Friday morning, Sept. 25, 1981.
I would’ve never recalled it if I hadn’t found the death notice in a Greensburg, Ind., newspaper clipping that Mom had kept:
“Mrs. Mamie L. Adams, 75, died this morning at her residence at 313 W. Central Ave., where she had lived for 29 years. She had lived in Greensburg since 1945.”
Appended to it is a letter to the editor of the same paper, published days later, written by my maternal grandfather, Ray Adams:
“I am writing this letter about the ambulance service that I did not get a couple weeks ago.
My wife became very ill at 4 a.m. I called for an ambulance at 4:30 a.m. I live less than a mile from the station. At 5 a.m. they arrived.
The fire department was there, as were the police. The ambulance driver did not know where to go. I don’t know what they use the radio for or the city map they have.
While I knew Grandma Mamie passed away in 1981, I couldn’t find any mention of it in my sparse journal from that year. So the clippings fill in details I wouldn’t have remembered now that Mom and Dad are also gone.
Mamie was born in Spiceland, Ind., on Aug. 18, 1906, making her six years younger than Grandpa. The daughter of William A. and Rachel Elizabeth Magee, she was third of that family, along with brothers Herman, who lived near Cape May, N.J., and Ernest, in Albany, N.Y., and a sister, Clara Matthews, in Indianapolis.
Mamie’s father William died in 1922, when she was only 16. His wife, Rachel Elizabeth, was born in 1876 and died in 1946. While I don’t have further info to confirm it, I recall that brother Ernest was schizophrenic and confined to a mental institution. I also remember being told, probably by Mom, that Mamie had another sister who committed suicide at a young age. So, perhaps that’s the genetic background I can point to as the source of my mother’s clinical depression.
Then along came David Raymond Adams. They were married on Aug. 17, 1931, one day before Mamie’s 25th birthday. The photo at left is from that year, as the handwritten caption reads: “The morning we left Carolina 1931,” so I’m guessing it was taken on their honeymoon, driving back to New Castle, Ind., in what must’ve been Grandpa’s 1928 Model A roadster.
Four years later my mother was born, in New Castle.
However, something happened in those intervening years, between the August 1931 wedding and Mom’s birth on Feb. 10, 1935: another woman. Or so the story goes.
How Mom learned about it years later is anyone’s guess. But as a child I did sense tension between Ray and Mamie whenever we visited in Greensburg. Mamie would snipe at Ray, Ray would slink away (likely out to his garage), often with Dad in tow.
But Grandma Mamie’s terse nature was sometimes a source of amusement, at least for me. Maybe that was the same with the other Magee children—a sense of fatalism, maybe something that could be called “Irish intensity.” Mamie was not afraid to call out bullshit whenever she encountered it.
So when Dad was dating Mom, I remember later hearing (from Dad I think) that Mamie didn’t care for him and thought Mom could find a better choice for a husband.
If the infidelity tale is true, then it’s easy to see why Mamie felt that way—my father, as a young man, had a devil-may-care, egotistical attitude. His Way or the Highway. Mom might’ve seen Dad’s attitude as confidence. I don’t know. But there must’ve been a clash of wills between the devoted Irish mother and the insouciant French-Germanic ex-soldier.
Mamie’s death sent shockwaves through Mom, and I think she never truly recovered from it. She was close to her mother. And after learning about her father’s infidelity—fundamentally the reason she remained an only child—it only served to deepen her depressive episode, just beginning in late 1981, and continuing for six years.
While I spent more time with Grandma Mamie than I did with Dad’s mother, Hazel, I was deeply influenced by Hazel’s reading habit. But I don’t recall attending Mamie’s funeral. I’m sure the Family Project immediately flew down to Indiana. The photo at left was taken during Christmas of 1980—probably the last time I saw her alive.
She wasn’t well, that’s clear from the photo.
But I don’t remember anyone speaking of the congestive heart disease that would claim her life that early September morning back in ’81.