Monday, November 29, 2010

The Essence of Mammy

My grandmother, Ruth Dolley, passed away today. My mother, my sisters and I were all blessed to be holding her hands in her final moments. I wrote what follows (and posted it on GAG) last spring, but I'd like to share it again. A great and loving and wonderful woman has gone on to her next big adventure. I'm full of sorrow, and yet, I am at peace. She was the best, and my life has been enriched because of my Mammy. March 13, 1916 -November 28, 2010

The Essence of Mammy.

It was Easter Sunday, and Steven and I took the kids to my parents’ home in Kingfield for a short visit. My grandmother, Mammy, has been living with Mum for the last year, but due to hectic, crazy schedules, it had been awhile since my two younger children had seen their great-grandmother.

Mammy is almost ninety-four years old. She has been blessed with good health for most of those years. But when I walked into the living room to greet her on Easter morning, I knew something had changed. Was changing. Her lips smiled—they always do—but her eyes told a different story. Mammy’s poor little body is getting tired out.

Over the years I’ve thought a lot about life and death. I suppose part of that is due to being a writer. I write about everything under the sun, and while putting pen to paper, I have to give the subject of my prose some serious thought. So… I often reflect on those elusive questions; the ones most people avoid thinking about. I’ve even talked to Josie, Eli and Guy about my eventual death. I want them to be at peace when I am gone. I want them to know that even when the time comes and my body fails me, I will still be here. Bodies aren’t indestructible. They are nothing more than tissue and water and calcium and sinew. They aren’t made to last forever. But the spirit? The soul? The essence that makes me, ME? Now THAT is something that is durable and long-lasting!

When my children do something unkind or boneheaded and feel that modicum of shame… that’ll be me shaking my head and urging them to think first, next time, and to try harder. When they help someone or act selflessly and feel that little burst of pride? That will also be me, giving them a hug and an ‘I’m proud of you, babe!’ It won’t matter that my body has turned to dust. The core being, the quintessential Karen, will always be around. You simply can’t erase the essence of a person that easily.

Mammy knows that the end is near. No one knows exactly how near. That’s up to God or biology, or a combination of the two. But at her age, and with her body wearing out, she knows.

But this is what I hope with all my heart she truly recognizes. I want Mammy to know that she will always, always be with us. She won’t ever leave. She can’t! Her soul is too strong, her influence too great, her awesomeness simply too awesome. I know for a fact that this woman will be hanging around these western hills and glacial lakes and the trails through our forests for a long, long time. Every single time I see a train or hear its whistle blow, I’ll think of Mammy, who first walked with me on the rails of the Canadian Pacific Railroad. Every time I pick a raspberry and taste its warm sweetness, I will see her filling a basket from the bushes in Seboeis. When I play cards, it’s Mammy’s lovely, wrinkled hands I’ll see dealing them as I remember all the games of Solitaire she taught me. When I sleep at night, it’s under a quilt she lovingly made. When I do the mundane chore of vacuuming, I’ll remember how she drove all the way to Kingfield from Milo one rainy day, just to buy a vacuum for me at Jordan Lumber Co. because she knew mine had sucked its last hairball. When I write a poem, I’ll reflect on the fact that the very first one I ever wrote was a gift for her and my grandfather Grankie, because I couldn’t afford to buy them a Christmas present… and I’ll remember the pleasure those two old folks expressed when they received that simple gift. They gave me the confidence to write, and that has been a gift beyond measure.

When I see a pile of moose poop (and that’s a story in and of itself), who will I think of? Mammy. When I find a pretty rock? A funky mushroom? A wheat penny? That wonderful woman will be right beside me, oohing and ahhing as I look in wonder at the small treasure.

Mammy’s not going anywhere. Nope. Her body might be rebelling, but that lady’s spirit scoffs at such weakness. I’ve said it already, but it bears repeating: Ruth Dolley is awesome. The best grandmother a girl (or boy) could have asked for. I didn’t ask for her, but I got her anyway. How lucky, how blessed I have been. How blessed I AM.

Leaving us soon? I don’t think so! No way, no how. There will come a day when I won’t be able to easily lay my eyes on that lovely, smiling face, but I will never, ever have a problem finding her. Every day, in every direction I turn, she will be there. Because I love her, and because she loves me, she will always be right here beside me.

The essence of Mammy. Something that awesome won’t ever leave those of us who love her, those of us she’s touched.

I love you, Mammy. Forever.


  1. Sorry for your loss ,It is wounderful that you have so many good memorys to hold on to . My thoughts are with you God Bless.

  2. Aw, Wally. Thank you, sweetness. I really was very blessed. And we've all been laughing about her quirky personality all day. We always did... but now, of course, it's more poignant.

    She was the best-- and she IS the best.

    Thanks for coming by. I really appreciate it, my old friend.


  3. There you go making me cry again, tears of sadness and tears of joyful memories with a woman who became my grandmother 23 years ago. Some favorite memories of mine of dear Mammy: how she laughed when Tom recited the peom Bessie's Boil at her birthday party at the trailer (75th or 80th), a couple of years ago when I drove to Newport to help her with her craft sale and she sold salsa that I'd made even though it had a burnt taste from burning on the bottom of the pan and the she asked for more just like it to sell every year after that, the night she almost got in a arguement with another little old white haired woman at bingo in Kingfield and how we chuckled about it all night, her and Sam living together for a few weeks last summer and the two of them being stubborn in their own way, the way she laughed on Thanksgiving at my crazy dogs constantly kissing her, especially how she acknowledged that one kept sticking it's tongue in her mouth, and my very last memory of Tom and his grandmother sitting on the couch Thanksgiving Day talking, just talking about anything & everything and how she wasn't ready to leave when she was told it's time to go home. I'll also never forget her filled cookies, her beautiful quilts that she made for each new baby in the family and how much fun my mother & Mammy had when they got together and played Skipbo.

  4. Hi, sweetie.


    How lucky both you and Mammy were to have had 23 wonderful years of getting to know one another. That's one of the the best things about Mamy... she never was parsimonious with her love.

    Thank you so much for sharing your memories of her. As long as we have those, she will never be far away.

    Love you.

  5. Sincerest condolences to you and your family.