By Maggie Rocco
She made homemade wine, canned vegetables, and hated liars. I tried to teach her to swim once; she never caught on. She told me in her time only witches could swim, then she’d wink, as if to say, “Don’t let them find out we are really witches.”
She’d start stories about her childhood with, “Back when I was a little boy…” Not to say that had anything to do with her gender identity. More of a nod of the cap to the fact she was a tomboy with two brothers who grew up in hard times. She never had the luxury of frilly dresses or makeup or dolls.
She took me camping and to festivals and concerts; we went on countless adventures. She was tough and independent. We went to a concert at the Hiawassee Fairgrounds once to see Johnny Russell. My grandfather, Tommy Rocco, knew Russell and gave me a business card to give him. I ended up being brought on stage and given a rose. It tickled Mawmaw pink to tell that story.
After the concert, she was too tired to drive down the curvy mountain roads. She had a history of falling asleep at the wheel. We stopped at a pay phone (because, you know, the ’90s) to thumb through the pages of a phone book, looking for a room. Low and behold, there was no room at any of the inns in the greater Appalachian area, thanks to the many festival goers. I was maybe 7 years old. So, with her infinite craftiness, we made a fort in the back of her pickup with boxes from behind the liquor store and napped in the back of the truck until she rested enough to drive. All I remember is one of the happiest times in my whole life.
Later, she told me how scared and nervous she was that I would freak out, that my parents would freak out, that we might be mugged or kidnapped. All the usual worries of an adult in that situation. But when she told me what we needed to do, I smiled and helped her build the makeshift fort, then “scroontched” her to stay warm. She made everything fun and whimsical and safe. With her, in her battered truck, the two of us, her 50-something and me 7, we could do anything, go anywhere, conquer the world.
John Prine was her favorite singer. She loved his singsong tales of life, love, and tragedy. She taught me to buck dance to his music. When I asked her how to do it, she explained it with ease.
“Maggie, just pretend there is a whole troop of fire ants at your feet and you must kill every last one!” So I did, and we danced, especially when people were watching.
She had four kids and over a dozen grandchildren and never missed a birthday or Christmas or Easter present for all of them. My mother was her only daughter, so as it would come to be most of the grandchildren weren’t always around. As my uncles and aunts separated, the cousins mostly lived with their moms. So there I was, her little sidekick. As we got older, the cousins started to come around of their own accord. She couldn’t hide that I was the favorite. It wasn’t her fault or mine. All the time we had spent together made the difference. That, and we were just always on the same page. One of my more belligerent cousins, in a fit of rage, screamed at me, “Well, you are the golden grandchild!” as if I was supposed to be offended. I just smiled, thankful and proud. I loved being loved by her. The problem was that when she tried to include them, when she tried to do things that the two of us would do, they didn’t want to be a part of it. Learning to make scuppernong wine, sew yoyos for a quilt, cook her famous cakes, plant tomatoes in her garden. They were all too busy, or cool, or just plain scared to jump into the wacky ways of life on “knob hill.”
See, she never had much growing up, but by the time all us grandkids came along she did own some land, a 13-acre lot on Lake Hartwell just southwest of the South Carolina border. Hell, the roads didn’t even have names at the time. I remember when the county made everyone get a mailbox. Someone named all the little dirt roads winding around that cove after old cars. Her patch of land became the dead-end address on Corvair Drive. There was no fancy lake house or immaculate boat dock. Just a single-wide trailer filled to the brim with treasures. Somehow, time stood still there, apart from the bustling world around it. My uncle had coined the term “knob hill” in an effort to thumb his nose at her hoarding. She collected everything — glasses, race car memorabilia, rabbit figurines, doorknobs, you name it. If it was old, she collected it.
As I sit here now, amid the array of collections left to us, I can’t stop thinking about the old idiom, “You can’t take it with you.” No saying has ever rang truer than that one in this moment. While she could not take all these earthly possessions with her on her heavenly journey, I have faith that our memories together will remain etched into our souls for eternity.
This is the eulogy I delivered for Mawmaw at her memorial service on August 18.
Eddie Faye Reed was my mawmaw. She was also a Gigi, a grandmother, a mama, an aunt, a sister, a spouse, and so many things to so many people. Most of all, though, she was a friend to everyone she encountered. She was a part of all the best times of my life. We went on so many adventures together — from being pulled up on stage at a concert in Hiawassee, snuggling on camping trips, to the birth of my child, to these precious last few weeks when I had the pleasure and opportunity to spend time with her.
Over the years, she taught me so much about life and love and God and food. She endured hard times, but she could take a lickin’ and keep on tickin’. She never let anything keep her down or hold her back from enjoying life to the fullest. She loved everything from the tiniest plant growing in the ground, to the Good Lord above and everything in between. She was kind, she was talented, she was intelligent, beautiful, and most of all strong.
She loved without prejudice; she forgave with no apology necessary. She was the epitome of a good woman and the embodiment of what the Bible means when it says love others as Jesus loves us. I can only hope my descendants will have such fond memories of me. Today is not a day to be sad. It’s a time to rejoice because she is now buck dancing in heaven.
Whenever you see a flower blooming, a butterfly fluttering, or a star twinkling, rest assured it is a sign of her everlasting love. Her passing is not the end, her light will shine down on us forever. She will be missed, but we can take solace in knowing her legacy will live on through us and the kindness that we show to each other just as she showed to so many. The impact she made on each of us will never be forgotten.