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.