I Know You’re Laughing and Wearing Red

Happy Mother’s Day in heaven to my Mom and my Grandma, who we lovingly called Nonnie—the women who raised me.

Upon their arrival, I’m sure heaven had a little more laughter, and the earth, especially the part I occupied, was definitely lacking some after their departure.

A fact many people don’t know is that the night I was born my parents had been in a serious car accident—a head-on collision. My Dad was in intensive care and my Mom, who luckily didn’t have major injuries, was seven-and-a-half months pregnant, and sitting next to his bed when her water broke. Admittedly, not the best time for me to make my entrance to the world, but I never claimed that good timing was my forte.

As a result of my Dad’s major injuries, he couldn’t work and so the entire family—my mom, dad, two older brothers, and little ole me, lived with my Nonnie and Pappy,(Grandpa), for the next year while my dad recuperated. Because of this, I was incredibly bonded and attached to my Nonnie. My Mom often told the story of how when my parents were physically healthy and back on their feet, Nonnie sobbed when we moved into our own home saying, “You’re taking away my baby.” It still makes me tear up, because I felt that love every moment of my existence.

My Mom and Nonnie were two of the strongest women to have ever walked the planet. Their lives were not easy and yet they fought with all they had and never considered giving up. Were they perfect? Not even close. But, they were warriors—they were women ahead of their time, and if they loved you—there was nothing they wouldn’t do for you.

They were powerhouses. Nonnie wore red when women weren’t supposed to. My Grandpa’s family didn’t want him to marry her for that reason…and also because she laughed too much. They actually told him, “You can’t marry her! She laughs too much and wears too much red.” But those were the very things he loved about her—things, by the way, that never changed. They were probably one of the reasons they were married until they died—that, and my Nonnie could rock some FMP’s.  My Grandpa was also very strong-willed and a powerful presence. He was a man’s man—tough and fearless. He grew up on a farm in Kentucky and retired from working at Armco Steel. I remember as a little girl I was standing in the garage with him and a rat ran by. He snatched that rat up and broke it’s neck, tossing it into the trash can without so much of a word. You didn’t want to mess with him or the resilient women he loved.

My Nonnie passed that resiliency onto my Mom who fought and worked hard her entire life. My Mom didn’t know how to do anything except work hard and fight back. My parents bought a trucking company when I was five-years-old. Four years later, at the age of 41, my Dad had a fatal heart attack. This unforeseen circumstance left my Mom faced with the decision to either sell the company or continue to run it, which women just didn’t do in the early seventies—especially in the trucking industry.

Guess which option she chose? She chose to run it. It wasn’t easy. There were ignorant men who tried to intimidate her and force her out of business. They tried to block her contracts and used scare tactics in an attempt to get her to back down. With Nonnie behind her, she refused to cower or accept defeat. She didn’t care what had always been done before, she was going to do things her way.

One of the problem’s was that all those men saw was my mom’s physical beauty. They didn’t realize that under that beautiful exterior, she was a savage—a woman who flat refused to live within the invisible boundary society dictated she should exist behind. My mom and Nonnie were two of the smartest women I have ever known. Nonnie only completed the eighth grade, and yet she could match wits with the best of them. She was an avid reader and one of the most articulate, fast-witted people I’ve ever encountered to this day.

I’m sure there were probably times when both of them wanted to quit, but I never witnessed those times. I witnessed strength, resiliency, independence, and a love that was so powerful and loyal it is hard to describe.

I can remember a time when my Mom and Nonnie were in the kitchen laughing, snickering, and plotting about something. My Grandpa was talking to my stepdad, who my Mom married four years after my Dad passed. My stepdad stated that he wondered what they were up to now. Without hesitation my Grandpa said, “I learned a long time ago not to get in the way of those women. You can’t beat them. It’s best to just sit back and watch them get what they want from a distance, because all the demons in hell can’t scare those two when they’ve made up their mind to do something.”

My stepdad, who was an amazing man, just nodded his head, chuckled and said, “And I married into this shit.” I have to say, though, Nonnie tried to warn him before he married my Mom. She told him one day, “if you’ve got any rabbit in you, now is the time to run.” But he didn’t go anywhere. He adored my mom and Nonnie. It was hard not to love them. They had a spirit and a magic that was unmistakable and it made them irresistible.

When my mom passed ten years ago, she donated her body to science. We eventually received her ashes and I have them at my home. Anytime something happens that I know would fire her up, my son, Alec, and I jokingly say that the box is shaking and rattling, as she’s still trying to put in her two cents and have things done her way.

In my darkest moments I have cried out to them both many times, telling them how much I miss them and how much I still need them. I tell them how thankful I am that I had them in my life for the years that I did. I tell them I’m sorry for the times I’ve let them down. I tell them I’m trying so hard to get it right and make them proud. I have curled up sobbing—wishing I could feel them hug me again, wishing I could get their advice, dying to simply feel their love again. I have their perfume and I spray it on my blankets sometimes, just to smell them and feel close to them once more.

Eventually, as my tears begin to dry, I hear their voices in my mind imploring me to fight, reminding me their blood runs through my veins and their DNA is in my body. They tell me to get up, to wipe my tears away, and to continue to move forward. They emphatically say that they love me, they are, in fact, still with me, and I can never escape them.

Their love is in my heart.
Their imprint is on my soul.