamie got to be with her as she passed at 12:55pm, for which I’m grateful. She didn’t seem to be in any pain throughout the whole ordeal, which is about the best we could hope for given the circumstances.
We buried her this morning, so it’s been a long day.
My grandmother was a great woman, one of the most down-to-earth and loving women I’ve ever known in my life.
She was always quick with a smile. When it comes down to it, that’s probably the best thing I could ever say about her. Anyone who ever met Mamaw would be glad to recall how ready she was with a smart-alec remark, or a quick joke at her own expense. She always had a kind word to say about whoever she was with. Don’t get me wrong, she wasn’t above poking fun at you, but you could always tell there was love behind it. She always had a word of advice, and a funny story to cheer up someone who was in need. If I were a gambling man, I’d wager that each and every person that knew her, when they think about her, that first thought involves her smile, and laughter, and cheer.
We could all aspire to have that sort of impact on the people around us.
She is one of the few people I’ve met in my life that was completely, utterly and unabashedly devoted to family. One of my most abiding memories of Mamaw is from one of our numerous 3-wheeling trips when I was a boy. I tried my best to keep up with the grownups, but after so long there was only so much I could take. So Mamaw, being the angel that she is, hopped on my 3-wheeler and rode it for all those miles back to the house. I’ve never forgotten that image; me sitting on the back of my dad’s ride, looking back at my grandmother with her knees somewhere in the vicinity of her earlobes, riding a 50cc Honda 3-wheeler that was built to hold an 8-year-old. That’s just how cool she was.
For the entirety of my life, she helped draw together sisters, brothers, cousins, 2nd and 3rd cousins, and a few people I’m not even sure were in the family forest, much less the family tree. But that was the beauty of Frances Wright. You didn’t even have to be related to her. In her eyes, if you were good and good to those around you, then you were family. Boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands, wives, close friends, new acquaintances and even family pets, she would always welcome you into her house with a hug. And quite possibly some chicken and dressing.
We could all aspire to be that welcoming to the people around us, family or not.
Mamaw had a good life. Maybe not the way you’re thinking. She lived a good life by having fun with life. She enjoyed the things she did and the people she did them with. She had fun spending time with family, of course. I can’t remember a Christmas where she didn’t prance around with a large ribboned bow attached to her head at some point. She’d make one of us grab a camera and make sure we got what she called a “bowhead picture.” It was a thing she started when I was very young, and wouldn’t stop sticking those little adhesive bows to my forehead. She rolled with it, and it became a tradition in our family that’s spanned five grandchildren and a great-grandson, and will continue as long as I have the power to keep it going.
I can remember her toiling away in those gardens of hers, right down the hill. She’d be digging away, turning the earth and planting rows of small crops, with that grin of hers firmly planted on her face. There was usually a moderate amount of cursing involved too, but I really believe that going over to a friend’s house with a giant bag of tomatoes was one of her big pleasures. I know I always got excited whenever a batch of fresh-picked cucumbers showed up at my house.
A lot of people have been kind enough to tell me how much they enjoyed my portrait of Mamaw. I can tell you without any hesitation that she is a major part of why I have the ability to do such a thing in the first place. She was always so supportive of the dreams and aspirations of the people around her, no matter how silly that dream may be. I can recall her asking me once why I was designing pizza ads rather than drawing the things she knew I loved to draw. After I explained at length about how much more stable a design job was, she said “Eric, if you really want to draw fairies and robots and dragons, well you just go do that!” She supported not one but TWO grandchildren who sought a career in the arts. Not necessarily the most stable of occupations. A grandson breaking into the computer business. A granddaughter who finished college then found out she was a fantastic saleswoman. A grandson that is finishing high school this year and about to start his life’s journey. She was always the first to help her family out, even if she couldn’t necessarily afford it. She was always the first to push you toward your goals. She was never the one to tell you that you couldn’t be the person you were meant to be.
I can say that I literally wouldn’t be the man I am today without her. Though she leaves us behind, she leaves behind something even better; a legacy of light, and love, and happiness.
We could all aspire to be like Frances Wright.
We love you Mamaw, and we know that you’ll always be with us in our hearts.