Ancestors, Legends & Time

Grandmother in-law knew how to get even

Picture of Jeanne Newby

Jeanne Newby

April 3, 2024

In honor of April Fool’s Day, I thought we would take another trip down memory lane with Dave Allen as he shares some of his memories of his favorite grandmother-in-law…

An added blessing of marrying my wife, Susan, was I got a “diamond” of a grandmother-in-law, Mabel Jester. Mabel was a large, big boned, hard working woman, who for all intents and purposes you could throw a rope over her shoulder and hook her to a plow.

When I met Mabel, she was in her 70s, still working as a cook for the Scottish Rite Cathedral Masonic Lodge in Joplin and taking care of her aged mother, “Jennie,” at her small home on Fifth Street, just east of Maiden Lane. She also cooked for the Joplin Junior College, etc., was active in her church, Harmony Heights Baptist, tended her large garden, canned, quilted, crafted and belonged to the Eastern Stars, as well as a dozen or more organizations. Mabel was a whirlwind, and there was never a dull moment, as she had plenty of activities.

Despite all her energy, Mabel had a knack for avoiding housework. Beds were made only on laundry day, and she believed that dust was a natural wood preservative… the thicker the better.

What Mabel enjoyed was being “on-the-go.” With all her organization memberships she was indeed a party animal, seldom at home in the evening and once home always ready to leave again. Frequently when Susan and I drove down from Kansas City, we’d arrive late Friday night to find Mabel in her rocker, needle pointing and watching the Johnny Carson Show. When invited to go to Keller’s BBQ for ribs, she would jump up and say, “I’ll be ready in a jiffy, just have to put on clean underwear.”

What Mabel hated was missing an episode of her favorite soap opera, “As the World Turns.” She had been a devotee since its radio inception. But she did not let her devotion keep her home bound. She had trained every employer and store owner to make available to her a TV and an easy chair at its appointed time whether she happened to be in Sears at Eastmoreland Plaza or elsewhere.

One Friday, Mabel did miss an episode, and she called all of her friends for an update. Unfortunately they were of no help. Mabel was fit to be tied. What could have happened? Knowing some of the characters, I made up a story line that had “so and so pregnant for two years and then giving birth to a premature baby before driving over a cliff to leave her comatose and to be continued…” Didn’t sound too far fetched to me for a soap opera.

Well, Mabel was incredulous, but she knew stranger things had happened before on “As the World Turns.” It was definitely within the realm of possibility, no matter how improbable. She quickly called her friends to inform them and then fretted all through Saturday and Sunday till finding out the truth on Monday’s episode. Mabel would forgive me only if I called each of her friends and told them what a big liar I was.

A few months later, Mabel got her revenge. Though in her late 70s, she accompanied Susan and me on a camping vacation that included a visit to the Missouri State Fair in Sedalia. While touring one of the pavilions, Mabel was engrossed in a display of quilting. A bit further down the aisle, I signed Mabel up for a free hearing test at the Beltone booth. Unbeknownst to me, Mabel had seen me and once I moved on, she stopped at Beltone, retrieved her card, tore it up and proceeded to fill out a new card for me, Dave Allen.

At the time, I worked nights till 3 a.m. at the Wiggins Bakery at 18th and Main streets in Joplin and attended Missouri Southern during the day. Saturdays were my only days to sleep late, and sure enough, one Saturday morning, I was awakened from a very deep sleep by a phone call from Beltone. Very groggy and not fully awake, I could not understand a word being said to me. I asked for several slow repeats and for the caller to speak louder. Then starting to come truly awake, I heard the caller tell his associate, “If ever anyone needed a hearing aid… this is the one!” Mabel fully enjoyed playing this joke on me. I must admit that after the many, many repeat phone calls from Belton finally ceased, I thought it was pretty funny, too.

Mabel passed away at the age of 82. She died in her rocking chair following a fun-filled day of being in the 4th of July Neosho parade with her fellow members of the Anti-Horse-Thief-Association Drum and Bugle Corps. They played drums made from Baskin Robbins 5-gallon ice cream containers painted red, white and blue. The bugles were slide curtain rods with a kazoo taped to each mouth piece. Mabel enjoyed life to the best of her abilities until time to depart this world. That is how I want to go.

I am so thankful for all the memories that Dave Allen left behind for us to enjoy.

Jeanne Newby

A lot of us appreciate the Bradbury Bishop Fountain, but Jeanne actually worked behind the counter making sodas while she was in high school. She knows everything about Webb City and is a member of the Webb City R-7 School Board.