Zither in the A to Z challenge on Spikey Katfish
A zither or very weird guitar.

“Zither,” Mawmaw said.

Blank looks around the table.

“That’s not a word.” “You’re just making that one up.” And a few other jeers from my Dad, me, and I think one of my cousins.

A quick trip to Webster’s shut us all up. There it was, Zither. And Mawmaw scored a gazillion points. And it began to dawn on me that Mawmaw was way smart and that I sucked at Scrabble.

My opinion on the one and my ability in the other haven’t changed in the past 36 years.

I also decided that I’d stick to cards with Mawmaw, where the element of luck played in my favor at least sometimes. Though she was always lucky in cards too. When she was unlucky; she was spectacularly unlucky – we played a lot of Uno and to this day she has the largest single point total in a hand I remember, 470 or so. It was awesome revenge for everyone around the table.

I’ve been lucky in my life to have been granted smart and interesting grandparents who were also interested in their grandchildren. And other than Pawpaw, my Dad’s Dad, who died when I was 6 or 7, they all had good long: late 80s for Meme and Pawpan and 96 (or was it 97) for Mawmaw. With some allowances made for age; they were all sharp to the end as well. Other than Pawpan, who was 6 feet, they were all short – I’ve got my “height” from him I guess. I tower over my parents at my fully drawn up height of 5’ 6” (tower being relative here).

While my Meme and Pawpan both went too quickly for me to say goodbye, Mawmaw basically just said, “That’s enough.” There were breathing treatments that the doctor had recommended. She went to one treatment. Said, I’m paraphrasing here, “That sucks; not going to do it” and that was that.

So I drove down in summer of 2008 or 2009 (damn, I should know the dates at least) to say goodbye. It’s a strange feeling heading home for a visit that you know is going to end in a funeral. Then, like now, all the memories flood back over the drive:

  • Finding my Dad’s poorly hidden stash of nudie mags in a spare bedroom and taking turns with John, my cousin, and Adam, my step-bro, reading and keeping watch of Mawmaw – who was deadly silent like a ninja coming down the hallway.
  • Her awesome dirty rice – which had various chicken innards that I tried not to think about when I ate it
  • Fantastic gumbo
  • My favorite cake – caramel-pecan cake
  • More card games than I can remember
  • Some silver knives that she bought through her church – that I still use when I cook. If I ever figure out what the hell the brand is, I’ll probably buy some more.
  • Her kindness and patience and love, but backed up by a fiery temper when really pushed – but that had to pushed very very far (I come by my temper honestly, every one of my grandparents and both parents – I’m generally laid back, but as Bruce Banner says, “Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me if I’m angry.”)
  • She never cussed, and I think she’s one of the only people I don’t think I ever said a cuss word around, excepting maybe “shit.”
  • Her cataract surgery story, where she said she could remember her eye being popped out and she could still see. This has inspired me to get the “puff test” thing done at the eye doctor every year – even though it’s supposed to be every two or three. I live in terror of needing cataract surgery.
  • Her congenital messiness; which I swear is why I incline to chaos in my own tidiness tendency. Clean, but shit everywhere, it’s a relief to spread out now and then when George travels on business because her incline on this is in the opposite direction.
  • How much she loved to go to the casinos. That woman loved to play her some slots.
  • Muscadine wine.

Funny what sticks and what doesn’t. Even with 96 years, I wish I had spent more time with her – and had more time with Pawpaw to know him better. And I’ll always regret not asking all of my grandparents what it was like growing up when they did, Mawmaw could remember before radio – which just makes my brain do a double-take.

I live in hope that when it is time for me to die that I go quickly and that I’m lucid until near the end.

A quick note on Scrabble, because, why not. I have a decent vocabulary. I make my living from putting words together in ways that usually make sense. I cannot play Scrabble for the life of me.

That’s it. Z. Ah to Zed; c’est fini. Man, what a challenge – and I still need to finish D. Ok, 94.3% fini.


  1. Congratulations sir on a job well done! I have some thoughts about a way I might be able to make this work next year. Watching you guys have given me hope and inspiration.


    1. Hey, Barbara, thanks for reading and that’s awesome about the zither — it’s always seemed like the harp to me, an instrument only played centuries ago. You’re flipping me and Dan around, you might have gotten to me via Mr. Antion, but I am not he (I couldn’t live with myself if I were a Steelers fan!).


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