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Meemaw Harper and the curse of May

By June Mathews

In her own funny, unassuming way, Meemaw Harper was quite the character. She had a wicked sense of humor, she was full of stories about quirky family members, and she beat the sun out of bed every morning to watch “The Country Boy Eddie Show”. She loved listening to Elvis Presley sing almost as much as she loved Oreos and grape-flavored KoolAid, and if you dialed her phone number during her favorite mid-morning soap opera, you wouldn’t get an answer.

Seems I was only just beginning to appreciate how priceless she was when she died. I was 26 years old, and losing her was tough. She was my grandmother, after all, and somewhere along the way, she had also become my friend.

But between the toll taken by a long bout with Parkinson’s disease and the death of her eldest son (my daddy) seven years prior, she was ready to go.

“Children shouldn’t die before their parents,” I heard her say more than once during those awful postmortem days of shock and loss. She never got over it.

And the mid-May heart attack that took Daddy from us too soon became one more reason for Meemaw to dread the month altogether. You see, Granddaddy Harper also died in May, only six years before Daddy, and the two traumas were enough to sour her on the month for good.

“Bad things happen to Harpers in May,” she used to say.

So as you can imagine, Meemaw was singularly unimpressed and maybe even a bit horrified when in the fall of 1978, Jimmie and I announced our plans to wed the following May. Though she didn’t try to talk us into choosing another date – wheedling wasn’t her style – she did give us a sideways glance as she darkly declared: “Bad things happen to Harpers in May.”

Unaware of the history behind her comment, Jimmie didn’t know how to take it. Was he the “bad thing” about to happen to this Harper? Or was Meemaw, in a fit of full disclosure, simply letting him know about the May curse before he married into the family?

I, on the other hand, knew where she was coming from, but I figured it was high time somebody in the family created a good memory in May.

So the wedding took place as scheduled, and despite her misgivings about the date, Meemaw was there. I’ve wondered, though, if throughout the ceremony, she was imagining the roof of the church caving in or some other such catastrophe occurring. With a fair number of Harpers in attendance, May could have had a field day.

In the years since Meemaw’s death in 1984 (in January), another of her sons, a grandson-in-law and a great-grandson have also died in May, adding credence to her belief that the month was a danger to her family. And though I’ve never strongly subscribed to the idea of a May curse – bad things have happened to Harpers in other months, too – I do tend to tread lightly from April into May each year.

So if you’re a Harper, you might want to join me in lying low for the next few weeks. As Meemaw would remind us, “Bad things happen to Harpers in May.” And yeah, I know that’s not true for every May, but the way I feel about, there’s no sense in taking unnecessary chances.

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