“Mary and Howard had moved back to Greenwood from Ohio in 1980, and in September, 1981, Howard died. Mary and I had been out to the hospital and to the nursing home, and he was going to go hunting with B.J. [Tiny’s husband], Son and some of the other men in the family. When she got home she found him in his chair. He had apparently died shortly after we left the house. We all loved Howard and had looked forward to having Mary and him back in Greenwood. He was enjoying hunting and fishing and had just bought a new boat the day before.”
Mamie and Howard and Melanie, our exotic Ohio relations. Who were secretly always a Greenwood girl and an Itta Bena boy, but who took big trips and met famous people and lived around the corner from Jack Nicklaus (or was it Arnold Palmer? I forget.) and Dave Thomas of Wendy’s fame. Who swept in twice a year, summer and Christmas, in a Cadillac bigger and fancier than anything we ever saw in this podunk town, loaded down with gifts and stick donuts and Schnauzers and tales of the wide world outside Mississippi. The buildup to their arrival was almost unbearable, as was the annual trip to the depot to pick up the Christmas presents which Mamie was famous for. She would spend weeks handcrafting individual creations to go on each package, personalized for the recipient, and they were so wonderful that Sara would collect them and hang them on the next year’s tree. Mamie was all giggles and teasing and silliness, but underneath that facade was a deeply talented and thoughtful woman, the aunt you all wanted and never got. Well, I did, and I got Howard as part of the bargain. Howard was a gentle giant, a great bear of a man who would sweep you up onto his shoulders and parade you around until you just got too big to have that done. He would load all the little Mississippi cousins in his convertible and ride us back and forth across the Keesler Bridge, turning the radio way up and singing Christmas carols while we got dizzy looking up at the passing girders. Other than Russell, he was probably the sweetest man I ever knew, and it was such a blow to this whole family when he left us so quickly and unexpectedly.
Mamie and Sara were only fifteen months or so apart in age and they could butt heads like two billy goats over absolutely nothing. But when it came time for the Cadillac to be loaded up for the long trip back to Ohio, Sara would disappear for awhile, into her own world, giving up her childhood buddy once again. She enjoyed the years when Mamie was back in Greenwood, before Alzheimer’s crept up on her and took away our sweet, laughing aunt.