My Mema’s name was Marylou, and my Papaw’s name was John. They were married for over 20 years. She grew up in Washington State, and when she married her military man, he moved her around a bit, and eventually back to his home state of Arkansas. My Mema divorced my Papaw after her youngest baby left home. Together they had four children, 3 boys and then a daughter (my Mom). Their relationship was a volatile one. I believe my Mema was ever torn about her relationship with Papaw. One time she told me that when he wasn’t drinking, he was the nicest man she had ever met. Another time she told me that she just couldn’t handle it anymore and in an attempt to get away she jumped out of a moving vehicle. Obviously, she survived that. After they divorced, my Mema never remarried or seriously saw another man that I know of. Papaw was in a relationship with a woman named Rosetta for awhile but I don’t remember much about it. I knew my Mema. I remember early on I got to spend the night with her and she gave me my first taste of coffee, and of steak, both of which are of vital importance to me. Later on, when my mother left her own abusive relationship, we moved in with Mema and the magic of grandparents was lost in the role of being a parent.
I don’t remember too much about my Papaw, and I would say that as an individual, I never really knew him. I know his relationship with my mother and uncles was not typically a good one. He was abusive to them in many ways. When I was a child, he lived with his father (Pepa, ha!) until Pepa was moved into a nursing home. Then he lived in a public housing part of town in his own little apartment. My mother used to go and visit him from time to time and she would take us with her. I remember his apartment and the area he lived in and what the courtyard looked like. I can’t, for the life of me, remember a single thing he ever said to me. I remembered the smells, alcohol, recently cooked food, and something menthol. I didn’t really understand the magnitude of what was happening when I was little. As I got older and learned of the things he had done to my mother, the fact that she loaded us kids up and took us to visit, regularly, staggered me. I don’t know that any of my cousins had that experience. I know that in spite of everything he had done, my mother loved him. I was 15 when he died, he was 64. I’ll never forget my Mema crying. In spite of everything he had done, she still loved him, she always had. I remember his funeral was a military funeral and they gave my mother the flag that covered his coffin. I think probably that’s when I learned that every life is worth something. Even the ones that are hard and full of mistakes, those people still meant something to someone at one point. It makes me think of the sadness and waste of living a life of meanness and all the lost potential to be happy and loving.
My Mema died in 2010, just months before the birth of my 5th boy. It was a month after my baby brother graduated high school. She had made the statement not long earlier that she just needed to get him graduated from school. She wasn’t really old, she was only 76, but she was tired.
Life is such a windy, twisty road.