Everybody loved Cora Lee Collins — known to all, including her children, as Sug.
“Oh, I called her Mama, too, but I called her Sug,” her daughter, Penelope Simmons, tells her own daughter, Suzanne Wayne. “When she was a little kid, she would climb up on the kitchen table and eat sugar out of the sugar bowl, and so they started calling her Sugar.”
Simmons grew up in Lake Charles, La., with two brothers, Otis and Jamie. “Sug loved us, but she was nowhere near a hovering mother. I mean, we did run wild.”
Simmons remembers that when they were kids, Jamie would make Otis dress in layers and run around the yard; then he’d shoot him with a BB gun.
“Sug wasn’t around all the time,” she says.
“You’d go tell Sug that you’d cut your foot. It could be hanging by a piece of skin, and Sug would go, ‘Oh, baby, go get a Band-Aid. You’ll be all right,’ ” Simmons says.
Everybody would come to the house to talk to Sug. “I remember as a teenager, getting up in the night, and it’d be 3 o’clock in the morning, and my mother would be sitting at the table with somebody that had a sad, sad story,” Simmons says. “And she listened to everybody.”
Simmons remembers seeing her mother with her chin on her hand and one eye open. “She was so tired, and somebody would be telling her a story, and she’d be going, ‘Uh-huh, baby, yeah, I understand.’ “
Sug was beautiful, Simmons remembers — and vain. “She would admit that she was vain,” Simmons says. “You would not see my mother without makeup, and I know when she got really sick she was worried about how she’d look when she died.”
“I said, ‘Sug, I’m carrying lipstick in my pocket all the time, and I promise you, I will have lipstick on you when you die.’ “
Sug died on Dec. 23, 1985. Her funeral was on Christmas Eve.
“All the people showed up at our house for the Christmas Eve party that we’ve had every year, and I think almost everyone who came knew that she had died,” Wayne says. “But I remember hearing a man just sobbing. This man had not learned yet that Sug had died. He walked in the door and asked, ‘Where’s Sug?’ “
Wayne was only 13 when her grandmother died. “She was an important woman,” she says. “I was very lucky to know her.”
Audio produced for Morning Edition by Michael Garofalo.