Tressie Mae Tomlinson Fudge

by Rachael Crosby

Tressie Mae Tomlinson was Born November 12, 1920 in Zion, Arkansas located in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains. The youngest of three children born to a barber/taxi wagon driver/farmer and a retired schoolteacher. She was a "Suggin" a wild free-running child, bare feet, damp sandy knees, poor in the eyes of the world but rich in love and family. Tressie Mae "runned off" and married Cleo Fudge when she was 16 and he was 21. They both worked hard all their lives and raised two daughters who gave them eight grandchildren. They did everything together to support their girls...from picking apples in Washington during the Depression, working in munitions during WWII in Wichita, running a cafe and motor court in Mt. View Arkansas, to working for Pepsi and Sterling's department stores. They moved to Little Rock where Tressie worked at Heights and Hillcrest variety stores until she retired. Cleo died after 48 years of marriage. Tressie Mae continued to do volunteer work at a local hospital into her 80s. Tressie loved to travel to see her grands and great-grands and spend time with her church friends. She lived simply and gave graciously of her time and love. Tressie lived the last ten years of her life with Alzheimer's but she continued to inspire and share her joy and humor with everyone she met. She passed peacefully on Easter morning 2015 at the age of 95.  

I think the photo is from the early 60s...That picture would have been made in Mt. View, Arkansas. Mt. View is a short drive from Zion where my Granny was born. Mt View is the site of the Arkansas Folk Center and known to be a hub for Folk and Country music. There is still a huge music and dance culture there. On any weekend you can still find a "Hootenanny" going on at the park across from the courthouse. My PawPaw never danced because he was very shy, but he delighted in watching Granny dance and would always be the guard for the drinks and purses for all their friends. 

I wish I could lay my hands on the one of her the day she "runned off" to get married. She was in a new dress she had talked her momma into sewing for a dance, knowing that she really wanted it to be her wedding outfit. It is hard to find pictures of her alone because she was always in the middle of us all. I remember after her 75th birthday party that was a huge formal affair...we got back to mom's house and Granny said "well that was nice but I really wanted to do some dancin'" so we all danced in my mom's laundry room until the wee hours. Later looking at the family group pictures from that night she made the comment "That's a good looking bunch of people, just imagine, they's all here cuz I got laid!" She was such a hoot!

 

My Granny's saltiness never diminished, she was a favorite at her nursing home because she was such a cutup. It was always said of Tressie: "What comes up, comes out. So don't ask her if you don't want a straight answer." My own kids love to tell their Granny stories. On her 90th Birthday we brought her to Mom's for dinner and presents. She had worked in variety stores and wrapped presents all her life and really appreciated a beautifully wrapped gift. I gave her a selection of lipsticks and nail polish in a cute box, wrapped in tissue and stuffed in a gift bag. Her short-term memory had really started to fail at this point. When I laid her present in front of her she examined it's loveliness and had to be reminded that it was her birthday...she unwrapped the present and looked it over and then proceeded to carefully re- box and rewrap it...only to exclaim all over again 6 minutes later "oh for me?!" then unwrapped and rewrapped it...this went on five times before she finally got sleepy and nodded off. Some might say we were cruel or teasing her but honestly she was just so delighted every time she had a reset that I couldn't bring myself to put the gift away. Every one of her grands and great-grands feels the same way I do...you knew she adored you no matter what.

This photo is one of my favorites of she and I taken a few months before she passed. She is where I got my green eyes, brass and sass! 

 

This is the eulogy I wrote for my Granny Mae:

 

My Granny Mae loved me Best...all my life in all her ways. She showed me this to be true.


I didn't say she loved me more, I said she loved me Best.

Best when she took me home with her and PawPaw on my first Birthday to give mom a break as she awaited the birth of my brother Michael, showering me with attention and love that would be slim coming my direction in the next few months of having a third child and newborn, bringing our family size to three children under the age of five. 

When I was a shy and awkward teen and showed her my new dress Momma bought me for a Valentine's Day Banquet she loved me Best by insisting that the beautiful opal set PawPaw gave her would be the perfect match to my outfit...and trusted my flakey 13 year old self with them!

She loved me Best when she looked with me at my newborn son as I worried about his one kinda mishappen pointy Spock ear and she turned her head and laughingly pulled her hair back to display her own pointy ear saying "Looka there! He got that from me! This li'l man is perfect and you're gonna be a great Momma!" 

Granny was always ready to listen but pragmatic and direct in her questions and advice. During the difficult time of my divorce, when I was finally able to answer her very direct and repeated questions with a humiliating and painful truth.... she exclaimed "well that's that, I'm behind you 100% in your decision and I'll just say I'm glad your Pawpaw ain't alive because that man would be dead sooner than later" ...certainly that was a time when I needed to know I was loved...and loved Best. 

I know we all can recall times when Granny loved us Best...always managing to make you feel like you were special. She bestowed that gift on her daughters, grandkids and great-grandkids...we all know what "Best" feels like...a Granny Mae style Best.

Granny explained her take on life to me one time over a bag of Hershey's minis and Reese's Peanut Butter Cups...I told her my favorites where the Reese's cups so I'd save those for last...I explained I ate what I liked the least first so Plain Hershey's were first, then Crackles, then Krispy's, then Special Darks and finally my faves, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups.

Oh no she said you've got it all wrong!! 
Eat your favorite first! 
Then your next favorite! 
And your next favorite!! 
See you get it! 
Whatever is left then that is your favorite!!
Always, Always you end up with a favorite! 

I believe Granny lived her life that way! She never held back on love and showed it, or on a good time and the chance to have some fun. She said and did WHATEVER without apology or regret! Most of her disappointments or troubles were met with a big "WELL SHIT" and then a quick adjust, redirect and a moving on...nothing got her down for long.

These last years as Granny's reality has diminished and her disease progressed have been painful...for her as she grappled with confusion and memory loss from Alzheimer's and health issues from breast cancer...for us as we watched her fear, sadness, confusion and struggles to recall. Several months before she died, when she still was talking some, she looked up at me as I entered her room one day and asked, "Do I know you?" Thru a teary smile I replied, "Yes, you know me." "Ahh well," she said with a sigh and wry smile, "I know I love you."

In the last week she didn't seem to recognize me or anyone by name, could barely form words and struggled to speak. I had the privilege of staying with her at night in her hospice room, she was mostly asleep. But when she was awake, she wanted you right beside her and she wanted a hug from anyone who came into the room. Nurses, Doctors, visitors, it didn't matter, her arms were up and wide open beckoning you to come in for a tight hug!


Granny Mae and I have always told each other "I'm crazy 'bout ya" as we said our goodbyes after a visit or phone call...The last day I was with her, she was still making me know that she loved me best...looking at me with her beautiful green eyes...eyes that had dimmed in color but not in light and love.  She put her arms up for a hug and clearly said "Cray You."

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