Monday, May 29, 2006

In Memoriam, for the Day

Velma Irene Ward Devers, of Warrensburg, Missouri. My great-grandmother. She grew up on a farm in Kansas, with eight siblings with names like "Roscoe," "Ina," and "Mildred," and she was the valedictorian in her high school class of nine. As I knew her, she was always impeccably coiffed and thoroughly accessorized; my cousins and I spent hours trying on the clip-on earrings and long strands of beads organized in egg crates in her dresser drawers.

Pearl Robertson Leonard of Lamoni, Iowa. My great-grandmother. Soft and doughy, with hands gnarled like twisted paper, she spent years on a farm using an outhouse and water pump before retiring to town. She loved birdwatching, Reader's Digest, and Louis L'Amour novels, and made excellent fruit-and-Jell-o concoctions and creamed corn.

Robert Leonard of Lamoni, Iowa. My great-uncle, a farmer, and a round badger of a man with a great bark of a laugh. I remember him shouting cheerful profanities at his cows as they followed his truck in expectation of food; his left hand trembling with Parkinson's until he trapped it under his right; and his bristly cheek when I leaned down to kiss him good-bye.

Carol Jean Devers Sadler, of Warrensburg, Missouri. My grandmother. When she took the GRE, she achieved the highest score of any student at Central Missouri State University up till that time. She loved traditional church music, bridge, and the public library; made wonderful afghans and mashed potatoes with cheese on top; read mystery novels and literary fiction; and taught me to play Scrabble and, with my mother, to be proud of being an intellectual woman. She died of breast cancer in 2003, and her daughter and granddaughters have Raced for the Cure every year since.

Monte Hydrick Sadler, of Sikeston, Missouri. My great-grandmother, a tiny, wizened woman who wore pastel housedresses and brown orthopedic shoes. When cooking, she was deaf to her granddaughters' pleas that she should sit down and rest, let them take care of things. . . . Her recipes included ingredients like "a handful of flour" and "a knob of butter (the size of a walnut)," and she boiled her green beans with bacon and salt till they melted in the pot.

Philip "Bud" Sadler. My uncle, long and lean, with shaggy blonde hair that sometimes fell into his face and an immense fondness for Bruce Springsteen. He went into typewriter repair in the late 1970s, and the times sadly got away from him; but I remember his wide smile and easy laugh, and his delight at corny comedies or when the Chiefs made a great play.

I am lucky to have lost only these five people, and lucky to have loved and been loved by them.


  1. I was touched by your portraits. It's interesting what images rise when we call up memories of loved ones. When I think of my mom, I recall the delightful tingle of her fingernails scratching my back as I lay, head in her lap, in a warm, comfortable church service. Simple things....
    Thank you for sharing these.

    Christy Lenzi

  2. What is wonderful is how kids remember the important things. Grandmothers aren’t great because they drive Ferraris (though that would be an interesting story) but because of the ordinary bits of their lives are special to us.

    I always thought my grandmother was rich when I spent summers with her in Mississippi. She too had troves of paste diamond jewelry and a musty closet full of cloche hats. Her two-story house had hiding places with piles of comics and books. The oil room was always packed wall to wall for our arrival with Doctor Pepper in little bottles. Our playroom was part of the house had been a county store before the Depression, filled with glorious junk. It was only a couple of years ago that I found out that she lived on a miniscule teacher retirement and didn’t get indoor plumbing until the mid sixties. She taught me that it was okay for girls to be smart and going to college was a requirement, not just as a way to get a career, but also as a way to learn about life.

    I would have liked to have eaten dinner at your great-grandmother’s houses. (Mmm creamed corn…)

    Have a great week!


  3. Well, you made me cry.

  4. Me, too.
    Not to be too preoccupied with cooking but these are the moments embedded in memory.
    I learned much about cooking from watching these women in the kitchen and from just being there. As a new, young wife the repertoire consisted primarily of hamburgers and spaghetti prior to seeing Granny (Velma Devers) use exotic southwest ingredients like peppers and pinto beans in those fabulous meals.
    A bonding experience was making noodles with Grandma Sadler or "Mawmaw". It was the day after Thanksgiving and I will never forget draping the kitchen chairs with luscious homemade noodles. I think I proved my worth to her in the kitchen that day!

    Thanks for the memoriam.

  5. Seed caps off to Midwesterners! They're why I love living here.