We used to gather at her home every Sunday after church, with all the cousins. She made a yellow cake (usually with chocolate frosting) and would let it cool as the adults sat in the living room with coffee and talked. I remember sneaking into the kitchen over and over to scoop up a finger full of melted frosting that would drip over the edge of the Tupperware container that it rested on. Occasionally my aunt Valerie would come in to do the same and I remember thinking to myself “she is the aunt that is the most like me”.
She made the greatest “Mimi Burgers” of all time. The cousins decided that Mimi should open her own restaurant and call it “Mimi Burgers” or maybe “Mimi’s House” and only serve burgers and fries (which my PaBob would occasionally make in the garage in a deep fryer) and of course, a cake made from a box mix. That’s really all you’d need.
On these Sundays, all of the cousins would spend hours outdoors, running wild through the woods behind her home. We went on adventures which found us on the edge of the local cemetery, making up stories about how the people died. We would splash through the creek and catch frogs and tadpoles. We made up gymnastics routines on the metal play set they had installed behind her home. We would teach my PaBob’s German Shepard, Max, tricks, but they were mostly tricks he’d already been taught.
We caught lizards on the side of her garage for hours, always watching out for the elusive “Blue Racer” snake that my cousin Ben and brother CJ seemed to spot almost weekly before it raced off into the woods.
We pretended to drive my PaBob’s lawn mower, his boat, his Jeep. We rode their bicycles around the circle driveway that ran through their wooded neighborhood. We carried each other around the house in a wheelbarrow, creating elaborate obstacle courses. Every Easter egg hunt was there. Every piñata. Every birthday celebration.
When it was rainy, we would pile into the back bedroom, (usually no less than 7 of us, but more often up to 13 grandkids at once) and try to find Nickelodeon on a box tv the size of a small car. We would take turns playing hide and seek, which was tricky in a room with one small closet, a pull-out couch, a velvet blue recliner and lamp, and, again, a Kia sized television.
We began hiding within the pull-out couch, often hiding 2 cousins on the bed and then folding it up and sitting on the couch to prove that Randall and CJ couldn’t possibly be hiding in there.
We spent our time jumping on Mimi’s personal trampoline, and using her assortment of mail ordered workout equipment. A thighmaster, handweights, a sit-ups assistant. It was like Christmas when we walked in to find an exercise bike, to be replaced years later by a rowing machine. We spent every Sunday “getting buff”.
On the rare occasion when we needed adult attention, we’d parade through the living room to make the adults laugh. We knew we needed a gimmick, they wouldn’t let us just sit there and listen as they updated each other about their weeks. Some days we’d organize a talent show.
My brother CJ would start it off with a full rendition of Ray Stevens “Mississippi Squirrel Revival”. Amy and Stephanie might follow shortly with an impersonation of Mimi, on a drive to Wal-Mart. My cousins Ben & Randall were always good for a funny skit, or a song on the piano. I once bought a joke book for my stand up act that would follow.
My oldest cousin, Jeff, figured it out early. He’d eat lunch and then “nap” under the piano bench. He was privy to so much more information than the rest of us, because when we’d get shooed outside, we were told to leave quietly, not to wake up poor Jeff.
When we WERE allowed in the living room with the adults, they would often switch to pig Latin to discuss private matters. “Hey Michael, did you see that dress that Ane-Ja Oe-Da was earing-wa at urch-cha oday-Ta? Who was she dressing up for, do ya think?”
We were a fast study and cracked their code in an hour. Even faster than when they would just spell the code words when we were younger.
My Mimi hosted every Christmas for years, even getting a Santa Claus to burst in through the mud room with a sack of gifts for us kids. She’d write us $15 checks on our birthdays. As our numbers grew, the checks got smaller, until Mimi’s gift was just a real good hug. She would hire me to clean her house (which mostly consisted of running a manual vacuum over the carpet and using lemon pledge on every wooden surface of her home. She rode motorcycles with PaBob to a prison ministry where she showed such loving kindness to the inmates there. I told kids at school that my grandma was a biker that went to prison every week...
She volunteered to lead a section of children at Tuesday night AWANA’s at her church. She quit smoking when she found her granddaughters “smoking” pencils and pretending to be Mimi. When we’d sleep at her house, we would be terrified when we got too loud and she’d burst into the room, without her dentures, wearing a silk nightgown, to tell us “Y’all settle down now, and I mean it!” We ate Corn Flakes and Special K at breakfast when we’d sleep at her house.
She slept on a waterbed. She owned a gun and showed us the high cabinet it was kept in and threatened our very lives if we ever got into that cabinet. She taught herself and then me, to knit and crochet and when her Alzheimer’s got worse, she began to crochet for hours at a time, stacking the blankets in a cabinet until Christmas when she would pass them out in big bundles by family member. She fell for every pyramid scheme at least once. She was determined to be technologically savvy up until her Alzheimer’s got bad enough that she couldn’t remember any of her login info. She taught me how to properly set a table and she always used cloth napkins with wooden napkin rings. When I was very young, I would sneak into her purse to find cherry chapstick and use every bit of it in one sitting. She never got mad at me. She smelled like Cherry Almond Jergen’s lotion. She loved having her feet rubbed. She ALWAYS saved room for dessert.
She was the most sparkling conversationalist. She always spoke with so much grace and understanding, that you couldn’t help but pour your thoughts and feelings out to her in a one-on-one conversation. She taught me the importance of good posture, writing things down, reading, speed walking, coffee with dessert, memorizing Scripture, and never using profanity, unless it enhanced the conversation, because it’s like over-salting food. Just a sprinkle when necessary.
She never once saw me without telling me how much I looked like her. She never once saw me without hugging me and telling me she missed me. She called people “Hon” and “Shug” and never once let you leave her house without saying “Well now, don’t run off. Why don’t y’all sit down and stay awhile?”
Before she was put in a nursing home, she was speaking to my Aunt Stacie over the phone. Somehow my name came up and my Mimi, puzzled, slowly asked...”now Mindi....she’s one of mine, right?” The fact that she thought I was one of her daughters nearly made my heart burst right open and I hope that she never ever thought otherwise until her last breath.
She was my last living biological grandparent, and she passed away on September 5, 2020.