Ten Years After

She did not discover until she was an adult that her father had won the battle over how to spell her name; she had been spelling it wrong her entire life. (Actually, he supposedly had lost the battle, but since he was the one that filled out the birth certificate…)

Her nickname, although common today, was given to her accidentally by a grandchild who couldn’t pronounce “Grammy.”

She only ever cared for one man, whom she met at 15, married at 18 on the day they both graduated from high school, and was hopelessly in love with until he passed away the year after their 50th anniversary. In the years following, she still got testy if it was suggested that she ought to find herself a man. (It was never seriously suggested.)

The reason they both graduated on the same day was because he intentionally failed a class his senior year so he would have to repeat. His first senior year happened to be her junior year. “Hopelessly in love” went both ways.

They used code in the notes they would pass to each other in class. Fifty years later, he still used the same code when he sent her flowers — __ __ __ __ __ __ __ (I luv you). If he was feeling especially covert, he would just sign it “7” (i.e. seven letters). Did I mention “hopelessly in love?”

She lived through the Dust Bowl years in the panhandle of Oklahoma (her oldest child was born in the middle of one of the storms). Fifty years later, when she talked about the dust seeping into every corner of the house, even past the wet towels that were put under the door and window sills, you almost believed it was a living thing.

She and her husband lived the Grapes of Wrath. They grew up in a no-stop light town in the Oklahoma Panhandle, caught trains out to California when work disappeared, lived there for a year or two, and then made their way back to Oklahoma.

Although she moved to Texas when she was in her mid-40’s, she didn’t get her drivers license until she was sixty. She named the little Toyota her husband bought her “Libby,” for “Liberation.” After she passed away, her oldest great-grandchild bought her latest car, a 16-year old Dodge. It had 18,000 miles on it.

When a grandchild persistently tried (unsuccessfully) one day to get her attention from the backseat of the car, she finally turned around and said, forcefully, “Not, now, we’re driving!” She was in the passenger seat.

She once told her daughter about some “little old ladies” who had come from church to visit her. Her daughter found her description amusing. “How old were they, Mother?” “I don’t know, probably in their sixties.” “How old are you, Mother?” “Sixty-five, why?”

She loved soap operas for much of her life. She passed it on to her daughter and her daughter’s oldest; they watched As The World Turns and Guiding Light together for years. For the time the grandchild worked a few miles from her, lunch was the last half of As The World Turns and first half of Guiding Light. A sandwich was always waiting.

When the same grandchild took another job in a distant city (Dallas!), she wrote daily summaries of Guiding Light for years, interjected with running commentary on her thoughts on the events of the episode. Her comments were always far more entertaining than the episode.

She quit smoking at 81. After 66 years of smoking.

Her default language was laughter. She never met a stranger, would talk to anyone about anything at anytime, and had five anecdotes for every occasion. Her house was a mystical, magical place, not because of TV (almost never on after she quit the soaps) or game consoles (she never had one) or toys (none of those, either), but because she was there. She was universally loved. That has been said of others, but she is the only person I’ve ever personally known it to be true of.

Her name was Fae Elizabeth “Mimi” Wilkinson,  and she passed away just after midnight on February 9, 2001, leaving behind a legacy of love, laughter, and legendary stories.

I was born pretty late in the Boomer cycle, so I only got the tail end of the first-run Beatles. I was too young to know I wasn’t supposed to like Ringo; I was fifteen-and-a-half when Ringo’s version of “Sweet Sixteen” hit Number One. But it was the song he released the year before that has always been my favorite of his, and it is those words that speak most to how I feel about my precious Mimi, raconteur nonpareil and grandmother extraordinaire.

MimiSmallEvery time I see your face
It reminds me of the places we used to go
But all I’ve got is a photograph
And I realize you’re not coming back anymore
I can’t get used to living here
While my heart is broke, my tears I cry for you …
I want you here to have and hold

Now you’re expecting me to live without you
But that’s not something that I’m looking forward to

Photograph

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