Mary Ann | Mark’s Remarks

I wrote a few weeks ago about my good friend, Mary Ann Roediger. A legend in these parts. A force of nature. A dear, dear lady.

Mary Ann recently passed away after a milestone birthday. When I last visited with her, she talked about approaching year 101 sometime in the spring. My mother, who was someone she admired and often mentioned, had planned to visit her soon with me tagging along.

Feigning feebleness, she slumped over a bit in her chair and said pitifully, “Well, tell your mother I’m approaching 101. Maybe she will come sooner that way.”

Then she giggled – the same giggle I’d heard for over 30 years. 

I moved to Columbia in August 1990, hired earlier that summer to take an elementary teaching position.  I was new to the profession, new to the town, and unsure of most things.

On my first day of getting my classroom ready for the approaching first day of school, I unlocked my classroom and sized up the situation. I sat quietly at my empty desk, deciding what to do and where to begin.

A friendly face popped in my door. She was an older lady but vivacious and lively. She was inquisitive and interested in me from the get-go, wondering about my background and my family. She was a welcoming person. I would have never guessed that my new friend Mary Ann had already been teaching for close to 50 years.  

She was encouraging and so, so understanding.  Non-judgmental unless she needed to be and found it fitting. Her friendship and love seemed unconditional from the get-go.

And to say she was supportive is an understatement.

Over that first year, I got to know Mary Ann. I observed her teaching and I was impressed with how she never raised her voice or seemed to get impatient with students.  

Once, when I was at my wits end on a December day, Mary Ann said to me matter-of-factly, “You’ve never taught children in December, have you?”

She retired that year. My first year was her last. Luckily, she often walked by the school when I was working late into the evening. She came to our wedding. She visited our home.  She called on the phone, never wanting to be a bother but always just wanting to check in or let me know something. 

I am so very thankful we crossed paths that year.

Mary Ann lived just a few blocks from school, and claimed she “skipped to school” every day. Even if she was exaggerating, it seemed plausible. Always in a positive mood, always ready with a quip or funny little anecdote. She exuded joy.

I had borrowed a video recorder (remember, it was the early 1990s) because my students were performing a play or giving presentations. I videoed my students but also went around the school aggravating my colleagues with on-the-spot interviews. Some of them were annoyed and didn’t want to be on camera.

But Mary Ann was always  ready for her close-up.

I walked into the teacher’s lounge where she already sat, eating her regular lunch. The video camera was on and filming as I walked in.

Me:  “This lady has been teaching for almost 50 years.”

Mary Ann: (right on cue, slumps over as if worn out)

Me: (laughter)  “What are you having for lunch, Mrs. Roediger?”

Mary Ann: (with regal manner and as if a television spokesperson)  “For the last 50 years, I have eaten carrots, a peanut butter sandwich and an apple, always the same apple, and chocolate milk.”

Me: “Isn’t that apple pretty rotten after 50 years?”

Mary Ann:  “Yes, but the worm feels so at home.”

You could not match Mary Ann with any sort of impromptu quip. She could out-do you every time.

I could fill a book with her stories, funny conversations and that sense of humor. An entire chapter could be devoted to her snarky wit.

Mary Ann always had a good handle on small towns and how they worked. She called herself an “outsider,” even though she’d lived in town for close to 50 years or more. She often dismissed the haughty attitude of certain townsfolk and could put anyone in their place with a quick comment that was neither offensive or calculated.  Again, maybe a little snarky, but that’s why we loved her.  

Her relationship with God was the foundation of her life, I believe. We had many a conversation about it over the years, and her faith was strong and inspiring. She loved God. She loved others and she lived it all daily.

I was always impressed with Mary Ann’s attention to health. She ate bushels of carrots, claiming her skin had turned orange once for that reason. Still, I think her eyesight was always pretty good. She walked miles and miles every day. 

She kept abreast of all news, even a little gossip, and her mind was sharp.  She was still reading books on a regular basis at age 100 and last time I visited, she was reading some racy titled Sidney Sheldon novel.  

She remembered details most people her age would have forgotten or set aside as superfluous information in a mind that had been jammed with a century of information.  

You know how we hear that some older folks are still “sharp as a tack?”  People like Mary Ann resembled that remark – and then some, really.  

A  recent stroke had left her with mobility issues, but she made the most of what she could still manage to accomplish.

The  last time I visited her with another dear friend, she asked us about all of our family members and remembered details that we, a good 50 years younger than she, had forgotten. She remained amazing and vibrant, right up to the end of her life.

One of my last visits with her ended with another famous Mary Ann quip.

After I gave her a hug, I walked to her front door. As I walked, I looked in to see her posh-looking bathroom that had just been renovated.  

“My, look at your fancy bathroom!” 

I’d heard that it had been recently done and I’m sure she was proud of it.

“I’d let you go in there, but you’d have to make a deposit. I don’t think you have time for that, do you?”

Delivered, as always, with that gleam in her eye and that mischievous giggle. Even at age 100.

I think of her often, especially around Christmas, when she would sign her annual Christmas card “Love, Merry Ann.”

And merry she was!

Thank you for your friendship and your life, dear Mary Ann. You have touched so many people, multiple generations, and we will always be grateful to have been part of your life.

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Mark Tullis

Mark is a 25-year veteran teacher teaching in Columbia. Originally from Fairfield, Mark is married with four children. He enjoys reading, writing, and spending time with his family, and has been involved in various aspects of professional and community theater for many years and enjoys appearing in local productions. Mark has also written a "slice of life" style column for the Republic-Times since 2007.
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