It’s difficult to believe my mom’s been gone for over five years. In some ways, it feels like it’s only been days, and in others, a lifetime ago. I think about her every day. Her dear friend Drucie Brown remembers her fondly this obituary, and it’s an absolute joy.
With space limited in the local newspaper, some aspects of my mother’s life didn’t make it into this piece, like the time she drove her car into the Piggly Wiggly or tried to talk her friend Ralph into wearing a muumuu out to dinner by insisting it was ok because he was an opera singer. I am happy that her driving the getaway car for a streaker got a mention, though.
Barbara Anne Dicey, expert grammarian and explicator of Oedipus Rex and Othello, emergency medical technician, real estate agent, bridge player/instructor, travel agent / trip planner, antiques dealer, mystery shopper, world traveler/critic, wordsmith, chef de cuisine, amateur (“quack”) healer, Sacred Harp singer, tap dancer, trivia champion, exemplary wife/mother/ grandmother, and extraordinary friend, died on June 24, 2014.
Barbara refused to acknowledge margarine’s existence even before butter made its official comeback. Her cream scones, caramel shortbread, chocolate-filled meringues, and almond mousse melted in one’s mouth. She was the Queen of Tarts (apple and lemon). Tea showers at friends’ homes were occasions of collective joy when Barbara prepared her special brand of nectar (Earl Grey tea) and ambrosia (see above) for all. Her cucumber, chicken salad, and ham salad sandwiches delighted wedding guests and starving mothers-to-be.
Her sumptuous seafood banquets were butter-graced legends, featuring luscious scallops hand-gathered in a shallow boat riding the bay at Port St. Joe, Generously, she dispensed to her less talented friends expert cooking advice for which their families will forever rejoice. Oh, her tender roast turkey with herbed cornbread dressing studded with fresh-fallen pecans from Tack Brantley’s orchard! Like her chocolate eclairs, it was the stuff that dreams are made on.
Barbara had a genius for friendship; she attracted friends as inevitably as the fragrance of her home-baked bread (with fresh creamery butter) called her Wallace College suitemates to lunch. Throughout her life she was the compass point around whom circles of friends formed and traveled-their most generous, hilariously funny, candid, loyal, original heart-the one who cared (and dared) enough to “tell you all what to do.”
To quote Betty Hutchinson, “Barbara was the best friend a person could ever have.” Betty and Robert, Ann Hopkins, “the good Martha” Story, Randy and Barbara Bryson, Jerre Lu Mason, Nell Brown, Sally Hall, Madeleine Lewis, Ralph Purvis, Ray Yarbrough, John Michel, Jane Parrish, Mike Brown and Barbara’s proudly double-first-cousin-nine-times-removed pal Drucie Brown, and countless others – most especially Allen and Ellen Bourland, her beautiful Mississippi magnolia partner in English teaching, world travel, world criticism, and the antiques business-were blessed by her sunshine.
One of our funniest school memories of Barbara is the time that she enticed her suitemates to contribute to a huge novelty order from Oriental Trading Company and directed that the boxes be sent to her office. It took the better part of a day to separate the rubber chickens, clacking teeth, Santa Claus balloons, hula skirts, and party hats, all of which occasioned tremendous laughter attracting curious hall- travelers to join the fun.
Barbara couldn’t pass up a bargain and loved to share the fruits of her shopping. An administrator was dismayed upon entering the English offices one afternoon to find Barbara measuring out large amounts of uncooked “on sale” rice for her pleased colleagues to take home. Countless “unprofessional” birthday parties and lunches enlivened office hours.
Rumors suggest, but it is best not to repeat, that in Barbara’s early days at Wallace a popular blonde English instructor known for her stylish wigs piloted the getaway car (a light blue Chevrolet station wagon) which enabled the escape of the mysterious Wallace College streaker.
Though Barbara admitted to Pollyanna tendencies, she didn’t suffer fools gladly and fearlessly spoke out at faculty meetings when occasion demanded as well as in parking lots when interlopers shamelessly appropriated her parking spot. Anyone who earned her disgust was “sorrier than gully dirt.” Askance, she eyed snobs and phonies and drawled, “Well, isn’t that nice?”
Barbara never met a whodunit or a glass of Constant Comment tea that she didn’t like. She loved her Shalimar and the gardenias and hydrangeas that her favorite gentleman caller – joy and rock – Charlie Dicey, planted for her.
From Dr. Madeleine Lewis, the first English Department Chairman at Wallace, she learned the joys of travel and spread those joys to many friends throughout the years, planning wonderful trips to Provence, Greece, Italy, Belgium, the UK, and other far-flung places. Wherever she and Ellen went, they made new friends.
When Barbara learned of her illness, friends all over the world prayed for her healing. Their prayers, the genius of Dr. Geschwind at Johns Hopkins, and Barbara’s stalwart faith and courage yielded three more years of happy times than she and Charlie had first been led to expect.
Besides teaching thousands of Alabamians in her lifetime, Barbara taught her copper penny-bright daughters and grandchildren that life is a fabulous adventure and love has no limits. Beth and Paul Carnahan of Glasgow, Scotland, and their children Hannah and Ethan Nystrom; Rebecca Stafford and Dr. Fernando Gomez of Jackson, Mississippi, and their son Atticus; and Kelli Dicey, little Charlie and Violet, and Lt. Commander Nick Harvey of Jacksonville, Florida, adored their “Barbara” and “BB” and are blazing a trail of creative enterprise, service, and love that made Barbara very proud.
Barbara loved her brothers Barry (Carolyn) and Terry (Karen) Brantley of Troy and carried the memory of her parents, Tack and Frances Hickman Brantley, in her heart. She appreciated Miriam Julian , her loving sister-in-law.
Finally, and most importantly, Barbara’s life was blessed by her kind, steadfast, cherished, loving husband of thirty-five years, Charlie Dicey, creator of the M&M tree. He was her heart’s delight from the day when, mistaking him for one of her English students at Wallace, she congratulated him on how good he looked. He was pretty delighted, too, and remained so. He was everything that Barbara deserved and could have wanted him to be.