I’ve been contemplating what I wanted to write about this week and I thought I would change it up a bit. I’ve talked about my mom a lot and many of my readers knew her as “Meemaw”. This name came from her first grandchild and at the time, I didn’t like it at all, but that is what he called her and to all who knew her, she has been Meemaw since.
My parents divorced when I was just shy of four. I don’t remember much about that time or any specifics about their life together. I think my brothers have more memories of that time, but I only remember this woman who I felt could do anything she put her mind to. I saw her as a a pillar of strength growing up and knew without a doubt I wanted to be just like her. I truly thought my childhood was perfect because of her.
We lived in a little house in South Richmond with a huge lot next to it. I can remember my brothers playing football in that lot with friends from the neighborhood. There was also an area between the house and the lot where I still see my youngest brother playing marbles in the dirt. There were roads and tunnels, mountains and bridges, and lots and lots of time was spent there, just being a kid. Another structure that looms large in my mind is a huge cinder block garage where I would spend hours playing with my dolls and stuffed animals.
Across the street were woods filled with creeks, paths, and treasures. We could walk through those woods, play in those creeks, all the while feeling safe and knowing when to check in at home. Our dogs went with us everywhere as dogs in those days roamed free. My companion was a collie named “Sarge”. He was an icon of the neighborhood and everyone knew him. Everyday at 3 o’clock he would head to the city bus stop to meet my brother getting off the bus.
I have a vivid image of a kitchen table where we would eat our meals that mom had prepared all day. She was an amazing cook and the aromas from her kitchen traveled to another house, then an apartment and finally our house, as she spent her last days with Rick and I. You could sometimes smell cakes baking at 6 in the morning which made it difficult to sleep. Holiday time was filled with home cooking featuring all the traditional foods. In those days eating turkey was reserved for the holiday meal so that made it extra special. She would cook for two days, but hot foods were always done on the day it was being served. She could have 15 dishes, but when it hit the table, they were all right out of the oven and all the perfect temperature. Sometimes, especially the last few times she was able to make one of these meals, she would almost collapse, eating very little, but making sure everyone else enjoyed it. I treasure each and everyone of these memories.
Mom would also let us have pets, dogs, rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, you name it, we had one. Goldfish came home from the school carnival, turtles were common, ducks and chickens at Easter and once even a baby alligator my father had sent my brother in the mail. I have such fond memories of these times growing up. I, on the other hand, am not sure how she accomplished this. I didn’t see the struggle she had on an everyday basis, raising three children on her own.
When I was in the 4th grade, we moved into a new house not far from our elementary school. It was so exciting, but at the same time, we left behind the woods, the empty lot and the garage where we started our life.. Sarge returned there many times in the first few months and mom would have to get in the car and go get him. Finances were tight, but I remember having everything I ever wanted. I truly thought she hung the moon.
In that house we experienced family and unconditional love. The next few years my oldest brother would be in the Cadet Corp. and become the drum major. We went to every event, parade, game etc. where he would march with his classmates. I remember bursting with pride when I saw him in the band or leading the Cadets. He also began playing with a band called “Little Harvey and the Kings of Soul”. It was magical for me and I think I looked up to him like a father at times. He was my “big brother” and I was so incredibly proud. I remember the day he left for the Marine Corp. and watched mom cry for weeks, worrying if he would be ok. We even traveled to Parris Island to see him graduate from boot camp. I always knew no matter where we all ended up, he would be there for me.
My younger brother tried the Cadet Corp., following in his footsteps, but it really wasn’t what he wanted. He was a rough and tumble kind of kid and always excelled in sports. He became Quarterback of the football team. Again, mom and I were at every game and every event watching him and beaming at his accomplishments on the field. He went on to play for the Championship in Jr. College, followed by his life changing football team at Marshall University. He was and is my big brother and those days were extremely special growing up together.
The young teenage girl stood before the audience, knees shaking, heart pounding, and listened for the results. Her mom had made it all happen, just like she always did. Her formal dress was just as pretty as the others, but her talent competition made her extremely nervous, as she didn’t sing or dance like the other girls she was competing against. They had been in these contests before, some even groomed for this sort of thing. This was a first for her, but she thought it would be fun. She had been a finalist after the academic portion of the pageant, so here she was. Honestly, she never even considered whether she could win Miss Teenage Richmond, she just jumped in, both feet, and entered. The judges passed the tiny envelope down the row to the emcee, who opened it gently and glanced at the row of teenage girls. As her name was read aloud, the tears welled up and flowed like lava down both cheeks. They gently placed flowers in her arms and snapped her picture as she strolled across the stage wearing the tiny tiara. She felt like a princess as if all her dreams had come true and there in the audience sat her mom, smiling ear to ear and right beside her sat her high school boyfriend.
The year 1972 was magical as I became Miss Teenage Richmond. There was a free wardrobe to pick out and plans to make. Going to Miss Teenage America was going to be an unbelievable experience and I had to make the best of it. How did I, a young girl from meager beginnings, get to experience such a life changing moment? To me, the answer is simple. Mom always made me believe I could do anything. I went on to compete in the Miss Teenage America pageant in Dallas-Fort Worth and it was sort of like a magic carpet ride for me. I met girls from all over the US, while doing photo sessions and working on the production. We worked hard and were treated like royalty for that week. I felt like a Disney princess in an enchanted world. The show was televised for all to see and there I was on National TV and in the audience sat my mom and my high school boyfriend, Rick. The store where my mom had worked as a clerk had given her a plane ticket and every department had given her an item she would need to make the trip. She had made the unthinkable happen, so it was her turn now.
These are treasures I keep close to my heart these days, memories of days gone by, a childhood filled with dreams and expectations. I truly do not know how I have been blessed with so many wonderful experiences in my life. What I do know is that it revolves around a simple word…HOPE. As a child we are filled with hope for the future. We are busy creating a world for ourselves and hoping for a future full of love and understanding. As we grow, we might encounter bumps in the road as we try to continue that journey unscathed. It is sort of like walking the maze I’m in today, looking ahead, hoping for a light at the end of the tunnel. Thing is, when you are young, you don’t keep looking back at what you’ve lost, you continue to look at what you have now and what you want for the future. Children run toward their goal where we often find ourselves trudging along as if we are being pulled into quicksand trying to hang on to what was.
So today, I will take lessons from the children. I am a person with a beautiful life full of memories to treasure and as I walk the maze today, I’m reminded to pull out those pictures of happy times whenever I need to be reminded that the road ahead may be filled with potholes, but going forward is the only way out.