Mrs. Warwick

There’s been some sad news from home: Turner’s mother passed away last night. She was only 58, but she’s been sick since before I moved to California, fighting the cancer that finally got the better of her.

I’ve known Mrs. Warwick nearly all my life. Me, Turner and Gardner were on the same little league team, and it was always Mrs. Warwick who took Turner to practice and games. Someone would drive me and Gardner to practice, but, very often, Mrs. Warwick would pack me and Gardner and our equipment into the back of her mini-van too and drive all 3 of us home. One of the things I remember the most about those drives home with Mrs. Warwick was that she really liked this local donut place called the Donut Palace, and she’d take us there. We’d pick out a dozen donuts and then split them four ways when we got back to the car, so we each got three. (They knew Mrs. Warwick well at the Donut Palace, so sometimes we’d get a ‘bakers super dozen’ that was 16 donuts, 1 extra for all 4 of us…so we each got 4 those days.)

Those Donut Palace stops were always something of a secret between us and Mrs. Warwick, since weekday afternoon little league practice usually ended shortly before it was time to go home for supper…and eating four donuts an hour before supper might have spoiled our appetites. I reckon it may have once or twice, but, well, y’all know I’m a good eater…and I always came home hungry from playing ball, donuts or no donuts.

There’s so much that I remember about Mrs. Warwick. She didn’t work like Mom (Mom went back to work as a part-time librarian when I was 7), so it seemed like she always had time to take me, Gardner and Turner around. Although Dad and me used to go to Smokies games together, when it was all 3 of us, Mrs. Warwick was usually our ‘designated driver’ to the ballpark in Kodak. I’ve already told y’all that the 3 of us were pretty easy to handle since we all concentrated super hard on what was happening on the field and kept busy keeping score. Still, the one thing we all figured out pretty early on was that Mrs. Warwick hated baseball. Yet she sat through game after game, year after year…always with her knitting. And whenever people asked how she could stand sitting through Smokies games like that she always answered: “it’s very pleasant sitting outside on a nice summer night and doing my knitting.”

I still have some sweaters and scarves she made me over the years. She even sent me a really slouchy sweater for my birthday last November. (It’s blue…and Joyce says I look sexy in it. It’s super soft and goes great over sweats on cold nights.) I understand from Turner that, even though she was having trouble finishing pieces and keeping her stitch count straight, she was knitting until the very end. If you can believe it, she had her knitting with her on her deathbed. The last thing she was working on, Turner said, was a scarf for his fiancée. He’s not sure whether to have someone finish it or just leave it unfinished. I told him that his mom always wanted her pieces to be worn and used. She was a great knitter, so it wasn’t like she stuck you with things that didn’t fit and had one sleeve longer than the other. Turner’s not sure what to do…although he’s got way more important things to think about…like arranging for the funeral and dealing with not having his mom in his life anymore. It’s funny how people can fixate on little details like unfinished knitting in times of crisis.

Turner is Mrs. Warwick’s only child: his father up and left them when Turner was very young. Mrs. Warwick married again, to Mr. Warwick, who had a daughter of his own, and who became a great stepdad to Turner. (He adopted Turner eventually, which is why Turner’s last name is Warwick and not Jameson.) Mr. Warwick taught Turner all the important things a dad needs to teach a son. He was also super into sports, so he taught Turner the rules of practically every game there is. Knowing the rules of lacrosse, cricket and (even) curling has come in handy for Turner now that he’s a sportscaster. Mr. Warwick made sure that Turner didn’t turn into a mama’s boy…even if he was Mrs. Warwick’s only son and you could always tell how much she loved him.

Y’all know that me, Turner and Gardner got called the ‘3 musketeers’ a lot when we were growing up…and we musketeers spent a lot of time in the back of Mrs. Warwick’s minivan. Looking back, I wonder why she got so big a car when she only had one child and one stepchild…it’s like she was expecting she was going to be ferrying around her kids’ friends. (I know that Angela – Turner’s stepsister – and her friends got taken places by Mrs. Warwick too…and, although there would have been room for all of us in the van, the boys rarely went anywhere with the girls. Angela and her friends were older than we musketeers anyway.)

One place we went a lot with Mrs. Warwick was the bowling alley on Whitecrest Drive. Mrs. Warwick didn’t bring her knitting on bowling days since she loved to bowl. In fact, it was Mrs. Warwick and not Dad who really taught me how it’s done. She was great at it – she was in a league and nothing could interfere with her bowling night on Wednesday. She even bowled a perfect game once in a tournament. She loved spending time showing us kids how to bowl, and was a super patient teacher, especially with Gardner who had a lot of trouble getting it right, I remember. But she made dang good bowlers out of the 3 of us. (I haven’t been bowling since I got to California. Maybe I should go. It might be something I can beat Keaton at lol.)

Mrs. Warwick was what Meemaw would call a ‘heavy set’ woman. She was short – I was taller than her already in junior high school – and kinda round, and she always made fun of people who worried about dieting. “It’s a bigger sin letting the cake go to waste than it is to eat it,” she used to say. (I told you she was popular at the Donut Palace, didn’t I?) I think she just plain ole liked to eat. I do remember getting the feeling from her that she always enjoyed what she was eating, and she was the kind of person who’d stop off at McDonald’s for fries if she got hungry when she was driving. But don’t let the donuts and fries deceive you: Mrs. Warwick loved to cook too.

I grew up with two great cooks in the family, Mom and Meemaw. Mrs. Warwick was that kind of cook. She was southern through and through as well…and she was the only person any of us knew who still made her fried chicken in lard. (No disrespect to Mom’s incredible fried chicken, but there was always something especially good about Mrs. Warwick’s chicken. I’d hate to have to choose between the two.) She also made her apple pie crusts with lard (they were awesome!), so let’s just say Mrs. Warwick wasn’t afraid of putting fat in the food she made. I still think she made the smoothest macaroni and cheese I’ve ever eaten. She also loved to bake, and her fancy cakes were famous. She made it a point of honor to keep up on traditional southern cakes that people weren’t making so often, so it was at Turner’s house that I got introduced to Lady Baltimore cake and Robert E. Lee cake. (Mrs. Warwick worked long and hard at the recipe for that one and did a lot of research. I think she asked every grandmother in Maryville if she had a recipe for Robert E. Lee cake. She even wrote her findings up in an article that got published in Southern Living.)

Mrs. Warwick also made the best sandwiches. Y’all might think that she thought that growing boys don’t care too much about what kind of sandwiches they got, but Mrs. Warwick would never make a sandwich that was just two slices of bread with something stuck in between. For starters, a Mrs. Warwick sandwich almost always had lettuce and tomato. (If you never had an egg salad sandwich with lettuce and tomato, you need to try it.) My favorite Mrs. Warwick sandwich was kind of like a club sandwich, only it wasn’t a double decker. She took roast chicken (that she made herself), bacon, lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise and always put them on wheat toast. I think there may have been a secret ingredient too, since, even when you order club sandwiches in fancy places, they never taste like Mrs. Warwick’s single decker version.

We musketeers spent a lot of really great time at the kitchen table in Turner’s house, usually with a piece of cake and a glass of milk, with our homework spread out around us. Whenever I think about algebra, the first image that comes to mind is Mrs. Warwick’s kitchen table. We didn’t always go and study at Turner’s house, but I think we went there more than we went to my house or Gardner’s. One reason for that is how Mrs. Warwick always made us feel super at home when we were there.

When you’ve got really close best friends like I did, you probably will get close to their parents. I know Turner and Gardner were close to my parents and Meemaw, so it’s normal that I should have gotten so close with Mrs. Warwick. She was like family…maybe like an aunt, although Mrs. Warwick played a bigger role in my life than any of my real aunts did. I don’t know why I just wrote that she was ‘like’ family: she was family. And that’s how she made me feel all the times she did something nice for me, like the time a Smokies game went into extra innings and she ran out of wool. The Smokies finally won it in the 17th. She just sat there while me, Turner and Gardner stayed awake for the whole game. Lucky that was in the summer, so we didn’t have to worry about getting up the next morning. By the time she dropped me off at home it was past 1 in the morning. I remember that night so well because it was the first time I stayed up past midnight. But a lot of cool things happened when Mrs. Warwick was around.

She was also real patient with all 3 of us when we hit our ‘difficult’ years in high school. We were basically good kids, although I reckon we did our share of stupid shit. The worst of it was probably underage drinking…and, sometimes, even after everything Dad said to me, trying to drive after I had some beer.

There was this one night I remember where the 3 of us went to a party that was mostly college kids (so we felt extra cool for high school juniors) and there were a couple kegs. Gardner almost never drank (and still doesn’t), I did but I (usually) knew when to stop, and Turner was the kid who usually stopped after he made himself sick. That’s kinda what happened at that party, which was as tore up as I’ve ever seen Turner. Me and Gardner finally got him in the car, and Gardner wrestled my keys away from me. (He was sober, I was drunk, so he had an unfair advantage lol.) We drove Turner home and pulled the car up in front of the Warwicks’ house. Turner was just conscious enough to open the door of the car. Then he stepped out…and immediately fell down face first in what would have been the grass but was instead some dirt that they were waiting to sod. We picked him up (and Turner was not a small kid) and took him into the house, each of us on one side of him, basically holding him up.

Mrs. Warwick was still in the kitchen in her bathrobe having a cup of tea and saw us come in.

“Wave to your mom,” I said, as we passed the kitchen door.

Turner kinda raised his hand and mumbled something.

We then got him upstairs and just dropped him on the bed. Then me and Gardner went downstairs, where we knew we had to tell Mrs. Warwick something. We didn’t tell anyone that we were going to the older kids’ party. All our parents thought we were going to the movies and to get burgers, and there we were getting caught coming in way past our curfews, and, worse, obviously tore up. Maybe I should have let Gardner do the talking, but I always had the bigger mouth, and I made up what I now realize was this totally lameass shit story about how we’d left the lights on and the car battery died and then we ran out of gas. Of course I thought I was doing a great job, but Mrs. Warwick obviously wasn’t being fooled.

“I’m only going to ask y’all one question tonight,” she said. “Is one of you sober enough to drive?”

“I haven’t had anything to drink,” said Gardner. “Really.”

“I had a little, but not much. I’m ok,” I said.

“No he isn’t,” said Gardner, like it wasn’t obvious.

“How are you going to get home from Hunter’s after you drop him and the car there?,” she asked Gardner. We were usually in my car.

“I can walk,” Gardner said.

“Not at almost 3 in the morning you’re not,” Mrs. Warwick said. “You two wait here while I put something on. I’m driving you both home.”

“You don’t have to, Mrs. Warwick,” said Gardner.

“Oh yes I do,” she said. “Even if you are sober as a judge. Just stay put.”

She went upstairs. We could tell she was pissed, but even then we felt that she was going to be a lot more understanding than our parents were going to be. Me and Gardner talked about that while she was upstairs. She was up there for a while because she went in to talk to Turner first.

He told me the next day that his mom had given him the 3rd degree about what me and Gardner had given him and was he on drugs. “You can’t have gotten this drunk on just beer,” she said, although that was the truth. Then he basically passed out on her and she came downstairs.

“He says all you gave him was beer. Don’t lie to me.”

“We were at a party and there were kegs there. He just had too much beer to drink,” said Gardner, and maybe it was better he was doing the talking after all. “Really, Mrs. Warwick. All Turner and Hunter had was beer.”

“Then how come Hunter’s not falling down and passing out?”

“Because I stopped sooner than Turner did. He doesn’t know when to stop.” I was just drunk enough to think that was funny, so I had to try real hard not to laugh at a serious moment like that.

“He’ll know tomorrow morning,” she said. “I hope you have a hangover too,” she said to me. “It’ll teach you a lesson. Ok, get in the car. Let me have the keys to yours, Hunter.”

“Gardner’s got ‘em,” I said. “He drove.”

“At least y’all had the good sense to do that,” she said. We didn’t mention that Gardner had to use physical force to get the keys away from me.

Then she drove us home, without any further threats or recriminations. All things considered, she was being super nice about it…but that was Mrs. Warwick.

Of course I had some big explaining to do the next morning (like why my car was at Turner’s house and why I came in at 3 when my curfew was 1), and all 3 of us got grounded for a week (‘grounded’ for me meant that I was banned from all baseball activity too), but, looking back, I realize how great Mrs. Warwick was. Just driving us home at 3 in the morning when she was all ready for bed was awesome of her. Yeah, of course she told my and Gardner’s parents, but she didn’t tell them the story like she wanted us to get in more trouble. (Our parents were all in touch with each other and decided on punishments for us together, since, most of the time, the 3 of us got in trouble together. That way nobody got a lighter sentence than the others.)

Me, Turner and Mrs. Warwick laughed about that incident afterwards – she was real patient when we acted stupid…meaning when we acted our age. The funniest part of the story, though, happened the next morning, when Turner called me, hung like a jury, and asked:

“I can’t figure it out, man. How come there’s dirt in my bed?”

I stayed in touch with Mrs. Warwick even after me and Turner moved away in our separate directions, and she’d always make sure that we all got together whenever we came home from college. Looking back, I realize she wanted to make sure that the 3 musketeers stayed musketeers even if we didn’t see each other every day like we did when we were in high school. Gardner’s drifted away some, it’s true…but me and Turner are still real close. I think I was the first person he called after his mother died. That’s how far we all go back.

The last few years of Mrs. Warwick’s life weren’t so great. She was sick for a long time, in and out of chemo and radiation, and they took their toll on her. I’m afraid I haven’t seen her since I moved to California, but I haven’t been home since…and I understand from Turner that she wasn’t into seeing people once her hair was falling out and she apparently lost a ton of weight. (I should tell y’all that Mrs. Warwick always looked dressed, made up and ready whenever I saw her. She never, ever looked like she’d rolled out of bed, put on sweats and pulled her hair back in a pony tail. She was probably the best dressed woman at those Smokies games she sat through.) So maybe it’s good that I remember her the way she was rather than how she looked when she was sick. I think she wanted it that way.

Turner’s all busted up about losing his mom, but that’s normal. He’s still got a stepdad and a step sister (and I reckon his real dad’s out there somewhere too…but who knows where), so he’s not all alone as he goes through this. And he’s got me and Gardner too, of course. I wish I could go back home for the funeral…but there’s no way I can, having just started a new job. You don’t get bereavement leave for the mother of your best buddy growing up. Turner’s made me feel better about that, though: he said that his mom worried about me. She thought that baseball wasn’t a stable life choice and she wondered what was going to happen to me when I stopped playing. Turner said she was glad to hear about the hotel job and that maybe I was growing up some.

“She’d want you to succeed at your new job a lot more than she’d want you to make the trip back to Maryville for the funeral,” Turner told me. “I hope you know she loved you a lot.”

And I loved Mrs. Warwick. It feels funny to have to add it, but I reckon I should: may she rest in peace.


[in memoriam Z.C.D.]

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