Growing up with Mary as a mother meant that music was central to my life. Our days as a family usually often began with her playing one or two hymns.
She wasn’t much of a morning person. If she had her druthers she’d sleep until 9 or 10, I’m sure. Her favorite times of day were late at night when the family had gone to bed. But dad, as a guidance counselor at the high school, was up and out the door early during the week. On the weekends, he was the preacher, so definitely no late mornings then.
Mary dutifully rose and cooked breakfast for her husband and children. We ate together most mornings. Unless I was bleeding or upchucking, no excuse was good enough to miss breakfast or family prayers. School bells could ring and I’d be tardy, but I could not miss devotions.
Once breakfast was finished, we migrated to mom’s music room for devotions. Two sets of oak sliding doors were used to close the room off when mom was giving piano lesson. In the mornings, the doors were open and we found seats between and around mom’s grand piano and organ .
Family devotions consisted of (if time allowed) singing a hymn, reading two chapters of the Bible and praying for every person we knew by name — including missionaries all over the world, the people they witnessed to and then some.
When dad prayed for the family, mom remembered the missionaries. Bill and Alice Widbin somewhere Africa, Dorothy Clark in Nigeria, an orphanage in India with a little boy named Jothi. I prayed for Jothi for decades. One day not long before mom died, I asked her whatever happened to Jothi. She said he had grown up and was living near the orphanage. Despite his physical and mental challenges he was doing well. Good to know our prayers worked for him I said. “Oh, Nancy, hush!” she said with a smile. She sometimes like my irreverence. But not always.
She believed in the power of prayer. Dad did, too. They brought everything to God in prayer. And they brought us right there with them. We got down on our knees around the circle of chairs (I tried to get the softest one because I could catch a few more minutes of sleep). Dad or mom started the prayers and we went one by one until all had thanked God for our many blessings or asked God for help with someone and something. The other parent would wrap up our time of thanksgiving and petitions.
I hated this time as a child. As a teen, especially, I was so embarrassed when friends would spend the night and Dad and Mom would urge them to participate in the ceremony. Nothing and noone kept Mary and Watson from spending time with the Lord in the morning.
Family worship wrapped up with the Lord’s Prayer. By the time we got to “In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” I was up off my knees. By the “Amen”, I was out the door for school.
The middle part of prayers was reading the Bible. We went front to back, Genesis 1:1 to the final verse of Revelations, two chapters a day, two verses at a time. Starting with the youngest and going to the oldest. On the longer chapters, we could go around the circle three or four times. I have no idea how many times I’ve read the Bible through, Old and New Testaments, but I know I have countless verses committed to memory. Even today, almost six decades after living at home, I can recall verses I read as a child. I also firmly believe that we are all good readers because of these early days. We learned to read at very young ages sitting together in the mornings sounding out words like Methuselah, Sennacherib and the pages and pages of Hebrew names in the Old Testament.
My favorite part of prayers, without a doubt, was when we had time to sing. Mom played her grand piano with such power and passion. She loved her God and she showed that love through her fingers on the keys, whether the melodies were hymn or classical pieces she had memorized. As I write this I feel tears welling up inside. An ache for the woman who comforted me so often with her music. When I longed for something as only a teenage girl can long and it didn’t come to pass, when I had a broken heart, or when my feelings were hurt from someone at school.
Mama would sit me down in the easy chair next to the piano and she would play songs like “Great is Thy Faithfulness”, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”, “Does Jesus Care?”
She played until my tears stopped. And then we’d go and get a bite to eat.
Food and music. It’s a theme you’ll see in Mary’s life.
For any faults she had (and yes, Mary Scott Gash Thornton had her fair share) she was a woman of intense love and faith, and my life continues to be blessed with the gifts she gave me every single day.
I regret that I have no recordings of mama playing. Some may exist in the United States, in the homes of my sisters and brothers. But here in Ecuador, I have no access to them. Instead when I want to be with mama at the piano, I go to YouTube and plug in the name of a hymn that she would play. The link below takes you to one of my favorites.
For friends reading who are not of the Christian faith or perhaps any faith at all, this may seem very foreign to you. All I can say is I pray that you have a similar source of comfort and joy. Life feels easier with such a person.
My mother’s name was Mary.