Lydia Margarite St. Pe' Perdreauville was nicknamed "Red Hot Pepper." She'd walk around the house laughing, a hodgepodge of bright red hair dyes seeping into her chestnut locks.
One of 15 children, she held her own. Her family were sharecroppers and caregivers on Louisiana plantations. Later, she cleaned crab and shrimp at a cannery, boxed sweets at the Elmer Candy Co. and sold drapes at Sears, said her son, George Perdreauville Jr.
She was 5 feet 6 and packed a punch. During the war, she worked cutting sheets of steel used to build military boats. If she laughed and slapped your shoulder, you'd feel the sting.
She stayed slim, and constantly did stomach exercises. Her skin was like porcelain - she never went into the sun without a floppy hat. She stretched each morning, knees straight, hands flat on the floor.
She had a strong French Cajun accent, a spitfire tongue and an iron will. Once, she burst into her married son's bedroom at 4 a.m. and announced she was going to visit family in Louisiana. She drove 700 miles alone.
She hid extra money beneath the carpet in her bedroom. Each year, she sent birthday cards to nieces and nephews, $5 inside. A few years ago, she scaled back - she switched to $2.
In Louisiana, she took in George Jr.'s teenage girlfriend, who needed a place to stay. The two later married. When George and Patricia's children cried, Lydia would say, "What's wrong, petunias? Let's dry up the tears."
At age 75, she still felt the urge to contribute. She worked at a Kash n' Karry, bagging groceries - bread always on top - and pushing carts through the parking lot. After work, she'd come home, jump on a tractor and mow the grass.
When rheumatoid arthritis took the use of her limbs, she grew sullen. She felt trapped in a body that could no longer push carts, tend garden or rearrange furniture. Her family visited her in the nursing home every other day.
She died last week at age 87. Her family plans to bury her in Louisiana beside her husband, George.
They plan to celebrate her life during Mardi Gras.
They want to remember her as a matriarch, who led the family with spunk, grace, patience and a skip in her step.
Stephanie Hayes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8857.
Lydia Margarite St. Pe' Perdreauville
Born: Oct. 22, 1919.
Died: July 25, 2007.
Survivors: Son George (Patricia) Perdreauville Jr.; two grandchildren, Terri Lynn (Kevin) Welniak, Sherri Lynn (Dennis) Blankenship; four great-granddaughters, Brittany Lynn and Lauren Ashley Blankenship, and Taylor Lynn and Jordan Ashley Welniak.
Services: Celebration of life in New Orleans at a later date. Perdreauville will be buried beside husband, George Sr., at Greenwood Cemetery.