the life of the party | remembering Mama 2

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The words below are those I had the privilege of sharing at my grandmother’s funeral this morning. To her legacy, and to life in all its fulness.

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“Howdy Do?!”

That’s the greeting that immediately comes to mind when I think about our grandmother. That’s how I remember her greeting others with this classy kind of wave that she taught us all to give…even my brother and me…and a gentle knod of the head.

Howdy Do?!
How wond-ah-ful to see ya.
Mah-ve-lus. Mah-ve-lus.”

You may have known her at Joyce Ann, or Joyce Laycook. We know her as our grandmother, or “Mama 2.” And when we think of southern class, charm, beauty, fashion, humor, celebration and the elegance of a woman of the Old South, we think of Mama 2. I suspect you do too. I suspect that’s part of why you’re here.

We heard stories of her as an only child that made her larger than life, and then, as we continued to grow up as her grandchildren, we watched her live largely into those stories. Our friends watched her live largely into those stories. I suspect you watched her live largely into those stories too.

We remember as children her taking us to the Johnsons’ swimming pool throughout the summer, and especially on the 4th of July. She was, of course, busy working the crowd if there was a party, but she always made time to show us off, make us feel special, and let us know how to be classy, charming, fashionable, and truly southern in the process.

She did love the idea of summer and parties and sun. We spent every summer with Dabo, or our granddad Donald Laycook, and Mama 2 at the beach. She insisted, with her huge and trendy sun hats and brand-new sunglasses on, that we all get “summer names,” or names that we would go by for the week only. Sometimes they were names she perhaps wished we had been given, even her daughters–whom she actually named herself–but still. Summer names. Every trip. I don’t remember my summer names as much as the notion that she was pushing us to live into a kind of wholeness of our imagination and sense of life.

Pick a name for the week. Your summer name. Anything.

It isn’t just summer names that remind us of what she taught us, her grandkids, about living into the fullness of life. We grew up seeing pictures of Mama 2 and Dabo traveling the world with friends and family, and that has pushed all four of us, Katie, Suzanne, James and myself, to do the same. In many ways, she and Dabo have made that both desirable as well as possible. As we grew up, we became the other people in those pictures with them as they traveled, enjoying the food and the scenes of other worlds that made our own worlds bigger and richer and more alive.
You have to travel.
And learn.
And see.
You must. If a week at the beach is worth an entirely new summer name, then life itself must be worth living into fully.

One year at the beach, in between her talking to the birds in what we once thought was a magical language (later learning it was only the effect of pieces of bread thrown in the air at the same time as saying “Click Click Click” which would result in a swarm of seagulls off the deck of the condo), we went shopping as we always did if Mama 2 was around. They were selling henna tattoos in the middle of the shopping plaza. After learning the tattoos were removable after several weeks, she decided to get one as a joke. A rose with “Don” written over it was tattooed high enough on her thigh that it would only be seen while at the beach in her swimsuit. She would not be beaten by Dabo, however, who returned one day from shopping with what we thought was a piercing but turned out to be a magnetic nose ring.

She and Dabo were, at their best, the life of the party with us or with anyone else. While she enjoyed travel for the shopping and Dabo enjoyed it for the food and sights (Dabo used to say that when he and Mama 2 died, he would go to hell and she would go to heaven but it would be okay because they would be together in Pigeon Forge), they could always be found laughing and story-telling anywhere, and living into the fullness of the moment and the reality of the place. Summer names, tattoos, piercings and all.

It wasn’t just trips and travel that this insistence of living was valued. Even in the regular day-to-day rhythm, she got into the practice of calling her granddaughters, Katie and Suzanne, whenever “Dance Party” was on. “Dance Party” is known to most of you as “Dancing with the Stars.” She would call them and talk about the dancers’ outfits, dances, and then whatever else was going on with Katie and Suzanne.

She was a big fan of pop culture. I remember the dilemma once when The Bachelor AND The Victoria Secret Fashion Show was on AT THE SAME TIME! “Horrah…” as Mama 2 would say. But don’t worry. She tuned into one on the TV in her bedroom and tuned into the other on the TV in the den. She wouldn’t let the TV networks’ faux pas be her problem. She caught both shows…don’t worry.

I was in Chicago with some of my best and oldest friends these last few days, getting in late just last night as a matter of fact. It was an incredible privilege as we toasted Mama2 with my friends who didn’t need an explanation about who she was. They knew her name and her nickname; they knew her stories and were part of them; they had traveled with her, laughed at her jokes, and learned from her style. They had grown up with her, on the edges of the way we all grew up with her.

At her best, she was the most fashionable, classy, and charming lady around. She would, of course, do a fashion show for us every Sunday after lunch at their house of the newest items she had bought throughout the week (tags and all because many of them would be returned).
At her best, she was the ultimate host, the life of the party. She had songs for at least one phrase per conversation, and would burst into them immediately. On the way to the beach, we would cross the South Carolina state line and she would sing, “Nothing could be finer than to be in Carolina….” As I began traveling to Nicaragua, she started singing, “Oh, Managua, Nicaragua…dah dah dah dah dah dah dah dah.” She didn’t know the word, but that was clearly inconsequential. Even at our granddad’s funeral, she insisted, walker and all, that she be seated at the table during the after-funeral meal with “the Merry Makers” because the day had been sad enough and it was time to laugh.

Today is a horribly sad day as these last several days have been. But, in remembering Mama 2, and even while enjoying a long weekend getaway with incredible friends in downtown Chicago, just about every shop and every meal and every laugh made me think of her and give thanks for the legacy that she leaves us. The legacy that she leaves me.

At so many lovely dinners at their house, she would sit on one side of the dining room table and Dabo would sit on the other. Mama 2 would start a joke, but then she would start laughing so hard just remembering how funny she thought the joke was, she usually never got to the punch-line. It it didn’t matter, of course, because we were all laughing with tears in our eyes at her laughing by that time.

So today, even in its sadness, we know that Mama 2, or Joyce Ann, or Joyce…however you knew her…would, at her best, want a party. She would want to be with you, where the Merry Makers were, laughing with you, dancing with you, partying with you, eating a sliver, and another sliver, and then another sliver of cake with you, getting tattoos with you, and living life in all its fullness with you.

So if you intend, as her grandchildren do, to honor her life, go from here to lunch or from here to home, or from here back to work and make it a party.
Make it hilarious.
Make it fashionable.
Make it so fun you start can’t finish the joke for laughing.
Make it old-style southern.
Break into songs and give each other summer names, because, well, why not?!

And know that she wouldn’t have it any other way.

djordan
Pine Tree

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One thought on “the life of the party | remembering Mama 2

  1. Ginger says:

    Oh my goodness, she sounds like a wonderful woman, who couldn’t even finish jokes for the laughter. I aspire to a life like this. “…she was pushing us to live into a kind of wholeness of our imagination and sense of life.”

    I am sure she has made you so much of who you are, Donald — well-traveled, well-dressed, charming, southern. I am so sorry for your loss.

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