Theola Jane Kite Burton, 1921 ~ 2011

My grandmother died tonight. She was my last remaining grandparent, and at 90, was still going strong until just a few days ago. She was a product of a time that lives in grainy black and white photos, history books, and memory. She was a child of the depression, married at 14, raised five children with few resources, loved my grandfather, Grady Clyde.

She was “Mama” to her grandchildren, and spent countless days of her life gardening for the family, or sewing, or cooking. She was a gardener of vegetables from necessity, for most of her life, making ends meet with lady peas, butter beans, tomatoes, and whatever else she decided to plant. Her thumb was green. She grew flowers out of love, and knew how to graft, root, transplant, and do amazing things with bulbs. She collected daylilies, and roses. She loved browsing the latest catalogs of flowers. A visit to her house was never complete in the growing season without a tour of her plants, mostly moved outdoors to grow in the hot Mississippi summer.

She was a woman of faith. She believed, and she believed strongly. She was a pretty good preacher too, when the occasion and the grandchild required. Mama was no story book grandmother. Although she loved us all, she could scold when she saw the need. She was always ready to make some point, and I remember that she encouraged us as children to memorize the fruits of the Spirit and the Beatitudes.

She was a seamstress and a quilter, and her winter project was often a new quilt or two for someone in the family. Now her quilts will have a special meaning, because there will be no more from her. But the ones she left behind will be treasured.

She was a cook of country foods, southern foods, traditional foods. She made biscuits and cornbread, perfect every time, knew how to cook anything in a pressure cooker, was legendary for her fried peach pies. She made a creamed chicken dish that was pure comfort food, and knew how to make lady peas that were perfectly seasoned, perfectly cooked, served up with steam rising from the bowl.

She laughed at herself or whatever was funny till she couldn’t talk, a trait that I think I’ve inherited. She loved a joke, although she couldn’t really tell one. She wasn’t a successful tv watcher, except for the news. She couldn’t stay awake through most programs. I think she was too accustomed to getting up early to watch tv in the evenings.

She lived in same small town for most of her life. She knew pretty much everyone, and could tell you the history of families, events, all sorts of things from past doings in Winona, Mississippi.

She was salt and light in my life: salt as a good seasoning, light as a lamppost to guide the way.

As an adult, I’ve recognized that many things that are part of my life she would have no understanding of. She didn’t work outside her home. She didn’t move about, although she did travel a bit visiting her children in different parts of the world. But in many ways, her world was centered in her community, her family, her faith. I like to think that although our lives are very different externally, there is some of her goodness in me; that her influence and her faith are in my heart.

She believed she was going to a better place at the end of her life. She believed she would see my grandfather again. She believed.

And so do I. Thank you, Mama, for sharing your life with me, and with so many. Thank you for the conversations through the years. Thank you for your love. Thank you.

14 thoughts on “Theola Jane Kite Burton, 1921 ~ 2011

    • Thank you Laura. I have wondered how long we would have my grandmother with us. Although she didn’t have health issues until the very end, she had gotten very frail. Now that question has been answered. I’m still absorbing the reality that she is gone. Thank you for your kind words, and good health to your grandmother!

      ~ Sheila


    • Thank you, so many people have sent caring wishes my way, and said prayers for my family. It really helps to take away a little of the sadness when you are flooded with kindness and love. ~ Sheila


  1. Yes, I can echo your comments and feelings. I took her out on a date and watched her down 4 crystal burgers, joked with her about becoming decrepit, and feared the end of her cane. She made me laugh, frustrated me beyond measure, and told me I was going to hell for wearing shorts in Mississippi in the middle of July. She left her mark….in many ways. May God bless her and keep her always.

    I am and always will be Sheila’s loving husband.


  2. Sheila, I saw your comment over at MJ’s, and when I came here, saw that your grandmother had passed away. I’m so very sorry; she sounds a lot like my sweet grandma, who died when I was 16.
    This tribute you’ve written to her is lovely. You’ll always feel her presence.
    Sending my sympathy in your loss.


    • Thank you so much Diana! I’ve been reminding myself that I am really fortunate to have had her for so long, and that is a blessing. And it is no small thing that she was in good health right up to the end, and that she did not suffer. Thank you for your caring words. ~ Sheila


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