In Memoriam: My Mother

My mother believed funerals were barbaric. She said so to me on many occasions. There was something about it she thought morbid — people talking about the dead in ways they never talked about the dead when they were alive. She also hated the pretense and ceremony of a funeral.

I disagreed with her on the importance of funerals, for I think they are important, but she hated them.

Saturday we had hers.

Joyce Stinnett Greening
Age Unknown

It was actually more of a memorial. My sister and I had talked with her about her wishes, and she waffled a bit for a long time about where to put her ashes — part of her wanted to be put in Arkansas where she was born and spent a lot of time, and then part of her wanted to be put on the old farm in Hughes Springs, Texas.

In the end, she chose the farm.

We gathered on the concrete slab that was once the back porch. In this picture below I am standing approximately where “Laura” was — Laura was the giant freezer we kept the ice cream in. Yes, the freezers had names. Mom named them. The other was “Granny”. Granny held the meat and frozen vegetables from the garden.

The house is gone too. We had to demolish it when it collapsed under the weight of a storm and the trees. The only thing left are the sheds (yes, plural for my father loved to build sheds) and the wooden porch he constructed.

We held a brief service with some traditional elements, and several people spoke and told stories. There were about thirty people there. All of them were either family, neighbors, or those who had been neighbors. I read the 23rd Psalm and Jill played the songs from Spotify mom wanted played at her funeral — “Heavenly Sunlight” and “Spirit in the Sky.” So, the Gaithers AND Norman Greenbaum played mom’s funeral — which should be enough to keep it from being barbaric.

At the conclusion we put her ashes in a Folgers coffee can along with her last pack of cigarettes, a lighter, and Oreo cookies then planted it in the garden she tended. The flowers still grow, wild and bold, scratching out life from the cruel world and blooming just like my mother did.

Mom taught me a lot of things in life — how to treat most any wound or ailment with mayonnaise, coal oil, butter, tobacco juice (spit), horse linament, and monkey blood. If you do not know what monkey blood is, you have not lived a full life. She also was fond of melting down Vicks Vapor Rub in a spoon and making me drink it. You can imagine my shock when as an adult treating my own children I finally read the label where it says “DO NOT CONSUME”. Aside form hillbilly first aid, she also taught me lessons about life, family, and priorities, and one of those lessons was hospitality. Over the years many different people lived with us or spent a long amount of time with us. Mom never turned people away.

On a fun note, she also taught me to cook. Mom was an outstanding cook and she did so with inferior tools. Some of my favorite dishes I learned from her:

  • Banana Pudding — her recipe takes many eggs and real “Nilla” Wafers. She was a devoted consumer of name brand products.
  • Chicken and Dressing — every year I called her the Monday before Thanksgiving just to double-check my big dish.
  • Goulash — I thought my mom invented that until I learned it was actually Hungarian.
  • SOS — “Stuff on a shingle” she learned this from her mother, and she made it with hamburger meat but I prefer sausage. Its basically just gravy and toast. But the gravy has to be brown gravy. It has to be.
  • Beef Stew — She made great beef stew, and I learned from her that you eat the meat last after you’ve eaten everything else.

A few fun facts about my mother:

  1. Her favorite movie was Aliens. The second one, with the space marines. She liked the first one, but the second was her jam. She liked movies with strong female leads.
  2. Although she was a great cook, she didn’t really eat much of what she cooked. She preferred snacks. The snacks would come in phases — she’d obsess about Skittles then one day suddenly move on to Fig Newtons. Her last obsession was Oreos.
  3. True to her Arkansas roots, she did not appreciate having to wear shoes, and her favorite clothing was a moo moo.
  4. Paranoia was her default reaction to just about anything. “They” were watching, and “them” was the persistent problem.
  5. She hoarded light bulbs, certain the day would come when no human being would be able to buy one. Also fun fact, she referred to them all in one word without the L sound in bulb, ‘litebubs’.
  6. Mom was an avid reader, often reading a book several times over. Our home was very small and she knew I was a reader too, so she hid the books I shouldn’t be reading under the bathroom sink. I was about nine when I found Truman Capote’s ‘In Cold Blood’. I read it from cover to cover.
  7. She wasn’t a very good driver. In fact, she terrified me behind the wheel.
  8. She had many aliases. The first one I remember is “Aunt Jo” from my cousins. I never knew if my Aunt Sylvia named her that, or if at one time she preferred to be called “Jo”. I guess it is a mystery. Later she was “Mama Jo” to children she babysat. My father called her Scrooge — I have no idea why. Eventually she became Nina–everyone called her Nina Greening whether she was their grandmother or not. Colby, her first grandchild, named her that. It fit.

I will miss her so very much, and words cannot do her lifetime justice. She’d lived a hard life, and continued to fight the heart condition that left her so sick for nearly twenty years. There was once, when I was a very young child, when things were not very good–by not good I mean they repossessed our vacuum cleaner, turned off our propane, the phone was disconnected, and only eating what we raised or killed–in that time I remember asking her, “Will we make it?” and she responded, “We have to.” It is that gritty determination that she bestowed upon me that I am most thankful for.

Now for some pictures: Mrs. Greenbean took these. You can see the ground was wet and muddy, and rain threatened the whole time. Nature is beginning to reclaim the yard, and it has already reclaimed most of the fields.