It’s a name defined more by the person who owns it than the name itself, but the derivations of grandmother are practically endless. Some people have Mawmaw’s or Nana’s, others call them Meme or Grammy. Then there is Granny, Grams, Granna, Nanny, Mammy and Gram.
But I have a “Mema.”
There are the people in your life who poured the foundation from the start – forming the unchangeables, the moral fiber if you will, the intangibles that other people can’t effect, regardless of circumstance. This is how I can best describe my “Mema” – a sturdy foundation piece whose character is sprinkled within my everyday routine.
Why the quotations? Because I’m pretty sure we spelled it wrong (shouldn’t it have a ‘W’?). In fact, she wasn’t supposed to be a “Mema” at all. She was shooting for “Mammy” – I suppose a hybrid of granny on the mom’s side? But in the illiterate ways of my toddler self, I could only manage to verbalize “Mema.” (I wasn’t even close.) And that is what stuck.
My Mema was remarkably proud of me as a person and as a professional, though I was certainly undeserving – I couldn’t even get her grandmotherly name right, for goodness sake. But her love and pride were evident, and never wavering.
The best way to describe my Mema is someone who exercises fierce loyalty – the type of loyalty only afforded to one by family, but even then it is rarely a loyalty as deep as what she had. She offered the type of loyalty that meant you could rob a bank and she would justify why the bank deserved it. “They had plenty of money, anyway,” I imagine she would say without hesitation.
She liked to watch the Atlanta Braves – at times she watched most every game of the season. She hated the players but loved the team, her edgy pessimism always searching for something better but her loyalty never daring to abort the team she had picked as her family.
“You watch the Braves win last night?” I would ask her.
“Yeah, well about time they won because they couldn’t hit for a week,” she would respond back.
Her loyalty and pride is so engrained that she used to come watch me coach baseball at Coffee County Central. She didn’t know the name of one soul on that team of 15-year olds I was coaching, but she cheered louder than any parent in the stands because I was out there. She cheered every strike. And in standard Mema fashion, she grumbled at every call that went against us, even the fair ones. A call against us meant someone was cheating her Joshua, and that was unacceptable.
When she was diagnosed with cancer over three years ago, she fought with all she had, most of the time irritated that she felt she was inconveniencing everyone else. In the past three-plus years she was diagnosed with cancer, then suffered through a botched surgery and a severely broken arm. But she wouldn’t want you to think anything was wrong. Her life story certainly wasn’t intended to be about her, but instead about her kids and grandkids, who she loved unselfishly and in a way that could not be returned, regardless of effort.
My Mema died Thursday, Sept. 14. She was 79.
Something cancer could never take away from her was that loyalty embedded in her soul and certainly with her in her travels now. I know she is still reading my column every week, and probably embarrassed by the attention of this one but proud of me nonetheless, because it’s me writing it.
My Mema made her life by loving her family and her television stories. She made her life by loving those closest to her and trying to give them what she could with what little she had, unselfishly and unrelenting. In that way I know she felt like she had all the riches in the world.
She was a beautiful woman. She was my Mema. And I will miss her forever.
–Josh Peterson is the publisher of the Manchester Times. He is a Tennessee Press Association award-winning writer and photographer. His column, “From the publisher’s desk” won TPA first-place honors for best personal humor column and best personal column. The National Newspaper Association named him “Top 30 Under 30” of newspaper professionals in 2016. He can be reached by email firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone at 931-728-7577 ext. 105. Follow him on Twitter @joshpeterson29