“Well, she’s the mom of our mom, so why don’t we call her Mommom?” my sister suggested—at least, I think it was her idea. Can’t imagine I could have come up with that at age four.
The name stuck for the last thirty years of Mommom’s life.
A widow at 49, Mommom sold her prime California farm property to her in-laws shortly after her husband’s death and invested the proceeds wisely. She went back to nursing for awhile, and then left that so she could grandmother her only child’s kids (my three siblings and me).
As kids, we thought Mommom was the coolest grandma. She had cool cars. She had a cool condominium in Modesto, California with a heated swimming pool, surrounded by palm trees. She lived near the Oakdale Hershey factory (before it closed), and always supplied us with treats whenever she visited us in Washington State. She brought cool presents, too. She talked cool. Everything about her was cool. And of course, she had money and was generous with our family, because Mom was her only child.
I remember one trip to Santa Cruz where my sister and I climbed into the back seat of her awesome—PURPLE!—1966 Oldsmobile Toronado with retractable headlights…and a 385 V8 engine. It even had air conditioning! (In my hometown—Seattle—few cars had air-conditioning in the early 70s). Once she hit the freeway, she accelerated to 90 miles per hour. We kids were bouncing on the seats as the speedometer needle inched higher and higher. We had never traveled that fast (in a car). Signaling to each other to say nothing, my sister and I wanted to see how long Mommom would drive that fast. But you guessed it—she drove that fast all the way to Santa Cruz, baby, with the windows rolled down and our skinny little arms sticking out, pulling the warm California air into our sleeves to inflate our shirts like balloons.
A few years later, she upgraded to a 1972 Buick LeSabre with a 455 V8 engine. My family inherited that car when I was a teenager, so I got to drive it. Beat my friend’s ’66 Ford Mustang hands down on a short drag test on Highway 99. But…back to Mommom and her LeSabre…
Before she bequeathed the Buick to our family, she was driving it along McHenry Avenue in Modesto and stopped at a traffic light. A young man in the lane next to her rolled down his car window and called out, “Hey grandma, want to drag?”
With laser eyes that could have pierced a ten-foot-thick steel wall, she looked at him and said, “How would you like to go to hxxl?”
At this, my siblings and I gasped, our hands rushing to our mouths in shock.
“I didn’t tell him to go to hxxl,” she justified herself later on. “I just asked him how he would like to go there.”
I remember glancing anxiously at Mom to see if she approved of the explanation, of which she clearly didn’t. Her answering glare let me know that those words would never be acceptable in our home.
But to be fair to Mommom, that’s only one of two times I ever heard her swear—in all the thirty years I remember her (later about the second time). She had a solid faith, enviable character, and was a model of faith, love, virtue…and pure coolness…which is why the incident still stands out in my memory. We all wanted to be like her and live up to her expectations.
On another trip to Modesto, I remember we were all sitting around the dinner table in her dining room when the phone rang. Mommom jumped up to answer it.
Mommom: “Myellow.” (We kids used to make a lot of fun about that).
(Short pause as she listens to the person on the other end of the line).
Mommom: “I’m sorry, you must have the wrong number, but I wish I were Nancy. You sound like somebody I’d like to go on a date with.”
She winked at us, and then spent the rest of the dinner time flirting with a complete stranger on the phone while my family giggled and gasped in shock at her swagger. Not sure what Mom really thought of Mommom that night, but I remember Mom shaking her head, unable to contain her laughter—just like the rest of us.
When Mommom was 70, she moved up to Washington State to be near us. Within a few months of the move, she suffered a massive stroke and was touch and go for three months in ICU. In the early days of her hospital stay, my brother left a Garfield balloon tied to the foot of her bed because she didn’t wake up when he visited. The next day during visiting hours, she was asleep again, but she had scribbled a message on a notepad by the side of her bed that read, “Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse I know, but who the hxxl is Garfield?” (the second time).
Mommom recovered and lived another thirteen years after that, telling stories of her life, modeling excellent character, patiently teaching and offering advice when asked. She loved and spoiled us all until she passed away on Valentine’s Day—a fitting day to meet her Savior. But I have often imagined her driving down the streets of gold and pulling up next to a brawny angel and asking, “Hey angel, you wanna drag?”
Somehow, I don’t think she’d get the same humiliating answer she had dished up to a young driver in Modesto, California.