All Sewn Together


Image  Me and Mary Jo

Until I was eight or nine years old, my family lived in what had been my father’s parent’s home on a large corner lot in Grand Cane, Louisiana.  There were pecan trees, fig trees, pear trees, a large magnolia tree that one of my sisters claimed and a smaller holly tree that was mine. The holly tree had a break in the limbs that provided a window into the side yard and provided a stage where I could sing my heart out. My present day friends have never heard me sing. There is a reason. I do not imagine I was any more melodic as a young child.   I did however, have a hearty laughter that could be heard two blocks away. I was surprised on many occasion while sitting in my holly tree, singing out to the world, to see Miss Mary Ann (Emergency Mom) opening the side door and calling, “Martha, are you home?” Surprised, because she would have had to walk right past my tree to get to that door, and could not have escaped hearing my singing debut.

There was a deep screen porch that ran most of the way across the front of the house. On that porch was a wooden swing. We lived on that porch. We celebrated birthdays on that porch. We waited for rides on that porch. We played out long summer days on that porch. Late in the afternoon, waiting on my father to return home from a vet call, my mother would often be swinging on the porch. Supper would be ready and waiting on the stove. I would lie down on the swing with my head in her lap and listen to the thump, thump of her foot across the wooden floor pushing the swing back and forth. She more often than not rooted around in my hair, looked behind my ears, inspected the back of my neck. (I am not crazy about having my face and ears touched, I haven’t put that together before now, but maybe I am reserving those intimacies for a mother and a swing.) Once I packed a suitcase, determined to run away from home to the Dunn’s. The Dunns lived catty-corner across the street. I did not know that I had chosen to run away to their house the same week they went to visit family in Chicago. I thump, thump, swung in that porch swing until it got dark and then some. At some point, I dragged that large dark blue samsonite suitcase back to my bedroom.   I lived out of that suitcase determined to wait the Dunn’s return. It is immeasurably sad to be left by people who do not even know you are waiting on them.

In the 60s, houses did not have central heat and air, at least most did not. Our house had one window unit air conditioner that was in the kitchen where the door stayed closed while it ran. Funny, but I do not remember being hot when I was a child, and believe me it was HOT in Louisiana in the summer. Large older homes are known for being drafty and this house was no exception. In the winter, we used several open-flame gas heaters placed strategically around the house, just close enough where you might not quite start freezing again before reaching the next way station.

My mother’s father lived with us for many years. His room was off the kitchen in the back of the house. I do not remember whether he actually lived with us at that point, or just came to visit from time to time, but I remember this as his room. I also remember waking up in the winter when the house was all dark and finding a lit heater and backing up to it in my long flannel gown. I was a bed-wetter and would often get up after wetting the bed and find a heater to warm up to. One night, I stood waiting backed up to a heater. Waiting for my parents to come home from visiting friends down the street. Even though it seemed like the middle of the night, I am sure it was probably closer to 10 p.m., but memories exaggerate and loneliness grows heavier in the middle of the night. I remember feeling comforted by the thought that my grandfather was just a few steps away, sleeping in his bed.

A few years ago, a quilting friend and I went to the Gee’s Bend Quilt Exhibit at the High Museum in Atlanta. The Gee’s Bend quilters were a group of women who lived in the isolated African-American hamlet of Gee’s Bend, Alabama. They often used scraps left over from the cotton factories where they worked to make quilts to keep their families warm. They used any fabrics that they had, including heavy corduroy and denim. As I walked among the quilts of their past, a memory as clear as day came floating up from my past. So deep, that I had not remembered it since I was 8 or 9. On top of my grandfather’s bed was a crazy quilt made from a variety of wools and corduroys. I remember the colors. I remember the textures of the quilt. It was decorated in the usual way that crazy quilts are, with lots of embroidery stitches and a myriad of small, rich fabrics. I had not thought about that quilt for 40 years. How had it found its way back?

When I make a quilt for someone, I tell them to make sure they use the quilt. They will not honor me by folding it neatly and putting it in a closet. I would rather it get washed so many times from use that it sheds its batting and loses it shape, than to be put away and forgotten. Quilts, like memories, can fade and be forgotten, but can just as easily come floating back to the surface when the time is right.

I do not know what happened to that quilt. I am not even sure my memory of that quilt is correct, but I can see it lying on my grandfather’s bed. However, the joy and the associations I was able to recall of my childhood in that house, as I walked through that quilt exhibit, makes it irrelevant. It does not matter that the quilt may only exist in my memories, because there it will remain forever…a piece of my grandfather, a piece of a childhood, a piece of night… all sewn together.


The Real Story of My Name


Anna Dunn, mentioned in my last post, cleared up the mystery of my name. 

“The real story of your name was this: your dad had hired me to answer his phone (he put in an outside ringer) while he was on calls. I supposed my hire was mostly to sit with your mother during her last trimester. We set about deciding on names. Your mother had a book, I don’t remember if it was a dictionary or a bible, but it had a list of both boy and girl names. I would run down each list and watch for expressions on Martha’s face. I had mentioned Martha before as your name but I don’t think Howard wanted two Martha’s in the house. Your mom liked Elizabeth and it became a shoe-in when I said that I had found a perfect name. Mispronounced as A–Gath-A.”

Thanks Anna…I am so glad to hear this story. It brings tears to my eyes!!! I guess in many ways, we are all responsible for keeping the history of those around us. Thank you so much. One thing I am realizing as I write down these stories is that they are just my memory and may not be authentically correct. We truly live in our own reality!

A Name Just Needs Lots of Syllables



Easter Sunday (sometime before 1969).  My mother, Martha Ann Dunn Thornton Wilcox, was so before her time!


My name is Martha Elizabeth Wilcox (Irwin).  I was named after my mother, Martha Ann Thornton (Wilcox).  My mother, like most mothers of her time, did not work out of the house when my sisters and I were growing up in the 60s and 70s. But when she turned 50, she opened up an antique shop in Grand Cane, Louisiana.  It was the year my first son was born.  Before opening the Three Sister’s Antique Shop, my mother went on an antiques buying trip to Europe. She had been collecting blue transfer ware and wanted to go to England and Wales to find pieces for her shop.  In order to get a passport, which she had never had, she needed a copy of her birth certificate.  When my mother turned 50, she learned her name was Martha Ann Dunn Thornton. She was named after the nurse who helped deliver her…a Ms. Dunn.  She had never known this was part of her name.  Even stranger, one of my mother’s good friends and partner in antiquing, and the person that I thought of as a grandmother, was Eva Dunn.  I guess we were family all along.  

All my life, I have been called by my middle name, Elizabeth.  My mother never shortened it to Liz.  All through school, there were two other Elizabeths in my class, but they both went by Liz.  All in all, my mother was a pretty proper Southern woman, but I think she just liked the name Elizabeth more than she disliked nicknames.  My oldest sister, Pamela Sue, always went by Pam and my second oldest sister, Ann Howard (named after my dad), always went by Ann. Every year on the first day of school, when the teacher called the role, they would call out, Martha?  I would be waiting for this student, who was evidently new at our school, to answer the teacher.  After a few seconds, and a few giggles, I would realize they were calling my name.  The curious part to me now, is that most of the teachers I had throughout my school years, knew who I was, knew my family, and some were parents of friends of mine. They knew I went by Elizabeth.  Why my mother continued to fill out those school forms year after year using my first name that I did not go by, curiouser still.  I learned pretty quick as an adult to not confuse the matter and just write my name down as Elizabeth. (Of course, I think my license has one name, my bankcard, another…)

I am not sure when I heard the story that my mother had originally wanted to name me Mary Martha, or from whom I heard it. The story goes that one of Eva Dunn’s daughters, Anna, talked my mother into naming me Martha Elizabeth instead. Mother enjoyed telling me tall tales and Anna was always joking, so it could have been either and it might not be true. When mothers die, they take part of your history with them…the part that you thought you still had time to learn. My mother’s older sister, Jo, was a school teacher. When we were growing up, she would give my mother books for us that came from whatever school she was teaching at the time. Not realizing that is where all the school readers came from, I asked my mother where we got all those books. She proceeded to tell me how she had been an English teacher and had taught school for many years. I was very excited to tell everyone at school that my mother had been a teacher. My mother was quite chagrinned at the next school function when my teacher at the time questioned her about her teaching experience.

When picking out names for my children, I insisted that we call them by their first name.  I didn’t want them to wonder on the first day of school, why the new kid wasn’t answering the role call.  I also like names with many syllables, and good old Southern double names.  My sons…Joseph Howard, Benjamin Levy and Zachary Thomas.  I still love their names.  My husband and I attended a school function for our oldest son when he was a senior in high school and I was quite surprised when the administration called him Joe.  Once again, I am looking around to see who Joe is?  I say, “Joseph, why are they calling you Joe, when your name is Joseph?”  “I don’t know mom.”  “What do you mean, you don’t know.”  Joe says, “It doesn’t matter to me.”  (Anyone who knows my oldest son, Joseph, knows that this was a very long and insightful conversation we were having.)  Apparently, Joseph is Joe.  Benjamin is Ben.  Zachary is Zach.  My boys have embraced these shortened versions of their names.  

My third grade teacher was Mrs. Porter, the mother of a friend and classmate. Her daughter, Judy, had the most gorgeous curly hair, which she wore cut short. She also had these beautiful dimples.  Judy spent most of her early teen years trying to straighten her hair, while the rest of us spent our time getting smelly perms so that we could have curls.  On many a lazy summer day, Miss Mary Ann (my emergency mom) and my mother would decide that I needed a perm.  I think they were just bored.  I would find myself choking on perm fumes, head over the sink in Miss Mary Ann’s bathroom.  Miss Mary Ann and her husband, Mr. James had separate bathrooms.  Hers was all pink tile.  As a child, I thought this was luxurious…separate bathrooms, pink tile.  At school and if I was at their house, Mrs. Porter called me by my full name, Martha Elizabeth.  In the south, this name has an infinite number of syllables.  It really irritated Judy and she would argue with her mother, “Mom, she goes by Elizabeth!”  I secretly liked it, but I would have never taken Mrs. Porter’s side, over Judy’s.

It was also in the third grade when I discovered the sound of my voice.  We were doing a project that required us to record a reading. After recording, Mrs. Porter rewound the cassette tape and played it for me.  Tears welled up in my eyes and started rolling down my cheeks. This wasn’t my voice.  And I remember Mrs. Porter’s words to me exactly.   She said, “It is okay, Martha Elizabeth, your voice will change as you get older.”  She confirmed my suspicions, I have a very odd voice.   It is hard to describe. I continue to be surprised by my voice (even at 52) when I hear it recorded. It sounds so different in my head.  My sister, Pam, has the same voice.  I am often confused when I hear myself leave me a voice message, until I realize it is Pam.  Once when we were traveling through Mississippi, we went through a drive through, and I discovered my voice double as someone asked for our order over the intercom. Everyone agreed.  I wished I had gone in and met my voice, but we were anxious to get to the beach.  

In the months leading up the to the birth of our first grandchild, a grandson, his mom and dad kept his name secret. They wanted to wait until after he was born to see if it fit him. For months, we called him Mr. Baby. At the Irwin House if you cannot decide on a name, you just put a Mr. or a Miss in front of it. We have had many a Mr. and Miss Kitty.  When we were able to meet and hold our first Grandbaby after some family bonding time, we were introduced to Jack.  Jack Thomas.  I could tell when I called this gorgeous baby of loveliness “Jack Thomas”, that his mother really wanted him to go by Jack. Just Jack.  His Grandmother and Granddaddy call him Jack Thomas.  We will just have to be forgiven.  On his second birthday, I added to his name…Jack Thomas “Sweet Baby” Irwin.  

Some people are amused that I always call my husband by his first and last name…Ed Irwin.  His name just needs more syllables. Although when I call down from my sewing room to ask Ed Irwin to bring me a cup of coffee, I can just call out Ed.  The name, Ed, can in some circumstances, have many, many syllables.

Where Are My Sewing Scissors? (And other scary questions such as Where is my broom?)


PICT0015(My mother’s father, John Olin Thornton)

I loved coming home from school on an early Louisiana spring day, walking into the house my mom and dad built on the 300 plus acre farm where we moved when I was 9.  The farm was located about a mile outside the corporation limits of Grand Cane.  The same 300 plus acres where my dad built the dairy barn atop the hill that was my mother’s first choice as to where to build her dream house, but was evidently better suited for the dairy barn. We heard about this often.

Mother would have been home cleaning all day, inspired by the first warm breaths of spring, which in Louisiana we all knew were fleeting. Summer would come down upon us in a matter of days. Windows were up, curtains dancing in the breeze. The house would smell of a mixture of furniture polish and something delicious baking in the oven. I would take a deep breath.

I attended a small, private school in town. There were around 200 students, kindergarten through 12th grade. My class at one time had 24 students, I believe it was one of the largest classes to move through the school. This is my memory, it may not be fact. How I would get home from school was anyone’s guess on any given day. I was the third of three girls and I think my mother was pretty much over it by the time I was in school. She was a wonderful mother, yet typical of the time. Life was not all about providing a rich, entertaining experience for the children. Our needs were met, emotionally and physically, but it was not all about us.

My mom or my grandfather, my mom’s dad, would drive me to school every morning. My grandfather (John Olin Thornton) lived with us for many years. I remember he always drove a large, four-door luxury car which he traded in every two years for a newer model. He drove me to school. He drove about a half mile to the dairy barn where he kept financial and other records for my dad. Other than maybe a trip to the store to get cigarettes, I am not sure he drove anywhere else. But he always had a nice car. My grandfather smoked. His room was on the first floor of our house. I do not remember our house smelling like cigarettes, although he chain smoked in his room when he was not working at the dairy. My mother would go to the library in Mansfield where Mrs. Stokes, the librarian, would have gathered a paper sack (the grocery store kind) full of paperback detective stories that she had picked out for my grandfather for the week. In a small town, the librarian knows what everyone likes to read. He read, smoked cigarettes, watched television and I believe he also drank, but I was not aware of this at the time. Once, I put a poster of Uncle Sam declaring, “I want you to quit smoking!” on the back of his door so that he would see it when he closed his bedroom door. He never said anything about it. He lived with us for around 12 years, and I really do not remember having many conversations (other than the the normal daily kind of things) with him. When he died, I regretted not having gotten to know him better. There are so many questions I would ask him now. Rewind… One day when he was driving me to school, the smoke from his cigarette got so thick in the car, that I rolled down my window just a smidge (he had electric windows, not the crank kind like mother’s car). He mumbled at me to roll the window up because I was letting the cold air in. I remember trying to hold my breath against the smoke the rest of the way to school. It is funny, but I remember this story fondly, not the way it sounds at all.

At the end of the school day, I would come out of the school building. Many days, my mother’s car was there in front where she would pick me up and drive me home. But just as many days, she would not be there. If I didn’t see her, I would walk out into the middle of the street and peer towards Miss Mary Ann’s (emergency mom) house which was a couple of blocks away to see if mother’s car was parked there. If her car was there, I would walk to Miss Mary Ann’s house, where they would be having coffee or re-arranging furniture in the front room…once again. I was happy to walk the couple of blocks because Miss Mary Ann kept boxes of Debbie Cakes as after school snacks for her son, John, or she would have baked some cookies or a cake. She would serve me an after school snack in front of the television where I could watch I Love Lucy or cartoons. We didn’t usually have after school snacks at my house, at least the kind that were ready for you when you walked in the door. Our snacks were more the kind you fixed yourself…cheese and crackers, a peanut butter sandwich and chocolate milk. And then again, just as many days, I would not see mother’s car parked down the street, so I would walk around the corner to my dad’s vet office and see if he was there or out on a call. If he was there, he might ask me to wash up some needles in the sink or to start some surgical equipment in the autoclave, but at some point he would give me a ride home. If he was out on a call, my only way home was just to walk. It was only a mile, but it was up a very long, gradual hill on a country road. If I was lucky, I could catch a ride with someone heading in that direction. It wasn’t until I grew up and had children of my own, that I began to even question why my mother did not pick my up from school everyday but just assumed I would get home eventually, somehow. I can not imagine leaving a child somewhere without planning who, when and where I was picking them up.  But this was in the 60s and 70s, and my mom knew I would get home.  Parents did not have to know where their children were every second of the day.

Walking into the house after school on such a spring day…you were unsuspecting, lulled into a false sense of “everything is right with the world”. The first inkling that anything was wrong, was the noise coming from upstairs…maybe a vacuum cleaner, not a bad sound itself, but if the noise was coming from my room, the dread would start to rise from the bottom of my feet which were suddenly as heavy as concrete. “Oh no” it would hit me, mother was in my closet. In the bedroom I shared with my sister, Ann, until she went away to school, we had two closets that extended under the eaves of the roof. They were large enough to play in, which we did often, and they were definitely big enough to put lots of stuff in! Walking into my bedroom, all I would see was mother’s arm, appearing to be 5 feet long, extending out of the closet door. In her hand would be either her good sewing scissors, or a half-eaten sandwich or a utensil from the kitchen that we had used for something other than its intended use in a game or as a tool and had forgotten to return. And you could tell just from the hand, not yet accompanied by a voice that it was not a happy gesture. This hand was saying, “what are my good sewing scissors doing in your closet when you have been told over and over again that they are only to be used for cutting fabric and they are to be left with my sewing things?” This hand was saying, “you better quickly get over here and get these scissors and return them to their rightful place”. This hand was saying, “don’t let me ever find these laying around in your closet ever again.” This hand said a lot.

Consistency was not one of Mother’s strong suits, something she and I have in common. Most of the time, weeks could go by, without her caring what stuff we piled into our closets or the fact that you couldn’t open the closet door without things pouring out into the room. But when she took a mind to clean them out, everyone be ware. It was a tense hour or so, until all the contraband was found and returned to its proper place. It most certainly involved some crying, most likely from everyone. You were never really sure what would ignite the process or to what degree the heat would rise. Generally, it ended as it started…quickly extinguished. Painful none the less.

Sometimes it might be an unsuspecting Saturday evening, when the question arose, “Where is the broom?”. Not a scary question in and of itself, unless you had been playing in the woods all day building a fort out of fallen limbs. Not a scary question, unless you had taken the broom out into the woods to sweep the pine straw out of your newly built fort. Mother’s household broom. It was almost always too late to redeem ourselves…dart out into the darkness, find the broom and return it to its rightful place. No, by the time the question came out of her mouth, I am sure she knew the answer. There was no escaping. Spanking was definitely a part of the Wilcox discipline philosophy, however, it wasn’t often, and this would not have been a spanking offense. But many times, a spanking would have been easier. Mother was queen of the fussing and lecturing with a raised voice at times like these. We all ended up feeling bad, shedding tears… As a mother myself, I know she hated hearing those words coming out of her mouth as much as I did when I fussed at my boys about something that didn’t really matter in the end.

I vowed never to strike terror into my boys lives, at least not through cleaning frenzys that could never be predicted or questions that I knew the answer to already. I pretty much let the boys keep their rooms as clean or as messy as they wanted as long as they kept the door to their rooms closed. If it got too much for me and I could not stand the mess anymore, I would wait until they left and go into their rooms and clean it up. I could throw away things as I wanted to. I would returns things to their proper places. I actually enjoyed being able to peer into their lives through their messy rooms and I enjoyed reestablishing order amongst the chaos. I may not have taught them the consequences of keeping a messy room, but I hope that they enjoyed at least once or twice, the wonderful feeling of walking into the house on an early spring day and smelling the mixture of furniture polish and something delicious baking in the oven.


Sent from my iPad

Bully in the Playhouse


Image(My oldest sister, Pam and me.  In the background is the home I lived in until I was 8 or 9.)

In my 52 year history, I only have a few true regrets. Things I would choose to rewind and do over. Things that in the big picture may have seemed really small, but over the years have continued to cloud into my thoughts. Things that I can not forget. Like most parents, I have some guilt and regrets over things I wish I had done differently or had done or not done, but overall I am content with the way my husband and I raised our three sons. They have grown into human beings that are caring, responsible, educated and living their truths (to use a popular phrase). I have not committed any criminal acts, or violence against an animal (except maybe a Guinea pig, but it wasn’t on purpose) or a human. For the most part, I think that I show kindness and understanding. I can typically put myself in another person’s shoes and understand their feelings and actions. (Not necessarily a skill I use with my husband, but that is another post!) I am sure there are many times I have said things that in the few moments following those words, I would take it back or change it, but not true regrets….things you would push the rewind button on.

Until I was eight or nine, my family lived in the house that had belonged to my father’s parents in the small town of Grand Cane in Northwest Louisiana. I did not know either of his parents, in fact, the only grandparent I knew was my mother’s father, John Olin Thornton. I grew up with two sisters; I am the baby. My sisters are five and six years older than me. I remember playing with my middle sister, Ann, because we had some friends that were sisters and we often all played together. I remember doing some things with my oldest sister, Pam, in fact, she was a great older sister who did not mind me hanging out with her and her friends at times, but we didn’t really play together.

The house sat on a large corner lot near the edge of town. There was a large barn that was filled with glass front cabinets from an old store, stacks of army trunks, boxes of furniture that my husband and I raided after we got married, and floor to ceiling shelves lined with old cigar boxes full of screws, nails, and bolts. There was another shed where lawn mowers were kept and maybe my dad parked his truck. This was where we kept our bicycles. It was also where my sister Ann would ride her bike into the back wall because she didn’t know how to use the brakes on her bike. This barn was made from corrugated metal roof material. We always knew when Ann got home. There was another short shed attached to the large barn where baby calves were kept and probably chickens from time to time. We could climb up on the roof of this shed and lay down and never be seen by other people in the yard. I remember laying on top of that roof one day with my friend, John, the son of my emergency mom (see previous post of same name) listening to his new transistor radio. I am sure it was a hot, summer day and we were bored. There was also a horse barn where our two horses were fed. It opened out into a pasture where they grazed.

My father’s small animal veterinary clinic was on the adjacent lot to the house. My dad being a vet meant that we had some strange animals as pets from time to time. I remember a turtle. And there was a skunk that had been de-scented. It also meant we had lots of cats. If someone brought a cat into his office to be put to sleep, if it wasn’t truly sick, he would just bring it home to us. Because of this we ended up with Violet, a long hair Persian of some kind, that was nice as long as you didn’t touch her tail. We also had Timothy, a blue point Siamese, that was over weight and extremely timid… except for the time he jumped out of the second floor window of our new house when someone was putting some cat food out in the yard down below. That showed real bravery.

And in the summers, there was usually a large animal watering trough that was pulled into the yard for us to fill with water and swim in. After only a few days, the bottom of the trough would begin to grow algae and get very slippery. And then it would sit empty of children but full of lots of floating, growing “things”.

We had an awesome playhouse, however, complete with cabinets and pretend sink and oven. I do not know where it came from. I don’t know if someone made it for us, or if it was there all the time. It also had a little front porch with columns. It sat in the shade of a large tree that had vines hanging down that we could swing on. There was one very thick vine that came down from the tree and curved at such an angle that we could sit on it like a swing, or pretend it was a couch, or throw a leg over and ride it like a horse. (One night, my dad took us out to that tree and shined a flashlight into it to show us a mother possum with several babies hanging upside down from her tail…I haven’t thought of that memory in years.)

One day my friend, Nanette, came over to play. We were in the playhouse and we were talking about our dolls. I don’t remember whether Nanette was saying that her dolls came to life during the night and I was arguing with her about how that was not true even if her mother said it was, or if I was telling her that my doll came to life during the night and that my mother said that it could happen. I really can not recall which side my argument landed on, but I was very upset that Nanette did not believe me. Nanette wanted to leave and go home. I remember thinking that if I could just keep her here in this playhouse with me, that I would be able to convince her of the ludicrousness of her argument and then she would not be upset with me and she would not want to go home. I body-blocked the doorway and tried to keep her from leaving. I am pretty sure she started crying. If I had been in her situation, I am sure I would have cried. To have your friend turn into a bully right in front of your eyes is a scary thing. At some point, I relented and she ran home.

As a child and then as a young adult, I often felt misunderstood. If I could only debate my point better, then they would understand. What I had not put together, was that I was the one who did not understand. I was the one who wasn’t listening or who had put all the facts together but in the wrong formation. I am not sure when I gained clarity on this point, but I try now to stand down and see where my anger, hurt, frustration is coming from. ( Again, not something I can pull from easily when it involves my husband, but I try.)

I taught 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade in a Montessori school for many years, and at least once a year I told my students the story about the day I blocked my friend from leaving my playhouse. I would hear a student say or do something that would hurt another person’s feelings, it might even involve someone that was a good friend. I would tell them that most likely Nanette doesn’t even remember that day. But even after 40 something years, I remember it as though it happened yesterday. My face still burns with embarrassment when I think about it. I told my students that the person we hurt most is ourselves.

Maybe we all have these moments to relive in order to remind us to be kind. That day in the playhouse in my yard in Grand Cane, Louisiana, is a day I would rewind and do over if given a chance. Maybe if Nanette reads this, she will forgive me and I can.

Update to Emergency Mom Post


I have been trying to clean out closets and cabinets….I dream of building a tiny house on a piece of land and getting rid of most of the things we own!  In the midst of cleaning out a cabinet, I found a box of treasures from my childhood.  I thought I had lost it during some previous move.  It doesn’t have much in it…a photo album with some very old photos, some newspaper clippings, a school keepsake folder that has an envelope for each grade and there are actually things in each envelope through grade six!, and a sweet tea set from when I was probably 7 or 8.  In amongst these things, I found something that I did not even know I had.

I don’t believe in the philosophy that “things work out like they are supposed to”…I think things work out the way they do and then we make all the other pieces of the puzzle fit…therefore, things work out…like they are supposed to?  Anyway, I am not very spiritual either, or at least, I have never found a definition of “spiritual” that feels right to me.  I have, however, found that some people have a way of making things work out.  I have a friend that believes in the “put it into the universe” philosophy and I have seen things come to fruition right in front of her eyes using this philosophy.  Every once in a while, when I really, really want something to happen, I try this philosophy out and sometimes it really works!

So in the box of treasures that I had not seen for years, I found this:Image

…one of the identification cards from an old billfold like I described in my last post!!!!  LOOK!  It is exactly like I described.  So I had to share.  (Although, I think those telephone numbers are bogus.  I don’t remember ever having that phone number.)  So did this work out like it was supposed to?  Or did I put it into the universe?

Emergency Mom

Martha Ann Dunn Thornton Wilcox, my mother

Martha Ann Dunn Thornton Wilcox, my mother

I grew up in the 60s and 70s in Grand Cane, Louisiana. Grand Cane had and still has a population near 250. We lived in what had been my grandparent’s home in town until I was 9, then my parents built a home on our dairy farm about a mile out of town. I loved that old house and vowed to grow up and build a house just like it. Well, if drafty, in constant need for maintenance and inadequate closets was what I wanted…I think I managed pretty well. My husband and I live in a beautiful old home that deserves a family with much more financial caressing than we are able to give it. One day, probably within the first year we bought the house, my husband and I were in an upstairs bedroom refinishing the original wood floors. We were covered in dust, exhausted from the work but I looked at my husband and realized that I was living one of my dreams, to love and caress an old house, and make it a home. It was a good day.

I don’t know if little girls like to get wallets these days or not, but I seem to remember this being a somewhat annual Christmas gift. They were shiny and made a plastic-y sound as you tried to open them. In the wallet, there was an information card. Now I am a rule follower and I dutifully filled out that card with each new wallet. Name:   Elizabeth Wilcox; Phone Number: 858-2549; Birthdate: June 22, 1961; Emergency Contact: Miss Mary Ann. Miss Mary Ann was my mother’s best friend and my go-to person when I couldn’t find my mother. (I grew up in the days when mothers swept you out of the house in the morning and you didn’t make contact again until the sun started setting.) Mary Ann and my mother, if not together having coffee at one or the other’s house, or running into Mansfield to get some groceries together, or heading to Shreveport to go furniture shopping, at least always knew where the other one was. And while there were not too many “emergencies”, I do remember at least one…

I don’t know where my mother was, probably had run to the grocery store or to the hairdressers, but I decided to clean out the garage. It was a hot summer day and I was not necessarily a helpful child so I had probably either wanted to ask a favor of my mom later that day, or was in trouble and wanted to get back in mother’s good graces. Sometime during the clean up I cut my thumb on a glass. (Not a good idea to turn a glass upside down and tap it on concrete to get something out.) It was a pretty good cut. After showing my sister, we decided we better call Miss Mary Ann to come out and look at it. Mary Ann showed up with a first aid kit, determined that I probably did not need stitches and wrapped up my thumb. I still have the scar. I rub my fingers over it often and am immediately carried back to those summer days as a child.

When I got married, it was a very simple affair in the small, yet beautiful church of my childhood. Neither my husband to be nor myself are religious, but at the time I would not have even thought you could get married anywhere but a church. Only family members were invited to the wedding with very few exceptions: My sister’s fiancé and her best friend; Eva Dunn who was the person I thought of as my grandmother not having known either of my grandmothers; our college friends, the Griggs, who my whole family has since adopted and we consider their children cousins to ours; and Miss Mary Ann and Mr. James. Mary Ann stayed back in the vestibule with me until it was time for me to walk down the aisle with my dad. These were my people and to this day either they or their family members continue to be my people. People you would contact if you wanted to touch home…your emergency contact.

But when my mother died very unexpectedly a week after Miss Mary Ann’s husband, James, died, is when “emergency people” were needed most.   Mary Ann, still in such shock over losing her husband of 50 years and in addition, losing her best friend of over 30 years, sent her family to help us with all the decisions and things we would need to consider for mother’s funeral. Her daughters told us about the clothes we would need to bring to the funeral home and they brought us Tylenol p.m. because they said we would not be able to sleep. Even before most people in town knew that my mother had died, we were met at the hospital (where they flew my mother) by Miss Mary Ann’s grandsons and son. She sent them directly from her house, where people had gathered after Mr. James’ funeral, to be there for us. These were our emergency people.

A year after my mother’s death, Miss Mary Ann and my father, married. They had comforted each other through their year of grief and we were happy for them both. No one wants someone they love to be lonely. Miss Mary Ann remembers more of my childhood stories than my father. She is the one who remembers hearing my laughter carry from our front porch down the block to her house. She would call my mother and ask, “What is Elizabeth laughing at?” (Apparently, I had a very husky, loud laugh!) She is much more than an emergency contact; she truly became my emergency mom.

And while nothing in life works out exactly as you think it will, and while holding someone to be your emergency mother is more than anyone should ask, it is the people we gather throughout our lives, the people that become so entangled in our memories that we know as many stories about them as they know about us, these are our emergency people. In Nick Hornby’s book, About a Boy, the main character believes humans are like islands- best if self-sufficient, not needing anyone. And while I have never felt that it is best to be an island, there are many times I have felt as though I must be floating out amongst everyone, yet not touching anyone.

Miss Mary Ann does not need an emergency daughter; she is surrounded by her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. But she might need me there to remind her of her friend, my mother. I shouldn’t forget that while our emergency people hold parts of our history in their hearts…We, too, hold theirs.


Obituary in the Mail


My husband and I live in a hundred plus year-old home.  It has a mail slot beside the front door where the mail person drops the mail everyday and it plops on the floor.  I love that!

One day I found an envelope addressed to me in an unfamiliar handwriting.   (Finding any mail that is hand-addressed now a-days is a novelty.)  When I opened the envelope, my mother’s obituary fell out onto the floor.  It had been at least eight or nine years since my mother’s death.  This was one of those bookmarks made by the mortuary that buried my mother, where they laminate a copy of your loved one’s obituary and make family members a book mark.  (This isn’t just a Louisiana thing either, cause we have one from my mother-in-law’s funeral and she was buried in Texas.) Many emotions flooded.  I often can not put into words the feelings I am having.  I hate it when my husband asks me how I feel…”I don’t know!”, I often want to shout!  But none the less, emotions flooded.

When I was in college and going through my “oh, I am so philosophical” stage, I thought traditional rituals were archaic and silly.  Now that I am 52, I still believe that is true of many traditions and rituals, however, with age and experience, I have come to understand and even appreciate some traditions.  During my college years, one of the young men in my business fraternity died in a car accident and many of the club members were going to the funeral.  I declined to go.  Part of it was that I am just naturally a shy person, and tend to opt out of unfamiliar things.  But part of it was, that I thought funerals were archaic.  I would remember him and think of him and that was what was important.  (I wish life had a rewind button.) Another young man that was friends with my college roommates died the next year.  I had met him and hung out with him, but again, did not feel that going to a funeral would change anything.  I would stay home and listen to sad music and be philosophical! (rewind)

No one close to me had died.  I had not had the experience of going to a funeral of someone that I knew other than a remote relative or two.  At my mother’s funeral, the church was filled to overflowing.  I was overwhelmed by the number of people who were there.  I grew up in a small town of only 250 people.  Everyone knew everyone.  My mother was a quintessential southern women who touched lives spread out over a large geographical area.  I was touched by every person there.  I wondered why more people did not come.  The graveyard was only a few hundred yards down the road from the church.  I don’t even remember how I got there.  I think a cousin drove me and my three sons.

I remember, after I returned home to Macon a week or so after the funeral, I was driving along Northside drive for some reason.  And as tears started welling in my eyes from some passing memory of my mother, I wanted to roll down my car window and shout to everyone…”What are you doing?  Why are you acting like nothing has happened?  I have had the most momentous, horrific loss possible and you people are going about your normal day!”

Almost exactly a year later, the mother of a close friend of mine (in fact our children are getting married next year) died and I went to her funeral in Chattanooga.  After my mother died, I would have attended every funeral I heard about if not for my natural shyness.  I wanted to be reminded of those feelings of sadness and loss.  I did not want life to continue as it was.  After the funeral, I followed the other cars to the graveside service.  Along the way, I saw the on-coming cars pull to the side of the road and stop.  Of course, I know that when you see a funeral procession, you pull your car over and wait until it passes.  I had done this numerous times, but I had not seen it from this perspective.  It hit me hard.  There is a moment when the world does stop.  The world stops for a few minutes and shouts back…we know! Funeral processions are not silly or archaic.

The laminated obituary/book-mark was found in a book that we had donated to the Friend’s of the Library book sale.  Someone had picked up the book at the sale and turning the pages, found my mother’s obituary.  They saw our name listed as family members and that we were from Macon and I guess, googled us and found our address.  There was a small hand-written note included.  She knew that it had been forgotten in the book and that I would want it back.  She was right.



Who holds your history?


When my mother died, I had an overwhelming panic that along with this most beautiful person, I had also lost my history.  My history as a daughter, my history as a child of the 60s and 70s…well, a history of ME.  So for my children, for my siblings, for anyone else who may feel the same, I am writing down my history as I remember it.  My mother would have most likely had insights that I will miss, but I am pleased to offer these stories to my children.  I am holding their history close to my heart.