Thais Oglesby, RIP

| January 31, 2011 | Comments (11)

Thais Oglesby, 1928

In this world, there are givers…and there are takers.  Of course, we know people who are both generous providers AND grateful recipients, those who willingly give their love and their material possessions and are grateful to receive the same in return. But I firmly believe that most of the human race are born to be one or the other.  Just as there are A-type personalities, on the one hand, and shrinking violets, on the other,  so there are the givers and the takers.

My Mother, Thais Oglesby, (nee Micas), was unequivocally and totally, a giver, 150%. She spent her life being good to people, but strangely and sadly, got little in return.  The old proverb: “no good deed goes unpunished” fit her to a T.

The child next to my Mother in this old photo is her younger brother. Without calling him by name, I can say he was a shit, an ungrateful, dis-loyal shit.  There is no way to gild the lily on this one. Left motherless when my grandmother died in the early 1940s, my Mother stepped in and raised my uncle, taking him into our home when we moved from our native  New Orleans, to Washington, DC in 1945.   Aged five, I still remember that day in April, 66 years ago  –  driving into DC from the South and hearing the radio announcement on the car radio as our Nash pulled into the nation’s capital – FDR had just passed away.

Never serious about anything, my uncle seemed destined to become a do-nothing failure, but my Mother was as stubborn as she was generous. I can still see  her bending over him, haranguing her brother to finish his homework and actually doing his assignments  herself when he threw up his hands in clueless defeat. My Mother’s sense of responsibility was like a  steel helmet that she wore with pride and determination.

Hours after graduating from high school, my uncle  married at the age of nineteen and my Mother, not worrying that she had her own  family to look after, managed on her school teacher’s salary to scrape together enough money to make a down payment on a house for him. Later, as Fortuna would have it, this brother somehow became quite  rich.

In 1982, after refusing to donate blood to my Mother when she became ill,   he capped his disloyalty to her by not showing up for her funeral in California, saying it wasn’t possible for him to travel there  because “I don’t fly.” My response was: “I don’t fly either, I take planes.”

My Mother truly deserved better than she got. I remember coming home from school one day and finding her in the kitchen, silently weeping over the stove as she cooked dinner for us, tears dripping into the pork chops. When I asked her what was wrong, she said between choking sobs, “It’s my birthday and nobody remembered me.”

I think my Mother’s problem was that she loved too much. She smothered everyone she encountered with affection. Life for her was one huge group hug. Her almost desperate quest for  acceptance and appreciation somehow turned people off, frightening them into shunning her. Was she was  born into the wrong culture at the wrong time ? Where would she have been happier and more accepted ? As a matriarch in  Queen Liliokaolani’s pre-colonial Kingdom of Hawaii ? We’ll never know.

Maybe she is happier in the world of spirits that I hope she is inhabiting now.  In the final weeks of her life when she was hospitalized, she became the toast of her nursing home, traveling from floor to floor calling out to everybody in her inimitable Southern  way, “How are ya, darlin’ ?”, “What’s new, dream boat? ”

She became especially friendly with a man who was stricken with a terminal illness; Willy was his name. Everyday she would travel, assisted by her cane, or in a wheel-chair as she got weaker, from the 2d floor to the 9th floor to visit Willy. They would chat for hours and she would tell his fortune by reading the leaves in his tea-cup. That was one of her specialties, reading tea leaves. I always made fun of her when she read mine and told me that I would be taking a long trip to an exotic place or that I would overcome  looming, grave challenges only if I did my homework.

I was told on the day my Mother died that Willy looked up at the nurse who was attending him and suddenly said to her in the middle of a procedure, “Thais just died.” That was  8 o’clock in the morning, the moment she passed away. Seven floors separated them , but he knew Thais had left this world.

RIP, Thais Oglesby, blithe spirit.  I know you are still giving.

Thais Oglesby, Last Picture, 1982

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Comments (11)

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  1. jim arrigan says:

    Thanks for sharing Sam, she was a very beautiful woman. I’m glad to know alittle more about her from your first book, Postcards from the Past. Good appreciation of your memorable lunch, the bread and wine came to life.

    • Sam says:

      Thanks, Jim. for your comments on this cold, grey day in the Bronx. That sunny olive grove in Cortona seems aeons and miles away!

  2. Roger Cranse says:

    The birthday story is heartbreaking. Thanks, Sam.

  3. Julio Fernández says:

    Thanks for sharing it with us.

  4. Anne (Freimuth) Statland says:

    Oh my goodness — I just came across this and I want to weep. One of my biggest regrets is that I have only vague memories of many of the people whom I knew growing up on Okinawa — especially the contempories of my parents. Such a beautiful tribute to your mother. The picture of her at the end of the piece is how I picture her in my mind. Thank you so much for sharing this — we can all learn from those who give of themselves.

  5. john hardwick says:

    My parents were very good friends with your mother on Okinawa. They saw her frequently and vacationed with her at Okuma resort. Your picture of her brought back many fond memories. I wish you had included the many classes she taught so others could become US citizens. Thais was someone who gave of herself throughout her life. It was a pleasure to know her. Thank you for this tribute to your mother.

    • Sam says:

      Hello Don,
      I was touched by your comments about my Mother, Thais Oglesby. Thank you ! I would very much like to be in contact with you. Can you give me an email address or a telephone number? Regards,
      Sam Oglesby

  6. Tuesday Rose says:

    Mrs. Thais Oglesby was a remarkable woman. I wish I could have met her. Thais looks lovely in a simple way in the picture of your book ‘Postcards…’. I’d like to mention a famous quote by Mother Teresa in memory of your mother: ‘Love until it hurts and if it hurts, it’ll be better because of it’.

    Tuesday Rose

  7. Veronica says:

    Sam,

    I was saddened to read your account of your mother’s relationship with her brother. Latham happened to be my beloved grandfather. He was definitely a character as you described, but also an incredibly loving and generous man. I am sorry that you could not experience that side of him. Throughout my childhood my mother Lashley (your cousin I suppose?) told me many stories of the kindness of Aunt Thais, including the reading of the tea leaves. I loved visiting my grandparents house to see the kimonos and other items she brought back from Japan. I have always hoped to learn more about her, and in my research came upon your article. Please contact me if you would like to share more stories about your dear mother.

    • Sam says:

      Hello Veronica,
      Thanks for your very thoughtful comment. I replied earlier via email but don’t know if you received it. Would love to hear back from you !

      Sam

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