by Melanie Nicholas
I have been thinking a lot about Mother’s Day, which is right around the corner. It’s always a little bittersweet for me because it makes me think about my Mamo, which I have been doing a lot lately. Does anyone else just miss, hurt, ache for another person so much that they can sometimes taste it?
Tonight my mouth if full of warm cocoa and Coca Cola and Fla-Vor-Ice, chicken salad and sheath cake — which I always thought was “sheet cake” until I got a copy of my grandmother’s recipe. My grandmother was a tremendously talented cook. “Of a morning” — Mamo-speak for “in the morning” — she would make me and my brother pancakes. She had two skillets on the stovetop, one to cook the pancakes in, and the second held melted oleo. She would dredge each cake in the oleo before plating and covering it with syrup. There was bacon or Owen’s sausage on the side. And cocoa — always warm cocoa for her grandchildren — the real kind, made in a saucepan with Hershey’s powdered cocoa and vanilla and sugar and milk. My cousin, Rayma, got me Mamo’s trusty cocoa pot in the estate sale held after her death in 1999.
Mamo was the most beautiful woman in the world to me, and I loved it when she would pick me up from elementary school for shopping dates at the M&M Shop in Brownwood. She always had Freshen-Up gum in her purses, and I couldn’t wait to chew off a corner and suck out that weird green liquid center stuff that oozed out. She carried gorgeous Enid Collins bags when I was a kid, and with my fingertips I traced the beautiful jeweled patterns — all flowers and birds and paint. These bags are one of my current obsessions, and I spend oodles of time patrolling Etsy and Ebay and collector sites to relive a little of my past.
Mamo was an athlete in high school and was a heck of a tennis player. She married my grandfather not long out of high school, and had two of her five children by the time she was 22. She was hell on wheels in her day — ranching, cleaning, cooking and mothering day in and day out. One of my most vivid memories of her is the day she saved me from being trampled by a flock of angry sheep when I was about 10. Those rogue ewes were mad about something and they were ready to take it out on me. Now I know what you’re thinking as you picture sweet little fluffy sheep — these were not those kind of sheep. These were huge and woolly, nearing sheep-shearing time. Penned and prodded and poked all day, they were not going to take it any longer. I was terrified as they came at me, my flight instinct never kicking in. I was rooted right there with my mouth open. Then I saw Mamo, sprinting across road and pasture, just a-waving and a-yelling, charging right at that lead ewe until the sheep balked and the herd turned. My Mamo was not the type to back down when it came to her kids and grandchildren, and I have little doubt as to who would have been left standing if that sheep hadn’t turned.
I loved going to grandma’s house and just being with her. She had a robin’s egg-blue bathroom and she would let me take bubble baths in her big blue tub. When I was done, I got to use her scented body powder with its big white puff or play dress-up with her costume jewelry. Her guest rooms had glittered popcorn ceilings, and I thought the way they sparkled at night was oh, so glamorous.
She took up painting as an empty-nester’s hobby, but fell out of it by the time I was old enough to remember her actually paining anything. I have two of her paintings though; my mom has another. Her real passion was gardening and yard work. Her grass was always thick green St. Augustine, and there is nothing else in this world like running your feet through those thick blades, nursing a Coke (in a glass bottle!) and talking away at her.
Whenever you left Mamo’s house, she would stand at the big mesquite tree in the circle drive and wave at you until she couldn’t see the car on the road any more. She didn’t care how hot it was or if she got dusty; she wanted to see you until the very end. She wanted you to know that she was right there for you if you needed her. Like me, Mamo was a talker. I remember seeing my grandfather casually reach up and turn off his hearing aids when he was done listening, whether she was through talking or not. And I loved to talk to her because she was one of those people you could just tell anything to.
She was living in Brownwood when I was working for Texas A&M, and I would usually stop by to say hello on my way to or from Midland. When I stopped to see her on a cold Saturday in January 1999, I couldn’t wait to tell her that I had finally met someone; I couldn’t wait to tell her about a date I had gone on, how much I liked this man. She wasn’t feeling very well, so it was a rushed visit. She wanted to call my brother before I left her room. He was in graduate school, and was rarely home. And I was in a big hurry to get home, so I made my excuses, gave hugs and kisses, hit the road. She died the next day. Did she know she was dying? Is that why she wanted to call my brother, to say good-bye? What kind of granddaughter doesn’t help an old woman make a call? If I had stayed longer, would I have even recognized that she needed to go the hospital? These questions will always creep up and nag at me in the spring. But I did get to tell her about the man I would eventually marry, and I asked for my brother’s forgiveness a few years ago when I finally told him my pitifulness.
As I get ready to celebrate another year as a mother, I think that Mamo would have adored my children, my sweet boy and my rowdy girl — both hot cocoa lovers of the highest order. And I hold on to the things I learned from her about mothering. Love fiercely and protect your children the best that you can; be present; be a woman that your children want to talk to, even when they’re grown; be the last one to let go and be the last one to stop waving.
Happy Mother’s Day, to all the Mamos out there, but especially to mine. You are missed.