Sallie Sue was a pistol.
A bilingual native Texan raised on a cotton farm in El Paso with her sister, Linda. She had a baby chick named “Little Peep.” She was taught to be polished and well-mannered. She studied at Hardin-Simmons and loved Abilene, TX- the rodeos and driving downtown and a boy named Charlie. She married young and did the fifties house-wife thing for a while, had her perfect babies, Jim and Sarah. She held all the pieces together until one night when she stopped keeping dinner warm and waiting by the phone. And then she was a divorced, working woman in the 1960s. And she was beautiful and always well dressed and gave her kids everything she could.
And she learned about herself and she found freedom she hadn’t known and the girl who always had an opinion found her voice.
And then as far as I can tell, she never shut up.
She was opinionated and moderately offensive and the most generous person you’ve ever met.
And she let go of lots of “shoulds” and formalities and encouraged us all to do the same. (Although sitting up straight, having freshly brushed hair and being on time were still absolute non-negotiables.)
She taught me, when dating, to never believe what a man says but to watch what he does.
She taught me how to kill a spider with a can of hairspray.
She was never wrong and she would tell you so. She was stubborn as a mule but full of grace when you weren’t expecting it and she liked afternoon naps.
She loved Jesus and she wanted the people around her to know that He could heal them, provide for them, and grant them a freedom that they may not have heard about in their church.
She lost her only son to cancer when he was only 37 and she was so sad but so strong and she kept showing up for the rest of us.
She was a loyal friend and dedicated teacher; and she wasn’t scared of much. She worked at an alternative school in Dallas for a while with convicted felons and was threatened a few times. But she wasn’t one to back down or shy away. She was tough.
I think her ultimate calling may have been to be a grandmother- to dote on little ones and tell them how precious they were and spend too much money on them and tell them what to do all the time. There are only 3 of us, her blood grandchildren. But so many have been folded in over the years- cousins and married-ins, and friends that came over a lot. Anyone our age and younger called her Grammy, regardless of relation. And she spoiled us all.
I remember Mexican food dinner dates and getting yelled at in Blockbuster for spending nearly an hour choosing a movie. I remember rolling my eyes as I carried her ridiculous folding chair around the mall so she could sit at her leisure- but she watched me try on clothes foreeeveerr and we made our “maybe” piles and our “yes” piles and she wanted me to have everything.
I remember her making tamales with her friend, Francis and how she always invited me to church services and bible studies.
I remember our arguments. Sallie was always ready for a good throw down. She and I could work up some sincere anger in a matter of seconds on the most trivial of issues. Sparring was almost a love language for us. We could both come guns blazing, full honesty, holding nothing back and there was a vulnerability there- in saying what was true, in showing all the emotion, even if we couldn’t agree.
She was always telling everyone not to stress, to rest more, to take a nap, to drive more slowly, to take their time. And sometimes I just could. not. with all of that but I’ve always known she was really right.
She had a manor of speaking that was legendarily sing-songy and slow. Many of us that know her regularly attempt to recreate it but no true duplicate has ever been found.
When I had my learner’s permit, she would let me drive her to the library and we would research our family genealogy together.
When I would get scared as a kid she would let me sleep in her bed. I remember once, I woke up to the sound of her eating Planter’s mixed nuts at 3 am and said, “Grammy, what are you doing?” She replied something like, “Well, what does it look like I’m doing? I’m eating!” She was not having your made up rules about not snacking in bed while watching informercials. She ran her own life.
I’ll never know how sincerely she believed in Chupacabras or Big Foot or Nessie but she watched some really strange television, guys. She loved her creatures.
She always owned nice make up and had her hair fixed. She loved new jewelry and kept up with fashion. She painted her nails at least once a week.
She read murder novels and drank “Zero coke”…
Grammy: “Jonny, get me a Zero coke.”
Jonny: “So no coke then, Grammy?”
Grammy: “Jonathan! Zero coke!”
Jonny: “It’s Coke zero, Grammy.”
Grammy: “Shut your mouth.”
She left 4 minute voicemails and said “co-en” instead of “coin” and it drove me crazy.
She loved hard and she was a piece of work.
She gave so much money and all of her extra clothes to charity. She invested fiercely in the churches she was apart of and the community around her.
She cherished her “precious baby,” Sarah. She told countless stories of mom’s mild nature as a child, but loved that her unapologetic sass had clearly been passed down to the women in her blood line.
In the last few years, she had less of a filter and some confusion had set in. She said some seriously cringe-worthy things and confused Jonny for Uncle Jim and forgot to go to some hair appointments and had taken social awkwardness to new heights. But still, just like always, just like when we were small, she could be really hilarious or say just the right thing, even if she only seemed “normal” for a moment.
She was introverted and content to be alone for hours at a time. She read and watched shows and made midnight purchases on QVC.
She and I made keflins every Christmas and pound cake every Thanksgiving.
She prayed – for you, for me, for all of us. She believed God.
And maybe more than anything.. she was there. For all the memories, for all the lectures, for the birthdays and the weddings and the holidays. For the large family gatherings or small living room conversations- to say something sassy, or tell a story about when you were a baby, to laugh with us, or abruptly change the subject. You could trust her to be there and show up in all her Sallie-ness. She was a piece of our family and a constant presence in our lives. And if you knew her, you know she was unforgettable.
I can’t believe you are gone. You are one of the women who have made me, shaped me, loved me so fiercely and I will miss having you in my life. My love of writing and Mexican food, my long fingers and my cheekbones, my strong will and the feminist blood in my veins – it’s all from you. You will forever be a part of me. As it turns out, one of my favorite parts.
I love you,