Lois Mae Pryor was a formidable woman.
I work for an agency that specializes in building strong, steadfast, courageous and formidable women, and I’m here to tell you, Lois Mae Pryor was a formidable woman.
She was born into a family that saw her birth mother die early, and the woman who raised her, our beloved Grandma Hargrove, went on to bare four more children. The stubborn streak must’ve been passed down by Grandpa Hargrove because every single person in that family got an extra helping.
Formidable is a polite word for stubborn.
Needless to say, Lois Mae grew up knowing how to handle disruptions of life. She grew up learning the lessons of survival, first hand.
She and James Pryor were married for many many years. 63 plus years to be exact. They had three children. Jackie Ray, Carla Donise and Tracy Lee.
As the first born of the first born, I reaped the most winning moments from this tribe. Not to say that the other 6 grandchildren didn’t have winning moments, but I just happened to come first. And that was that. I mean, she let me eat Cool Whip straight out of the tub for crying out loud. This woman was AMAZING!
The fabric of my life’s memories are woven by the thread of this woman.
She owned her own business. In the 1960’s she alone was a small business owner. She bought French’s Department Store on Main Street, Granite Oklahoma from Mr. French himself and ran Pryor’s Department Store with the iron fist that Thatcher would’ve envied. She carried everything from dress patterns by McCall’s and Butterick’s to work boots to brassieres that came in severe cardboard boxes. The wood floors of the shop were wonky, worn down with time, and there was a schloop as you walked back from the dressing rooms and into the main check out counter area.
My job was to make the bows. I made bows on a machine that I have to this day. Cranking and cranking and voila there was a beautiful, perfect bow to go on custom wrapped gifts.
I got most of my training in the Summer months. I would stay with MeMe and PaPa, ostensibly for one week that would turn into a month, and I would “help” at the store. I would walk the aisles, look at the wedding dresses in the new McCall’s pattern book, walk next door to Juanita’s Flower Shop where they would let me “create”, walk down to the grocery store where the butcher would ply me with cold, pink, wieners to much on. I would walk across the street from the store to the pharmacy where the soda fountain had yet to become a novelty. The ladies that worked there knew when I hit the door I was after a salty dog. (Just salt, and grapefruit juice, and ice, no Vodka… yet) or a fresh squeezed cherry limeade. I would traipse down to the swimming pool where the lifeguards would watch over me, call MeMe and tell her I got there ok, would help me spend my money at the concession stand and reapply Desitin Butt Paste to my nose so I wouldn’t burn.
My true working experience came during the Christmas Season. I would crank out those bows like no child had ever done before. I was intent. I was fierce and dedicated until…OH HEY THAT’S SANTA!
See, Santa and Mrs. Clause would come down Main Street every Christmas Eve and hand out sacks of apples and oranges and caramels and nuts to all the kids. I always thought it was so cool that Santa came to MeMe’s house to see me specially every year. Just a perk of being the firstborn grandkid of Lois Mae Pryor.
Looking back now, as a working woman I see that the Christmas Season was likely the best of times and the worst of times for her. Long hours on her feet, selling every kid a Granite Panthers tshirt for under their tree at home, dealing with customers by the dozen and serving them all with a smile. She would come home to a house that was busting wide open with kids and grandkids. I always thought that our Christmas Eve tradition of eating nachos was the best ever, when in fact it was likely just something cheap and easy. She always had spiced tea in the kettle and homemade candies to nibble on. No one ever went hungry in that house.
The woman loved to talk. She never met a stranger. She was never happier than when she was talking to someone. Anyone really. In fact, that’s exactly how she died. After having traveled from Granite to Louisiana for her sister’s funeral, she sat at the visitation and was surrounded by family. Faces that she had not seen in a long time. She hugged each one, laughed and cried with each one and as the last conversation dwindled, she said, “I’m tired too.”
And she closed her eyes.
MeMe taught us all by example. She taught us about the importance of work and setting goals. She taught us about giving back to the community by being an active member in her church and serving as youth leaders along side my PaPa for years. But most of all, she taught us about family by giving us these memories. Giant Christmas holidays filled with the sound of laughter and the smell of spice and clove. Homemade peach ice cream and watermelon on a sweltering summer night at the family reunion. Homemade apricot syrup on pancakes in the morning. She worked hard. She loved harder.
These are the pieces of her legacy that I take as my own. Because if you have service and fellowship, if you make moments special with the simplest of things and if you are generous with your heart…
well then, all you need is Cool Whip.
and a spoon.