My grandmothers legal name was Annie Ella Jean (Lorance) Gooch, but she was most widely known as Big Mama. Believe it or not, that is a name that she picked out herself and it described her perfectly. The picture above is of the 2 Ella’s meeting each other for the first time, Big Ella and Little Ella.
There is no possible way I could begin to tell all the things I love about Big Mama. Going to her house was always so much fun. We always lived far away, so visiting in the summer was quite a treat. The deal was that my parents got to sleep out in the guest house, and Curby and I got to sleep in cots in Big Mama and Big Daddy’s room. Curby’s cot was at the end of the bed and mine was right next to Big Mama where she would hold my hand until I fell asleep. The space between her bed and the cot was about 6 inches, so she would have to shuffle in to crawl into bed, and shuffle back out in the morning…but she never complained. She was so happy to have us visit that I don’t think she minded one bit. While we were visiting Big Mama let us have as much soda and candy as we wanted. My parents never kept either in the house, so when we got to the Bigs (that’s what we called them) Curby and I would go straight to our stools in the kitchen (each grand kid had their own stool) and we each had a nice stash of candy. And the garage had shelves of soda and we could drink as much as we wanted. And don’t even get me started on the Blue Bell Ice Cream! That’s what grandparents are all about…letting you do stuff that your parents wouldn’t dream of!
I went to college in Oklahoma, so for the first time in my life I lived close to the Bigs. I would visit about once a month and every time I came I brought with me a basket full of laundry. Big Mama would spend all Saturday morning washing my clothes for me. I’ll never forget one weekend when my brother also came out to the farm (he was living in Ft. Worth at the time) and he also brought his laundry. She did laundry ALL DAY and on Saturday night she counted how many pair of underwear she had washed. The next day at church she went around telling everyone how many pairs of underwear there were. I was mortified!
When I was pregnant she and I were talking on the phone and Big Mama was telling me a story about when she was pregnant and she was walking outside and fell “flat on her fliddle dee diddle!” She always used made up words like that, and sometimes she didn’t even know they were made up (like when she called Metamucil “Metamuchual”). I still laugh when I think about it. And she always used good old southern terms that people don’t use anymore, like “up yonder.”
As you know, Ella is named after Big Mama. Even as a kid I had always loved the name Ella, and I decided that I wanted to have a little girl named Ella someday. Big Mama is actually the one that suggested combining her name with Joe’s name to come up with Joella. In some ways Little Ella is a lot like Big Ella. She’s a talker, and anyone who knows Big Mama knows that she was a talker! And Little Ella has those big, blue eyes, just like what Big Ella had. And they are both fighters…Little Ella proved that at the beginning of her life, and Big Ella proved it at the end of hers (although we all knew it long ago). Now we just need to teach Little Ella to be as outgoing as Big Ella, then she’ll be all set. Big Mama NEVER met a stranger! She would talk to anyone about anything for any amount of time!
In August I had a gut instinct that was telling me to take Ella back to Texas. It wasn’t practical, the timing was wrong, it was going to cost a lot for plane tickets, and the weather was going to be bad for Ella’s skin, but I knew that we needed to get back down there. Something was telling me that her time was coming short. Joe has been with me long enough to know that my gut rarely steers me wrong, and this time was no different. Just a couple of months after our trip, Big Mama fell and broke her hip. She was never able to fully recover. I cherish that trip and I’m so glad that she got to see Little Ella doing so well.
There are 2 things I am most sad about…1) Ella will not remember her namesake. She’ll have the stories that we tell her, but those will never do Big Mama justice. And she’ll have the pictures of them together, but those only tell part of the story. I wish she had been able to get to know her better. 2) Big Daddy is losing his life partner. They began dating in high school and got married at 19. They were married for 66 years. The other day Big Daddy said to my mom, “My whole life I’ve prayed that I would go first. I just didn’t know how I could live without her.” That breaks my heart. I am so thankful that my Uncles, Aunts and cousins all live close enough that they’ll be able to take care of Big Daddy and make sure he’s not alone.
Big Mama was such an integral part of our family. It’s weird to think about life without her. My parents are staying at their house and I asked if I could call on the Bigs house phone. When my mom told me it has been disconnected I cried. I’m not ready to delete their number from my cell phone. I’ll miss dialing that number and hearing Big Mama on the other end. I miss her.