Her name was Winabel. It was a combination of two names—her Aunt Winnie and Aunt Belle. Her mother’s aim, I think, was to honor both in one fell swoop.
But she was Mama to me.
When my daddy was courting her, he wrote her a poem, “To My Winabel.” I wish I could remember all of it, but the first part went like this:
I’d like to win a belle,
A belle so dear to me.
A belle who in my loving eyes
Tops all the belles I see.
A belle whose ideals so match mine
With her in conversation
I lose all sense of time and place
In my supreme elation.
This poem to me is beautiful because it is so earnest and sincere. And I’m sure my mother found it to be the loveliest poem she ever heard.
Mama died 22 years ago today. If she had lived three more days, she would have been 65 years old. Everyone said it was a blessing she was taken. And they were right—she had lived and suffered for six years with ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) . I helped take care of her in her later years, so I know what she endured. But she endured with great strength, grace, and dignity.
“She is a queenly woman.” That’s what people often said about my mama. She was tall, five-ten, and she was proud of every inch. She had the confidence of someone who knew exactly who she was and what she believed in and where she was going. In fact, if you questioned her about that, she would probably smile and say, “I am a child of God, I believe in His divine love and grace, and I’m going to heaven.”
But she was no fundamentalist. She was a free spirit—in the days when women weren’t always encouraged to be so. She and my daddy used to joke that they didn’t know why they bothered to vote since their votes just canceled each other out. Daddy was a “Jesse Helms” Republican. Mama…wasn’t.
My children both remind me of my mama. Ariel has her easy confidence, Benjamin has her gentleness, and they both have her boundless creativity. But they never knew her, nor did my husband. She died the year before I met Tom. I can just picture them all watching animal shows together. My mama loved animal shows—especially Wild Kingdom. She used to joke about how Marlin Perkins always let his sidekick Jim do all the dangerous stuff. She would have chortled to hear Tom imitating Marlin, with his Midwestern drawl, “We’ll wait here while Jim swims with the deadly piranhas—how’s the water, Jim?”
I’m laughing and crying as I write this twenty-two years later. I think about her every single day and feel my heart ache for missing her at least every other day. Because of the suffering she endured and the grace with which she endured it, people often called her a “saint.” Well, no. She was no saint and would have laughed to hear herself called that. But she was a shining light for Jesus and reflected His love and grace in everything she did. And she was a remarkable mother, who loved her children fiercely.
I think maybe the people that called her “a queenly woman” had the right idea. When she was in a crowd, you could always find her. She looked like the Queen Mother moving amongst her subjects. I’ll probably never have her confidence, her grace, or her dignity. But I did, for twenty-seven years, have her love. And I count myself most fortunate for that. I miss you, Mama.