Bye, Mimi

I haven't posted any thoughts on last week's Wilton class because right afterward I dumped my shaggy, terrifyingly vivid cupcakes in the fridge and caught a red-eye flight to DFW to say goodbye to my grandmother.

Alas, while I was sitting in Spirit Airline's Big Front Seat (money well spent, but that's another post), she took a turn for the worse and could no longer speak. They say she could probably hear me. I hope so, but either way, we were square with each other. I just wanted her to be comfortable and happy at the end.

But then "no more than 24 hours, surely" turned into another day, and Dad and I started to get nervous. All we wanted was for her to have the peaceful end that hospice care and morphine are meant to provide, and the turn had been a bad one. She struggled so hard to breathe.

She finally did wake up a bit, and Dad rushed over while I stayed home to watch Mom (also another post).

It was bad. She cried. She tried to talk. Dad and my aunt tried to comfort her. This is not how it's supposed to be.

Some hours later, while we all slept, she was gone. Unbelievable that someone with that much determination could ever slip away. She was 84.

I would link to the obituary, but (despite a long meeting at the funeral home and my father and aunt's corrections) the thing printed with a date error and more punctuation boo-boos than ought to be allowed in a professional publication. Yes, I am just that demented of a nerd to care. My grandmother deserved standardized comma placement!

So, below is my informal, self-centered, characteristically irreverent "auxiliary obit," probably with bad commas itself, but at least I'm not charging $400 to publish this, although - speaking of money - that's really nothing compared to the $3400 the funeral home is charging despite my grandparents having diligently purchased every conceivable aspect of a pre-need plan... a surcharge for a Saturday burial because it's "overtime"? Really?

Eleanor Mae Stockman Simonds, known to me and her other three grandchildren as "Mimi," was born 15 August 1927 in Whitesboro, Texas, to Charles and Ada Mae (Rials) Stockman. She and her twin sister Edna (Prouty, of Hurst) were the last of Charles and Ada's four daughters. (Mabel and Genevieve, affectionately called "Nig" all her life for reasons I dare not ponder, passed away in 2002 and 1992, respectively.) Dadaw and Mamaw (as subsequent generations called her parents) weren't planning on more kids, but they learned the hard way about washing out and reusing condoms.

(See, this is what we call a "value-added obituary," with bonus details beyond what you're going to get in a standard newspaper piece. If the newspaper ran obits like this, they'd probably sell more papers, and no one would have to pay $400 for a bunch of typos because the papers would pay us. There. I just saved old media.)

(And yes, the condom story is true. I remember sitting at my grandparents' kitchen table and Mimi happened to casually mention that Mamaw and Dadaw, known for their frugality, would wash out the condoms and hang them up to dry, and that's how she and Aunt Edna came to be. I was all, "MIMI! ARGH! STOP!" But she just kept talking like my mind wasn't boiling over with images. "Well, Shari, you're old enough to hear this," she said, shaking her head and carrying on with the story.)

Portrait - Edna and Eleanor

(On right, with sister Edna)

Mimi's parents came from over two centuries of central/southern Louisiana folk. (Genealogy is something we enjoyed working on together in the 1990s. The pictures here come from those low-res GIF-happy days - I'll be rescanning them at a future date.) Mimi, though, lived almost her entire life in Fort Worth, Texas.

Portrait - Rials and Stockman, Eleanor

(Mimi at right, next to her mother - Ada Mae Rials Stockman, and her grandfather - Anderson Franklin Rials. Taken on a visit to Louisiana, 1937.)

But don't think she was a stay-at-home housewife in the suburbs of Cowtown, USA. Mimi and Popo traveled the world by land and air and sea: China, Scotland, France, England, Switzerland, Canada, Belgium, and I dare say most of the 50 states. I don't even know all of the places they went. They loved to travel.

Mexico deserves its own mention, for that is where Mimi focused her ministry work. For over three decades she and Popo hauled in food, helped develop small industries (sewing, crafts), and generally improved life for the many friends she made there through her love of Jesus.

(You may wonder how well a devoted preacher from a Baptist background and her pagan-friendly atheistic granddaughter got along. Well, heaven knows I spent a lot of summers trying to duck Bible camp and prayer meetings, usually unsuccessfully, but it did leave me with some good stories, like this one guy who felt demons channeling into his body from an 8-track tape. This was 1983, so I can see where the universe was trying to send a message. Cassettes, dude. Later, when I was older and could dictate my own schedule, Mimi sometimes hinted at her spiritual hopes for me, but all she would say is that she was glad I was happy and that she had faith that everything would work out how it was supposed to.)

Portrait - Stockman, Eleanor (high school)

But before all that, she met Charlie Simonds, my "Popo," at the skating rink. She was about to turn 17; he was 19; and it was the middle of World War II. He was in the Army Air Corps, 6'3" and all of 135 pounds.

Portrait - Popo and Mimi Walking

They wrote each other almost daily and on 1 June 1944, just after her graduation from Polytechnic High School, they eloped to Weatherford.

(Why Weatherford? Well, that's the thing with genealogy. You think you've annoyed everyone with every last question, and then you realize you have one more, and it's too late.)

Portrait - Simonds, Charles and Eleanor (WW II)

Popo's parents were thrilled. Mimi was close to her mother-in-law, Pearl, a warm-hearted woman who gave almost everyone a nickname. (Mimi was "Joe," and Popo called her "Joey" during their early days together.)

Mimi's parents were not as happy with the news. Their not-quite-17-year-old daughter was married?! To a young dreamer who wanted to fly airplanes (and to put behind him those childhood years spent doing migrant farm work)?

Dadaw was a professional man, a roadmaster for Texas and Pacific Railroad. Mamaw was a practical woman who looked not unlike an elegant, young Jean Simmons. In other words, we're talking about the emerging mid-century middle class at its best. Marriage was something that was supposed to come later, like after Mimi took a clerical turn in the business world - one of her aspirations.

Well, at least Popo promised (to Mimi) that there wouldn't be any kids for awhile.

And that brings us back to that same kitchen table conversation. "Oh yes, Shari; your father was an accident. And I had just gotten a clerical job with the government, too. I was so mad at Popo!"

Portrait - Simonds, Eleanor and Chuck

But by her own account she was thrilled a year and a half later when their son Chuck was born. (As her sister Mabel wrote with a grin, "You've gone and done it!" After two generations of all-female descendants, a grandson surely softened things up between Popo and his in-laws. Don't worry; by the end, they loved him like a son... maybe better... but that's another story.)

Two more children followed (my aunts Kathy and Lisa), and then the grandkids (me, Khristin, Robin, and Michael). Would you believe that someone asked at Popo's funeral why there weren't any great-grandchildren? I can't speak for my cousins (heck, I haven't spoken to my cousins in 25 years, although that's more by the habit of geography than by design), but Mimi never pressured me for grandkids. She liked the independence of working with her ministry and traveling. Maybe some of that culture traveled down to us, or maybe we were all cursed to be barren when Mimi caught The Sailfish:

Portait - Simonds, Eleanor and Big Fish

Fifty-plus years later, it still hangs on the wall, cursing us to lives of childfree adventure.

There were good times and there were bad times, but overall Mimi seemed to live a content life that lacked for nothing. She had many friends in the church, she and Popo traveled extensively until his health prohibited it, and her health was extremely good until these last few months.

I realize I just breezed past about 60 years in one gulp there, but you know what they say - life is all about the dash. As in, "Eleanor Simonds, 1927-2012." That little dash is all the living you do between your birth and death. It looks small on paper (or here on the screen), but it represents everything.

Portrait - Simonds, Charles and Eleanor

Five small, randomly chosen, happy memories of Mimi:

  • She introduced me to menudo. The food, not the Mexican boy band. Actually, maybe the band, too. (I don't partake of either, now, but it's still a pleasant memory.)
  • Driving me around Lufkin at a cemetery reunion. (Everyone knows about cemetery reunions, right? Or should I add "I remember a time before perpetual care" to "rotary dial phones" and "four-year-olds being allowed to ride in the car without a car seat." I'm still wondering if that the last one is just my cousin being overprotective.) Anyway, Mimi tapped the brakes every 40 feet or so, just to regulate speed. Back then I was a bit of a brake-tapper myself. After that one queasy ride with her, I changed my ways and stopped having to replace my brakes every two years.
  • Going to eat fried chicken from a cafeteria-style hole in the wall around the corner. When I'd visit Texas in the summers for weeks at a time, Mimi often took me to a place she called "Grandma's." However, the sign said something like "Ma and Pa's" Being the humourless pedant that I am (see obituary typos), I lived with a huge inner struggle trying to work out why she called it "Grandma's." I asked, but she didn't have a reason. Kind of like the way she would tell people I was visiting from "Detroit" when I lived a good hour-plus and several worlds away from the one city she said her friends would recognize. I do remember that I would try to get double-corn for my two vegetables at "Grandma's," and Mimi didn't give me a hard time about that.
  • Taking Mimi sledding in the backyard in Michigan. (She had to borrow my Dad's snow pants, and it was interesting to me that there were entire states full of people who didn't have their own snow pants.) She must have been only 54 or so then, but it was my grandmother, sledding. Probably also snowmobiling. That was cool.
  • Going to the nursing home around the corner to visit Mamaw after spending a day at the State Fair. I think this was 1985? And Mimi and I were wearing wigs for some reason - they looked like they were made from purple Christmas tinsel. All of the elderly residents smiled with approval. Mimi liked to try new things. She and Popo were alike in that. (But Mimi tended more to the silly side. I seem to recall some head-shaking from Popo as we waltzed around the home in our wigs.)

Oh, there are so many other memories, but you had to be there. The dash - it's over before you know it.

Portrait - Mimi

29 March 2012 |



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