When I think of elegance and fun wrapped in the same package I think of “Miss Marjorie.” Marjorie Mayfield was one of several ladies I looked up to when my husband and I joined First Baptist of Cairo in 1968. She wouldn’t have considered me one of her “close friends,” yet she made me feel like one. She exhibited a spirit of quiet joy and it was simply a delight to spend time with her. Though she was a grandmother at that time, she was as vivacious as a teenager, her face alive with interest in everything.
Whether it was a New Year’s Eve party at the Mayfields’ house in town or a Sunday school party at their farm, Marjorie was a charming hostess. On one occasion Charles and I went on a hayride to the Mayfield farm. It was a Sunday school class outing and there must have been thirty or forty of us. That was my introduction to the farmhouse and beautiful grounds near Calvary, Georgia. Charles had been many times to see cows and horses needing veterinary attention but that was my first time to visit. A giant live oak between the house and the swimming pool was circled by a generous table Mr. Judson had made. The best thing on that table laden with vegetables, sandwiches, salads, and cakes was Miss Marjorie’s egg salad. I’ve never tasted any egg salad anywhere that even compared. Miss Marjorie and Mr. Judson seemed personally interested in each of us, inviting us with genuine persuasion to come anytime to swim, to visit, to enjoy the country sights and sounds.
One year we were invited to the Mayfields’ home in town for a drop-in New Year’s Eve party. “Bring little William with you,” Miss Marjorie insisted, her brown eyes sparkling. “Little William” was about four then and looked forward with great anticipation to this party. Soon after we arrived Miss Marjorie came to me inviting me enthusiastically to try the eggnog. When I said, “Oh, William loves eggnog,” she looked doubtful but urged me still to follow her to the beautiful crystal punch bowl. “Maybe you better try it first,” she suggested but I, being a good mother, gave the treat to my son first. Miss Marjorie had turned away and missed seeing William splutter and make a sour face. This was not the dairy product eggnog we loved; it was laced generously with something quite strong.
Miss Marjorie was a passionate history buff. She wrote our church’s history for its centennial celebration in 1974. She visited charter members and other longtime members, gleaning as many of their memories as she could. She studied church records and pored over ledgers. The result was a beautiful copy including many pictures. I was thrilled to be chosen to serve on a committee to write a pageant using her history as a source. It was a great honor to work alongside this imaginative lady.
Many times the phone rang and I would hear Miss Marjorie’s bright voice inviting me to bring the children swimming. Those were such pleasant afternoons with the children (my two plus a couple of their friends and sometimes some of Miss Marjorie’s grandchildren) happily diving, doing stunts, and playing Marco Polo. Miss Marjorie always put on her suit and she and I swam a few minutes, then sat in the shade of the live oak tree chatting away. She shared wisdom in such a humble, non-assuming way that it was as if we were the same age. I can still hear the click of the old windmill, feel a summer breeze, smell gingerbread cookies, and taste the sweet tea she always made.
One of Miss Marjorie’s passions was recycling. It troubled her when she saw young people disposing of pieces of tinfoil after only one use or throwing away plastic containers. She was always dressed beautifully and enjoyed giving good parties but it was very important to her to use resources wisely. Even now when I wipe a piece of foil for future use, I think of Miss Marjorie. I feel her unhappiness when I hurriedly toss a reusable item.
Along with her conservatism was a sweet generosity that extended beyond entertaining or giving of her time to her church. I was so amazed one afternoon when Miss Marjorie came to visit and presented me with a charming small crystal basket, a beautiful candy dish. It wasn’t Christmas, my birthday or anything. As my little son would say, it was “just a plain old day.” Yet there was Miss Marjorie giving me such a unique gift that I’ve enjoyed ever since.
After Mr. Judson died Miss Marjorie was still bright as a sunny morning but, in time, she began to falter some. One of the first times I noticed any problem was the day she invited me to go shopping with her in Tallahassee. She offered to let me drive her car but I wasn’t eager to drive another’s vehicle and climbed into the passenger seat. I promptly realized my mistake. Miss Marjorie drove over curbs, ran a stop sign, raced through speed zones and generally scared me so I wondered if my children would have their mother any longer. When we stopped for gas I said as nonchalantly as I could that, after all, I thought it would be fun to drive her car. She was the passenger from then on.
It became our joy to take Miss Marjorie to church every Sunday. We noticed her speech changing. She referred to any item as “that thing” so it was hard to follow her train of thought. She called one of her sons her brother and sometimes spoke out in church. She was still a considerate and merry person as she moved into a different world where her memories were garbled and she couldn’t make good judgments. I was very touched by the way Miss Marjorie never forgot the name of Jesus and often whispered His name.
She was the first Alzheimer’s patient I knew closely. I hated the disease that took her away even before she died. Since then I’ve known many beautiful people, men and women, who have faded into a different world even while their bodies were whole.
But Miss Marjorie would want us to remember the good and the beautiful, the merry and the bright. As I drive near her country home my mind restores the sights and sounds of those good days when, unknown to her, she was my mentor. I hear the windmill creaking as it made its turns, hear the occasional low moo from the nearby pasture, smell the leafy ferns over by the outdoor dressing room, hear the mourning dove or a raucous crow. When I drive by her big two-story house in town, now occupied by another wonderful family, I remember her gracious teas and how she always looked so nice but was slightly flustered as if she’d packed too much into each hour.