Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Mamaw

February 16th is a special day.  It marks the day that my son made his physical entrance into this world.  It is a date that I hold close to my heart.  I remember that day so well too.  Actually, it was the evening, as he was born close to 9:30 at night.  My parents, my sister and grandmother were all there.  I promised my grandmother that I would deliver Dominick on her birthday, and I made it with a couple hours to spare!  My son shares his birthday with my maternal grandmother, Dorothy Catching, or as we always called her, Mamaw.  Mamaw was a very special person in my world and I miss her every day.  She died on Thanksgiving day 2009 at the age of 84.  She was many things, rolled up into a little crazy ball of hillbilly wonderfulness.  She was a healer, a country cook of the highest caliber, and a good listener.  She could give you a hard time better than anyone.  If you have never heard the term Mamaw,let me explain.  My ancestors hail from the mountains of eastern Kentucky and Tennessee, and grandparents are often called Papaw and Mamaw.  I was the oldest grandchild and spent the better part of my time with her laughing.  I would antagonize her and get her riled up while drinking beer and gossiping.  That woman could drink beer.  She lived in pain and had a knack for self medicating with her "pills' and alcohol.  She did not abuse drugs really, but she knew which couple of pills paired with a shot of Jack Daniels made her chronic back pain better for a couple of hours.  I cannot fault her for that.  She was bent over from osteoporosis and was always hurting. I used to rub Ben Gay on her hump.  Nice visual huh?  It made her feel better.  That hump was something else.  Nothing ever really seemed to help her though. The hump on her back and the pain never slowed her down though.  Just a month prior to her death, she was in the kitchen cooking up a mess of eggs, biscuits and bacon for a big bunch of family.  That was my Mamaw, always taking care of people and making sure that no one went without.  She had a heart as big as the sky, and even though she may have talked about you, she loved you and would do anything to help you.

Dorothy grew up in eastern Kentucky.  She married Pinkney Jefferson Catching, a dashingly handsome coal miner when she was 16 years old.  She gave birth to my mother Caroline at the age of 17.  People married younger in those days, so a teenage bride was not unusual.  After my mother came four more children.  They did not have an easy life with my Papaw the coal miner.  He was a sweet, gentle man, but an alcoholic.  Sadly it was easy to take advantage of him and his own family suffered for that.  I cannot imagine it was easy on my Mamaw, being so young with young children of her own.  I often wonder if she had dreams for herself before she met Papaw.  I asked her once about meeting him, and she said that Pinkney was the best looking man she had ever laid eyes on.  It was love at first sight. He was a tenant at the boarding house my great-grandmother owned.  Pretty romantic stuff.  I like to think that he wooed her under the shadows of the mountains and she was helpless to his charms.  I think of the raw, wild beauty of the eastern Kentucky mountains, a sky filled with stars that go on forever, and a touch of moonshine...it all adds up to some pretty heady stuff.  I know that my grandparents did not have an easy relationship and that they both made mistakes on their journey together, but I think they loved each other very much.

My grandparents moved to Dayton, Ohio in the 1960's and lived in a trailer court.  Their first trailer was on Dreamer Court.  What a great name for a street! Who wouldn't want to live on Dreamer Court?  Later, after my Papaw's disability pay from the United Mine Workers came through in the early 70's, they moved over a few streets to Winnebago Street.  This was a brand new trailer and nicer street (with a much less romantic name).  My Papaw died in 1976 of a horrid disease called black lung.   My Mamaw stayed in that trailer for many years.  After the trailer court community started to decline, and the neighbors got more and more dubious, she stayed.  She kept a gun near and a close eye on all the going-ons in her neighborhood.  Her favorite perch was in the front window where from her vantage she could watch the neighborhood characters deal drugs and fight.  No one ever messed with Mamaw though.  I think they might have been scared of her, or maybe they respected her...she was a tough cookie.  She was stubborn.  She refused to move for years, much to our dismay.  Winnabage Street was her home.  The family as a whole rallied, and prevailed, and she finally moved to Ft. Walton Beach, Florida in the 1990's to live with my uncle.   

My Mamaw would call me when she was worried about my mother, my sister, or my aunt, and we would talk for a long time.  She was a worrier by nature, but never bothered to worry about herself.   She always said that when her time came, she would be ready.  She survived a husband, a sister, a brother and a grandchild.  I honestly thought she would live long after we were all dead and gone.  To me, Mamaw was timeless - forever part of this world.  We mountain folk like to believe in ghosts.  She sure did.  I do too.  Mamaw mentioned that Papaw had been to visit her a few times after his passing, as well as her sister Ethel.  In fact, Mamaw said she could smell Papaw's cigarette smoke at night, years after he was gone.  Personally, I have been visited by a few folks from the great beyond, so I am a believer.  I am hopeful that she will visit me soon.  I could use a big dose of my Mamaw about now.  I feel deep in my bones that she, and her mother, my great grandmother Mary, are busy hovering close to my mother, comforting her as she suffers with the disease of Alzheimer's.  These were strong women from mountain stock, and the love transcends life and death.  They are looking out for and protecting their special Caroline Sue.  When the time comes to welcome her back into their fold, I trust that Mamaw will help ease that journey.

I loved Mamaw.  I know that she loved me.  I miss her so very, very much.  We were close.  She played the drinking game of quarters with me when I was a teenager.  She thought I was funny when I did imitations and my comedy routines.  She was proud that I danced and went to college.  She loved to read and we shared an interest in history and religion.  Every time I saw her, she had a book for me, or had cut out an article from the paper she thought I would find interesting.  When I traveled internationally, I always sent a postcard and would pick her up a little something from that country.  You would have thought I gave her gold the way she appreciated these little gifts.  I wish I could call her up and ask her specific questions about her life.  I am very curious to know if she had secrets.  I hope she will show up in my dreams and talk with me.  Maybe tonight, on her birthday, that she shares with my beautiful son, she will stop by to celebrate a little.  That would be very cool indeed. 

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