Lelia Jean Collins

November 28, 2018

A couple of days after mentioning my grandma in this piece, my mom called to let me know she had died. I felt shocked and heartbroken, but quickly wrote an obituary for the Weatherford Democrat, reproduced below. Writing the obituary has helped me come to terms with these events, and today I prepare to fly back to Texas, visiting the very places I wrote about, and dreamed about, in order to celebrate one life, and close a chapter in my own.


Lelia Jean Collins, whose quiet generosity of spirit touched all those who knew her, and many folks she never met, died on November 26, 2018, while sleeping peacefully in her favorite easy chair. Her three children, eight grandchildren, nine great-grandchildren, and her many friends, family, neighbors, pals, and acquaintances will miss her dearly.

Funeral services will be held on Friday, November 30 at White’s Funeral Home, 130 Houston Avenue, in Weatherford. General visitation will be open to the public from noon until 2. Lelia’s body will then be put to rest in Brown Cemetery, Aledo.

Lelia’s family requests that those wishing to send flowers will instead make a donation to her favorite charity, the food pantry at the Weatherford South Main Church of Christ Benevolent Center.

Born June 24, 1930 near Jonesboro, Arkansas in the Mississippi Delta, to Elnora and Frank Fryar, Lelia spent her early years in the care of extended family, her parents having divorced, and her mother often working long hours as a hotel cook. Asked later whether this arrangement bothered her, Lelia replied no, never, because she always felt loved.

She arrived in Fort Worth at the age of 12, her face black with the soot of her first train ride. Lelia had never seen anything like Fort Worth, with its big-city atmosphere and cosmopolitan storefronts, and she fell in love with her new home immediately.

She later found work as a hotel switchboard operator, and with it money, clothes, shoes — she loved a good pair of stand-out shoes — and she continued to have lively phone conversations long after leaving that job. Once she got going she would speak with much interest and animation, making good use of the old-fashioned “why,” as in “Why, I just saw Mrs. Lambert yesterday at Luby’s,” sometimes closing a particularly energetic elocution with a cheerfully sighed “Oh, me!” She would then cut the conversation short a little while later to save on long-distance bills.

Grandma (and me)

In the early 1950’s, Lelia met one Neil Collins, a skinny, funny, country lad from Aledo, Texas, and married him. The two eventually bought an old, converted, rock-faced circuit church in Aledo situated on a prominent hill overlooking miles of pasture, and in this quiet and idyllic setting they raised three children — Janie, Michael, and Martha — as well as the occasional calf, dog, or grandchild. Over the years their home became “The House,” the natural home base and meeting place for the entire extended family, a fact Lelia took great pride in.

A Master Gardener, she found peace tending to her vegetables, ornamentals, and roses, and felt closer to a higher power out in the yard than she ever did in church. She saw hidden beauty in unlikely places, and would sometimes pick a problem spot behind a fence or along the roadside and clean it up so the rest of the world could see its beauty, too. She performed these acts of community service quietly and privately.

Lelia kept a balanced checkbook and paid the bills with diligence, even in lean times. She clipped coupons religiously, using the coupons to buy up surplus groceries that she’d then donate to local Parker County food pantries. She loved to cook for others — pancakes, fried chicken, pimiento cheese sandwiches, spaghetti, fudge, anything in the Betty Crocker cookbook — and loved to give away surplus food. At sundown she’d leave table scraps at the edge of the property for animals to eat. She hated the thought of anyone going hungry.

Though Lelia preferred a life at home, Neil’s work in the defense industry entailed a good deal of travel, and so she found herself a temporary resident of locations as far flung as Arizona, California, Germany, Florida, Utah, New Mexico, Korea, and even New Jersey. Her worldliness extended to art and literature, as well: Lelia read everything from the classics to Tony Hillerman to the local newspaper voraciously; collected Texas art and Blue Willow china; loved movies and TV — especially Jeopardy, Wheel of Fortune, PBS, and silly sitcoms; and listened to all kinds of music, from Mozart to K. T. Oslin, Simon and Garfunkel, Ray Price, and Michael Bublé. She had a surprisingly natural musicality, and would often sing or hum melodiously while cooking or rocking in her chair.

Above all, Lelia adored her family, and would do anything to help and provide for them. Anyone who ever crossed her or her loved ones learned about her tough, stubborn side, as she had little fear of anyone or anything, except maybe flying. But her laughter, keen wit, twinkling eyes, and unassuming goodness will live on in all those she knew. We will always love her.