My Mema had jokes.
She used to fill up her purse with rocks and sit it on top of her Chevrolet Lumina and drive around Stigler, Oklahoma. She would cruise and laugh as people, cops included, pointed and ran after her car. She’d stare at them with a “What?” face, and keep on driving.
She and my Pepa, my Dad’s parents, lived in Tamaha, Oklahoma, a tiny town with a couple hundred people and more dogs than stoplights. That is to say there were quite a few dogs and zero stoplights. There was one store (The Tamaha General Store), one cemetery, and a radar controlled speed limit of 25 miles per hour. It’s 18 miles outside of the county seat of Stigler. There are pastures for days and you can see for a couple forevers in any direction. It’s a town where a little kid can be let loose to roam on a 4-wheeler for ten minutes, till he’s gone to the end of town and back.
It’s quiet and nice there. There are no honking horns and traffic does not exist. The stars come out on clear nights and they light up so much it looks like there’s a lost city in the sky. You stare up and everything looks like Christmas gone right.
We would go visit Tamaha a lot. Every morning we were there, my Mema would make breakfast. You do not beat breakfast made by a grandmother. Not at all.
Every breakfast she made always included biscuits and gravy. When she was making the biscuits, she always had me and my sisters help her with a “special” one. That special one was for Pepa. She would split the biscuit the way you split an Oreo if you want the cream on one side. Once it was split she would put the jelly in the middle.
When the jelly had been spread, she put a cotton ball in the center of the biscuit and placed the top part on the bottom part, effectively making a cotton ball breakfast sandwich. This happened every time. And every time it was one of the grandkids’ job to deliver the goods to Pepa. Pepa, phenomenal sport he was, would thank us so much and talk about how great it looked and take the plate. The rest of us would gather at the doorway that separated their den and their kitchen and watch him with the smiliest smiles ever smiled. We were the greatest gigglers alive in that doorway. He’d bite into it and make a face like he just had vinegar poured straight into his nostrils and we’d laugh so hard. Big booming belly laughs and we’d say things like “Did you not like it?” and “Gotcha.” It never even crossed my mind growing up that he knew exactly what was going on. Pepa’s a good dude.
MEMA HAD AN ORIGINAL NINTENDO AT HER HOUSE. Comprehend just how “Oh wow, this is the coolest. Nintendo is BAD (The good kind)” that would be to an 8 year old. She had Super Mario Bros and Duck Hunt. She would play them with me. We’d play and tell Bowser “COME AT ME, BRO” and she would look the other way when I got close to the TV and cheated during Duck Hunt.
One weekend I showed up out there and they had satellite television. After I picked up the pieces of my exploded mind and placed them back inside my skull, my Mema explained we could purchase movies ON THE TELEVISION and watch them as many times as we wanted in 24 hours.
*Another brain explosion*
She bought Meet The Parents and I watched it all weekend and it was awesome and we made jokes about milking cats named Jepetto together. It was the coolest, you don’t even know.
My Mema was a basketball superfan. My Pepa was a coach his whole life and my Dad and my Uncle Chris were both great players in their own right. My Dad a poor man’s Pistol Pete, my uncle a poor man’s Kevin McHale. Basketball was everywhere in the family, and that’s how she liked it. There was no greater person to have in your crowd. She slapped a TM on her own cheer. It was known in the back alleys, parking lots, and streets of Eastern Oklahoma as the “Woo Woo” cheer. It was exactly what you think it is: An enthusiastic grandmother repeating “Woo” over and over at the top of her lungs, sometimes even breaking out the Arsenio fist pump. She put on for her city. She wasn’t down with you if you were too cool to support the team. She was Chief Keef with all that. That’s that stuff she don’t like.
She SPOILED us, though. There’s a store in Stigler. It’s called Boy Howdy. You read that right. Boy Howdy. It’s what you would have if a Dollar General and a Dollar Tree had a baby. So yea, it was awesome. Anytime we were in town we went there and each got to get one thing. And every time we walked in, as sure as Chris Simms shrunk in OU-Texas games, she would say, “Boy howdy they got a lotta stuff.” Great times.
I love Pizza Hut. More specifically, I love Pizza Hut breadsticks. They are the light in the darkness. Mema knew that. When I came to town, no matter the time of year, she had breadsticks waiting on me. It could be Thanksgiving, and she’d still have them there. God bless her wonderful enabling of my cartoonish, childish, pathetic taste buds.
She put a pool and a hot tub in her backyard. The hot tub was for her back. The pool was for the grand kids. In the summers we’d go out there and play Monster with her. Not the Charlize Theron kind. The kind where she was the Monster and the entire game was her chasing us around the pool. If she touched us, we became Monsters. I know that may not sound like fun to some of you, but that’s because you suck.
She played HORSE with me. When she’d visit she’d go out into my driveway and play me. She talked all kinds of mess. It was psychological warfare. She was what you would get if you merged the trash talking of Sam Cassell, Larry Bird, and GrandMamma Johnson from Family Matters.
She had one shot. It was her money shot. Went to it every time. She would stand directly beneath the goal, her back to the baseline, and shoot the ball backwards over her head. Automatic as a sunrise.
Mema was just always ready to play. I don’t think there’s a higher compliment you could pay a grandmother. She cared a whole bunch, and she always showed that she did.
She died on a Thursday in February in 2007. It was a car accident. She was on her way back into Stigler. The reports say that she veered off the road, corrected too hard into the other lane, over corrected again, then the car flipped. She didn’t suffer.
No one knows what happened in the car and on the road that day to cause it. My Pepa is convinced she fell asleep. I don’t suppose how it happened matters, though. Only that it did.
I was at college. It was on a cold, sunny afternoon. I’d just got done with a nap and I was walking over to basketball practice. My Dad called me. I was about to be in the gym so I didn’t answer. Figured I’d call him back after practice when I’d have more time to talk. I got dressed and sat in my locker and waited for coach to come talk about how we couldn’t take St. Greg’s lightly, even if they did have a disaster of a team. My phone stayed buzzing in the upper shelf of my locker. I had a BlackJack at the time and those things sounded like a million bees when it was on vibrate. I looked at the phone. It was still my Dad. He wouldn’t usually call this much. I answered.
He told me what happened. The news backhanded me and made my head tingle and my body felt different than it had before. A weird kind of empty. I said, “What?” because the sentence didn’t make sense. He told me again. His voice cracked this time. I asked him if he was ok. He said he was alright. I told him I’d be right there.
I was seated in front of my locker. As I was speaking, my friend and teammate Evan saw my face and heard my voice and I can’t imagine it was too hard for him to tell something was wrong. I hung up the phone. He asked me if everything was ok.
"My grandma just died in a car accident."
It’s weird to say out loud. Like you open your mouth and you’re speaking another language.
He said he was so sorry. I tried to compose myself. He left the locker room.
I sat there and held my phone in my hand and stared at the green carpet of the locker room. I ran my eyes along the gold trim that bordered the green. I felt the phone in my hand. I ran my thumbs over the keys. I hold it at the top with my pointer finger and my thumb, and then I drop it and let it fall on the carpet in front of my chair.
I walked through the back hallway of the gym that led to the court to tell my assistant coach what had happened and that I needed to leave after practice. Evan had already told him so I wouldn’t have to. Evan is a great dude.
Our assistant coach told me to leave now and go be with my family and to come back when I could. I spoke with my head coach who told me the same thing. They are both great dudes.
I left and went to Stigler. I drove to my uncle’s house. Those two hours were a misery. I drove my truck around 90 the whole way. Highway Patrol must’ve been sleeping along I-40 that day.
The next couple days kind of flew by in a haze. Hard to focus on much of anything. I really only remember a lot of remembering. Everybody thought a lot about her and talked a lot about her and thought and talked a lot about how much we’ll miss her. Some told stories. I told some of the ones you read above. There was a lot of food brought over to my uncle’s house by a lot of people in a lot of crock pots and a lot of hugs and a lot of tears spilled onto a lot of cheeks.
I wound up going back on Saturday for our game against St. Greg’s because my family felt it’d be best for us to have something to do to get our mind’s off what happened. I was a freshman and a trash player at the time and got in late in the game. I missed a shot. Hopefully while it was in the air they thought about something else.
The funeral was at First Baptist Curch in Stigler and it was packed. First one I’d been to for a person close to me where I was at an age where I could be affected by it. There were more tears and more stories. My Mema had survived breast cancer and, when she had been diagnosed, she wrote out a notebook full of thoughts on the process. There were a lot of great things in that notebook that were read off, but one in particular has stuck with me.
It only matters if you allow it to.
I don’t want to wax poetic on that and ruin it, so I won’t.
At the end of the funeral, as people do more and more these days, there was a slide show. They showed a bunch of photos of my Mema over the course of her life. One photo was of my Mema and Pepa when they were younger. In their 20’s I’d guess. My Pepa had hair and my Mema was wearing this great dress. It looked like he’d tickled her right before it was snapped. They were both cracking up. HUGE smiles. Just looked so happy. Made me feel good to see that. Then the tears showed up again.
There was an open casket for the family. I stared at her. Said what you say. Touched her hand. She felt like plastic fruit.
They had a meal afterward for the family. We ate in the fellowship hall area of the church. I sat next to my Pepa during it. At one point in the meal he turned to me.
"I’m still expecting to look up and have her be here and ask me if I need a refill on my sweet tea."
Hard to hear someone you love say that.
I remember realizing I would not see her again. Not here anyways. The permanence of that was new to me.
I miss her. I guess that’s why this writing exists. It’s a way to flesh out some stuff and maybe exorcise some feelings I had a hard time verbalizing elsewhere. Some things are hard to speak.
I wrote this for selfish reasons, I guess. So I could have some memories of her in one place that wasn’t as fleeting as a mind.
I suppose it could have waited until the anniversary of her death or something super depressing like that. Maybe it would have been more poignant that way. I don’t know. I just think it’s a problem to think that way. We wait too much. We put things off. We try to find perfect times for things, and sometimes they just don’t come.
Just thought I’d do it now.
Tributes and things like this article are frustrating, because she’s not coming back. And this isn’t doing her justice. Not at all. She deserves golden statues and marble swimming pools and all the Pizza Hut Breadsticks in the world and platinum Nintendos powered off love and practical jokes. She deserves songs and plaques and a flavor of ice cream to be named after her and the Stigler cheer squad should have a Mema Award for the most spirited girl on the team.
She deserves the world.
But she’s got heaven.
Somehow I think that’ll do.