Lessons learned from Memommie

Story by Kristin McCasland, staff writer

Memommie came along at just the right time––saving me from the horrors of public daycare. I met Memommie when I was 3 months old, and my mom was preparing to return to work. After she called more than 100 potential babysitters without finding a single one (My mom is very picky.), she called Johnnie Oakley, also known as Memommie.

Although Memommie had taken care of kids for the majority of her life, at age 79 she decided to retire and take up speed walking in the mall. However, after meeting my parents and I, she agreed to take care of me. Memommie is now 94, and through the years of knowing her, she has taught me some of life’s most valuable lessons.

1) Be tough.

Where do I start? Memommie has to be one of the toughest people alive. How many people do you know that wouldn’t complain about living in a tent with their entire family for months on end?  Memommie experienced this situation while growing up, but she never saw it as uncomfortable or inconvenient. Instead, she viewed it as an adventure.

During her 94 years, Memommie has never given in to adversity. When she is sick, she never lets it slow her down. One of her most frequently quoted sayings is, “I’m not gonna give in to it,” whatever the “it” may be. I realized this to be true when she had shoulder surgery at the age of 83 and took less time to recover than a 20 year old.

Did I mention that for most of her life she has only had one lung?

Compared to Memommie, most people are wimps. For example, the people in my family, when under the weather, lie in bed and complain about their condition. But I’ve learned from Memommie to go on about my life when I don’t feel good, instead of being completely unproductive.

2) Speak your mind.

Memommie always speaks her mind. If she hears someone say something she doesn’t agree with, she isn’t afraid to let them know it. Recently, she told some of her neighbors, of whom she is not too fond, to “quit using foul language, and stop drinking because it makes you stupid.”  Although she can be straightforward, she speaks the truth and tells people what they need to hear.

I respect her for that. Speaking my mind doesn’t come as naturally to me as it does to Memommie, but over time I have learned the value of a well–placed wise word.

3) Have fun.

Spontaneity often wanes with age, but Memommie is always up for some fun. Every year, she and her friends have a Christmas sleepover, where they stay up all night and gossip, eat and laugh.

To Memommie, however, sleepovers aren’t nearly as much fun as riding on a motorcycle.  Growing up, she used to ride with her cousin on his motorcycle. Now, whenever she sees someone on a motorcycle, she always comments, “I wish I was on that motorcycle,” or “You think they’d let me ride with them?”

Just a few years ago, at the age of 90, Memommie rode with my dad on the back of his Harley. That however, is nothing compared to the time she rode an elephant at the circus.

I’m not making this up, I swear!  How could I not learn the value of having fun while growing up around this wonderful, crazy lady?

4) Laugh.

Memommie has a good sense of humor and always finds something to laugh about.  They say that laughter is the best medicine, and in her case, it’s true. Being able to laugh at the little things in life has kept Memommie’s spirit young. I don’t even mind when she laughs at me; I just laugh along with her.

5) Never grow old.

“If I didn’t know better, I’d think I was gettin’ old.”

I’ve heard these words from Memommie’s mouth more times than I can count. But Memommie refuses to act like she’s old. She definitely does not fit the “old lady” stereotype.  From her, I’ve learned that it is important for everyone to live in the moment, and look forward to the future.

Memommie turned 94 on Sept. 13.  Happy Birthday, Memommie.

Thank you for being my adopted grandma.