When she got off of a plane, my grandmother Mary was always accompanied by an entourage of usually a half dozen people, walking her off the plane, hanging on to her every word and always laughing and smiling.
When she got off of a plane, my grandmother Mary was always accompanied by an entourage of usually a half dozen people, walking her off the plane, hanging on to her every word and always laughing and smiling. She just had a way about her. Dressed to the nines in her trademark navy blue shirt dress, Spectator pumps and dark glasses (as she called them), you’d of thought she was a celebrity. She was, to me.
Mother's Day is a day filled with love and flowers as we celebrate those women who brought us into the world and cared for us – which includes our mothers, grandmothers and all caring women. For some, like myself, it is a day of memories and reflection, because my mother and grandmother, both of whom I loved dearly, are no longer on this earth and I miss them terribly. I’ve written about my mother Judy many times but this year, I remember her mother and my grandmother, Mary.
Twenty years ago today, I was in Odessa to celebrate Mother’s Day with my mother, but my task that Mother’s Day weekend was a difficult one indeed – my mother asked me to pen my grandmother’s obituary, as she was near death at a local retirement home.
Mary Kathryn Pierce Calmes died on May 13, 1998 - 20 years ago to the day that we celebrate Mothers Day this year. At 85, she had lived a long and quite colorful life. She was the baby of four children born to Minta and A.P. “Big Daddy” Pierce. As the daughter of a prominent banker in Quanah, her early years were to most, considered privileged. But to hear her tell it, she was not privileged, often having to wear hand-me-downs from her two sisters and fighting for attention from her parents. But she was in fact a “daddy’s girl,” and he actually made sure she had everything.
But as she became a young woman, she blossomed into a beauty, with shimmering blue-black hair, deep set brown eyes and a glowing golden, olive complexion. She was a quarter Cherokee, since her father was half, but in the 1920s, that was not - a fact that too many folks advertised.
But in 1929, after pledging the Tri-Delt sorority at the University of Oklahoma, she was crowned “Indian Princess” and a gorgeous photo of her, in a blue satin gown, went all over the country on the Associated Press and United Press International wires. And for a moment, she was indeed famous. She was even approached by movie moguls about becoming an actress, but Big Daddy said no, because in those days, there was a perception that starlets may have been less than virtuous – there ended her brush with being almost famous.
It was the time of the Great Depression, and like everyone else in the country, even the banker’s family experienced bleak times. A few years later in 1936, she would marry my grandfather, Charles “Chilly” Calmes. A year later, they would welcome my mother Judy into the world. And six years later my Uncle Jack was born.
For a time, during World War II, she like so many other women of that era was essentially a single mother because my grandfather was a pilot. She was able to go live with the Calmes family in Clinton, Okla., and helped run the Calmez Hotel, a famed establishment located on Route 66.
Years later, her family would move to Highland Park in Dallas and life continued – not always easy – but it continued and she endured every hardship with dignity and grace. She was a pioneer of sorts, because 50 years ago, women did not divorce their husbands – but she did. She became her own woman starting a career first in a jewelry store and later as a nanny for wealthy Dallas families with unruly teenagers. But she could handle the kids - apparently a trait my mother inherited.
She came to live with us for some long stretches of time in the 1970s and 80s. Her favorite advice to me would always be to “reduce,” because she was always reducing. Ever the fashonista, a few years later she would show up at my Christmas open house wearing a mink coat and a mink hat - just par for the course.
During Christmas one year when the girls were little, she gave them Barbie dolls. Not one to speak baby language – she always talked to them like they were adults.
“That doll is good lookin', that outfit she’s wearing is swanky,” she told her 18-month old toddler granddaughter. (I have this on video).
She gave the family many gifts – particularly the gift of music. Any time she visited, she would sit down at the upright piano and her hands would waft all over the keyboard while she played Ragtime music and sang.
And her favorite – “Bye, Bye, Blackbird.”
“Pack up all my cares and woe
Here I go, singing low
Where somebody waits for me
Sugar's sweet and so is he
Bye, bye, blackbird
No one here can love and understand me
Oh, what hard-luck stories they all hand me
You'd better make my bed
And light the light, I'll arrive late tonight
Love and miss you Grandmother and mother too!
Happy Mother’s Day to all…
Celinda Hawkins is the managing editor of the Runnels County Register and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 432-349-2736.