Grandmother helped me find my passion

Published 12:01 am Sunday, June 21, 2015

I didn’t always wear my heart on my sleeve.

I was challenged to do so long ago by a woman who made me feel worth much more than I truly am. Sadly, the Miss-Lou lost that woman this past week, as the most charismatic person I’ve ever known, Bernadette “Wunky” Martin, passed away.

Wunky was well known around these parts, as she was a devout Catholic woman with a powerful voice and love for music and the Lord. Undoubtedly, she had more charisma than the “American Dream” Dusty Rhodes, himself. All the wrestling she’s seen in her lifetime, I wouldn’t be surprised if she were watching Rhodes drop a bionic elbow in heaven right now, but I do hope she’s found some comfortable furniture in doing so. Through the years, my cousins and I have dented our fair share of couches and beds, taking suplexes and elbow drops from one another throughout the house. Naturally, this encouraged my grandmother to send us outside, where we’d play whiffle ball, basketball and tackle football (we once tried to play hockey with replica hockey sticks and a tennis ball) all day long. Spoiled rotten, we’d return inside with something she’d cooked up in the kitchen.

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I spent most of my summers at that house growing up, as did most kids in the neighborhood. Everyone around knew if they wanted to play ball, they would find somebody playing outside at 9 Georgia St., or across the street at Vidalia Upper Elementary’s playground.

The early mornings were my bonding time with her, as I’d wait for my other cousins to wake up to play ball. During that time, I’d have the sports section in hand, her delicious hot tea in another and the television on some form of sports. In order to keep the conversation going with her sports-loving grandson, ‘Wunk’ had to keep up with sports, and she did so with the best of ‘em.

Wunky had six children and five grandchildren. The men outnumbered the women, but the women loved sports just as much as the men. Thus, she learned early on that sports were just going to be part of her life. She embraced it, went with the flow and added fuel to our passion.

I always said she was the coolest person I knew because of how quick witted she was. She was downright hilarious in the ways she’d respond to one of her grandchildren being disrespectful. She always drew a laugh with her, “Excuse me, shotgun, didn’t know you were loaded” line. She was the best at bursting your bubble and making you laugh at the same time. She also evoked confidence, and that was always big for me personally. I was never the guy who thought he was God’s gift to the world, but she would always work on my insecurities as a child to help give me the confidence I have today. I believe that’s what being a grandparent is all about —love and inspiration.

Wunk challenged me to be the best, and she told me I would be one day. Shortly after I took this job, her health took a downward spiral. Sick and all, her face would still glow as I shared sports stories with her. I remember last November, when she was in the hospital; I was giving primers for the Adams County Christian School state title game and Cathedral High School playoff encounter with her and my uncles. She didn’t say much, but she sure was smiling, feeling right at home with the sports talk. Even if she didn’t have a response, she was always an audience worth telling because she helped create this sports world I live in today.

I suppose if there’s one lesson we could all take away from Wunk it’s this — find the passion of someone you love and encourage them to follow their heart, inspiring confidence the entire way.

My grandmother did that for me, and I’m forever grateful.



JAKE MARTIN is the sports editor for The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3633 or