My mother is a a great conversationalist (which really means she’s more interested in YOU than she is in herself).  She is also a great collector of “human interest” stories, especially when they involve weddings and funerals.  She keeps newspaper clippings of especially good ones in her “foolishness file”, on account of the fact that you just never know when you might need to access them.  One of the very best of all time was published in 2008 in the Memphis Commericial Appeal.

IDA MAE RUSSELL SILLS began this world as Betty Jean Cherry, the daughter of Howard Cherry and Betty Thompson of Middle Tennessee. In the 1930′s it was unthinkable for a child to be born to a single mother. The Thompsons contracted Georgia Tann at the Tennessee Children’s Home. Georgia, now famous for selling babies, found a couple who was willing to purchase the child. Everett and Elsie Russell were chosen, who had already adopted one high profile Memphis baby. The Russells renamed their new baby Ida Mae. Ida Mae had a rich but strict childhood. Ida graduated from Messick High School in 1950 and attended Memphis State University. Ida married High School friend, Karl Hadaway. On January 31, 1953, a child was born named Mary Denise. The marriage decayed and the couple divorced in 1954. Ida’s marriage to Karl was a three ring circus, engagement ring, wedding ring and suffering. Ida met and married Albert Sills in 1960. Ida said “I never knew what real happiness was until I got remarried, then it was too late”. Ida Mae and Albert settled down in Fox Meadows area of Memphis. Albert wanted a son, Ida wanted a dog. Ida quoted “with my way we just ruin the carpet”. But on March 6, 1966 a son was happily born named Lee. Albert and Ida owned several dry cleaners and restaurants. Owning your own business with your spouse in the best of times is challenging. Ida worked all day as a Supervisor at the phone company, she would come home and prepare a home cooked meal for the entire family. She managed to pay all the bills, balance the books of the family business and at the end of a long day still be a supporting mother and loving wife. Ida said “Children grow up so fast they’re like sand held in your hand. Held loosely, with an open hand, the sand remains where it is. The minute you close your hand and squeeze tightly to hold on, the sand trickles through your fingers”. Ida grimaced daily with anticipation of what her gifted children would bring home and ask “Mom can I keep it?” for Lee it was stray animals but Ida’s daughter Denise, well she brought home a steady stream of poor hungry musician friends (are there any other kind). No one was ever turned away or left hungry. It is still a mystery how Ida fed, supported and influenced so many individuals on her budget. At Ida’s house gravy was a beverage. Albert retired in 1985, Ida said “great I now get twice the husband and only half the income”. Lee went off to college and Denise got married and had a son named Josh. Ida retired from Ma Bell in 1989. After a long illness, Albert passed away from Lung cancer. In Ida’s spare time she became an assistant coach to the University of Memphis Tigers, The Memphis Grizzlies, The LA Lakers and The Miami Heat, if not in reality in her mind. As a professional armchair consultant to the NBA, Ida was nick named Hoop Mama Two. Ball handling and dribbling was Ida Mae biggest weakness. If Albert was the frog prince, Ida was certainly the frog queen. Ida loved and collected frogs from all over the world. Ida moved to Waverly Gardens with her dog raven where she made a lot of new friends. Ida developed a cold that progressed into pneumonia. Now Ida was a smoker. She said “to quit smoking well that’s easy. I ought to know. I have done it a thousand times” but the years of smoking left Ida’s lungs damaged and beyond repair. On this Good Friday March 21, 2008 Ida Mae Russell Sills slipped away and joined her beloved daughter in Heaven. Fortunately her husband Albert preceded her and joined his mother in a much warmer climate. Ida leaves behind a best friend Betty Brown of Memphis. Few people in this world are privileged to have such a beloved sister. They had many adventures, loves and tragedies over their 70 years of friendship and sisterhood. Ida also leaves one of her greatest joys her grandson Josh. Josh has been the light of her life since his birth. Ida regrets not being here to influence his future children, but she will be watching. Ida lost her daughter Denise Sills Barnes 2 years ago. Denise was a successful local Memphis singer and musician and was a manager with Nike for 15 years. Ida also leaves her son in law Roland Barnes an engineer with Federal Express. Roland has been devoted when many would have moved on after their wife’s death. And finally she leaves her son, her baby Lee. Lee lives in Orange County California and is President of Kredit Banque. Ida influenced so many people, too many to list. Ida is now a falling star who has finally found her place next to her daughter in a lovely constellation, where she will sparkle in the heavens forever. In Lieu of flowers please give the gift of life to Saint Jude Children’s Hospital in Ida’s name. There will be a celebration of life, Saturday April, 19 from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at Waverly Gardens on Knight Arnold Road.

I’m not making this up, cause that would just be wrong.  Artist Susan Maakestad enjoys her own version of local color.

Artist representation: The Rymer Gallery

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