I am loving "Story Worth," which was a Christmas gift from our grandchildren, Loftin and Emmett, along with their parents, Abby and William. The idea is to answer a weekly question, send it to, in my case, Loftin Propst, and at the end of the year, the stories will be compiled into a sweet little book.
A win-win for me, I'm having a wonderful time!
So, this afternoon, Loftin suggested that I share with you one of my stories. Below is the piece I wrote today.
My birthday is this week. I’m enjoying family and friends, of course, but I’m also thinking about a birthday more than three decades ago.
I was raised by Momma and Daddy, and especially by “B.” Ociee Nash Whitman was my beloved grandmother. To me, she was B, short for Butch. Momma always called her mother Butch and no one ever discovered why!
Several of my books include my grandmother. A series of five is about her when she was a young girl. Amazingly, my first novel, “A Flower Blooms on Charlotte Street” was even made into a movie, “The Adventures of Ociee Nash.” I think B had a hand it that.
Initially, I wrote Charlotte Street so our three children, Amanda, William and Jay, would learn more about the elderly lady they visited at St. Martin’s in the Pines, and, on occasion, would eat with at a nearby Denny’s.
Ociee Nash Whitman was so much more than that.
B made beautiful doll clothes, heard my spelling, encouraged me, had surprises waiting for me in our “important drawer” and prepared peanut butter sandwiches with tomatoes and mayonnaise. She also took me to see the Ice Capades at Ellis Auditorium, where she was secretary to Chauncey Barber.
B worked for him until the ripe old age of eighty because her job provided free tickets to Broadway shows, ballets and the opera, and to see her favorite entertainer, Liberace. When the famous pianist came to Memphis, she invited one of her neighbors to go with her to his show. As the two ladies waited for the curtain to rise, the friend remarked, “Ociee, I read in the Commercial Appeal that Elvis has again surprised someone with a Cadillac. Surely wish he’d give me one.”
Much to their surprise, two days later, a brand new Cadillac arrived at the neighbor’s home! Apparently, Elvis Presley was sitting in a box above them and overheard their conversation. His people managed to track down the neighbor from her seat number and had the car delivered to her home on Monroe.
B relished sharing that story.
Once I turned nine, I often rode the Highpoint bus all the way downtown to have lunch with B after she got off at noon on Saturdays. I’d meet her outside the front entrance of the auditorium and we’d walk down Main Street to eat at Walgreen’s lunch counter. B then took me shopping at Woolworth’s Five and Dime. I treasure the tiny rubber animals we collected, three bears, a poodle, a Panda and a monkey.
Saturday nights, when Momma and Daddy went out, my grandmother and I watched the variety shows on TV including Sid Caesar and Perry Como. We were partial to Jimmy Durante. At the end of his program, B and I joined Jimmy in saying, “Good Night, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are.”
At age ninety-four, Ociee Nash Whitman died in her sleep. I believe she waited for me to be far away on my birthday trip to Cancun with Jamey.
*B found it hilarious that my husband and I were in search of ruins older than me. I was turning forty.
On the last day of our trip, Daddy called us crying. He choked out the words, “Ociee is dead! The people at St. Martin’s found her early this morning.”
“Oh no, Daddy!”
“Honey, we don’t even know when she died. Her table mates said she’d not come to the dining room for dinner saying her ‘shrimp stomach was acting up’.”
The day before, Jamey and I were exploring a lovely lagoon where we watched as a man climbed high up a palm tree to pick coconuts. It had been drizzling all morning but suddenly the warm sun began to toast the beach. Just as the man reached the top of the tree, a gorgeous double rainbow appeared.
Fighting back my own tears, I replied, “Daddy, B died at 4 o’clock yesterday. She sent me a rainbow.”
We buried Ociee Nash Whitman next to her husband in Calvary Cemetery in Memphis. I did not cry.
On my last visit to St. Martin’s, B made me promise her I wouldn’t. A week later, I slipped my fingers into her soft gray gloves and fell to pieces.
Widowed in her early forties, Ociee Whitman had grieved her husband’s death for more than fifty years. What a blessed birthday present I received that February day in Cancun. B gave me, her only grandchild, a rainbow, a double rainbow, to announce that she and Charles Lawrence Whitman were dancing together in Heaven.