Mama Pauline and Papa Dick

Those of you who follow our family on Facebook know we were hit with some rough times this past month. Jim's mother passed away, and while it was not wholly unexpected given her health and age, it was a heartbreaking loss that has affected us all deeply, especially Jim.

It's hard to know what to write, because her story really isn't mine to tell. What I know of Pauline Adams came largely from stories told by others. I know she was a stalwart mother of twelve children, ten of whom survived infancy, nine who lived to mourn her. I know she had the bravery to stand on her own as a divorced woman in the early 1970s, which can't have been easy, especially since (I think) at least seven of her children were still at home.

And I know how much she loved Dick Adams, Jim's stepfather. They married when Jim was very young, and Papa Dick, as they called him, must have been one hell of a man. There's hardly a person in Jim's very extended family whose voice doesn't choke up when they speak of him. Sadly, lung cancer took him away twenty years ago, and Pauline has been quietly waiting for him ever since. And each year, when Jim walks with me in Relay for Life, he does it in Dick's memory.

The first time I met Pauline, it was a family dinner in a noisy restaurant. She had just recovered from a bad cold, and had not recovered her voice. Thus, my first impression of Pauline was that she was very quiet and soft-spoken. This, however, shows the problem with first impressions. She may not have been able to speak much that day, but by all reports from the family, she was a firebrand of a woman who could smack you into next week if you got her wrong.

Jim told me a story once about a time in the late seventies when Pauline and Dick had started a small business. It was a furniture store, and not in the best neighborhood of Memphis. One day, a group of punks tried to rob the store. Pauline was on duty with only one other person, and there were eight of them.

Pauline pulled a .45 out from under the counter, aimed it and said, "I got five bullets in this gun. Which five of you want to die?"

The store was not robbed that day, or any day after. The neighborhood gang called her Jesse James.

There wasn't a single person who didn't have a fond memory of Mama Pauline's cooking, from her homemade fried chicken to the famous strawberry cake to biscuit bread. Several times I tried to wheedle recipes out of her, but Pauline belonged to a different era and culture of fine southern cooks. Her recipes were all up in her head, and her hands knew how much flour and salt and bacon grease and lard to cut in. I can't even think where you'd get lard these days, but I learned to keep a coffee can full of bacon grease in my fridge, not that I've yet figured out what to do with it. In Jim's eulogy, delivered with emotional grace at the funeral last week, he said "the angels will be well fed," and I think he's right.

She was Mama to her children and Nanny to her grandchildren, and I can never forget how she accepted me and Ian with love long before Jim asked me to marry him and we formally joined the family. Ian spent one long, very hot afternoon with Nanny, hiding under the air conditioning like the Illinois boy he is, talking stuff and nonsense all day as though he was grandson by birth.

Some people simply have a gift for love.

The moment I remember the most came at the end of that noisy restaurant dinner. We were gathering up our things and heading out into the parking lot, helping Pauline along as she had limited mobility even then. As we gave our farewells, she gave me a hug much stronger than I expected from one so small and deceptively frail.

Remember, her voice was gone, so she had barely spoken all evening. But she pulled me close and whispered in my ear, "I'm so glad he found you."

Thank you, Mama Pauline, for your love and acceptance, and for raising the wonderful man who became my husband. The tears shed last week were for us, for how much poorer we are for your absence, so keenly felt especially by Jim, who still wants to call you every few days for a chat. We know that you are finally shed of the pain and weakness that came with injury and age, and that you are reunited with Papa Dick at long last.

Rest at last, a well-earned peace. Heaven knows you were loved.