Remembering Nama (1921–2019)

My maternal grandmother passed away this afternoon, after nearly 98 years of life on this earth. She was born in Mississippi two and a half years after the end of World War I. She lived through the Great Depression, the second World War, and every other major event you can think of from the last 75 years. She gave birth to seven children and, after losing one in childhood, raised the other six—spread across 21 years—together with her husband, who worked as a mailman. She lived to see 15 grandchildren, 31 great-grandchildren, and four great-great-grandchildren. She was widowed in her early 70s, and never remarried. She suffered the loss of her oldest son in his 70s, but no one else; she outlived the rest.

She was an extraordinary woman in the most old-fashioned of ways. A dutiful wife and stoic mother, a quiet Catholic and yellow-dog Democrat, she believed in loving your family, working hard, and doing what you can, with what you have, while you're able. She took wry pleasure in informing young women who married into the family that "we don't have no crybaby girls in this family." One of her mottoes was "you can't do everything." She loved food, especially seafood, and most of all if she was cooking it for a house full of people.

But probably her favorite thing was simply to be there, in a chair, in the midst of an overcrowded house somewhere in Mississippi (or Austin, Texas, or Dothan, Alabama), just marinading in the hot loud hustle and bustle of a family gathering: kids running to and fro, cooks in the kitchen, grandpas asleep in recliners, a baby crying somewhere, all manner of shouting and laughing, a ballgame on in the background. If you were lucky enough to be there, and you glanced her way, Nama—that's what we called her, Nama—would be still, usually quiet (unless holding court: in which case, watch out), observing, taking it all in, with a small smile on her face.

And think of it: From this one woman's life, from the decades-long outpouring of love that she made her life to be, 57 human lives (and counting) have come forth into this world. Double it for their spouses. Now quintuple it and then some for the friends and in-laws and neighbors and others who've been touched in one way or another, directly or by proxy, by this single soul.

For her part, she was wise enough to sit back, to see it for what it was—a gift you can't force and can only ask for, but when it comes, you don't question it—to say a silent prayer of thanks, and to let it wash over her. She didn't need words for any of that. Her family, just by being there and being who they were, said all that needed to be said.

For such a one, we give thanks to God for a life well lived. May she, then, our beloved Nama, rest in peace; and may she, then, by the grace and love evident in her life across a century's time, rise in glory. Amen.

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