I am not sure which grandson came up with the word “Wheezer” to describe the Thornton women. Maybe we should blame John’s or Elsie’s boys. It sounds like them. Full of life and sarcasm. Whomever is to blame, the name stuck. The aunts officially became the wheezers.
We laughed when we got together until we couldn’t breathe. Tears filled our eyes and rolled down reddened faces. The more we laughed, the greater the crowd around us became.
People like to be around happiness.
Which is why, I believe, mom had so many people enjoy being around. She loved to laugh. Her sense of humor was kind, never mean.
Sitting here now I can’t remember specific things she said. I just remember the gales of laughter that filled the air when she held court in the dining room.
Remove mom from the table and place dad there instead and the atmosphere completely changed. The girls would talk to dad of somber, serious things. Tears would flow. Good conversation took place but on a higher plane. God, scripture, living a Christian life — that was more the direction of the interactions with him.
Mom brought out the lighter side of living.
She found humor in so much. And she wasn’t afraid of making fun of herself. She would tell tales of her mistakes and have the room rolling.
For awhile, mom and dad lived next doors to Riggins Funeral Home in southern Illinois. On numerous occasions, mom was hired to play for services.
At that time, the organ was placed in a
small room off to the side of the large viewing room. A speaker in the wall allowed mom to monitor when she was needed to play. Mom also used the speaker as a monitor for her sound level.
During one service, she noticed she couldn’t hear the music very well through the speaker. She adjusted the the volume on the organ and continued playing. Still nothing. She added more volume. No change. Not thinking of any other reason for the lack of sound, she cranked the volume to its highest setting. At that point someone poked their head into the room and asked her if she was trying to wake the dead. It seems someone had turned the speaker off and while Mary, was attempting to soothe mourners with “The Lord is My Shepherd,” was in fact assaulting them with her song. She quickly corrected her mistake and peace was restored. The body was ultimately put to a quiet, melody-free rest.
Mom’s face crinkled when she retold her mishap. Her eyes lit up as she laughed at herself. And me, I wheezed. I loved to laugh with her. I believe we all did.
Perhaps the Thorntons have used laughter to hide our pain. I don’t know. One niece-in-law (who has since opted to be an out-law) questioned the amount of laughter we had when we gathered for brother John’s funeral.
She thought it disrespectful.
I felt no disrespect. I felt tremendous love and deep, deep loss. For hours we talked of John and the life he led. We relived memories,shared stories and celebrated the son, brother, husband and father he had been. We mourned his sadness and his untimely passing. While we cried, we also wheezed uncontrollably for the joy he brought to us in the short years he was with us.
Along with laughter, the tears pour. Bitter and sweet. Painful and joyful. Death and life. We can’t have one without the other.
Mama was a woman of intense emotions I believe. She didn’t speak of them often. She showed them to us most often and passionately through her music. We heard her sorrow late at night as she played in the darkness and sang her songs of comfort. And we witnessed it most certainly through her wonderful, infectious laughter.
I really miss Mary.