"My mother... was a force to be reckoned with."
With this bold opening line from my mother for Oma's eulogy Monday, there was a definite wave of all-too-knowing laughter from the grieving crowd. I swear I also heard a few "amens." A bold statement for a bold woman. Those who were close to Merle Bryant knew just how close my mother's words hit home. My grandmother was a bold, brash woman, who loved and lived life to the fullest. No apologies from this Southern Gothic woman born between the Wars. Oma grew up with the harrowing blanket of the Great Depression overhead and soon took care of her family when father fell sick and mother incapacitated. Taking care of two sisters and one brother at such an early age would force this belle to grow up quickly, tending to her family like only a mother could. Married at the tender age of 14, she became a 'true' mother a year later. This was during a time when marrying young was not frowned upon so much. Plus, it was the South.
After 2 more children and a divorce, Oma then met the man who would change her life. Again. After the divorce, Oma vowed never to marry again, but that all changed when she met Carl Bryant. Carl was smitten by her, even knowing that she was a divorceé with three kids. They got married a year later.
Oma was never one to stay still. Being married to an Army man meant traveling and living overseas. During this time, they had three daughters, the first one my mother, Carlene. The way I understand it, Carl and Merle were fantastic dancers. They danced like silk at any VFW soireés and parties. Oh how I wished I could've seen them dance when they were young.
"At the age of 40, Oma learned how to drive, had a child and went back to school to earn a nursing degree."
I wish I could lay claim to that line, but my mother penned it for Oma's obituary in the paper. I love that. In those few words, you have the essence of Oma. She was a force to be reckoned with -- a pain in the butt at times, but always there with a cold rag on your neck if you were sick from chemo treatments. She was always quick with a retort, and loved ribbing from her sons-in-law. A little too honest at times, but never without heart. She meant well, even if she had favorites.
When her beloved Carl died several years ago, it was obvious that she was a different woman. When I would see her, it looked as if she had been punched in the gut. She lost her will to live, it seemed. Even with a large family surrounding her, she was alone and sad.
She had nerves of steel, a voice that was loud and commanding like a foghorn, and a laugh that could light up downtown Atlanta. I giggled each time I would call her and she'd answer the phone, "M'yellow?" -- her thick Southern accent completely altering the usual "Hello?" greeting. Got me every time.
I can't wait to see her again, to go up to her and give her a big bear hug and kiss her on the cheek and ask to see her and Opa dance together again. Dance like silk again.