If my mother-in-law had a motto in life, it was “more is more.”
Following her death a couple weeks ago, friends and family recalled the endearing qualities of the 94-year-old lady my kids called MawMaw, especially her unapologetic love for costume jewelry.
MawMaw never simply wore a necklace. She rocked three or more with matching earrings as big as her earlobes would bear, bracelets times 10, and rings on every finger. She was the original Queen Bee of Bling.
“I know some people think I wear too much,” she said once. “But I don’t care. Not a particle.”
Four years ago, when time came to close her three-story house and move to a one-bedroom apartment, MawMaw let most of her possessions go with ease. Not the jewelry.
“It’s all coming with me,” she said adamantly. So we packed up six enormous storage bins of bling (I’m talking thousands of pieces) and squeezed them into every nook and cranny of her tiny, new digs.
MawMaw’s motto carried over to clothes. After all, what good is a boatload of accouterments if you don’t have the outfits to accessorize? There were shoes and a bag for every ensemble, belts in every color of the rainbow.
A year-and-a-half ago, when time came to move MawMaw into a nursing facility, we worried she would be distraught at the purging of her closet. She wasn’t. She was too sick. But, when her status improved, she asked us to buy more.
“I’m going to need a Christmas sweater and a long skirt. They’re all wearing long skirts this year, you know.”
At one time, there was even more “more” in MawMaw’s life. She had a vast collection of bells, dozens and dozens of dolls and more knickknacks than a big-city Hallmark store. And the Christmas decorations! Sixteen, maybe 20 boxes worth she insisted on putting up every year.
Frankly, I always thought it a little much. I was raised to appreciate the art of understatement. “Less is more.” Anything over the top was considered kitschy.
It took me years to realize what a snobbish attitude I had, and that MawMaw loved “more” because she had so much less as a child.
Born in Illinois in 1917, she was 2 when her mother died. Her father was too overwhelmed to care for a baby girl, so she was sent to live with her grandmother while her young brother stayed to help work the farm. When her dad remarried, MawMaw returned home, only to set off for Kansas in her teens to live with her aunt. To this day, no one knows exactly why.
The Great Depression was in full swing then. MawMaw recalled eating a lot of potato soup in those days. She graduated from high school, received her teaching certificate and rode horseback to work in a one-room schoolhouse in Nemaha County. She returned there in her mind — deftly conducting games in her classroom from her nursing home bed — the day before she died.
It’s normal, I suppose, for people who survive great loss and scarcity to accumulate and hold on to things. But MawMaw’s motto didn’t just apply to worldly goods.
“More was more” when it came to MawMaw’s love, too. Her devotion to family was unconditional and unabashed.
Her baby grandson could be throwing a colicky fit — screaming at the top of his lungs for two solid hours. She’d smile and say, “He’s good as gold,” while jiggling him on her chest.
Emporia locals still talk about the time MawMaw beat her youngest son (my husband) to the end zone as he ran for a touchdown in junior high. Or when Little League umpires almost had to peel her off the backstop while she cheered him into home plate. (MawMaw’s enthusiasm sometimes got the best of her.)
She worked tirelessly for countless clubs and organizations. More was more when it came to giving back to her church and community. As a volunteer, she never said no to a request for help.
MawMaw thrived on giving food, gifts and compliments to the people she cared about, and many she hardly knew. All she ever wanted in return was more time with the people she held dear. (“Do you have to go? Can’t you stay a little longer?”)
The doting mother, grandmother and wise, old-one-room-schoolhouse teacher taught me an invaluable lesson: Love should never be understated. More is more is more is more.
And a little extra bling never hurts either.