Sunday, September 27, 2009

September 27, 2009

I had loads of fun scrapbooking this weekend with some friends. I almost finished an album for my son and his family. I still have to put down some journaling blocks and decorations on the page though. They will have to either journal the pages or tell me what to write as I don't know what I am looking at in the pictures. I ended up with 60 pages and only about 5 of them are blank.

Guess I will talk about my dad's mother tonight. Her given name was Mary Ophelia Coulon and she was born in Hamburg, Louisiana, in 1898. She had a sister and several brothers. Her parents were Pierre Albert Coulon and Laura Stepp. Her father was French and her mother was part Cherokee Indian. We all called her Mamo.

She married my grandfather, Charles Howard Jeffress, Sr. and they had one son, my dad. I don't know when or where they met, but my grandfather was in the Army during WWI. They ended up in California. My dad was born in San Francisco, California in 1920. I don't know their ages when they had him.

Primarily, my grandmother was a beautician and my grandfather, after his service years, was a shoe salesman. He was from Waxahatchie, Texas. I know that they divorced when my dad was young and she married George Fluke. After George died and years later, she remarried my dad's dad and they lived in Louisiana until his death.

At some point in time, she started doing ceramics and taught others how to do that craft. She was very proficient in China painting and also in making these ceramic dolls with lace skirts, one of which I have.

When our family moved from California, she followed shortly and opened a ceramic business. I used to go with her to Shreveport and buy molds. It was always a special day and we would eat out at the Bamboo each time. We ate there for years until the place closed sometime after Bill and I married and moved to Louisiana. She taught ceramics in the City Park and I was her helper. I loved cleaning the ceramics, but hated doing anything else to them. I loved mixing the slip as I loved the earthy smell of it. I loved to load the kiln too.

I guess she most influenced me. She always preached to never pass up an opportunity to learn something new and to never quit learning. Those are two of the things that have stuck with me all of my life and I have passed the ideas along to both my children and my students. She was a lifelong learner before the term was ever invented.

She did a lot of crafts. She was also an accomplished seamstress and made most of my clothes from birth until after my children were born. I remember that she would spend ridiculous amounts of money on buttons that had to match the outfit she was making perfectly. It didn't matter to her what they cost as long as they were the perfect fit for the outfit. She is the one who taught me to sew. She even bought me a kid's sewing machine to make doll's clothes with.

I would sit next to her and watch what she did and then we would swap seats and she would guide me as to what to do. That is how I learned to sew. I never took a lesson in school. She really made me some gorgeous clothes. She made my brothers shirts as well. I can remember some she made them that we still laugh about. The material was a synthetic nylon type and it was waffled. Hot as Hell in the summer time. Those were the boy's Sunday shirts. They would sweat up a storm on those shirts. I can still see beads of sweat on their faces when they wore those shirts.

When I started driving, she let me be the one who drove her everywhere. She loved to go to Hot Wells outside Alexandria on Sunday afternoons. They had mineral baths and the hottest water on Earth. Once she talked me into going for a bath and it only took a foot in the water to change my mind. How in the world anyone could get into a tub of water that had to come from the core of the Earth is beyond me. Then she would have a massage. We would usually get a hamburger afterwards and head back to town.

I spent the night at her house a lot and for breakfast we would go to Moses Cafe on Bolton Avenue and have a hamburger and coke. I guess that is where I learned to like "real" food for breakfast and not breakfast types of food. Those were the best hamburgers I have ever tasted. After breakfast, she would drop me off at school. Sometime I would stay there a whole week.

When I was young, I was asthmatic and missed some school when I was sick. She believed, and so do I, that Vicks salve would cure anything. If I was ill, she would smear it all over my chest and then put a piece of flannel on my chest. Why the flannel, I don't have a clue.

Mamo was an excellent cook. She would cook Sunday lunch and shortly after we came in from church, she would show up with our lunch. I have only eaten lamb once and that was when she cooked it. I learned to like liver the way she cooked it too. Not many kids will eat liver, but hers was really good. She could fry chicken that would melt in your mouth.

She was generous to a fault, especially where I was concerned. I guess it was because I was the only girl that she did so much for me. It makes me feel bad to this day that my brothers didn't get as much as I did from Mamo. When I was in the 5th grade, she took me to Schnack's for my birthday and bought me a 1/4 carat diamond ring. I still have the stone.

When I turned 15, she offered to buy me a car. I didn't want her to spend her money and told her that I didn't really need one. I honestly thought she would insist, but she must have given a sigh of relief because she never brought up a car again. Drat it!!! LOL

If I were sick, I would sit on her bed and she would give me her button tin and I would try and sort the buttons for hours. I would sort by how many holes they had, shank or no shank, color, texture, and on and on. I never did find a way to successfully sort buttons. When she died, that is all that I wanted of hers. Unfortunately, my dad wouldn't let us go to her house until he cleaned it out. In the process of his cleaning, he either gave away or threw away that button tin. If only he had known how much that would have meant to me, I like to think he would have saved it for me.

Once when she was going to Chicago for a ceramic convention, we went to take her to the train. That day, I had every book from school with me. I started crying because I wanted to go and she held up the train so she could buy a ticket for me. I got to go and miss school. My mother had to mail me some clothes as I didn't have anything but the clothes on my back.

When we arrived in Chicago, I learned what cold was. It was March and wasn't even cold enough here to have on a sweater in Louisiana. Up there waiting on a cab, I thought I would break some bones from shivering so violently. That wind swept off the lake and chilled me to the bone. We went out that afternoon and she bought me a new jacket. We never left the hotel where the convention was, but I had a new warm coat for the return trip. I can still see that beautiful turquoise car coat.

In Chicago I also learned that people aren't like Southerners everywhere in the states. On the elevator ride up to our room, there was a man in a trench coat and of course I said hello. He just shrank into his coat and stared at me. I can remember being afraid of him and afraid that he would come to our room and hurt us. People in the south speak to everyone. Just two different cultures.

When I ran off and married, I thought someone should know and I called my grandmother, Mamo, and told her, but swore her to secrecy. I bet I hadn't hung up my end of the line before she called my parents. My dad was beside himself because he had spent that weekend getting my room ready for me to come home from college and go to school in Alexandria. The next day, my husband and I were on the street in Natchitoches coming out of the bank and there was my mother. She was crying as she knew that my husband and I had broken up and then I upped and married him. I can remember her asking him if he really loved me and he said he did.

After Kenny was killed in a car accident, I moved into an apartment and stored my stove and icebox in my grandmother's storage shed. One day during a monsoon storm, she called me and said she wanted my things out that day. It was a Sunday to start with and a monsoon storm raging outside. I told her that it wouldn't come out that day, but would the next. I called the Salvation Army and told them to go to her house and pick up those two things on Monday morning. After that, we were most estranged until her death.

I was civil, but the closeness we once shared was gone as she was so ugly and demanding on the phone that Sunday. I don't know what got into her, but she fought the wrong battle with me. That, I guess, is one of my big regrets in life. I could have overlooked what she said and chalked it up to her age, but I didn't.

One afternoon my niece and I went someplace and were near the nursing home she lived in. I asked Ashley Claire if she would go with me to see Mamo. We had a nice visit and the next morning my dad called to say she had passed away in the night. I am so thankful that I was led to make the time to see her that day. Otherwise, I know my heart would have been heavier when she left. We were the last of the family to see her alive.

I miss Mamo to this day and wish she could see and know her great-grandchildren. She saw them when they were small, but never really got to know them when they got older. She would have enjoyed their company.

I miss you, Mamo.


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