Even when I was a toddler, Jo Ann’s place in my heart was as a playmate and friend. She was like the big sister I never had. As soon as I learned to walk, I toddled backward for fun (probably a skill Jo Ann taught me). When she and my brother Jimmy sat on the floor playing monopoly or canasta, I would toddle backward and plop my bloomers down right in the middle of their game board. Jimmy would call out, “Mama, Janice is in our Monopoly game again!”
The best part of Thanksgiving turkey dinner was the after-dessert breaking of the pully bone. My tiny 4-year old fingers fit better on the Y but hers were stronger. She laughed heartily if she – or I - won; it was a big game for both of us.
Just because I sat on the wooden ice-cream maker bucket topped with newspapers and towels while she cranked the handle, I got the first bowl of fresh banana ice cream with a few maverick ice crystals on top.
On hot, sunny summer South Texas afternoons, I went out with her to ride her horse. While she ran the barrels, it was a good place for me to play in the sand, catch horney toads, and make string leashes for them.
She taught me to swim, to dive, to water ski, and to hold family dear.
On Thanksgivings we were all family. We fondly remember Thanksgiving dinner, promptly at noon, and done in time for the Texas A&M-Univ of Texas game and, in later years, the Dallas Cowboys. There may have been 40 people drop in, everybody brought their heritage recipes, everyone was welcome. She set doors on sawhorses so that everyone could sit at the same table, including children, because “we’re all family” - even those who walked in for the first time.
When I sat at her bedside during her last days, surrounded by clown figurines and clown dolls, even when she was no longer responsive and had grown deaf, I knew she could hear me. I asked her if there was anything she wanted to tell me. She opened her eyes to a non-seeing squint, puckered her lips, and smacked a kiss into the air.
Most people who knew Jo Ann remember her cheerfulness and kindness. She touched countless lives through her teaching, volunteering, and leadership, through her friendship and love. I remember she taught me how to play.