Mom’s mom was Mawsy. I don’t know where she got the name. I’m assuming from the first grandchild, as is usually the case. Similar to Pop’s mom (Grandma), Mawsy had impeccable style -- a classic Chanel look of tailored suit dresses, costume jewelry, and pocket books (she never called them purses). Grandma was set in her ways, particularly concerned with manners, self composure, and generosity -- a gracious hostess to the end. Mawsy, too, was composed, strong, and stoic -- a good Methodist to her very end.
Unlike Grandma, Mawsy was the kind of grandmother in whose lap I would snuggle. Mawsy took me on outings in her Buick. At Abe’s, her local grocer and butcher in Lake Charles, I’d help her pick out pork chops and corn on the cob for dinner. Mawsy made the best oven fried pork chops. She also kept Half & Half in the fridge and would sneak me spoonfuls at breakfast. She introduced me to V8, which we drank out of tomato glasses that I still have. She tickle-scratched my arms with her long, slender fingers, and always, always inquired about what was interesting to me at the time. Her curiosity was one of her greatest qualities. She’d sit there for a good half hour, listening intently as I explained the various members of Barbie and the Rockers. It takes a special person to let an eight-year-old ramble on like that without responding with something condescending like, “That’s nice, dear.”
Instead, Mawsy asked questions like, “Now why does Rocker Ken have such long hair?”
“Because he’s a rock star, Mawsy.”
“I guess all rock stars have long hair now,” she’d muse, and then go about asking questions about what songs the Rockers sang on their cassette album.
Mawsy watched Johnny Carson and rooted for the Astros. Grandma watched Lawrence Welk and rooted for the Metropolitan Opera. Mawsy only drank beer and only while eating boiled seafood. Grandma taught me how to mix a bourbon and water when I was about seven. I loved the heck out of both women. They embodied certain strengths that I would later draw from. My entire wedding reception was modeled after one of Grandma’s famous house parties, straight down to the genuine silver trays, candelabras, and extra salt on the food so guests would drink more. (My reception lasted twelve hours!) When I’m settling arguments between my children, I recall every lecture Grandma ever gave about the importance of family. As for Mawsy, as I grow older and face life’s toughest challenges, I look to her example that God is faithful -- always, always faithful -- and that we can choose to thrive even when the circumstances look barren.
Mawsy started a family in the 1920’s, having two sons back-to-back. Then tragically, she gave birth to another baby boy, who died at six-weeks-old. He was followed by a stillborn girl. Mawsy spent a great deal of the 1930’s in mourning over her lost babies. I can’t bring myself to imagine in detail what it must have been like to bond with a baby only to bury him so tiny, or to anticipate a birth only to never celebrate it and to once again entomb someone so small. By 1940, Mawsy’s tears were dried, and she walked into an orphanage in New Orleans where a one-month-old baby girl lay in a crib. When the baby smiled, a precious dimple revealed itself in the baby’s cheek. Mawsy met other newborns that day, but she chose the one with the dimple. And thank God, because that dimple belonged to my mama.
Mawsy said she cried so much during her decade of lost infants that she never cried again. Mom concurs, except for one season when Mawsy’s redbuds were pruned too early and they skipped an entire bloom. Mawsy was an avid gardener and was especially known for her camellias. She had dozens and dozens of varieties around her home and in a small grove in her side yard. Gardening was part of Mawsy’s daily exercise, therapy, and truly a form of prayer. It was quiet there. I like to think that during the 1930’s when she was so consumed with grief, each new flower bed, each planting, each cutting, and pruning for the next season, was an ongoing dialogue with God. As she struggled internally to make peace, God listened and responded accordingly with new blossoms and in due time gave her the girl with the dimple, the daughter she prayed for -- the daughter who healed her broken heart.
I’m no Mawsy in the garden, yet I strive for her green thumb (and my mother’s). My favored flower is hydrangeas. I have a nursery of seven that had one glorious season of big, bouncy blossoms, only to be hacked down by a motorized hedge trimmer in the hands of an inexperienced yard man. (Oh how I miss Mr. E!) I was devastated and went wailing into my yard. My babies! Stripped of their season. My little nursery hasn’t been the same since. Though each spring I try, no acid soaking or coaxing will bring them back to their former glory. But this year, there are signs of new growth in the weakest of them, little leaves from deep roots show that not all has been lost. Although they struggle, they’re still trying to fulfill their purpose. Cut to nubs just before spring, they went back to work and in due time will bounce back, fuller than ever.
I could learn from these hydrangeas. We all could.
I am now two infusions into my six months of chemotherapy for stage three rectal cancer. As I write this, my fingers tingle with neuropathy. I’m sipping warm water because anything cold burns my throat. Anything cold burns anywhere it touches me. Just last night, my husband saved me from an ice cold cucumber determined to destroy me. Neuropathy is a bummer. It’s when I feel like I have cancer. That, and when I’m nauseated, which can be all-consuming. I go to write only to curl up in a ball and circle breath for hours. And though most of my fears are subsiding, I am still haunted from time-to-time, still thwarting doubt and scary, personal stories that well-intentioned people share with me (please stop telling me cancer experiences about people who eventually died). And then there’s the stack of cancer diet books that seem to pile up at my door, also from well-intentioned people. One book says to eat animal protein to keep my glucose stable. If I don't, I’ll die. Another says meat will kill me. Another says to eat cottage cheese and flaxseed oil. The one beside that says dairy will kill me. Then there’s the one that tells me blueberries are not an antioxidant, only to be argued the opposite by another author, who only wants me to eat fruits and vegetables. According to him, super grains are not super sexy. Seriously, they can’t all be 100% right. It’s noisy out there in the cancer patient world. How am I to find peace and thrive under such conditions? I often stand stupefied in my pantry thinking, “What won’t kill me?” Then I just walk away, empty handed, because it’s too loud in my head.
And you don’t have to have cancer to understand. Ask any expectant mother, recent college graduate, anyone grieving, embarking on something new -- basically anyone in the weeds of a foreign experience -- often the biggest obstacle in any challenge is blocking out the outside noise to find your footing, your perspective, and your purpose in those very trying conditions. But I think the goal of any trial is to not just overcome it, but to build upon it in our lives, subsequently inspiring those watching us. In Romans 5, we know that “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame.” But we can only get there through choosing growth. For that, we have to be still and listen to what is truly being spoken to our hearts in order to bloom into our own. No matter where we’re planted. Only then can we realize our purpose and make something righteous from something terrible.
I know enough to know that there are miniature buds within me right now. When I was diagnosed, I wasn’t just heartbroken because time here with my family was in jeopardy, I was shaken because I knew that I had been putting off something important far too long. I had always been close to God, but I only spoke about it with those closest to me. I never shared with others how I truly view the world. Even in this very personal blog of my life, I often alluded to my beliefs because I didn’t want to offend non-believers. How silly of me. I don’t do that anymore. Why bother sharing my life if I’m not truthful, right? Besides, I’m quoting scripture, not pillaging puppies for the love of Pete!
I’m also pushing myself every day to see the joy in my situation. Yes, joy in cancer. Butt cancer leads to butt jokes, which leads to irreverent, humorous opportunities that take the sting out. Before each chemo trip, I’ve been posting to my social media ridiculous videos of me prepping to what is quite simply booty music. I’m doing the butt and backing that thing up like I’ve got some kind of rhythm. This leads to hysterical laughs with my kids over my shenanigans. They see their Mom hasn’t changed, isn’t scared, and is making a joyful noise in replacement of the sorrowful noise I could make. That leads to growth in faith for them and me.
Finally, I’m learning to trust my instincts more, trim my ambitions of the fat I just don’t need, and to feed my soul with Him who overcame all the noise of this world. I’m choosing to bloom where I’m planted, trusting that my spring is coming.
At her funeral in 1994, my sister sang the hymn, “In the Garden.” It was one of Mawsy’s favorites for obvious reasons, but these particular lines show how she was able to trust that her spring (another baby) was coming.
“He speaks, and the sound of His voice
Is so sweet the birds hush their singing;
And the melody that He gave to me
Within my heart is ringing.
And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own,
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.”
In grammar school, we sang another hymn, “Bloom Where You’re Planted.” I’ve been humming it frequently, and when I looked up the lyrics, the last verse struck me.
“Look at the love that lies deep within you
Let yourself be! Let yourself be!
Look at the gifts you have been given,
Let them go free ! Let them go free!”
I don’t think blooming where we’re planted means to blossom but remain stuck in a hole. Rather, I think choosing to burst with all our best colors and spirit, no matter the conditions of the soil, is how we free ourselves from the challenges of this world. It’s how we dry our tears and choose life.
And if we’re patient and still, God throws us a precious dimple.