She loved gaudy, red lipstick and called my makeup “warpaint.” She’s the reason I hardly ever wear any. She never ever stopped moving. She’s the reason I like to lounge. She always had the television on, so I decided it best to read in front of it. Her head came up to my boobs, and she said I was a giant. She loved to read mysteries and romance novels—but she was losing her sight. She loved country music and oldies—anything with a melody—and she would occasionally belt out Patsy Cline. Her favorite was Randy Travis—who I called Randy Shithead. She asked too many questions—ridiculous, crazy, totally inappropriate questions—but she said I was “nosy in the book.”
She liked things clean, and that’s why I’m a crumb Nazi. She hated going more than one place in a day, standing in lines, and people who tried to get something for nothing. She was honest—bold and blunt and abrasive. She never joked about anything, but she was incredibly funny. Sometimes, she would just start laughing to herself—and no one would know why. She liked to take pictures and was good at finding perfect moments. She taught me the fine art of bathing and 7-11 picnics. She loved all animals, but especially kitties. She treated them like children.
Children flocked to her, and she was a natural mother. She was protective, but she was the best listener ever—always saying what she would do…not telling you what to do. She worried to the point of insanity. She made peanut butter & jelly sandwiches with margarine and didn’t tell me what pork rinds were. She loved liver sausage sandwiches and broccoli soup. She made the worst food imaginable—something called hotdish—with burnt onions and acidic tin can tomato sauce and Velveeta. She could bake anything. She’s the reason I love ice cream cones.
She loved to take me to the library. She loved Swiss Cake Rolls and candy. Whole milk was the only way to go. She grew up on a farm in North Dakota and got pregnant when she was 13. She was the baby of the family, but her Mama wasn’t really her Mama. Her real Mama died in childbirth. She was born in a barn. She thought she killed a cow. She cut off all her sister’s hair. She would wear fifty snowsuits when her Mama spanked her. Her sister pushed her from the hayloft, breaking both her legs. She worked for several years as a made. She lost two children before me. I was her miracle. She loved my father till the day she died. She wore a Kerry pin, even after he didn’t win the election. I didn’t have the heart to tell her she lost. If she had a crush on a man, she called him her honeylamb.
She carried a shopping bag—not a purse—and a gauzy scarf everywhere she went. She felt naked without her wedding ring and her watch. She liked glitzy jewelry. She hated long pants and cut off things rather than tailoring them. She still wore her clothes from the 70s. She put on her nightgown at 4:30 pm and didn’t care if it was falling apart. She loved slippers so much. She was easy to please, and I loved to make her happy.
She was my sous chef—cutting up all the vegetables before I went in and made them taste good. She liked to throw things when she was mad. She forgave easily. She could look at you and rip you apart. She had the bluest eyes, brown-red hair that turned the most beautiful shade of silver, and olive skin. She liked green and red best. She loved Thanksgiving and Christmas. She loved snow and hated ice. She walked everywhere. She couldn’t reach light bulbs. She could corner you with one look. She was naive and gullible. She was often immature. She loved movies and soap operas. And Taco Bell. And lasagna. She was proud of “her girl” and took every opportunity to brag. She loved her Mama and her Daddy and her siblings. She always turned the other cheek. She believed in God, but didn’t stuff it in anyone’s face. She didn’t know many things, but she’d always admit it. She thought she was stupid. She smoked Misty Menthols. She told great stories about her childhood and my father. She combed my hair on the porch, in the dark. She sang to me and read to me and let me watch late-night television on the weekends. She was always, always there.
She fought for me, but she never coddled me. She drove me crazy. She was an alcoholic in recovery. She laughed around men—a little too loud. She was stubborn to the point of insanity. Almost everyone liked her, but God help you if she didn’t like you. But, at least, you knew it. She hated needles. She died too soon.
Her name was Ruth. I called her Mama. And I loved her. And I miss her. And today is her birthday.