|Bee & Papa (Clyde & Vera) Riley in 1992 with their four grandchildren, Jeff, Gina, Bryan and Abby.
The following was what I wrote to say during my grandmother’s memorial service on Sunday, Aug. 12. Bee died on Thursday, August 9 from pneumonia related to Alzheimer’s Disease. Her obituary can be read here.
In 1979, all of Vera Riley’s friends called her V, for Vera.
The toddler version of me couldn’t say V.
Instead, she was Bee.
So, her name and her history were changed thanks to my rewrite, and my history and my life was shaped because of her.
Well before that, Bee ensured my existence by befriending Steve Romig during a class they shared at Augusta College. As I’m told she and Papa tended to do, she “brought home a stray.”
Sandra (my mom) wasn’t too interested at first. But that changed.
Bee and Steve were always close. In 2001, around the fifth anniversary of dad’s death, I gave Bee an empty journal and asked her to fill it with memories and stories about my dad. For Christmas that year, Bee gave me back the journal with every page full of her memories and her writing. This is one of my treasures.
My writing and storytelling talent is tied directly to her.
She was a published poet, and the best storyteller I know. Additionally, my love for baseball is rooted in my relationship with her. In the 80s, when the Braves were terrible, Bee still listened to every game on the radio, pulling especially for Dale Murphy. She taught me about the game, how to score the game and to love the game.
Anyone who knows me knows how important writing and baseball are to me. My relationship with my family is more important than either of those things.
And we are Bee & Papa’s family.
As my brother Bryan and my cousins Gina and Abby and I grew up together, we were basically siblings under the watchful eyes of my parents, Sandra & Steve, my aunt and uncle, Pam & Wally, and of course, Bee and Papa.
Thanksgivings. Christmases. Many, many Sunday lunches.
At night, Bee told us butterfly stories to help us fall asleep and during the day, she taught us to play Uno and Rummy, to love puzzles, to strategically hide Easter eggs and to make sure we included Abby in whatever game we were playing.
Each Christmas, we knew we were getting a $100 bill from Bee and Papa, but not before we participated in a very elaborate game that Bee had created. These were always part-writing, part-scavenger hunt. And they were always fun!
And whenever it was time to leave Bee & Papa’s house, she always walked us to our car.
In between our visits to the country (about 15 minutes outside Columbia, SC), especially after I moved away from Columbia, Bee and I used to talk every week.
I’d check in on Papa, we’d talk about the Braves and she’d always want to hear what I was working on when I was a journalist.
In between our talks, she’d always send letters. Always handwritten. Always including her favorite Bible verses.
She was always especially excited to hear about people I had interviewed. She was particularly excited about my interviews with President Jimmy Carter, a Southern Baptist of whom she and Papa were big fans.
The truth is, I would never had been in those situations had Bee not passed her writing talents on to me.
Bee’s final piece of writing was published this past Saturday. In 2004, she wrote her own obituary. It was my job to edit that version into what ran in The State. The opportunity to be the editor of her final piece of writing is the greatest honor of my writing career.
Bee was always so proud of all of us. Gina, Bryan, Abby, Kacy (my wife), Josh (Gina’s husband) and Beth (Bryan’s wife). In fact, she was so proud that when the Alzheimer’s began to set in, she would give us promotions and extra degrees. She might have gotten some details wrong, but she always made us greater than we were because that’s how she saw us.
At this moment, I believe that she’s sitting on a blanket outside, writing in her journal, listening to the Braves and watching Steve and Wally play tennis. I’m sure she has a deli tray ready for lunch when her boys are ready to take a break from their match.
Bee shaped our lives in so many ways, but she wouldn’t be Bee without me.
We will miss her amazingly, but we will always be proud to have been her grandchildren.
Rest in peace Bee.