KETR

A Bowlful Of Memories About A Mama Named Sugar

Dec 22, 2011
Originally published on December 23, 2011 9:20 am

Everybody loved Cora Lee Collins — known to all, including her children, as Sug.

"Oh, I called her Mama, too, but I called her Sug," her daughter, Penelope Simmons, tells her own daughter, Suzanne Wayne. "When she was a little kid, she would climb up on the kitchen table and eat sugar out of the sugar bowl, and so they started calling her Sugar."

Simmons grew up in Lake Charles, La., with two brothers, Otis and Jamie. "Sug loved us, but she was nowhere near a hovering mother. I mean, we did run wild."

Simmons remembers that when they were kids, Jamie would make Otis dress in layers and run around the yard; then he'd shoot him with a BB gun.

"Sug wasn't around all the time," she says.

"You'd go tell Sug that you'd cut your foot. It could be hanging by a piece of skin, and Sug would go, 'Oh, baby, go get a Band-Aid. You'll be all right,' " Simmons says.

Everybody would come to the house to talk to Sug. "I remember as a teenager, getting up in the night, and it'd be 3 o'clock in the morning, and my mother would be sitting at the table with somebody that had a sad, sad story," Simmons says. "And she listened to everybody."

Simmons remembers seeing her mother with her chin on her hand and one eye open. "She was so tired, and somebody would be telling her a story, and she'd be going, 'Uh-huh, baby, yeah, I understand.' "

Sug was beautiful, Simmons remembers — and vain. "She would admit that she was vain," Simmons says. "You would not see my mother without makeup, and I know when she got really sick she was worried about how she'd look when she died."

"I said, 'Sug, I'm carrying lipstick in my pocket all the time, and I promise you, I will have lipstick on you when you die.' "

Sug died on Dec. 23, 1985. Her funeral was on Christmas Eve.

"All the people showed up at our house for the Christmas Eve party that we've had every year, and I think almost everyone who came knew that she had died," Wayne says. "But I remember hearing a man just sobbing. This man had not learned yet that Sug had died. He walked in the door and asked, 'Where's Sug?' "

Wayne was only 13 when her grandmother died. "She was an important woman," she says. "I was very lucky to know her."

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Michael Garofalo.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

On this Friday before Christmas, we hear again from StoryCorps. Today's conversation comes from Penelope Simmons and her daughter Suzanne Wayne. Penelope shared memories of growing up in Louisiana and what life was like with her mom, Cora Lee Collins, who went by the nickname Sug.

PENELOPE SIMMONS: My mother was Sug to everybody. Oh, I called her Mama, too, but I called her Sug.

SUZANNE WAYNE: Where'd she get her name?

SIMMONS: When she was a little kid, she would climb up on the kitchen table and eat sugar out of the sugar bowl, and so they started calling her Sugar. And she loved us, but she was nowhere near a hovering mother. I mean, we did run wild.

WAYNE: Now what's the story about taking target practice?

SIMMONS: So my one brother, he would make my other brother put on layers of clothes, and then he'd take a BB gun and shoot him. But he'd have to run around the yard. I mean, you know, Sug wasn't around all the time.

You'd go tell Sug that you'd cut your foot, it could be hanging by a piece of skin and Sug would go, oh baby, go get a Band-Aid. You'll be all right.

Everybody loved Sug, and everybody would come to the house to see my mama and they would talk and talk. And I remember as a teenager getting up in the night, and it'd be 3 o'clock in the morning, and my mother would be sitting at the table with somebody that had a sad, sad story. And she'd listened to everybody.

I remember seeing this. She had her chin on her hand with one eye open. She was so tired, and somebody would be telling her a story and she'd be going uh-huh, baby, yeah, I understand.

And she was very beautiful. And she was vain, and she would admit that she was vain. You would not see my mother without makeup, and I know when she got really sick she was worried about how she'd look when she died. I said, Sug, I'm carrying lipstick in my pocket all the time and I promise you, I will have lipstick on you when you die.

WAYNE: Sug died on December 23rd.

SIMMONS: She did.

WAYNE: And we had her funeral on Christmas Eve.

SIMMONS: Um-hum.

WAYNE: And all the people showed up at our house for the Christmas Eve party that we've had every year, and I think almost everyone who came knew that she had died. But I remember a man sobbing, 'cause he walked in the door and asked where's Sug? I mean I was only 13 when she died.

SIMMONS: Yeah.

WAYNE: But she was an important woman. I was very lucky to know her.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WERTHEIMER: Suzanne Wayne with her mother Penelope Simmons in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania. Their conversation will be archived along with all StoryCorps interviews at the American Folk Life Center at the Library of Congress. Get the project's podcast at npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.