Francis Flowers

It was a beautiful day for a funeral last Friday.

That’s the day we laid Frances Irene Bass to rest next to husband Frank in the Jefferson City Memorial Cemetery. She passed away Monday night April 14th at home in Colonial Heights with all of her family by her side.

This wasn’t a complete surprise. After many months of failing health I knew every time we talked, every time we kissed goodbye it could be our last. She became very sick two weeks ago, left the hospital after a week and died a week later on a clear night and a half moon at 9.50 pm.

After weathering a whirlwind of loss over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been taking some time to remember a woman who taught me joy, kindness and what it means to have a free spirit.Photos galleries can be found here….

Spring awoke casually with the morning sun and looked as though it would be uninterrupted in its gradual course across the sky – casting long shadows with each passing moment. Outside a impressionist color of bright green, yellow and pink lightly brushed the trees with a blush of color. There were songbirds in the distance, a light breeze across the new grass and a grasshopper flirted across the lawn while a train heads East across the valley.

Nothing quite like an early morning drive and I decided to spend some quiet time in my hometown of Jefferson City, TN a little earlier than the rest of the family. I really just wanted to make sure I had some quiet time with Granny before the graveside service, but that would only last a few moments.

Driving to Franklin Acres reminded me how thrilled my brother and I were as we counted down every mile and every street sign to Granny’s front door step. We lived all over the state when we were young and the trip to “Granny and Papaws” was always preceded with weeks of excitement. We couldn’t wait to hang out with our grandparents because quite simply, they were fun and knew how to appreciate simple things – most important – her time with family.

She preferred “Granny” over every other grandparent surname for a reason. She never had a lot of money and never was concerned about my college degree either. She never wanted a Cadillac, tropical vacations and she seemed least concerned about keeping up with the Jones’s.

Frances Bass passed away in the middle of a “redbud winter.” The locals refer to each cold snap here in the mountains with a budding plant name (one that’s native) in front of the word “Winter.” We have Dogwood Winter, Blackberry Winter and when the redbud’s come out they decorate our roadsides with a shower of bright red/pink flowers – most appropriate for a woman full of life.

We had just celebrated Easter a few weeks ago and she was sick then. Her kidneys had been failing, her hearing was just about gone and the swelling in her legs was causing a lot of pain – obvious every time we were together.

My mother has been caring for her 24/7 for seventeen years now after a beside promise to my Papaw on his death bed in 1990. They have enjoyed the most wonderful times together as mother/daughter and there plenty of stories to tell about the white haired lady at the bowling alley and Dollywood, or the loveable granny who wasn’t afraid to dance with you well into her eighties.

Born in Jefferson City, TN on July 26, 1918 – the youngest daughter of Mahlon Winstead and Mattie Tilda Lou Gilliam, Frances had many brothers and sisters. Her father was in his seventies when she came into the world and by then, there two brothers (Woodrow and Sherman), a sister (Polly) and 10 step-brothers.

Granny loved her music. That’s probably one of the reasons why she met Frank Lee Bass in the early 1930s as he was stationed with the Civil Conservation Corp (CCC) out of Georgia. He loved to play the guitar and met Francis and her friends on one pivotal night and although Frank had another date, Francis promised him a “Yankee Dime” if he would stay. That puzzled Frank enough to grab his first kiss from a flirting girlfriend that began a very special relationship that exceeded over 50 years as husband and wife.

They had five children between them – Bill, Royce, Gerald, Ronnie, and Sue – my mother.

Royce would die at five months, but the other children grew to create their own families and left Granny with her last days trying to keep up with the great-great grandchildren that kept popping up before her eyes.

My Granny had clear blue eyes until her final days. They never dimmed and it’s no stretch to think the song “Five Foot Two – Eyes of Blue” described what Frank saw back in the thirties, but those eyes will always be my first memory of my beloved Granny.

She had a simple faith. Her belief in the story of Christ helped her to look for the right thing to do – every day of her life. She never drank, rarely cussed and believed in a morality that we may never see again.

Frances Bass was also the last surviving grandparent of my generation and several others around me. She out-lived her husband, her brothers, sisters and friends and there’s a big hole in our family landscape now – memory of a time gone by.

My mother’s commitment to Granny echoes what I’ve always known – how truly amazing my mother is. She never wavered and never gave up on her commitment. It wasn’t easy either, but during that time, I’ve seen up close and personal the daily devotion from an amazing woman. I’m eager now to watch her take on a new life now and wish her the adventure and excitement any admired heroine deserves.

Francis ObituaryThe night of the wake at the funeral home, I couldn’t wait to hold her close. She came to Jefferson City on Thursday together with her brothers to make arrangements. She was beautiful in her black dress and I don’t know too many people that brag about their 65 year-old mom, but she looked great. As soon as I saw her, I was overwhelmed with emotion inside the chapel. It wasn’t until a pack a wild young boys surprised me beyond the dark oak pews that I gathered my composure. Great-Grandchildren can certainly bring things back into perspective.

It’s hard to guess why things happen the way they do. Seems to me everything is working its way to a result and the further we get from the moment, the more it all makes sense. I know those boys were there to change my disposition from one of loss to a evening of deep appreciation for a life well-decorated with blessings and to celebrate the unforgettable influence Frances had toward her family while on this earth. Seeing family at times like this are hard, but amid the hope and memories, there’s a deep sense of belonging that reminds us once again what’s important.

Frances was last seen in her favorite blue and green dress. Having given up several months of persistent pain, she looked relaxed and resolved in her burgundy coffin with white roses.

My brother Keith delivered an emotional and touching eulogy for Granny citing stories and memories including the thrill of our visits, the tans, the cards, the family and his favorite – macaroni and cheese. As I stood by mom, I was moved by my his honest, grateful words about this lady who lived a long life of elegant grace.

It seems we only truly appreciate the depth and soul of our family at funerals. That’s unfortunate and it might be well worth our while as a family to change that in the future, but it was good to time-travel back with friends, neighbors and loved ones who recognized the obit from the area papers and came to pay their last respects.

The next day after driving around and realizing my own life is passing away just like the run-down homes of my yesteryear, I decided to spend some quiet time in the cemetery. That’s where I first determined it was a beautiful day for a funeral. I know Granny was blessed. It’s obvious she had a wonderful full number of years – outliving most everyone in her own generation. Just when I opened my journal to write a few thoughts, I was interrupted by one of the caretakers underneath the green tent near the grave.

I was writing a few notes looking down upon the headstones of my family and this man was checking to see if I was with the family. He was also concerned about the number 8 left off the birth/death date on the vault. He talked about his 90-year old Grandma and we talked some about his business of closing vaults, but he had the quote of the day. He said, “The tough thing about this job is the hurry up and wait.” For some reason that seemed most amusing to me as I consider Granny’s death and look into my own future and I’m all for the wait.

Whatever I am, I owe a deep gratitude to several influential people in my life, especially Frances Bass who taught me so much about life – just by being herself. She taught me about simple things and a passed on a humble realization of what’s important in life and she loved to throw a party. It was never a black and white era either, my Granny added most of the color to my childhood during the 1960s. I will never forget how she loved holidays either. From Easter to Thanksgiving, Christmas and Birthdays she was always “Puttin’ on the Ritz.” It also worth noting that my own sense of perfection was significantly enhanced by her own senses.

At Christmas, her home looked like a landing pad for Santa Claus and those old lights and relics will be around for generations. From the lighted Santa Claus to the white Christmas tree with silver and blue balls – I’ll never forget the warmth of our family and how much we shared together in that little home in Franklin Acres.

I miss my Granny several times a day. We’ve always been close since my mother moved back with her after Frank died. It wasn’t that long ago we shared a weekly ritual at Kentucky Fried Chicken or some other local restaurant. We met every week and she would dress as cute as she could and always wear some piece of jewelry I had surprised her with at Christmas – as proud as it was the day she opened the box. She even wore one of my expired wedding bands. Her wrinkled hands always had fresh new nail polish, but you couldn’t ignore the years of hard work on those hands with all of the line lines of all those years and I loved holding them and miss having her here.

Nevertheless, I feel her work was complete. She raised a great family that continues to blossom in so many ways (save my own efforts), but if the funeral was any indication, this woman will dramatically influence the future of our world.

My Granny loved pictures too. She had them all over her home and she loved having pictures taken too. My mom has taken thousands over the years and Granny got so good she had a pose and smile that always delivered the very best.

So, I stand a unique point in life. I’m looking back at all my grandparents realizing that the next vulnerable generation are my parents and my Aunt/Uncles – that is, if it plays out the way it should. I could be the one tomorrow and these words will only be as good as the hosting fees are paid up on my services, but it’s certainly time to start thinking about my own journey.

It was a great day to be alone in the cemetery last Friday. As the cycle of Spring will always mark my Granny’s memory, I was also reminded this path is one I will follow soon and it has me questioning a lot of things – but that’s nothing unusual.

I’ll miss you Granny. You’ve left a lot in me and for the rest of the world.

Sue Cate at the last step with Francis Bass