Sunday, December 11, 2011


My grandmother, Norma Landry, died this week at the age of 81. Yesterday was her funeral, and this was the eulogy I gave. 

The picture is one I took of her in May of this year, on a road trip Betsy and I took across the country. My mother had asked me then if I could take a picture of her, telling me, "I'm worried she won't be with us that long".   She'd been telling me this for years, but I decided I needed a picture of my grandmother anyway.

When I asked my grandmother, she insisted that she get to put on her lipstick and take off her oxygen.

It's a simple portrait -- Betsy held the flash with a little LQIII portable softbox off to camera left, and I took the shot.


Mamaw always had a special place in my heart: She was the one who told me stories. I say this as someone who will always love my parents for reading to me when I was young -- it's just that I would sometimes be insistent on new stories, that no one else had heard. My grandmother would take bits of character and plot from movies or television we'd both seen, and begin there. Over time, the adaptions became more elaborate, and with a few years to refine her handiwork, they began to take on a life all their own.

Princess Leia became "Queen Pearl". A cloaked starship became hidden by "invisible paint" (helpfully suggested by my grandfather) -- and plots that began as space operas began to become shaped by the narrative trajectory of skits from Saturday Night Live and the Golden Girls. Every so often, I have occasion to tell a story of my own. When I do, my friends invariably comment (some charitably, some perhaps less) on where I could have dreamt up such things, and I just smile.

I know where the stories started.


One of my earliest memories of Mamaw was being at her house, and seeing one of the brass horses she had on the mantle. 

I asked her why she had it, and she explained to me that it reminded her of her horse Bob, which she'd ridden as a girl. As she told me about the horse, her eyes lit up, and both she and I were transported back to the days where she was young, and had her very own horse to ride. 

You could trace everything my grandmother did back to one central truth: She always had the heart of that girl she used to be. 


Growing up, the thing I looked forward to every week was that come Friday, I got to spend the weekend with my grandparents. When people talk about the idyllic days of youth as a metaphor, those weekends are the literal image that springs to my mind.

Imagine a weekend where you could wake up on a Saturday morning, take off in a fishing boat you'd helped your grandfather build, shrimp for your own bait, then catch a double dozen redfish from a fishing hole in an undisclosed location in the marshes of Lower Alabama and Mississippi. Not enough adventure? Imagine the same trip, except with the biggest squall you've ever seen zapping the water feet away from you with lightning bolts. 

Still not enough? Imagine being taken with an uncle to ride in a monster truck through a swamp. Or riding ATVs through that same swamp a few months later, only to discover there are considerably more snakes at ground level than at monster truck level.

At the time, these all seemed like regular occurrences. Sometimes, you don't realize you're having an adventure till it's over. 

After a day like this, we'd generally end up nipping a few oysters from a bed, and then heading back home. The part of the day that came next was the most important. We'd get home, tired and exhausted, and my grandfather would sit outside shucking oysters on the porch. I'd come in, and there'd be Mamaw. Who'd fuss over me, listen to me talk about the events of the day (and whether I'd been scared or not), and then we would bake a pizza in the oven together.

Every Saturday, like clockwork, for years. 

For me, this was the definition of a happy childhood; but speaking it out loud, it sounds a little like a lot of people's idea of heaven.


I could tell you a lot more about my grandmother, but I think most of you here already knew her and have a big list of what made her unique. In the days since she's been gone, I went through just such a list in my head, since a list that describes who she was also describes why I would miss her.

What we lost when we lost Norma is a big list, but the biggest for me was the hour when I realized that if I or my sister ever have children of our own, they would never get to have those Saturdays.

It's just a story now: 

"Mamaw and Brandon's Son, and the Saturdays that Never Came."

But if there's one thing you take away from the life of this 81 year old woman with a young girl's heart -- generous to a fault, and so loving of her children and her children's children, it's that her story doesn't have to end here.

Remember the best part of her. Remember what she gave to me, and what she gave to you, and try to give the same thing to the people you care about.

When you remember her story, remember that one too.

No comments:

Post a Comment