One year. One year has passed since I held my mother’s hand as she breathed her last. The pain of her sudden and unexpected passing has not lessened; it just is painful less often. On what would have been her 75th birthday last June I posted “don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” I can assure you the grief has been overwhelming this week and on the one year anniversary I want to smile again. So I wrote this post about some of my favorite Honey memories and qualities. She is, after all, the originator of Not My Boys, at least the term of art and concept as described in our very first post. This post is not meant to be all-encompassing and it certainly won’t do her justice, but she would still appreciate the effort. Although, she loved the Lewis Grizzard line “damn brother, I don’t believe I woulda told that” so there are some stories that will die with those that currently know them.
I was born when my mother was about 36 and a half years old - positively ancient in those days. I was the third child, arriving more than 6 years after my brother. I think the combination of her age, having three children, and the third child being a baby that was a “start over” for a mom with children in elementary school led to what I could best describe as a relaxed parenting style. She definitely did not sweat the small stuff. She lost her father when she was 13 and had three younger brothers to help her mother rear; there always seemed to be an undercurrent of her wanting her children to have strong independence skills in case they had to deal with a similar tragedy. This led to some classic tales that are funny individually, but the body of her work was nonpareil. She was Crazy Ann to cousins on my dad’s side, and Honey to her grandchildren (and thus everyone), names she earned.
Let me start with what she was not. She was not someone that followed traffic laws. As Brandt so eloquently put it, she was a hater of speed limits. But it went beyond that. Way beyond. She did not wear a seatbelt, and never owned a car seat. As a child she let me ride anywhere on the car. That’s right, on the car, not just in the car. Because in addition to me laying on the back deck (behind the headrests, where the speakers are by the back window) while she ran carpool in the Blue Bomb (1970’s Buick sedan), as I got older - elementary school - she routinely let me ride on the hood and also standing on the rear bumper holding the luggage rack on her blue Ford station wagon. Doing at least 30 mph around Rockingham up to Parkins Mill, down the hill, and back again. Let me say that again. My mother let me ride sitting on the hood of her station wagon. While she drove it. On pavement covered roads. Going fast. Now, you may be saying to yourself “sure she did” as you roll your eyes, but the Lord is my witness along with Not My Boys Rivers, Chris, Elliott, and others. When we passed people she would sing the first few bars of the Dixie tune (duh nuh nuh nuh nuh nuh nuh nuh nuh nuh nuh) just like the Dukes of Hazzard show when the General Lee was passing someone. In fact for high school graduation she gave me an air horn for my Bronco that played Dixie.
She was not a fan of shoes or for that matter dressing up. I have a very specific memory of shagging with her at a tailgate lot in college and she was in bare feet. And she could routinely be found in sweat shorts, a t-shirt, and pearls. And her trademark red.
She was not someone that was accepting of anti-American viewpoints. The most vile word she knew was the “c word”, yes the “c word” - communist. Y’all have read about her fondness for pictures in front of the flag. I remember one time in particular that her patriotism got us in a bit of a fix. In 1984 Ronald Reagan was running for re-election and came to Greenville to campaign. He spoke outside at Greenville Tech. My mother and NMB Elliott’s mom Harriet decided it would be a good thing to take us to see. My mother had with her, Hacksaw Jim style, a big American flag attached to a steel pole. She wanted to waive the flag during the speech. Secret Service was on the scene of course, and the huge crowd had to go through metal detectors to enter. I went first, and the buzzer sounded. The agent told me to empty my pockets. Now, remember, Ronald Reagan was shot in 1981. Anyway, I emptied the pockets in my jeans, and out came two handfuls of spent .22 caliber rifle shell casings, left over from the previous weekend’s Indian Guides outing and brought to Sara Collins that day for first grade show and tell (try bringing used ammunition to school today and see what happens). The agents leapt into action, thinking my mother’s metal flag pole was the firearm and I was carrying the bullets. Needless to say, we did not make it in to hear the president’s speech. I am still kind of amazed I got into law school after that incident.
I just read Reagan’s Greenville Tech speech (the internet is amazing isn’t it) and the president started off by name checking Carroll Campbell. Which reminded me of the time we hosted a fundraiser for then U.S. Representative Campbell and my brother and I were dispatched by my mother - or, at least with my mother’s blessing - to spray paint “Carroll Campbell 1984” in blue on Rockingham Road (the double ll served as second base in stick baseball for many years). I think he was finished being governor by the time it wore off the road.
She was not someone who liked to cook. I still know the Papa John’s number by heart - 277-9898 - and I think our family bought the most bagel bite pizzas at Sam’s Club of anyone in town. The angriest I ever saw her was on her 20th wedding anniversary when my father made the mistake of getting her a present, a . . . microwave. He thought it would make things easier for her in the kitchen; she didn’t want to be in the kitchen at all. After she finished giving him her opinion she sat my brother and I down to say “One day you will both be married. Do not ever give your wife anything with a plug on your wedding anniversary, and do not ever give her something that is supposed to help her in the kitchen.” Words to live by.
She was also not someone who liked to clean. For decades our house had this doormat at the front door:
So what was she?
She liked to have fun. We had a big back yard on the Reedy River and roughhouse play was the norm, with backyard football games and ninja throwing stars from the Treasure Box filling afternoons for a decade. She let us burn Christmas trees in that same back yard with flames reaching 30-40 feet in the air, and effortlessly handled the fire department when they showed up by telling them “she was going to call Mayor Workman and he would tell them it was fine.” (she did, he didn’t). The trees were extinguished but we did manage to get a group shot of everyone on the fire truck before they left, her doing of course.
She had a curious view of modesty, regularly instructing me to roll down the window as we drove by topless male joggers so she could yell “put a shirt on.” But profanity also was not in short supply in our home. One time several NMBs were going to a spend the night party at a “new” friend Michael Zeola’s house and my mother instructed all the boys “remember, no shits, fucks, or damns - we don’t know these Zeola people.”
She thrived on spontaneity. In 1968 she married my father after just a few dates, and they moved to East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) where he was living at the time. She was a red-headed green-eyed left-hander in a place without red-heads or green eyes or left-handers. She had to learn to be right-handed since the left hand was the unclean hand (you don’t want to know), and had to learn to live with gawking as many people saw red hair and green eyes for the first time on her head and came up to her to touch it to see if it was real. She had two children while overseas, flying back to Greenville for the births. The next time you think you are having a bad day imagine her flying with a 15 month old and a newborn . . . in cloth diapers . . . on a smoking flight when everyone smoked . . . without headphones or ipads or kindles . . . from Greenville to Atlanta to New York to London to Beirut to Dhaka.
This never waned over the years, like this post from about thirty years later (1998):
The next year, in 1999, I showed up unannounced at Rockingham with a dozen college friends and a 15 passenger van with a DD and a pony keg that we had been hitting since Columbia on our way to Athens (via Greenville - don’t ask). She could have taken one look at our rowdy crew and said “not interested.” Instead, she led our whole group in a march down the street and then a rousing rendition of the Carolina fight song in our driveway:
And then she fed us all pizza. Again, she did not know we were coming and had never met several of the people in the photo. I am also positive that she allowed, on short notice, my sister to bring the entire Tri Delt pledge class (50+ girls) to our house for a multiple night pledge retreat. There were pledges occupying every free floor spot and paisley bags stacked up like cord wood.
On her 70th birthday we were at the beach. She learned I was taking my 13 foot skiff on a 2 hour round-trip to McClellanville to get fresh shrimp. It was morning and she was still in her robe but she instantly wanted to go and was insistent on it - an adventure with her boy! What could be better?! So we went. Long story short, I ended up taking a detour off the intracoastal waterway and into the open ocean before running the boat aground on the beach. Many waves broke into the boat before I could get it off the bottom, leaving the boat around 1/4th submerged. There is no bilge to pump out the water and I had nothing with which to bail it out - the only option was to pull the plug and max out the throttle and run the water out through the (very small) drain. But since I had to drive I had to be in the back, and that meant my mother had to get in the front to add weight to the bow to keep it down while we ran the seawater out. She was beat up bad by the boat slamming through waves. Did I mention it was her 70th birthday? And we were in the open ocean? She never said so much as one sentence in complaint.
She was a member of several social clubs that put on fancy events and recognized those times and places for what they were; we often ate pizza on the den floor at home despite having a perfectly good table in the kitchen because she preferred informality. In fact the only meal she ever had in my current house was pizza on the floor the night we bought it (before we moved in), and I would not have it any other way:
She let us play Nintendo on the TV in her bedroom and race scooters around the kitchen and I had the GI Joe aircraft carrier that stayed in her formal living room for at least two years. She refused to be called Mrs. Sherard even by children - say it and she would come back with "Ann Ann Ann". She just didn’t care about that kind of stuff. But whoa be to the NMB who did not stand up when a lady entered the room, or who did not greet a man with a firm handshake and eye contact.
While she was flexible on the small stuff, she did not miss a chance to teach the big lessons. Once my brother accidentally threw away his retainer in his lunch bag at Beck Middle. When he got home he told my mother what had happened. Buy a new one? Hell no. We drove up to Beck and went through every lunch bag in the dumpster until we found it. That was a disgustingly awful experience, but personal responsibility was something she took very seriously.
She had some go to phrases in addition to “I don’t believe I woulda told that”:
Someone being ugly? Met with “does that make you feel better?”
Someone have a bad attitude? Met with “attitude not aptitude gets you altitude”
Things not going well? Met with “life is not fair”.
Sweating the small stuff? Met with “if that is the worst thing that happens to you in
life you will have a good life.”
And, the catchalls to any problem ever - “Rise above it” and the absolute trump card "make it work."
She loved the arts. As a young lady she taught dance and turned down an invitation to audition for the Rockettes. She acted in several plays at the Greenville Little Theater and never lost her love of dancing. She stayed so active with the Metropolitan Arts Council until her passing that they have now generously named their annual Young Supporter of the Arts award after her:
She was socially liberal but not politically so. She mostly voted Republican, not that she would tell you about it. She liked to say that she voted for the candidate. In 1980, the South Carolina House of Representatives had 108 Democrats and 16 Republicans and we lived on the same street as Rex Carter, the Democratic Speaker of the House. When Mr. Carter retired, another person on our street ran for the seat and the opponent was her friend David Wilkins, a Republican. She walked David around Rockingham to meet the neighbors and he ended up winning Carter’s seat. He has told me that story more than once, usually in the context of why he was not going to fire me despite something stupid I had done when I was his page during my college years.
She was homeroom mom and field trip chaperone and attended her children’s (and grandchildren’s) activities. I rode the pine in my high school sports career but she would drive to places like Clinton and Newberry to watch my team play. This was nothing new to her as she had been supporting us for years. Not just us, but our friends, as shown by this great email Mac Leaphart sent me upon her passing:
We were playing Y baseball. I was an ok fielder, but never hit the ball very well...
Anyway, one game I stepped up to the plate and hit the ball harder than I'd ever hit it. I was on my way to 2nd base before I realized I'd fouled it off the face of [name changed to protect the innocent]. He, as well as a bunch of other players on his team were just sitting on the first base line.
There was a bunch of blood and a hushed still, and when I realized what had happened, I was worried and scared, sad, all that stuff. My mama met me somewhere off the field and I was crying and she was telling me it was ok, it was an accident, not my fault, etc...
And then your mom was right there, too, and she leaned down to me and said, "They shouldn't have been sitting on that damned line anyway."
And, that, more than anything else, made me feel better, almost immediately.
Ann was awesome, man.
We'll all miss her.
As much as she loved being a mother, she might have loved being a grandmother even more. She called her grandchildren her “precious angels” and “one for each hand” became her mantra, making sure each child had 2 of whatever treat they wanted. And I am so fortunate that my little one shares physical features with her as it is like I get to see a little piece of my mother every day:
Most of all, she was a lover. A lover of Jesus, of her husband, of her family, of her friends, of life. There were several wonderful Facebook tributes to her (at the end of this post are a few of them), one of which said “she treated strangers as friends, friends as family, and family as an extension of herself.” That is true, except she put our needs even before her own. In fact when I spoke about her at the graveside I said that she always strived to put others first, often to her worldly detriment. Most importantly, if given the chance to do it all over again, she would not only do it exactly the same way, she would find someone she missed helping the first go round.
This is the last email I ever received from her:
Carrie and Reid - Our Wonderful Family!!!!!!!
Carrie mentioned last week when we were at "Your New Wonderful Home" that she had a busy week, including being out of town - How can we help?
We would love to help with "Our Precious Angel Girl" in any way we can, and we would be so flattered!!!!!!
Have a Happy Day!!!!!!!!
Special Hugs and Love - Love - Love to "Wonderful 3 of You" who we love so very dearly and so very proud of!!!!!!!!
"Granddaddy and Honey"
Offering to help. Spreading love. And that has me smiling.
I love you mama.
Selected Facebook posts:
And the post to end all posts: