Mary should have been ordinary. She was born in 1926 in a small town in the deep south. The oldest of three children, her father was a farmer and her mother a homemaker. She was taught to do all of the things that women of that era did—she cooked, she sewed, and took on all of the traditional domestic responsibilities. But she was restless. A big world beckoned, and she was ready to explore it. At the ripe old age of 17, she packed a suitcase, put on her best Sunday dress, and headed to the big city.
Mary was fearless. She got a job (something few women did) and went on to get a college degree (something that even fewer women did). She traveled and made friends all over the world. She was an artist and loved to draw and paint. She fell in love, she married, and had children. Then remarried after that and again after that—seven times to be exact but who's counting? Not Mary.
Mary was an entrepreneur. With a head for business, an eye for design, and a desire to make life a little more interesting and entertaining, she bred, raised, and trained beloved show dogs. She opened an art supply store, a stationery business, and always au currant, a breakdancing studio in the eighties.
Mary was a walking contradiction: Strong and resourceful yet always graceful and feminine. Always polite and used the best manners and yet loved a bawdy joke and had a wicked sense of humor. She loved a great party—it didn’t matter if she was the hostess or a guest but, it was guaranteed that by the end of the night, there would be a crowd around her. She was unabashed, unapologetic, and lived her life to the fullest.
Mary was glamorous. I still remember the feeling of anticipation when she would fly into town for a visit. A former model, she would breeze off the plane looking like a movie star (it was the 70’s—you were still allowed to meet people at the gate). With her oversized sunglasses on, high heels clicking on the airport tile, cigarette in hand (again, it was the 70’s, people, no one knew they were bad for you), crowds would part to make way for her. She would blow through town like a whirling dervish—calling on old friends, taking care of business, yet making time to visit with the less fortunate.
Mary was generous. She would stop by her old church and let them know that she was in town and was of avail. She always made rounds to visit those that she knew and didn’t know at the community nursing home. She knew that she had been given an auspicious lot in life so she made sure to pay it forward every chance that she got.
Mary was a pioneer. She was one of the first to begin bringing her cherished dogs as therapy dogs at the local hospital and volunteered on a regular basis at a women’s crisis shelter. This was a woman that was “leaning in” before Sheryl Sandberg was out of diapers.
Mary was my grandma. She was original, feminine, conscientous, courageous and sincerely, Mary.