Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Remembering Memaw

Sara Clayton Griffith Leporati
January 22, 1927 - January 26, 2010

Mama: What does Mamaw Chapman say?
Me: Here Sammie, here Susie!
Mama: What does Papaw Chapman say?
Me: Aaaammmm!
Mama: What does Papaw Leporati say?
Me: Want some junk?
Mama: And what does Memaw say?
Me: Aw, honey!

I guess I was two or three when we'd go through that routine. Mamaw Chapman calling her cats; Papaw Chapman after drinking a glass of milk; Papaw Leporati offering me junk food; and Memaw getting on him for it. Maybe that's my earliest memory of them...

I went on trips with Memaw every summer from the time I was 6 years old until I was a sophomore or junior in high school. In the beginning, Eric and Papaw went with us. Then later on through the years, Leigh Ann joined us, Eric quit going, Papaw stayed home, and Aunt Sue and Aunt Melodie went with us. We'd always leave early in the morning, so I'd always spend the night there. I always had the hardest time going to sleep because of all the excitement, and more than once Memaw would have to come in the room and tell Eric and me to quiet down and go to sleep. Sometimes on the trip, Eric and I would get into an argument over something. Memaw would turn around to face us and tell us rather firmly to "stop that bickering!" And we did.

We always had a lot of laughs on our trips, whether it was in the moment or looking back later on. Once we pulled into the parking lot of Po' Folks restaurant for lunch. I started crying that I wasn't going to eat there. I wasn't poor, so I wasn't going in. I don't know what Memaw said to me, but I finally calmed down enough and we went in. I don't know what I expected going in, but when I walked out I loved that place. The food was amazing!

Once, Papaw belched rather loudly at the breakfast table in our hotel restaurant. Memaw was horrified and scolded him for it, but Eric and I couldn't help laughing. After her initial embarrassment, she laughed about it too - a little bit. (It seemed Papaw often did something that Memaw scolded him for, but he would just sit there and grin about it.)

Another time when Memaw, Aunt Sue, Aunt Melodie, Leigh Ann, and I were leaving a late-night supper from our hotel restaurant, Memaw burst into a laughing fit. We didn't know if it was the wine or the late hour or a combination of both, but we couldn't help but join in. We stumbled across the parking lot, howling with laughter. The image of what we probably looked like made us all laugh even harder.

We always ate well on our trips. She'd always encourage us to eat a big breakfast at the hotel restaurant. Pancakes, grits, bacon, eggs, toast, juice, milk, etc. Lunch was usually fast food, but not always. Then supper was a big deal. One year we were walking through a mall and realized we hadn't eaten supper yet. We spied a Baskin Robbins nearby, so we all had banana splits for supper. After we bought them, we took them out to the benches across from the store and basically served as a live advertisement for them. People would see us eating our ice cream, then they'd go in and get some for themselves. We always said our banana splits should've been free for all the business that came in after us.

Holidays were always a big deal. Every Easter, Memaw would hide plastic eggs filled with jelly beans and robin's eggs and sugar-coated gumdrops all over the yard for all the grandchildren to find. She'd always save enough of the large L'Eggs pantyhose eggs for each of us to have one. Papaw would usually put money in those. Memaw always had big chocolate bunnies for us to eat, too.

Christmas was another big family holiday Memaw loved. Several times, I was able to help her decorate her tree. I specifically remember her 12 Days of Christmas ornaments - 12 flat ceramic bell-shaped ornaments with each day's gift painted on one side. Every Christmas Day, the whole family would gather at her house for lunch, then we'd pass around gifts to open. The living room would be littered with wads of wrapping paper, and usually several of us would throw balls of it at each other. Another wonderful Christmas tradition was going to see The Nutcracker ballet with Memaw and Papaw every year. To this day, I love listening to that music.

Ah, classical music. Memaw listened to it all the time. Often I'd spend a Friday night at their house. We'd stay up late, watching British comedies on PBS while she rolled her hair up in her pink foam curlers. Saturday mornings, after a breakfast of cereal and half a canned peach or toast and a slice of pineapple with Miracle Whip and shredded cheese atop a lettuce leaf, she'd turn on some classical music and start cleaning house. Back then I hated that music, but I grew to appreciate it and even love it.

I remember sitting in the swing with Memaw after helping her with some yard work, breathing in the scent of the jasmine (or forsythia?) that grew nearby. She always had flowers in her yard. Her favorite was magnolia. There was a huge magnolia tree in her front yard that was a good climbing tree for a while. She had a few paintings of magnolias framed and hanging on her living room walls. When she moved out of that house after Papaw died, she gave one of them to me. Magnolias are one of my favorite flowers, too.

She also had a weeping willow in her front yard. That was another good climbing tree! Eric and I would pull off a branch, strip the leaves, and pretend we were fishing in the ditch in the front yard.

For a long time, until I was in the 6th grade, we lived near Memaw. First down the street; then around the corner. It was nothing for me to ride over on my bike and hang out with her and Papaw for a while. Often I'd stop by on my way to play with my friend Jean, who lived a little further down the street. I lived a few weeks with Memaw and Papaw to finish out my 6th grade school year after my parents and sisters moved into our new house in Calhoun.

Sometimes Memaw would hop on her bike and ride to our house to get me. We'd ride together around the bend and gawk at an old abandoned plantation house. I think it was called Whitehall. We got up the nerve to go inside once. I remember there being old magazines strewn all over the place. Memaw loved all things "hysterical", as she jokingly called it.

Memaw was really into genealogy. We'd often go traipsing through cemeteries, looking for family names. I remember we once wandered through cemeteries in eastern OK - Poteau and Salisaw - looking for Theobalds, I believe. I think we found a Fuller family plot in Calhoun, too - just minutes from where I lived during my high school years. She had done a lot of research and had written a few paragraphs to go with some old photographs she had framed and hanging on one of her walls.

There was a lot of history involved in most of the trips we took: Washington, D.C.; Pennsylvania and Ohio (family history); Kentucky; Oklahoma; Florida; Tennessee; Georgia; Arkansas; Missouri; etc. Whenever we returned from a trip east, we'd always stop off to tour the Vicksburg National Military Park in Mississippi.

Memaw was the secretary at the First United Methodist Church for 31 years. I went to kindergarten there, and I remember waving to her when our class line would occasionally walk past her office on our way somewhere. Sometimes during the summer, I'd go to work with her. I'd sit at her desk and type away, pretending I was doing an important job. She'd sometimes let me into the library so I could find a book to read. That's where I first found The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

Sometimes I'd go to church with her and Papaw. I remember being in a Sunday school class there right after Melissa was born. The teacher introduced me and shared with everyone that I had a new baby sister. Another time I went, it was communion Sunday. I thought it was intimidating that everyone went forward, pew by pew, to take communion, and I never wanted to go on communion Sunday again. I preferred the quiet, "private" way our much smaller Baptist church passed the trays of broken crackers and tiny cups of grape juice down each pew. Still, I loved going to her church. It was more beautiful and more formal than any other I'd been in.

One thing I remember often being in Memaw's kitchen was a big jar of brandied fruit. Whenever she made it she'd keep it on the counter, and she'd spoon some on top of my ice cream or pound cake. The pineapple chunks and cherries were my favorite! Daddy had a fit whenever she did that, but she'd just laugh and say it wasn't hurting anything. Later Mama would slip in there and have a bite of fruit from the jar.

Memaw loved animals. For as long as I can remember, she'd always had at least one cat around. Sonny Boy was a yellow-and-white striped tabby. He was followed by Little Gray (who came to be known instead as Big Gray), a gray-striped tabby. After Gray came Spooky, Boots, and one more I can't recall the name of. She had them until she went into the nursing home.

I remember a large dog she had named Puffin. I was little, so I tend to think he was a Great Dane, but I know that's not right. He was just big. Maybe he was a boxer like Sayid, Melissa and Lindsay's dog - who Memaw loved. She was in the nursing home when they got him, but they'd take him by to visit her and she loved every minute of it. Even when she couldn't remember people, she would remember Sayid and call him by name.

And there's the story about a white horse that showed up either in Memaw's driveway or under her carport one day. She went on and on about that horse and how it looked in her window at her, but everyone just laughed and said, "Sure it did." I think it happened a second time because she somehow had a picture to back it up!

Memaw loved excitement, too. She had a police scanner that she listened to quite a bit. On one of our many trips, the weather had gotten bad. Leigh Ann and I couldn't go to the pool, so we sat on the bed playing cards and listening to the radio. "Every Breath You Take" was just coming on and Leigh Ann said something about The Police. Memaw jumped up from her chair, ran to the window, and asked, "Where?!? Where are the police?" At home, she kept binoculars handy in case anything happened in her neighborhood. And she kept a magnifying glass handy for looking at books with pictures of the Kennedy assassination or the Civil War.

She had no tolerance for bad drivers. Whenever someone cut her off in traffic or did something just plain stupid, she'd shake her fist at them and yell, "Baboon!" Billy and I gave her a Beanie Baby baboon for Christmas one year as a joke. She loved it! She said she was going to put it in her car and point at it whenever she saw a bad driver.

Memaw would take me to The Piccadilly for lunch a lot. We'd push our trays as we walked down the cafeteria line. I always got the same thing: a cod fillet with fries, hush puppies, and extra tartar sauce. Memaw would always get me a bowl of Jell-o for dessert. When the old Twin Cities Mall was still open, we'd walk through and get an Orange Julius.

I remember Memaw kept a bottle of nail polish in her refrigerator. When I asked her about it, she told me it lasted longer that way. She always had nicely manicured nails on her hands and feet. I don't think I ever saw her without polish on. She never wore anything bright and flashy. It was always a pale neutral color, just enough to give a shimmer.

She was always well-dressed. Even her pajamas were nice! I don't think I ever saw her in a pair of shorts or blue jeans. When we went on our trips, she'd wear nice slacks and shirts - and Keds. She even did yard work in what I thought were nice-looking clothes. When she "dressed up", she always looked beautiful, classy.

She was always active and independent. After Papaw died, she moved to a smaller house in a safer neighborhood. She lived there alone with her cats and took care of the yard herself. Of course, she had good neighbors who were willing to lend a hand any time she needed help. Once she fell in her backyard and broke her hip. After surgery and a quick recovery, she was back at her own house, taking care of everything the way she had been.

It was hard to see her health and mental faculties decline so quickly. I'm not quite sure when it started, but looking back I can see it as long as 4 years ago. I don't think it was as hard on me as it was for my family who lived in the same area as Memaw. They saw her all the time, and I only saw her occasionally. Once she had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's, I knew things would never be the same. I cherish the memories I have of the good times. They replace the sadder, more recent memories when Memaw wasn't really Memaw anymore.

Ah, there are so many memories of Memaw. More than I could ever hope to put in one blog post. While some elude me, others are vivid. I'm sure I'll remember something different tomorrow.

Here's the obituary I found online. One correction: Joey LaBorde was her grandson, not great-grandson.

In Loving Memory
Sara C. Leporati
1/22/1927 - 1/26/2010

Sara C. Leporati
Mulhearn Funeral Home
Sterlington Road, Monroe

A celebration of the life of Sara C. Leporati will be held Friday, January 29, 2010, at 2:00 PM at First United Methodist Church, Monroe, with Dr. Larry Stafford and Rev. Jo Ann Cooper officiating. Burial will follow at Mulhearn Memorial Park Cemetery under the direction of Mulhearn Funeral Home, Sterlington Road, Monroe.

Sara was born in Monroe, LA, on January 22, 1927, to Ralph C. and Sara Fuller Griffith and passed away on January 26, 2010, at The Oaks in Monroe. She was a legal secretary for several years at Hudson, Potts, and Bernstein, and retired in 2003 after 31 years as secretary at First United Methodist Church in Monroe. She was a past member of Ft. Miro Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution, and the Northeast Louisiana Genealogical and Historical Society. Prior to her retirement she was honored as Ouachita Parish Older Worker of the Year.

Sara was preceded in death by her parents; her husband of 51 years, Louis Leporati, Sr., in 1995; brother, Jack Griffith; sister, Ann Zeagler; and great-grandson, Joey LaBorde.

Survivors include her brother, Dan Griffith; daughter, Sue and son-in-law, Don LaBorde; son, Louis “Bo” and daughter-in-law, Ginger Leporati; and son, Doug Leporati. Also survived by grandchildren, Eric LaBorde, Leigh Ann LaBorde, Ashley and husband Billy Todd, Melissa Leporati, Lindsay Leporati, Yvonne and husband Rusty Knox, Joshua Leporati, and Joseph Leporati; great grandchildren, Brooke and Tori LaBorde, Caleb and Jacob Todd, Grayson and Philip Knox, and Sawyer Houston; as well as several nieces and nephews.

Pallbearers will be Louis “Bo” Leporati, Doug Leporati, Don LaBorde, Robert Morris, Billy Todd, and Rusty Knox.

Honorary pallbearers will be Anna Gray Noe Sunday School Class of First United Methodist Church.

Visitation will be Thursday from 5:00 PM until 8:00 PM at Mulhearn Funeral Home, Sterlington Road, Monroe.

Memorials may be made to First United Methodist Church, 3900 Loop Road, Monroe, LA 71201.


Michele Bennett said...

It's a beautiful tribute to your Memaw. Hold on to those memories and it will comfort you as the years go on.

sue said...

Ashley, this is wonderful. So many great memories. She will live on in our hearts forever.

Love you,
Aunt Sue

Bo said...

Thank you, Ashley, for those memories. I love you. -daddy-

Melissa said...

Memaw's other cat after Spooky and Boots was "Paws". I loved reading this, and I really love the picture you posted. It shows her as she truly was - beautiful, vibrant, happy, and full of life, bubbling with laughter and with a sparkle in her eyes.