After Onward Christian Soldiers…

hymns_62Recently some friends and I got to talking about hymns we sang as children — in particularly, “Onward Christian Soldiers.”  Despite finding ourselves in a much different place spiritually than our early church days, we all agreed many traditional church songs hold special memories.

Stacey spent her childhood virtually without supervision. “We were feral,” she said. ” We were the wild children on our street.” When her parents divorced, her mother worked and left Stacey and her siblings to fend for themselves.  A number of years ago, Stacey went home and visited with some of her former neighbors. “I learned many on the street were deeply concerned for our safety.”

As a child, Stacey found her “home” in church. For one thing, her Baptist church offered snacks and often what she ate at church was all had to eat for the day. Stacey grew to love the sense of community she felt at church — a place where people cared for her and nurtured her. When she was old enough, Stacey joined the choir and sang her heart out. The words of the hymns she sang on Sunday mornings lodged deep in her brain. She particularly remembers facing the congregation and singing the lyrics to “Onward Christian Soldier” with great pride. She felt part of something, connected to others, fully supported and cared for.

Stacey and I could not have more different backgrounds.

My parents, Watson and Mary, were too strict, too strong and much-too-present for me to go wild. They structured my days, beginning to end. We rose to Dad’s wake up call and shared breakfast around the small round oak table in the kitchen. We gathered for Bible reading (each person reading two verses each until one or two chapters were completed) and prayers in the music room every day before school. As a minister and a teacher, I could not get away from his presence.

The summer of my 10th year, I was sitting in church one hot Wednesday evening and thinking how much I wanted to be wild. I longed to be anywhere but where I was — sitting on a hard wooden pew, staring out the open window onto the lawn of the house next to the church. The setting sun streamed through the trees and created lovely shadows on the grass. I heard the neighbor kids playing in the nearby park.  I felt real life — the giggling, running about, shouting and playing hard life — resided outside my small church.

Just about the only thing I liked inside church were the hymns. I listened to Mama play with passion the requested songs. I sang along from memory. We Thorntons had very little need of the hymnal because we knew the lyrics by heart. The words flowed with ease and they connected me on some deep level with the men and women in the pews around me.

My personal belief had not yet become an issue with me.  All I knew was that singing “Rescue the Perishing,” “Count Your Many Blessings,” “Onward Christian Soldiers” and many other songs that represented the faith of my parents helped lift my spirits, soothe my anger and spoke to my soul on some level.

imagesI left home for college when I was 17.  There, a boyfriend introduced me to Johnny Got His Gun and Malcom X. I began to question blind patriotism and American Christianity. As more and more male students dropped out, were drafted or signed up for the Vietnam war, I grew more and more uncomfortable seeing the American flag and the Christian flag together on the same podium — especially in church.

Stacey moved away from traditional organized Christianity, as well. Despite going to seminary and earning an M.Div.,  she does not preach nor does she attend  an organized church.  She’s found her place and peace in Wisdom theology and contemplative prayer. Stacey structures her life around meditation. She and her partner open their home to people in need of quiet and rest. They offer retreats, courses and counseling to those in search of inner healing.

Stacey’s a far cry from that feral child who roamed the streets. And me? The girl raised in church who went  in search of living wild and outside? I’m quieter now.  Stacey and I are both discovering more and more about living faith that nurtures hope and love.

I struggle to live like Jesus did. At time I wish I were more like Stacey with her peaceful aura and kind spirit.

Onward-Christian-Soldiers-Edited-900However  I know she, too, has her personal struggles. We both continue to take steps towards peace, not war, to pursue love not engage in battles.

I feel we’re part of a growing corp of enlisted people of faith who are marching onward, just not to war. 

 

Onward Christian soldiers,
Marching as to war
With the cross of Jesus
Going on before

Onward then, ye people
Join our happy throng
Blend with ours your voices
In our triumph song

Christ the royal master
Leads against the foe
Forward into battle
See His banners go

Crowns and Thrones may perish
Kingdoms rise and wane
But the cross of Jesus
Constant will remain

 

 

I Tried to be a Sunbeam for Jesus

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Our church in the 50’s would have fit well into a Norman Rockwell-type painting.

**This post appeared the other day under on a different site: First & Third Verse. I launched a second blog (which I now think may be a mistake) to provide space for a bigger project: First & Third Verse  This site looks at traditional hymns and how they impacted my spiritual development and how they continue to be meaningful even as I’ve moved from a traditional way of thinking to a much more progressive viewpoint. If you have a love for the old church hymns, I hope you’ll visit the site.***

I feel I was predestined to be smiling and joyful for Jesus, whether I liked it or not.

Not only me, but all nine of my siblings were programmed to be sunbeamers from the minute we were born. And of course we could and would be because, well, we had the joy, joy, joy, joy down in our hearts.

Jesus wants me for a sunbeam,
To shine for Him each day;
In every way try to please Him,
At home, at school, at play.

A sunbeam, a sunbeam,
Jesus wants me for a sunbeam;
A sunbeam, a sunbeam,
I’ll be a sunbeam for Him.

Sunday after Sunday I gathered with a handful of other children in the damp, cool basement of First Presbyterian Church in Greenfield, Illinois. Together we filled the lower level with loud, off-key voices and occasional outbursts of giggles. We moved in close to the piano and acted out our happy verses, arms to the sky, hands cupped around our cheeks, fingers wiggling in the air.  We climbed climbed up sunshine mountain with faces all aglow and, like that wee little man, Zacheus, we climbed up in a Sycamore tree then plopped down on the floor when he dropped down from the tree to eat dinner with Jesus.

Those melodies were campy, peppy and repetitive and the lyrics– definitely long-term memory material. All memories of church were.

Church was my second home. As the preacher, dad was required to be there whenever the doors opened. When he doubled as the janitor, we got there early to open the doors and stayed until the halls were empty.

Sunday morning and Sunday night we were present. No exceptions. Wednesday night prayer meeting was also mandatory. And one Tuesday a month we visited the Prairie Home, the local nursing home, bringing songs, a short message and good cheer to the old folks of our little town.

downloadHow I dreaded those evenings.

I cared about the elderly and their loneliness. I often left the building with tears rolling down my face because of the sorrow I sensed and felt within those wall. I ached for the women and men who sat by themselves in their rooms, day after day, without visits from their children.

I just didn’t know what to say.

I felt uncomfortable holding their shaky hands and feeling their paper-thin skin. Shouting to be heard embarrassed me (I mean, what doesn’t embarrass a teenager?) Pervasive smells of disinfectant and urine made me gag. Yet, going there was my duty. A rigorously enforced duty. By the time I reached 16, I had counted the number of Tuesdays I had to go before high school graduation.  Freedom couldn’t come too soon.

At the nursing home, at school, at play, I wasn’t much of a sunbeam.  I tried. When the music played, my voice rang out clear and strong. During prayer time my head remained bowed , and neither of my eyes would look around. I memorized verses and taught the little kids in Sunday School. With other kids in the youth group, I attended Youth for Christ rallies in St. Louis. I raised my hand countless times for this joy, joy, joy thing to take root in my heart.

But (and there’s always a but in  life) faith for me hasn’t been sunny. Over the years the path I’ve walked has been some sun and partly cloudy. Overcast days followed by serious thunderstorms. Maybe it’s the way I viewed them — glass half-empty kind of thing.  My dear friend Lauralee has never met a day that wasn’t filled with something good. She sees her glass filled to overflowing in even the darkest circumstance.

Varying levels of serotonin in my brain have created mood swings. That’s a fact. Or it could be I was born with my stars out of alignment. Whatever the cause, I’ve had as many weepy, tear-filled days as I have joy-filled ones. I have grown comfortable with angst.

In the past my gray-sky outlook has left me with a sense of being less than. Not a good Christian. Letting down the Lord. Failing the family. Not giving God God’s due.

So guilt on top of my Eeyore-like world view has done a number on me.

Until this past year.

Moving to South America, a new continent, far removed from family and the land that formed me, I’m discovering a new freedom.  Here we experience rain almost everyday and the clouds hang very low. Some mornings, so low I feel I can almost touch them. But in this high place in the Andes, sunshine manages to burst through at least once a day. And those rays are brilliant, warm, energizing and potent. I feel my cells waking up. I feel my spirit come to life.

No longer do I feel I ought to be a sunbeam, much less a sunbeam for anyone.

But I have grown to celebrate and love the sun.

T: It’s All about Mary/#a-to-z challenge/ Time Out from Baseball

Baseball. Mary Scott really enjoyed the game. Well, as long as the St. Louis Cardinals were playing.

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Mary was a teenager when the Cardinals earned their second world series.

As I recall, we never visited Busch Stadium as a family, but I have vivid memories of Mary and Watson listening to Harry Carey on the radio. Not long before mom died, I visited my parents in southern Illinois. I entered the house to find them both fixed on the television, mom in her rocking chair and dad on their mighty uncomfortable, brown and gold-toned Early American sofa. We caught up while the game played on.

 

Now I grew up back in the days when children could climb, sit and sleep anywhere they wanted in a car. Cars were bigger in the 50’s. The wide floor space between the back of the front seat and front of the back seat served as a good place to take a nap on long trips. But my favorite place was up on the ledge next to the back window.

When the time came for Cathy, Susan or me to go to sleep, the rear of the car offered three levels of beds.  The window seat, the back seat and the floor.  As much as I could, I lunged for the window ledge. I’d crawl up, face the back of the car and peer up at the stars.  Many Saturdays we drove the 60 miles to St. Louis to visit my sister Ruth and her family with their two, then three, then four boys. Returning to Greenfield late Saturday night (dad had to be home in time to preach on Sunday), I fell asleep many nights peering into the sky, hearing the voice of Harry Carey announce the ballgame.

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Harry Carey’s voice lulled me to sleep many a Saturday night.

Years later, when Carey’s son became the voice of the Chicago Cubs, I could close my eyes and be transported back to hot Saturday nights in the car, windows down, a sky full of stars and the thwump, thwump, thwump of tires on the asphalt.

 

Dad knew the game of course but I don’t think he followed it like my brothers-in-law and nephews did. Or mom for that matter. Mary was a loyal St. Louisan and supported her team with fervor.

She had a dilemma, however. Mom was 100% committed to being a Christian witness wherever and whenever possible.  And she wasn’t quite sure how her intense enthusiasm to see her team trounce another fit into being an godly example.

During one of my visits, mom missed one of the Cardinal games on TV.  She told me she was limiting her time with baseball.  “I just get too emotional,” she said. “I don’t think it’s pleasing to God to get that excited about things of earth.”

Good and bad.  Sinful or not.  Christlike or of this world. Mom’s faith was pretty dualistic. Both parents strove for “moderation in all things.” If Christians had mantras, that would be theirs.

Mary and Watson felt a profound sense of duty to live exemplary lives. Mom once said that early on she believed if she did everything right, she would have perfect children. It never happened.  Not because she didn’t try. But because we are human. Over time her eyes were opened. But her desire to be an good example never faded.

It seems to me Mary’s God would get a kick out of her cheering so passionately for her baseball team. I am certain her Creator totally enjoyed hearing mama play her pianologues and bring a smile to so many. Her Creator most certainly would be moved by her tears shed at night. I firmly believe Mary’s God was honored by the love and faith she had and good life she tried so earnestly to live.

I’m not nor ever will be a theologian. My heart leads my faith, my intellect follows. And let me tell you, my spiritual journey has been a whopper. Maybe something dad or mom would not understand. Today, however, I find myself at a place of great peace and filled with love for which I’m so thankful. Much of this has to do with being with Mary in these blogs during this month of April. By meeting with her life through my memories and impressions, Mary’s passion for people, for her God and her family has touched me deeply.

This sounds corny, I know. But it’s my blog and I can write what I want.  Somewhere, out there, I hope Mary finds herself at a celestial baseball game. And at this game she is 100% totally herself.  Cheering her team on to victory, smiling ear to ear, singing along with the crowd and helping herself to peanuts and Crackerjacks.

stock-photo-winneconne-wi-feb-bag-of-original-cracker-jack-that-comes-with-a-prize-inside-380402902Mary so loved CrackerJacks.

 

 

S: It’s All about Mary/#a-to-z challenge/ Susan Wesley

On March 19, 1958, laughter died for a while at 707 S. Main Street.

While Mary patiently help one of her piano students perfect her arpeggios, mama’s youngest child and my closest friend, Susan Wesley, was hit by a car on Route 67.

Kate (then called Mary Catherine), Susan and I were returning from a visit with Mrs. Argall. It may have been a cookie day. This widowed, former Salvation Army lass from London baked fresh gingersnaps weekly. I believe it was on Thursday. All I clearly remember is that we walked the several blocks to her house and were heading back home in good spirits. Cookies can do that.

All was right in our small, mid-western world. Little traffic passed through our town. We’d never seen a traffic jam or a multi-car pile up. Greenfield felt very much like Mayberry RFD, just without the southern accents.

Mama even looked a little like Aunt Bea.

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Aunt Bea and Mary Scott Gash Thornton

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Cathy, at 11, was the oldest of our trio. I was 7, just 18 months older than Susan.

Susan and I were inseparable. Well, as inseparable as we could be with Susan spending days away at Children’s Hospital in Chicago and me attending school.

Blonde-haired, blue-eyed Susan had been born with multiple birth defects. Instead of an arm, she had a finger-like formation extending from her elbow. My sisters who are nurses know more about it.  All I know is that she was fitted with a metal pinchers that hurt.  And she had no opening for her rectum which required numerous surgeries.

From the day she was born she spent weeks in the hospital, in St. Louis and later in Chicago. These trips took mom and dad away for short periods of time, so Cathy and I spent time with friends from church.

Unaccompanied visits to Mrs. Argall were not out of the ordinary for us. Living in small-town USA in the 50’s, children were safe walking just about anywhere, at any time.  We’d never heard of stranger danger.

Susan and I ran ahead of Cathy down Prairie Street. We turned right at the corner of South Main, went a block or so then turned to face the road. We were directly across from our house. At that time, Greenfield had installed cement steps leading from the sidewalk down the embankment to the highway. It made for easier crossing.

Susan darted ahead of me down the steps and tripped at the bottom on the edge of the road.

We had not seen a car coming. The car that approached us was not speeding at all.  But the timing was perfect.

Or awful.

At the exact moment Susan tripped, a car appeared from seemingly out of nowhere. The driver said he never saw her. I stood stunned as I watched Susan fall. As quickly as I could, I darted across the street and into the front room where mom was teaching.

From there the memories get jumbled.  I shouted that Susan was hurt. Mom didn’t believe me. Then a man rushed in and confirmed the accident. Mom rushed out. Someone called Dad from the school. Neighbors gathered. An ambulance arrived. The men in white carefully lifted Susan into the ambulance, mom and dad climbed in and off they went to the county hospital a number of miles away.

Susan died on the way.

I can’t remember much about the days that followed. I didn’t really grasp the concept of death. My biggest concern was that Susan got new patent leather shoes for her funeral.  “Can I wear them to church next Sunday?” I asked mom during Susan’s service. She shushed me. I knew she wasn’t angry, just very very sad.

I have few memories of talking about Susan with mom until I was in my 30’s. In the early days, I spent hours alone in my closet playing with Susan’s favorite doll. Or looking for her up in the clouds. Or talking to her while I walked to school.

Mom’s grief came out in her music. I’ve written before of her mournful playing in the middle of the night.  Her loss and heartache showed up in her collection of papers. Notes from friends about Susan. The bulletin from Susan’s funeral.  Hymn lyrics that offered solace. Faded pictures of Susan as a baby and little girl. Bits of poetry on loss and hope. Scripture verses that spoke of pain and comfort.

The loss of a child … it is unimaginable to me.  The pain, unforgettable.

When I was in my late 20’s, I worked as a live-in babysitter for a young family. My charge was primarily three-year old David but I also  helped Virginia with their new set of twins. During my stay, one of the three-month boys, Nathan, died of crib death.

I called mom in tears. On hearing about the sudden death of this little boy she sobbed. The pain of her loss from more than 20 years ago came back with full force. “Tell Virginia I am so very sorry,” she said.  “She will be in my prayers.”

Years later at the funeral of my brother John, she comforted me as I sobbed. “We cannot die from pain. We can live through anything,” she said as she hugged me with her warm, soft arms. “The Lord is with us. He will give us strength.  His mercies endure forever.”

Where did mom get her unflappable faith?

Mary continues to amaze me.

 

 

 

 

N: It’s All about Mary/#a-to-z challenge/ Never-ceasing love

 

Mary was in a relationship with God before she ever met Watson.

She didn’t just agree to a creed or adhere to a set of beliefs, her faith was deeply personal. She met her Creator and she fell head over heels.  By the time dad came along, she was already knee-deep in her faith.  They made a good team.

I don’t know the story of how mama became a Christian and what prompted her to devote her life to being a follower of Christ. She never talked about that with me. I just knew that pleasing God was her life’s goal and that the hierarchy of love in our house was and always would be God first, Dad second and the kids securely in third.

Today, the word “Christian” has a bad rap. I believe that description is often inappropriately used to describe people and movements that are anything but Christlike. In fact, I’ve come to a point in my life that I choose not to call myself a Christian. A follower of Christ, yes. A person who desires to live as Christ did and taught, certainly. But a Christian? No.

Big difference. Huge.

Mom never reached that point of dissatisfaction or disillusionment. She delighted in being a Christian, reading the Bible, learning more about God and sharing her faith with any one who would listen.

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                              Watson, Mary and the “Japanese” half of the family:                                   Alice and Ruth, Charles, Elsie and Martha

Mom and dad grew up in the early 1900s when the fundamentalist movement spread like wildfire. For them, being a Christian had a lot to do with what you said, did, looked like and participated in. One needed a change of heart as well as a way of living. What you did spoke as loudly as what you say you believed.  Yet, in spite of living with a sense of “oughts”, mom’s faith was full of love, kindness and joy.

Well, most of the time.

Occasionally her legalism got the best of her and I’d hear her criticize a family member or person from church. Her harsh words were rare but when she spoke them, they hurt. I had the ability to let her criticism roll off my back. Other people, not so much.

I saw mom’s heart and felt her passion. She was fiercely loyal to her husband and children. There’s no way on earth she would waiver in her beliefs and commitment to God or kin. That kind of faith makes one strong.

That strength of hers gave me comfort. It gave me strength as well. Throughout my high school years I felt abandoned by friends and lonely as hell. Without fail, when I opened up and talked to mom about my feelings, she’s do three things.

She would play a hymn and encourage me to sing along.

She would read me verses from the Bible, like Lamentations 3:22-23–
Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

She’d give me something to eat.

I never felt alone with mama. I feel the presence of God today largely because of her.

Mama’s love never ceased.

Great was her faithfulness.

 

K: It’s All About Mary/#a-to-z challenge/ Kids, Kids, Kids

imagesTen Little Thorntons and How They Grew.

Now that sounds like a book.

When I was young I firmly believed my family had the makings of a bestseller. We were twice the family the famous Peppers were (as in Five Little Peppers and How They Grew) and they had a whole series devoted to them.

I was so envious of their success — even if it was fictional — that I refused to read any of Margaret Sidney’s stories. I still haven’t read any of the volumes and I’m 65.

Some resentments are to put down.

I’m not sure where the feeling originated, but I believed everyone in the world, once they got to know us, wanted to be a Thornton. In my tiny, yet-to-be-fully-formed brain I knew that we Thorntons were one-of-a-kind.

No one said that. My parents certainly didn’t believe it. Maybe it was just that I adored being around my siblings and their families so much I doubted others could be as wonderful.

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Mom and Dad in front of Greenfield Presbyterian Church where dad was interim pastor for 17+ years!

Mom and dad were very strict and focused. They didn’t waver in their faith or commitments. They took the Bible literally and did their best to live out each and every principle of their perception of Christianity.  They believed we needed to be examples and placed a heavy burden on each of us.

The older kids may disagree about the burden part. But I know I felt pressure to be on best behavior at all times — and it sucked.

Dad ruled the roost. Mom followed his lead and seldom questioned him. At least not in front of the children.  When mom held a different viewpoint, they conversed in Japanese. No need for the kids to hear a disagreement.  That wouldn’t be a good example.

But I could tell.

Mom was speaking her mind in a foreign language but letting dad have his say.

Growing up, I just didn’t witness fights. Mom and dad never argued. At least in English. At least in front of me.

I was 18 the first time I heard a raised voice between them. I had returned home from college for a weekend. They were preparing for their move back to Japan. Dad decided to give their possessions away. Everything. Mom wanted to hold on to her piano and organ.

“Let’s loan them to someone until we get back,” she said.

“No,” he insisted. She resisted.

His voice rose a few decibels and they gave away her piano and organ.

I feared that brief argument would destroy our family. The end of the Thorntons as I knew them. We weren’t over, of course. Mom and dad went on to have almost 20 more years together.

Mom dearly loved each one of her kids, but she never praised or bragged about us to any other women. That would be pride. Pride is a sin. One of the big ones. And mom tried very hard to avoid any evidence of sin in her life. It is for that reason she also refused to look in the mirror for more than a few moments a day. Vanity was also a top contender.

SIN. What is it? In those days it seemed to be specific acts one did or refrained from doing. Sin was a list of behaviors that must be abstained from or repented of as quickly as necessary. Even as a child I found it all too much. Too hard. Impossible.

Don’t work on Sunday. Obey your parents. Do not swear, dammit. Stay married no matter what. For goodness sake don’t rob or steal.  If someone has something you want, stop wanting it. Follow precisely these very specific  commandments and you’re saved from eternal damnation.

That’s what I heard. I daresay that’s not what they believed or meant to communicate at the time. Or maybe it was.

They certainly mellowed over time.

Mom and dad did their best to be spotless examples to the 10 little Thorntons while we grew. And I believe in many ways they served as excellent role models — unjust not in the ways they would expect.

Mom showed me how to live, not by what she said but by through her love for dad and the family and for people in general.

I watched her when she wasn’t aware.

I saw her smile at dad or hold his hand when they walked. Love.

I felt her intense loyalty and admiration for him when she scolded me one day for something unkind and uncalled for I said about him.  Love.

I witnessed her getting up early, morning after morning, and making him breakfast. She would have preferred to stay in bed. And knowing dad, he would have let her. She did this because she loved him.  And he her.

She spent hours at the dining room table reading her Bible. Or playing hymns on the piano.  Not because she was supposed to, but because she liked it. She really really liked it. Faith and love.

My sister Kate reminded me just the other day about being upstairs and listening to dad and mom holding long, often laughter-filled conversations downstairs.  And dad reading a book to mom while she ironed.  They delighted in being together. Love.

Mama thought her words told me how to live. She didn’t have a clue that what impressed me most and kept me yearning to be more like her were the ordinary things she did. How her voice lit up when any of her children called her on the phone. The way her face beamed when someone she loved walked through the door. How people would open up and let their defenses down when she talked with them and asked them questions. Love

17918315_10209257440128598_964085524_nAnd let me be perfectly clear. Mama was certainly not perfect. Not by any means. To this day, a few grandchildren have not-the-fondest memories of Mary.  Mama could be direct and harshly critical of what she perceived her grand kids did or did not do to help their mothers. They were, after all, mom’s children.

Today, I look at the 10 Thorntons and how we grew and know we don’t need a story written about us. But I think perhaps Mary does.

We’ll see.

 

 

 

 

J: It’s All about Mary/#a-t-z challenge/ Journey to Japan and Back

JMary Scott Gash Thornton spent 77 years on this earth.  She came into the world not long after the 20th century began and she left it twenty years before the 21st dawned.

 

Mom was born in an age when few people, other than the very rich, traveled outside their state, much less their country.

And the Gash family was certainly not rich.

However, a wealthy St. Louisan couple (Mr. and Mrs. Hugo Wurdack) befriended mama and invited her  to visit their mountain home near Sheridan, Wyoming. Mama wrote of her first trip:

Friday, Undated, 1927
Wyoming

Dearest Mother:

Didn’t think that you’d ever get a letter from me from out West, did you? As you see I am in Sheridan—and have been here since Wednesday afternoon at 3:30. We left St. L. on the 11:55 Burlington Monday night. Had a lovely trip out—cool and it rained all day Tuesday. We’re staying at the home of Mr. And Mrs. Barrett —leaving at 5 in the morning for the mountains. Of course we can see the Big Horn Mts. From here—but it will take us four hours to get up to the cabin (in Mr. Wurd’s machine). Our horses are up there already—as the Darraghs have been up there for a long time already.  Jane is going up with us though, as she just came up last Monday from New Mexico, where she’s been visiting Blanche.

…By the way, did you know that Watson and I are quite serious and that we may go back to Japan together.  Now don’t get excited —it may only be a pipe dream—but then we are quite in love with each other…

When are you going home? Don’t forget that papa’s birthday is the 20th.  Send him a card of something if you aren’t home by then. I’m so glad that Alice and Ralph are staying at the house. I didn’t like the idea of leaving him and Harold there to cook, etc. (You know how dirty the house was last Christmas just the few days you were up in Chicago. Of course, that’s only a part of the work).

You’ll write to me often I hope. Mail is very welcome up here.Tell all my relatives hello and give them my love. Have a good time and be sure to be home when I get there!

Much love to you,

She was a bossy little thing. Direct and to the point.

Within two years of this letter, mama had married dad and they were on their way to Japan.  We’ve preserved most of the letters mama wrote to her mother and my dad’s parents. They describe a life of tremendous adjustment, daily struggles, joy and plenty of surprises. She details most everything they ate.

She birthed her first five children, learned a difficult language, assisted dad in his church work, entertained guests and maintained correspondence with friends and family.

She was bothered by mosquitoes, endured heat and humidity followed by the bitter cold. She struggled with overseeing house help, how to be a good wife and mother, and grow in her faith. Her letters reveal a woman full of life struggling to be everything she thought she ought to be. She shows a side of mama I never knew–young and free, delighting in discovering a new country with her husband without the passel and hassle of all the kids she would soon bring into the world.

The woman I knew most of my life as sedentary describes walking miles over the mountains with dad, enjoying the heights and sights of their new home.  They spent weeks at the shore with my great Aunt Effe, whiling away the hours in conversation, sewing, reading and walking.

She and dad’s sister Helen watched their husbands play tennis by the hours. Mama described shopping with yen, not dollars, and all her terrific finds. She detailed every bit of food they shared with new Japanese friends. Between the lines of the many letters she wrote and that were saved, Mary showed herself to be a person well-loved and admired by friends and strangers.

Road-and-BarnAfter returning to the States in the early 40’s, mom and dad settled in the Missouri Ozarks. They ran a church camp for awhile and oh, the tales the family has from these years!  Later they moved to the big white house in Wesco while dad taught school and preached in a country church.

In 1955 they moved to Greenfield Illinois and remained there until 1970 when they returned to Japan. They sent me away to university then packed up and left. Dad had always wanted to return. Mom was happy to oblige.

In Japan, they quickly found their places. Dad preached in a small church. Mom taught English to Japanese businessmen. Both entertained guests in their small, snug home, offering good food, conversation, laughter and friendship. Their lives remained full and interesting but mom grew lonely. She missed her children. Dad graciously conceded and they returned to Illinois in 1973 where, once again, dad preached and mom found Japanese students to love and instruct.

Mom died in 1986. Dad, 10 years after her.

Their funerals were filled to capacity with friends, students and family — both their natural children and grandchildren and the many Japanese students who had adopted mom and dad as their own.

With her passing, Mary embarked on yet another amazing journey. The one she had been preparing for her entire life. The one she firmly believed will have no end.

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Mama flew around the world on her own, making friends with people along the way. She never knew a stranger.