I come from a long line of strong Southern women, one of them my maternal grandmother. She is 96 today, my only living grandparent. I feel extremely blessed to have had a close relationship with all my grandparents and have wonderful memories that span from my childhood well into adulthood. But Margaret Louise Shigley Crowe, known to me and my nine cousins all our lives simply as "Memaw" is especially dear to me. Born the youngest of 12 children, she developed a crush on my grandfather in the third grade - and her hooks go deep and long. After graduating from high school (as salutatorian of her class in 1932) she and my Papa were very much in love. My great-grandmother didn't care for my grandfather and didn't want them to marry. So they eloped! And kept it a secret for three months, my grandmother still living at home with her parents and my grandfather with his. Finally, my Papa decided their arrangement was for the birds. He went to Mamaw Shigley's house to tell her he had married my grandmother, stated his intentions for them to 'set up house' together, and held his ground. My great-grandmother responded simply, "Well, what's done is done. I guess I'll learn to love you." And love him she did. It wasn't long before Papa was her favorite and everybody knew it.
Memaw and Papa raised five children, four girls and a boy right in the middle. They lived in a small house and managed with only one bathroom between the seven of them. My grandfather never failed to start the day with all his children kneeling for prayer around the kitchen table. And very few mornings passed that my grandmother didn't prepare a full Southern breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, gravy, made-from-scratch biscuits, and grits. As a pastor's wife my grandmother was expected to be the perfect wife, the perfect mother, raise perfect children, keep a perfect home, coordinate and organize church events, weddings, funerals, baby dedications, and teach Vacation Bible School. She did it all with grace, beauty, and excellence.
Papa was a preacher for 57 years before his death in 1992 and my grandmother was undeniably his biggest fan. He struggled occasionally with feelings of inadequacy because he never attended seminary. My grandmother would pat him gently on the arm and say, "now Charles, you are a student of God's word and He never fails to give you a strong message. Don't you ever let anyone tell you otherwise." My grandmother never denied that her family had its faults and shortcomings, but God help the person outside the bloodline who brought it to her attention! She is fiercely loyal and it wouldn't surprise me if her picture is listed in the Encyclopedia Britannica next to "Bear, Mama".
Memaw was a school teacher for 32 years, receiving her teaching degree in 1934 and many years later her BS in Education from Berry College at the age of 50. Around that same she also learned how to drive, instructed by the calm and gentle guidance of my grandfather. She stopped driving barely two years ago and only recently gave up her condo to live with one of my aunts in south Georgia. Strong indeed. I've watched her hands prepare countless meals, fly across the keys of a piano, and gently caress many a loved one. I've chuckled as she washed a piece of tin foil, dried it, folded it squarely and returned it to the drawer for later use. When I think of her I visualize crossword puzzles, reading voraciously, and going to the beach.
And when she prays, I am convinced God raises His hand and says, "Listen, it's my Margaret." My grandmother. My Memaw. My hero.