This weekend we drove to New Albany for Lorene’s funeral.  Mrs. Mada Lorene Cox Belyeu passed away at 99 years old.  She was a kind, wonderful woman who lived through, as James pointed out at her funeral, the Great Depression, both World Wars, and countless other events that shaped our nation.  It’s amazing to think of one person living to see so much change…and probably so much lack thereof, come to think of it.  I only had the privilege of knowing her a few years, but I always thought very highly of her.  She was a kind and giving person, never seeming to put herself first, or put on airs.  But she had a vain streak, which was charmingly girly.  Everyone, especially Chris, made it clear to me that her cooking and  virtues were something to strive for.  I don’t think I’ll ever make cornbread or tomato soup as well as she did, and I know I won’t grow a tomato or cantaloupe that tastes better than her homegrown ones.

By the time I met Lorene, she was very hard of hearing.  If you wanted her to hear you, you had better assert yourself loud and clear.  Being reserved, I found this difficult at first so I missed out on conversations I could have had with her.  But eventually I found my “Lorene” voice and am thankful I did.  When Catherine and I went to Mississippi without Chris, we got to spend some extra time with Lorene.  We made breakfast together, looked through old photos, went to Walmart for some groceries.  Lorene mentioned she really wanted some new shoes and clothes.  But I had to get back to the house to breastfeed Catherine, who was still too little to be away from me for very long.  I planned to take her back to Walmart for a real shopping trip the next chance I got.  But Lorene fell and hurt herself, and we didn’t get another chance.

We spend Catherine’s first Christmas in Mississippi.  Since by then Lorene was living with James and Margaret, we got to spend more time with her than usual, though she couldn’t get around easily and so spent much of her time upstairs in her chair.  Catherine was just learning to sit up.  In the morning, I’d spread out a blanket and prop Catherine up with pillows and give her toys.  I’d sit in the chair next to Lorene and drink coffee and work on sewing Catherine’s Christmas stocking.  We didn’t talk too much but I figured she’d like some company and I enjoyed hers.

Lorene’s eyes were pale blue and she had very good hair, especially compared to most 99-year-old women – even though she was always critiquing it.  She never had children, but she had a husband named Carlton who died in the 80s, and a brother named Hunter who died in 2009 at age 100, I think.  When Hunter went into the nursing home, Lorene went with him to make sure he was taken good care of.  When he died, she went back home to live out her life.  Last year, she was still planting a garden.  One day as we sat in her kitchen watching her slather a ridiculous amount of Country Crock margarine on a “cathead” biscuit (these are the large frozen biscuits she liked, from Stokes), she told us how people always poked fun of her for eating so much butter.  “I’m 98,” she said.  “I guess it must be good for me.”

When Catherine is older, we’ll show her pictures and tell her stories about Lorene.  I think the biggest thing about Lorene is her sweetness.  I’ve heard she has a temper, too, though I was never close enough to her for her to show me that temper.  I wouldn’t expect anything less though.