Friday, August 05, 2011

Amy Pettit Remembered: Carnegie Library & Old Runnels

The American Way inflight magazine highlighted the hundred year old Carnegie Library in Ballinger, Texas. The column closed with author Carlton Stowers at the checkout desk, the one used throughout the past century. Stowers didn’t write about Ella Mae Lee, born four years after the library was built. As a little girl, Ella Mae grew to love books and the written word in that very building.

Ella Mae married and had children. She became “Amy” Pettit, then Mammaw Amy to her grandchildren. Along the way, Amy dabbled in writing and poetry.  She received the Jefferson Award in 2008 for her lifetime of community service in San Angelo. Amy began her award acceptance speech in Washington, D.C. with “I put one foot in front of the other and never stopped.”

While West Texas baked in this summer’s record heat, Amy focused on her final steps. In July she saw her great granddaughter, Katherine Amy Song McCall. Yesterday, her son Robert and his wife Christen arrived from Indiana with their family. They completed Amy’s circle of love with daughter Lois, son-in-law Vayden, granddaughters Kristin, Amy, Michele, Tess and Brynn, and grandson Grayson.

Mammaw Amy was like a grandmother to me. I visited frequently, often with Kristin’s prized orange-cranberry scones in hand. Mammaw lived by three maxims. The first was “eat dessert first.” My sweet tooth appreciated her courage and role modeling in this regard.

Her second rule was “dessert needs a coffee chaser.” She acquired her love for coffee as a toddler on a Runnels County farm. Many times I watched her savor the black brew, declaring it “just right.” Her third maxim was “my food is yours.” Amy knew deep hunger during the depression and never wanted another to experience what she did. She always offered freely from her plate.

My last few months with Mammaw could be characterized as “Poetry and Pictures.” Lois provided me with poems Amy wrote in the 1950’s, 70’s and 90’s, as well as old pictures. I read Amy's poetry, “Indian Summer,” “Stillness” and “Being Old” to her. Like the “just right” coffee, she found her words satisfying. Pictures jogged long ago memories from the part of her brain still accessible.

Neither Amy nor I were content staying still. A word or photo should go in front of the other and never stop. After her highly photographed 96th birthday, I wrote a poem “Amy Walks in Time.” Amy pronounced the pictures and poem good.

She said she had a poem in her head and wanted help getting it to paper. The next day I sat with pen in hand, ready to write. Mammaw Amy confessed, “I lost it.” That became the title for “Amy Lost Her Poem,” a Seuss like lark. Over time we added “Amy’s Good Memories” and “A Tribute to Al.” She talked for five minutes about her husband Al.

I contributed but one line to the poem, a memory aid. It was “My kiss, his portal to another world.” Dementia robbed her of this precious recollection.  While Amy often thought Al still alive, if asked where Al was buried, she'd invariably say "Old Runnels."

Yesterday, I showed up with the Carnegie Library article, only to find my dear friend unable to speak and able to open her eyes ever so slightly. As Amy’s breath labored, I read to her. I started with her poems, before shifting to the ones we’d crafted together. We prayed together, like we’d done many times before. I read “Thank you, Mr. Carnegie” to the little girl in Amy who’d spent enchanted hours in the Ballinger library.

Before midnight, Amy passed away. She died at the age of 96. She’s reunited with Al, five siblings, her beloved Grandma (who taught her to pray), Mini Bee, Momma and Daddy. I imagine St. Peter welcomed her by her deserved title, “First Rate Person, Poet Extraordinaire and Beloved Child.”


Michael Lacy said...

Hey Alan! I am Michael Lacy, one of Bonnie Marie's sons (you met my brothers Joe and Richand along with my sister Julia at Amy's service). I was not able to make it to Amy's service (on an ill-timed trip to Virginia), but I am so glad that Joe David, Rich and Julia were able to make it. I am tremendously moved by your post on Aunt Amy - it is just beautiful. You have a true understanding of the very unique person that Amy was (and still is!). Thank you so much! I look forward to meeting you some day.

BTW, Robert just "friended" me on FB, which is great! Seems the only way we can keep in touch these days.


PEU Report/State of the Division said...

Hi Micheal, thank you for your message. It was great meeting Joe David, Richard, Steve and Julia. I wish it'd been under different circumstances, but that's me being selfish.

Kristin told me how neat Marie's kids are and she's right. Your mom is in my thoughts and prayers. I know all of you are a blessing to her. I too look forward to meeting you. All the best,