The invitation to blog about heroes was too tempting. So herewith, cut a little but generally unaltered, the eulogy I delivered at the memorial for my sister Mimi (1931-2008) last January.
Mimi was my hero. Beginning with the day she stood down the Alpha kid in our Ashland VA gang. We were about 6 and 8 at the time. Beverly Ann Brooks kept the gang under control by placing her hands on her hips when she didn’t get her way, and declaring, “Well, I QUIT.” I was totally in awe of Beverly Ann. But one day when everyone wanted to do one thing and Beverly Ann wanted to do another and pulled that on us, my sister Mimi drew herself up to her full several feet, put her own hands on her hips and said, “Well, quit then, Beverly Ann.” I still draw on that moment for strength in times of distress.
So we grew up, with Mimi rather graciously sharing the power she acquired that day. And then we went off to Randolph-Macon Woman’s College, where Mimi regularly bailed me out when I overspent my budget – this was a time when bailouts involved several trillion dollars less than today, but they were still critical in my life. At her senior piano recital I was a nervous wreck, she was cool as a cucumber, the recital was flawless, and I remember being so proud I could hardly contain myself.
After I graduated, Mimi and my college roommate Pat and I got an apartment in downtown Richmond where we set the town on fire. Literally. One of us, who will remain nameless, left the sun lamp on late one night and we woke up to an inferno. Pat and I immediately took off – we did get the other apartment dwellers up and out, but to be truthful we were interested in our own hides. Mimi calmly sat down by the phone and called the fire department, while she took the curlers out of her hair. The neighborhood gathered in the middle of the street, watching the firemen toss our furniture over the balcony. It was 28 degrees. Pat and I nearly froze until somebody got us coats; Mimi was fully clothed with her hair combed. Those of you who knew our mother will appreciate that when she learned of her children’s brush with death her first response was, “Oh, dahling. Any lady would have stopped to put on a bathrobe.” I don’t think Mimi was interested in being a lady, she just thought ahead.
Eventually I went south to Atlanta and Mimi went northwest to Michigan. She immediately learned that southern drawl equated to dumb girl, so she sped up her vocabulary to a point at which I could barely understand her. So I talked her into moving to Atlanta, where she began a long and very distinguished teaching career.
Mimi was pursued by the sharpest and best-looking men across four states and the District of Columbia. But when she met Tom I think she recognized the person with whom she could spend nearly 50 years and never be bored. Leslie was the light of her mother’s life from the day she was born. There is, though, one issue that should probably be brought into the open here. When our kids were in high school, Leslie – along with hundreds of other teenagers – was caught up in a movement led by a Christian youth minister who will also remain nameless, since he may still be out leading movements and helping kids grow up like Leslie and we should all be grateful. But he was some distance to the theological right of many of us, and it drove Mimi nuts. Finally one day I said, “You know, Meem, given all the things we have to worry about with our children these days, I’d pick ‘too religious’ every time.” So maybe I was her hero at that point.
Mimi’s health became fragile over the past decade, and she didn’t do fragile very well. She did piano, organ, alto, accordion, Spanish, tennis, bridge, dinner parties – or declaiming on her incomparable grandchildren – she did all that fine. I am proud of her refusal to do fragile any more. Lastly, I do know that heroes are masculine and I should’ve said heroine. But in the good old gender neutral a Hero is omniscient. I’m of that old school, and I’m also from woo-woo California and so I believe Mimi is now here, and omniscient, and she is still my hero.
Causes Fran Johns Supports
Compassion & Choices of N.CA
San Francisco Interfaith Council