Her name is Mae Phillips, but I called her Mama Mae. She died on July 31 at the age of 103. She barely weighed 100 pounds – even in her prime – but I was and always will be in awe of the woman who was my grandmother.
She was a force to be reckoned with. And I realized last night that I don’t have many childhood memories that don’t include Mama Mae.
She always took my side when my grandfather slicked me out of a game of checkers. She taught me how to cook and prevented my mother from killing me too many times to count. My wedding took place in Jamaica because I couldn’t imagine getting married without her being present. She thought I had a lovely voice for radio. My sons experienced summers with her. And when she was hospitalized after a heart attack in early June, I had to be by her side. My grandmother, my mom and I whispered like girls at a sleepover during the early morning hours on the day I was to return home. That will be my last and most cherished memory of Mama Mae.
But another one I have is from probably about seven years ago, when while visiting Ocho Rios in celebration of my birthday. I made the trek to Kingston – the capital of Jamaica – to spend the day with Mama Mae because at her then-age of 96 years of age, well, you just never know …
Despite the terrible road conditions, the ride was easy, and the length of the trip seemed shortened because the driver I had hired was personable, despite his strong political views on the declining state of his country. The weather was in our favor – no rain in sight – but I still entered Kingston with a heavy feeling in my stomach.
Kingston is a world unto itself and hard to describe to anyone who has never been. The high crime rate and increasing levels of poverty are bad enough, but add in the heat (that most days is unbearable enough to be described as smothering) and the congestion, (that could make the most social of people feel like a claustrophobic weenie) and you’ve got less than an envy-worthy tourist attraction. Yes, it is steeped in culture and history and is the location where Bob Marley recorded some of his best stuff, but to me, it’s about as close to hell as you can get.
But Kingston is where my grandmother had lived for more than 75 years, and for whatever reason, the need to see her on this visit was so strong, I would have dueled with the devil himself if he had tried to keep me from going.
I think she felt the same way. She began crying when she heard my voice and hailed my visit as a sign. I didn’t understand the gravity of her statement, considering this is the same woman who, for the past five years, has described the Thanksgiving holiday as her last supper. But as the day wore on – and got hotter – I knew our time spent together was indeed special.
For four hours, she talked about her favorite memories of me. The long summers that she stayed with my family, teaching me to bake plantain tarts, beef patties and coconut cookies. How she kept my mother from knocking me out (too many times to count) when my mouth was at its smartest. How she thought I would put her on a plane back to Kingston when she accidentally let my dog escape from the house and how hurt I’d be when my cousin David would come for the summer because my daddy’s attention would inevitably be taken away from me.
She spoke in amazing detail about the summer trips we took in the family station wagon, criss-crossing the United States and Canada. She was the reason I got married in Jamaica, her traveling days long since gone, and I couldn’t imagine taking my vows without her. I cried tears of joy when she pressed a hanky in my hand and told me I looked fat in my wedding dress. How she had to sit down to hold my son Tyler because at six months old, he was almost as big as she was.
Then she also told me that she was proud of the woman that I had become.
The more she talked, the more I laughed, realizing how many of my favorite childhood memories were also hers. I also realized how large of a hand she had in shaping who I am today. And I realized how very much I love her.
I’m glad that I was blessed with another seven years with my grandmother.
I thank God I was in a position to be there with her when she needed me most. Although for me, it was a very small showing compared to the way she was always there for me.
She, like me, was a Daddy’s girl, and just imagining her reunion with her beloved father brings a smile to my face and heart.
I congratulate her on being granted gold-gilded angel wings and celebrate the many years that we were fortunate to have with her.
Yes, I am the legacy of Mae Phillps. But I called her Mama Mae, and she was my grandmother.
I MISS YOU
By Jordan Ruff (Great-Grandaughter)
I miss you
when I close my eyes
everything is okay now
I just wish you could see
I miss you
with every beat of my heart
I know you’re praying
The thought of you leaving is tearing me
I miss you when it’s just me
and my heart aches alone
I know it’s selfish but I’m not ready for you to
I miss you when I lift my eyes
to the heavens in the skies
and even though you rest in God’s hands
my heart won’t say goodbye
Sometimes I wonder
will you watch over me
and everything I go through
will you comfort me when my heart is breaking?
because with every beat it cries I miss you
Nikki Woods is senior producer of “The Tom Joyner Morning Show.” The author of “Easier Said Than Done,” the Dallas-based Woods is currently working on her second and third novels. You can friend her on Facebook or follow her on Twitter: @nikkiwoods.