Mary Scott Gash Thornton left this earth with a deep sigh one Spring evening in 1986.
Dad held on to his faith for support but he so missed her. Never have I seen him look so lost as in the days following her death.
Mary made it past Mother’s Day, so she had recently heard from all of her children. The twins, Alice and Ruth, were the the oldest and each lived just a few blocks from mom and dad’s small rental home on the edge of Cartersville, Illinois. The other seven kids, spread out from California to Alaska to Georgia had sent their flowery Mother’s Day cards or placed their phone calls.
I called because I loved the way mom sounded when she knew it was one of her children on the line. There was no mistaking the joy in her voice. “Oh, hi,” she’d say with such warmth. Every time my face would break out in a smile. She liked me. She really, really liked me.
Mom didn’t need a fabricated holiday to tell her that she was adored by her children and her husband. This five-foot two-inch woman knew she was loved.
Mom had a heart the size of Australia and a personality to boot. My dad’s heart was smaller, more like Texas. He was reserved and severe and very generous. They made a good couple.
Mary and Watson were a study in contrasts. Over the years mom grew to be as round as she was short. Dad remained tall and trim and really quite handsome. She was outgoing to his formality. Mary entertained people while Dad preached, instructed and admonished. She could talk to anyone and engage them in stimulating conversation. He preferred to sit and observe. Talking made him very uncomfortable. He said he was at a loss for words except for when he was teaching or preaching.
Their opposites attracted and even after 55+ years of marriage they remained smitten . I knew without a doubt I wanted a marriage like theirs.
They married in February 1929, the same year her father passed away. A year later, Mom and Dad sailed for Japan to serve as missionaries.
That move must have been difficult for her but she never complained in her letters. She was a St. Louis girl and they were moving to the outskirts of a city in a foreign country. She had no understanding of Japanese (Dad did, he grew up there). She didn’t cook or clean or sew. She knew nothing about birthing babies. Mary Scott Gash Thornton only knew how to play the piano.
And she was good. She was very very good.
In fact, at age 8 or so, mom performed a concert in St. Louis to raise money for the WW1 war effort. Her talent was impressive. Professionals encouraged her to pursue a career as a concert pianist. She wrestled with the idea but ultimately chose dad and life with him as a missionary.
Not long after they married in St. Louis, they moved to Japan. She left behind her widowed mother, two brothers and sister. Her twin, Nancy, had died at age 3. Mary also left behind her piano.
Letters from Mom to her mother, Mattie, in St. Louis describe the challenges of her life. Of supervising house help who could not understand her nor her them. Of working with people who wanted her to get herself together and become more serious. To wear longer hair, not her fashionable bob. To be more serious and not so full of laughter. She was to become someone other than who she truly was. And she was to birth babies.
The Thornton family expanded rapidly to include the first five children. Alice and Ruth (the twins), Charles, Elsie and Martha. The Japanese family. The better half of the siblings I’ve always called them.
WWII was about to break out, so Mary and Watson whisked their family back to the States until peace was restored. They had every intention of returning, but that dream was put on hold. Thirty years would pass before they arrived back in Japan to live.
In those intervening years, the Thornton family grew even more. Mom bore 11 children in all. Sam, John, Mary Catherine, me and Susan. One little girl died shortly after birth. A few years later, the youngest child, Susan, was hit by a car and died. The nine remaining kids married and did their fair share of multiplying. Mom got her piano back and dad stepped into the pulpit.
My father reveled in his grandchildren. Mom not so much. She was tired of babies and burping and changing diapers. She wanted to play her music and read her books and visit with her children. One day she told me rather apologetically, “I really don’t care for the little ones. I enjoy the grand kids when they are 14 or so, when I can have a conversation.”
She’d earned time for herself.
During the month of April I will use daily posts to introduce you to my mother, Mary Scott Gash Thornton. A remarkable woman in so many ways. Few had her gift and passion for music. Her sense of humor was engaging. She’d entertain guests around the table, placing bank presidents next to the town drunk and all would be well. She loved her kids. She loved her Watson. She lived her faith. And she brought a world of music to the people around her.
My mother’s name was Mary.