Melba Lee Waters was born into a blended family of Welchs and Yanceys on November 15, 1929, just as the Great Depression was beginning, in the tiny west Texas town of Farwell. Her mother and father were both widowed at a young age and they met through their sons and soon married. Her brother, Bill was born not long after Melba. She tells stories of being Bill’s protector in their grade school years, because she thought of herself as tougher and more capable of fighting battles for both of them. They were fiercely loyal to one another. Melba was most definitely a tomboy.
Born with a cleft palette, Melba had numerous surgeries, maybe as many as 18, none of which provided a positive outcome. It took many years to fit her with a good partial plate, which allowed her speech to be better understood by others. Her closeness to God seemed to develop very young, possibly as a result of this hardship. Throughout her life, she made friends with people whom the rest of the world seemed to marginalize. Her heart was tender to those who needed friendship. She loved easily and with abandon.
The Yancey family moved to Albuquerque to find work when she was young. When Melba was about 3 years old, her oldest sibling and only sister, Lora, died at the age of 17. She had been handicapped from birth and spent most of her life in a baby carriage with all the family taking turns sitting with her.
In 1941, when Melba was 12, the family moved to Long Beach, California. She and Bill went to Jordan High School. After graduation, Melba attended a nearby junior college for a few years, taking courses in secretarial skills and photography. Through those years she had the blessing of a strong church youth group that became her life long friends.
During World War Two, Melba and her parents sent care packages to her older five brothers. Her parents worked at McDonald Douglas until the war was over.
When Melba was in her young twenties, she moved to Colorado with her parents and two of her brothers for a new start. There, she met Dwight Waters on horseback. Dwight’s sister, Marilyn, had a crush on Melba’s nephew, Randy, and somehow they got Dwight and Melba together. After a 3-month whirlwind courtship they married over Thanksgiving in 1950. They moved to Seattle, where Dwight had a job and good friends.
Lee Ann was born in October, 1951 and by 1952 they moved closer to family in Long Beach where they added Dorthy in December of 1953 and Todd in April of 1957. Motherhood was natural for Melba, who loved being home with a house full of children. She was particularly delighted that her third child was a boy. With six brothers she knew all about boys and she didn’t care much about fixing hair and all the girly stuff.
Melba and Dwight spent a lot of their time with Melba’s parents, Bill and Laura’s family and celebrated holidays with all the Welch and Yancey families.
When Dwight retired from Sully Miller as a member of the operating engineers union, he and Melba moved to Auburn, California to enjoy a slower pace and to be with dear friends who had also retired in the area. They spent these blessed years in the garden, camping and fishing, cultivating the Auburn Church of Christ, traveling to see wonderful parts of the world and see their family, caring for others, making jelly, and getting the most out of each day. Dorthy, John, Andy and Lora eventually moved onto the property where Dwight and Melba lived. Having them close delighted Melba. Dwight died in a car accident in 2001 and Melba continued to live life fully, even with the immense void left in Dwight’s absence.
The two of them were quite a pair. Dwight was charmingly cantankerous and bossy, and Melba stood her own ground. They would argue about the smallest of things—the right compost concoction, how to fillet a fish, directions, being on time, the unbelievable high price about what the other purchased and of course how harshly their own children disciplined their grand kids etc., but all in the name of either competition, good robust spousal discussion, or just out and out stubbornness – we still have not figured that out. We never doubted, however, that their love for one another was deep and unwavering. They were steadfast companions to each other and enjoyed the same hobbies, making retirement a happy time for them.
Melba loved God, her family and dear friends incalculably. Gardening and food were her other loves. Her family will remember her with a hose in her hand, dirt on her shirt and fingers stained with pomegranate juice. She was excessive in her love, her vision for her garden, and the portions with which she prepared meals. She leaves behind a fall garden, complete with more onions than she meant to plant, but she just couldn’t help herself from planting all the seedlings she had available. She also leaves behind a vat of pomegranate juice, freshly prepared in anticipation of making jelly and a bunch of very confused chickens who can’t figure out why she has not been around lately.
She invited people into her home regularly, finding great satisfaction in having a full house. She did so authentically, not worrying about having a pristine home, or a fancy meal. She just loved to host. All of her guests left with goody bags of jelly, canned salmon, vegetables freshly harvested and fresh eggs from the chicken coup. Her extreme generosity was enjoyed by all who knew her.
She justified her sweet tooth irrationally by declaring that ice cream with fruit had to be healthy. She made tapioca pudding and bread pudding regularly but often blamed it on someone else’s need. She would try just about any new sweet product from the grocery store, in the name of being adventurous. She rarely had much to do with alcoholic beverages except for blackberry wine and pina coladas – generally when she was with family or really, really close and confidential friends.
She had a compost pile that could win awards. She went to great lengths to perfect it with manure deliveries that excited her like diamonds would excite most women. She went to the local coffee shop to collect free grounds with a sense of competition that caused others to scratch their heads. One year she had so many coffee grounds that the entire yard smelled like a coffee shop. She once collected seaweed in Duck, North Carolina, packed an entire suitcase full of it, and carted it back to California to add it to her pile.
Melba was also not afraid to pack other unusual items for travel. She delivered fresh eggs to love ones all over the county, and never once had yokes dripping from her luggage. She brought plants to transplant, seeds, jelly, salmon, birthday cake and anything else she thought might be well received.
When anyone asked how she was doing, her response was that she was “just trying to behave.”
Melba had a competitive spirit that made her quite the game player. She never turned down an opportunity to play dominos, and most recent Saturday nights were spent with a mega-Skipbo game with her treasured friend, Vonda.
Melba had a hunger for God’s word that only grew as she aged. She was part of a two women’s bible studies on Wednesdays and Thursdays for the last several years that she dearly loved. In her last moments on this earth, she lay in a hospital bed with those dear friends at her side, reciting God’s word to her, easily and repeatedly.
She said that when she got to heaven, she would make a beeline to Moses to discuss his experience as a prophet with a speech impediment. She could identify with Moses’ struggle to speak, but for those who knew Melba, it was not hard to understand her, because she always delivered a message of love. For those left behind, we believe she and Moses have a lot in common and they are probably discussing those matters even as we speak. She had the gift of wisdom and discernment, not unlike the prophet Moses, not to mention their shared gift of unwavering loyalty and obedience to God’s calling.
She leaves behind a world that won’t be the same without her, including a community of friends, neighbors, traveling companions, fellow gardeners, composters, church members, Skipbo opponents and nature lovers. She is survived by her children Dorthy Courtney, Lee Ann Thornton and husband Gary, and Todd Waters and wife Deanna. She is also survived by her grandchildren and great grandchildren, Taylor Waters, Andy Courtney and his wife Melissa, Lora Courtney, Chelsea Buchholtz and her husband Scott, Megan Srygley and her husband Douglas and their two children, Jane and Fletcher. She is preceded in death by her husband of nearly 51 years, Dwight, her son-in-law John Courtney, and many beloved family members and friends.