WITH ALL THE other stuff going on, Mama died. So I’m heading to Sugar Land to work on her eulogy, to settle her affairs, and visit with my brother and sister.
I remember when my grandmother took this picture, which shows me and my sister, along with Daddy (the day he died), and my mama, who was pregnant with my brother.
My mother was a funny woman, and funniest when she wasn’t trying to be.
On one of the many trans Texas to Virginia trips I took to go hang with my mother and The Colonel, I was presented with the obligatory To Do List–a list of things Mama wanted done during my visit. The To Do List was one of Mama’s religions, something to be tallied, checked off and revised, and it ranged from Family Work Day (building a patio) to helping her organize her Craft Room (which Dad aptly dubbed The Crap Room).
On this trip, she asked that I take sparkly gold acrylic paint to apply Raphael-type cherubs to spiff up her recycle bin.
“Mama,” I said. “It’s probably going to wear off,” which agitated her.
“I need it,” she insisted. “That attorney up the street keeps taking my bin because I wash it out every week. This one is his, and look at this mess. Just look at it!”
Cleanliness was Mama’s second religion.
I raised a brow and said, “Well. If you really want him to stop stealing your recycle bin, let me paint I AM A THIEF.”
She gasped in horror. “We are not painting anything about thieves on it. What will people think?”
“They’ll think you’re tired of getting your neat, clean Fresh Scent Clorox smelling recycle bin stolen.”
In the end, Mama won the argument, as usual. and I painted glittering, golden cherubs more appropriate to the Sistine Chapel than for a smelly trash receptacle. The angel was posed, cheek to his forearms, gazing out on the neighborhood, benignly daring anyone to steal this or any other recycle bin. In the end, Mama had the fanciest trash container on the culdesac.
To know my mother, Betty Wingard Frazier, was to know her bright, beautiful
mischievous blue eyes, her twisted sense of humor, and her love of rules.
I asked some of her dearest friends and family members what they would remember most–this woman they called “Sarge”–because in her bones, that’s what she was–in fact, the first female Chief Master Sergeant in the Air National Guard.
Her sparkly, purple-lined eyes came up the most, and the way she walked–all balls to the walls, attacking her destination. Her dear friend Shirley, said, “Your mother didn’t really walk–she marched, like she was leading a private platoon in Saigon,” and woe to those who would make her late.
Her smile came up often, and the delicious way that she laughed. Full on belly-laughing, and if you really got her going, her laugh was punctuated with a series of raucous snorts.
To know my mother was to know life and laughter and perseverance in the face of the most difficult of circumstances. She was all sparkles and purple eye shadow, dressed to the nines. I can’t tell you how many times I went to visit her, dressed in my usual casual way, and she’d say, “You’re not leaving the house like that, right?”
And then it was back to the makeup table and closet to “Slick on some lipstick and put on some color.”
We know all these things, but to really know my mother, you were out of luck.
She didn’t talk about the bad times, so what I know is limited. Mama spent most of her formative life as an orphan with shoes that were too small and a heart that may have been too big.
Her mother died of cancer when Mama was three, leaving her to fate, an alcoholic father and a deadly-cruel stepmother.
When she was five, Social Services stepped in and sent her to live with an elderly aunt, who was also mean as snake, and couldn’t be bothered with a small child. By then, Mama knew first-hand what it felt like to be unwanted.
She came home from kindergarten one day to find a paper sack stuffed with unwashed clothes and one hand-me-down baby doll left hastily on the lower part of her aunt’s front porch step.
Social Services stepped in again, placing her in an orphanage, where she lived until she was a teenager.
At least three good things came out of her stint in the “Home for Little Wanderers”–Tom and Elenore Hutton, who took her in as an older foster child. And she found my first dad.
The story, according to my grandmother, is that my daddy, Don Wingard, took one look at Mama as she scooped hot fries out of a bucket of scalding oil at the Skylark Drive In movie theater. At last, she’d found the love she’d craved. But it was short-lived.
Daddy died the summer of 1970 when he and Mama were 23-years-old, and she was left with two small children with one on the way.
She joined the Air Force National Guard—one of the few women to make the grade
So, it’s no surprise that family, loving and being loved were paramount to her.
My mother taught me many important life lessons, among them, Life is often
My mother attracted, and cared for strays, all of her life, and I can’t help but think she could read the broken, unwanted.
More on this later. Thank you for reading, and Mama, thank you for always being a beacon, most especially when times went bleak.
I love you, Mama. And thank you for always leaving the light on for me.