Meredith’s Musings: Memories of Mamaw
Mention of a Southern Yankee Matriarch
article by Meredith McKinnie
Mrs. Lorraine Eunson Gregg, Mamaw, as we called her, was a woman of distinguished elegance, class and southern grace. She was poised, sophisticated, proper and strong, yet understanding and gentle, and above all, kind. She radiated a goodness that reminded me of my roots, made me want to be better, make her proud. She deserved it, and she made me believe I did too.
Though she was southern class to the core, Mamaw was unapologetically herself. Once in conversation, she mentioned how she had grown up in Wisconsin. My sister and I were appalled. “Mamaw, you’re a Yankee?” Having been transfixed by Gone With the Wind for years, a blessing for my mother who could count on our captivated attention for four hours at a time, we couldn’t imagine a more disappointing revelation, but we promised to keep her secret.
Mamaw was born in 1920, the year women were given the right to vote, and how fitting for a woman so opinionated. She knew who she was, what she was, and what she believed. She had faith in us. She would tell me “Meredith, you’re sharp.” She told me enough that I began to believe her. Her faith in me led me to find my passion in life, and for that I’m grateful. I know that I can; Mamaw told me I could. Mamaw said I was sharp.
Her favorite Bible verse was Isaiah 40:31, “But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” In her own Bible, underneath the passage in her cryptic, serial killer handwriting, she had written, “Teach me, Lord, to wait.” She lacked patience, but she was aware of it; she sought it; she prayed for it. Mamaw, too, was sharp.
Mamaw would let me stay the night on Saturdays. She introduced me to the Nancy Drew series. I asked her to read The Secret of the Old Clock to me one night, though it was rather late. “Read all of it, Mamaw,” I insisted. “I’ll read until you fall asleep, Meredith.” Well, the deal was made. I wasn’t going to sleep until the book was over, and she wasn’t going to stop reading until I did. She read the entire book to me that night, all 170 some odd pages, me fighting sleep and her yawning between chapters. But we finished it, together, and we both kept our promises.
Mamaw was a pretty lady, appreciated pretty things. She was always wearing her rings, vintage necklaces and bracelets, her dainty watch and freshly applied lipstick in some dramatic shade of red. And at Christmas time, without fail, she would wear a bell on a red string around her neck that jingled when she walked…jingle jangle…jingle jangle. I always knew when she was coming. Her bell was jingling.
The last week before she died, right before we left for the last time, I saw Mom dig in her purse, pull out her lip gloss, and apply it to Mamaw’s lips. Having barely been able to say a word the entire visit, Mamaw rubbed her lips together and uttered, “mmmmmm….good,” and she smiled. Mom kissed her on those freshly glossed lips, and I followed. It tasted pretty. Mamaw liked pretty things.
Anyone who spent any time with Mamaw knew she liked to hum. She hummed incessantly, all throughout the day, all throughout the year, and, ironically, always the same tune…Jingle Bells. I would ask her, “Mamaw, why Jingle Bells? It’s not Christmas?”…”It’s my favorite,” she’d say, and she would continue to hum. When people would hear of her passing, December 19, 2012, they would say, “Awe, and right here at Christmas too.” But I didn’t see it that way. I thought, rather, “Yes, right at Christmas, her favorite time of year, when her favorite song is being sung, when the birth of her Savior is celebrated, here at Christmas, she gets to go home. She is with God; she is with Papaw. She’s home…she’s home just in time for Christmas. And I know, somewhere, she has a smile on her face, a Christmas bell around her neck, and she is humming Jingle Bells alongside the angels.