My great grandma, Mary Ellen LaMar, would’ve been 97 today. She passed away while I was in high school. Unfortunately, I have no digital pictures of her. (I plan to scan old pictures soon, but it’s one of those things that isn’t immediately necessary so it gets pushed aside. A lot.) I thought today would be a great day to write a list of things I remember about her.

She was the wife of a gunsmith.

I will never marry a man with such a cool profession. Once, when we were getting her driver’s license renewed in downtown Edmond, she passed her old license over the white-haired man behind the counter. He looked at it and smiled at her. He asked her to follow him. When the two of us (I’m sure my mom was there too, but then again, maybe she wasn’t) were in the back office, he pulled a gun out of his drawer. I remembered thinking, at the age of 9, that we were going to be shot because why else would someone call us into an office and pull out a gun? (It’s clear that violent movies and video games DO have an effect on children, though it just made me sure I was going to die at any given time.)

Instead, he said “Mrs. LaMar, your husband did the bluing on this gun twenty years ago, and it’s still as good as the day he did it.”

At that point, it became clear that we wouldn’t die. And she chatted with the man who (don’t quote me on this) used to be a member of the highway patrol.

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She was not, contrary to what she told me, in the Navy.

When I was little, I had an image of my great grandmother working on a submarine. This was because whenever she had a bit of wisdom to impart–how to open a jar, the best way to eat macaroni and cheese (it’s with crackers crumbled on top), or how to fix a mistake you wrote in permanent ink–she would always say “Let me show you a trick I learned in the Navy.”

I was probably about 12-years old before I finally realized that was just a saying. It’s a shame too, because in my head she looked like some sort of WWII pinup bombshell that I had seen on the nose of a plane at an air show, but with a sassy sailor costume.

She once told me a story about a snake.

I don’t know why I remember this, but there was once a time when she was fairly young, and she was in her family’s cellar. It was full of jars of jarred things (for some reason my memory says it was peaches). While she was down there, there was a snake. She screamed, and I believe knocked several jars off a shelf and climbed up there. When her dad, or maybe it was her brother, found her, they just laughed and killed the snake with a hoe.

Her fridge was the best.

She always had cans of Coca Cola classic, jars of Vlassic pickle spears, and Klondike bars.

Her clothes were the best for playing dress up.

She had hats, dresses, bags and shoes–all from the nearly 9 decades that she lived. I remember thinking that one of her dresses (I think she wore it to my parents’ wedding) was particularly fantastic and belonged on someone as glamorous as Vanna White. It was light blue with sheer sleeves and a pleated, floor-length skirt made of a sort of silk taffeta situation.

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Don’t judge my taste level. My parents got married in 1980. It’s not like the dresses of that time are remembered fondly by fashionistas. Also, Vanna White was the yardstick by which I used to measure beauty. I thought she was someone incredibly special because she was so pretty, and as far as I was concerned, had the best job ever.

Going to the beauty shop with her was an EVENT.

She wasn’t high maintenance by any means. But I remember going to the beauty shop with her being an important weekly occurrence. The shop she originally went to was off of Ayers and University, I believe, just across the street from UCO. It moved to a couple of different places over the years, but wherever Nellie was cutting hair, that’s where we went. Sometimes, I would get to paint my nails at the manicure station while my granny sat under the hair dryer.

She drove an early ’80s model Chevrolet Caprice Classic.

Mary Ellen LaMar was straight gangster before it was cool. Also, I will forever think of large white cars with navy blue interiors not so much as a mode of transportation but as a means of becoming incredibly carsick in a short amount of time.

My family will never deviate from her corn “recipe.”

This past Thanksgiving, my mom put me in charge of corn with the caveat that I make it like Granny did. This means you dump two cans of whole kernel corn and one can of creamed corn in a pot and stir in salt, pepper and onion powder. I’m sure Granny would like us to remember other recipes she had–perhaps ones where she actually cooked. But for some reason, this is the one that we always talk about during the holidays. Between the onion powder in the corn and the crushed red pepper flakes in the gravy, she’s always there in the kitchen.

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There are a lot things I remember about Granny. They kind of flit in and out of my memory, even though I think I’m too young to not remember everything. She’s been gone for about 13 or 14 years, but every December 3rd I think about her and where we could drive her around town to have dinner for the occasion.

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