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Au revoir My Mama

By Laura Geiger My Mama, May Melton, was a true Southern lady. She exuded faith, beauty, grace, kindness, courage, spirit and love. When she left this mortal earth at 91, she had taught me how to live and also how to die. Most in life, she loved and cherished my Daddy. For 69 years they were true to the vows they took June 30, 1943 before they passed under the crossed sabers in their full military wedding at Fort Riley, Kansas. When the love of her life died 19 months ago, Mama covered the enormous hole in her heart and showed us how to bravely ‘˜carry on’ just as he had instructed me to do. Mama loved her adopted Griffin and it loved her. Mama and Daddy built their home for a growing family in the middle of a farmed-out cotton patch. The lady fixed the place up and turned it into a cherished sanctuary for all of God’s creatures, a place where family and wildlife alike took refuge from the chaotic world ‘“ a place we were loved, encouraged and protected. Instead of the din of television, we heard the symphonies of birds singing and people talking ‘“ there was peace and rest at home. Then it became hard for her to talk without oxygen continuously flowing through a cannula in her nose. Her horrible cough would echo through the house and leave her gasping for air. It was life’s Catch 22: My Mama was dying and I wanted her pain to end but that meant I would lose her. The grieving began long before she died ‘“ it started when I realized our future days together were limited. So, as it goes, we cherished every moment we had together and, in doing so, I stopped my hustle and bustle and we watched and reflected on the cycles of life. We noticed the birds hanging around the feeder longer. Along with the prevalent cardinals and chickadees, an indigo bunting started frequenting the garden overlook. Mockingbirds sang while perched on the fence line. Blondie and her twin fawns scampered around the pasture. Peter Rabbit dined with us regularly. ‘How can heaven be more beautiful than this?’ she asked as she looked out the window at the green meadow Walter mowed and maintained ‘“ always to her delight. She grew Queen Elizabeth roses. They were like her: beautiful and cheerful, cultivated and cultured. She worked at weeding and fertilizing, pruning and spraying them. In turn, they responded to her tender love and care. Her roses were one of her ministries. A preacher told me Mama’s lovely bouquets of pink blossoms most often preceded him in visiting the sick. Mama was the first female editor of the University of Georgia’s Red & Black newspaper and was an avid reader who devoured every word in several newspapers daily. Her foundation of knowledge showed in conversations where she was always interested in people and the world around her. She was exceptionally gifted recalling names and obscure details about people and their families. In the 58 years of her diapering me to my burying her, my amazing Mama taught me so many lessons. I share a few. My Mama taught me to waste not, want not. Raised during the depression, she was frugal and focused on saving but she was never cheap. She shopped ads in the newspaper first and made her grocery lists from the quality products on sale. She used one Kleenex or paper towel at a time, only bought what was needed and knew how to spend wisely. She wished our governments would do the same. My Mama taught me to persevere. As a member of ‘The Greatest Generation,’ her perseverance through difficult times was a testament to her extraordinary character. During war, peace and death, she exhibited values of personal responsibility, duty, honor and faith. ‘Duty is the most sublime word in our language,’ she said quoting a hero Robert E. Lee. ‘Do your duty in all things. You cannot do more. You should never wish to do less.’ My Mama taught me there is beauty in all people, places and things. Look for it. Beautiful, wonderful, pretty, gorgeous, outstanding, magnificent and fine were lifelong favorite adjectives and repeatedly uttered, even when in debilitating pain on her deathbed. Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative. Despite the ravages of old age and disease, she never complained. My Mama taught me to play the cards I’m dealt in the game of life. She was regarded as one of the top bridge players in town and would put her tournament winnings in her JOY Sunday School class’ offering plate. Though she tried to teach me bridge, it was penny poker we played on rainy days growing up and in her final weeks when our dear Livia Lanier gave her Grandy a run for her pennies. My Mama taught me to honor my name. She was proudest of her family and good name. She was born and raised a Wingfield in Athens where her beloved namesake May Melton, a freshman at the University of Georgia, is now living. Mama often told me the nicest compliment of her life was having May Melton named after her. Walter and I named our long awaited, firstborn daughter after the loveliest lady we knew. Mama passed on the legacy of her good name and character ‘“ and her namesake carries it well. My Mama taught me to have an attitude of gratitude. Every moment, every hour, every day she was thankful to God. She was always generous in writing sincere thank you notes for acts of kindness and also penned letters of congratulations and encouragement. Along with listing many blessings, every night she thanked God for saving Walter’s life. What a privilege it was to hear her prayers. Three times a day she prayed Livia Lanier’s childhood blessing, ‘Thank you God for happy hearts.’ Her favorite hymn was ‘Great is Thy faithfulness’, ‘all I have needed Thy hand hath provided.’ My Mama taught me blood is thicker than water. During her final days my brother, two sisters and I teamed up to attempt to keep her comfortable but as was customary throughout her life she needed no help in being content. While you can’t pick your family ‘“ I’m blessed with mine ‘“ Mama taught me to choose friends wisely and I’m blessed my family and friends have supported my remarkable Mama and me during this difficult journey Along Life’s Road. My Mama taught me you’re never fully dressed without a smile. Distinctively wearing a flower in her wispy blonde hair, Mama exuded class and style in her persona and dress. She believed you dressed for success when going out whether it was to work, the grocery store or church and that you put on a good face if things are going your way or not. Now that she’s gone, I may not be smiling but if you see me I will be wearing lipstick because, after all, Mama taught me to do so. Laura Geiger is publisher of The Herald Gazette and Pike County Journal Reporter.

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