Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Lois Beatrice Payne

My maternal great-grandmother, Lois B. Payne of Atlanta, GA, age 90, passed away on December 10, 2005. She lived in a nursing home for the last few years, suffering from--or perhaps lost within--Alzheimer's Disease.

As printed in the obituary which appeared in the Atlanta Journal Constitution on December 12, 2005: she is survived by her daughter, Allene Cornelius of Atlanta; 4 grandchildren, 6 great grandchildren; 1 great great grandchild; a brother, Lee Pittman of Dawsonville; a sister, Marie Walston of Atlanta; and several nieces and nephews.

She was buried in Crestlawn Memorial Park, next to her late husband, Garnett, who died in 1976. The Rev. Keith Willard, a distant cousin, officiated, and in addition to suggesting that when he saw her on Sundays she looked as if she had stepped right out of the Sears Roebuck catalog--you should read that as a major compliment, which is how it was intended--he managed to include some sentences that I wrote about her in an essay a few years ago: about her kindness, about how easily she fit inside my arms. My friend Foster and I agreed that what was left out was that she made the best carrot cake in the history of the world. And that she hated her middle name, Beatrice, which, for some reason, everyone pronounced Be-AT-trice.

I know too much about death lately. Everyone will be able to say that at some point; most already can. But this one is okay. She lived an enviable life, in some sense: full of family, food so good it borders on sin, and a peaceful way about her that more people should emulate. (This is not including the time she began shooting squirrels in her living room with her BB gun, but that's beside the point.)

It's true that people never leave you as long as you don't forget them. I wrote about her briefly in my first novel, Yield, having given one of my own memories to my narrator, Simon:
"I sit down on the couch, pick up a ceramic figurine off the side table, a little elephant with the trunk raised. It looks fifties-ish, like those accessories that were at one time fashionable and perhaps indicated some status. I used to see that stuff in my great-grandmother’s house—a delicate feminine hand holding a pinkish, glossy conch shell, turned up, its open end to the ceiling. She kept rosy-colored emery boards in it. Then, in her bedroom on the make-up table, she had a strange box, one green and one red light bulb in the base, directed up to three tiger-striped clam shells. The center shell held a crucifixion, the bleeding Jesus near-naked and tiny. I’m not sure what forces this memory to surface—maybe the stillness of this room. Could be anything, really."


Your mom said...

Not many of us have our mothers or grandmothers for 90 years, and I feel blessed by her love and generosity. She rarely bought me a gift or gave me a present as most grandchildren expect their grandparents to do, but I didn't need tangible gifts of material things from her. When we went to visit at her house, there was never a TV or radio on, never a toy or game, never a book or magazine to read. We had talk and stories and memories that occupied us for hours and I was never bored. If I could choose two weeks out of my childhood to re-live, it would be the two weeks I stayed with them the summer I was about 10. All we did was sit on the porch and shell peas and beans, sing songs as we swang in the big swing Papa built, drink gallons of sweet tea, and wait for the vegetable man or mailman to come by. We basked in pure joy.

Alexander Chee said...

My condolences to you, Lee. It's got to be hard after losing your friend earlier this fall. I hope this finds you taking good care of yourself. Thanks for coming to the reading the other night---it was good to see you. Write to me and let me know when is a good time for a phone call.