I Must Tell Jesus

I came caterwauling into the world in 1951 and exited high school in the spring 1969. For all but four of those years, home for me was Greenfield, Illinois — halfway between St. Louis, MO and Springfield, IL.

Mom delivered me at a hospital in Rolla, Missouri but our family moved from the Ozarks to Greenfield when I was only four. Dad assumed the position as interim pastor for the only Presbyterian Church in town. He held that role for the next 14 years. I think the congregation or Presbytery forgot about the interim part.

Most of the 60 other students in my class lived out in the country. I was a townie and so envied the farm kids. They seemed closer to each other and more connected. And kids in the country always had someone to play with.

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The family home place.  I believe this is where Grandma Thornton and her sister Effe grew up here. 

I felt very alone living in town — like an outsider. Not so long ago I learned our family roots went deep in Greenfield and in Green County. We Thorntons weren’t outsiders at all. My grandmother’s family went as far back as many of the families in the area. The difference is, we hadn’t stayed in the community.

Grandma married Grandpa and they moved away to exotic places like India and Japan and St. Louis.  They returned to Grandma’s home town when Grandpa was dying and just about the time Dad moved his tribe to Greenfield.

I have always felt like I didn’t belong. One summer in the mid-80’s, I was vacationing with my cousin in the Florida Keys. Phil’s mom, my favorite Aunt Elizabeth, was there and spent a great deal of time talking about my childhood. She voiced what I had always felt. “Your parents didn’t mean to, but I think they raised you to be pariahs,” she said. “You had so many rules it was hard to fit in.”

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Lovely in person and spirit, my dad’s younger sister Aunt Elizabeth

True that. At least for me. I doubt all of my siblings would agree.  But her words perfectly captured my feelings.

There were good things, certainly, about growing up in our large family in the small town. Wonderful memories of get-togethers with siblings and their spouses and the ever-expanding number of children. Sunday visits with aunts and uncles and cousins from St. Louis. We’d gather at Grandma’s red brick house and eat curried beef or lamb with mint jelly. On holidays Grandma served money pudding with actual coins tucked inside. Grandma prepared the food and her maiden sister, Aunt Effe, would garnish the dishes to make them pretty.  A perfect team of form and function.

We had many happy occasions together. So much laughter and love.  But even then, when those city cousins arrived, I felt out of the loop.

We were different.

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Seven of the 10 children living in Wesco, MO. I was born here and moved to Greenfield in 1955

Dad and Mama held high expectations for their brood.  We were to be separate from the world, examples to every one of what a Christian family looked like, obedient, respectful and perfect. We were taught to avoid making money as that would lead us astray. My parents didn’t care about grades in school. They just wanted children who honored them, loved God and lived godly lives.

I didn’t have it in me to be that kind of child. Couldn’t do it. Didn’t want to do it.  Sure as hell wouldn’t do it.

As I became a teenager, Dad and I fought tooth and nail.  Tempers flared, words were said and punishments doled out almost daily. My anger and resentment only grew stronger.

The battle of the wills came to a head one Saturday afternoon. Watson and I came to blows on the stairs and beautiful, gracious Aunt Elizabeth got caught in the middle. Dad stood at the top of the stairs, my aunt on the landing and I held my place at the bottom of the steps.  I shouted up to Dad, “Why do you hate me?” and he replied, “Why do you hate me?” I responded with all my pent-up anger, “Take your god and go to hell!”

Watson had met his match. I had his temper and had turned it back onto him.

The house grew silent. Aunt Elizabeth continued down the stairs and into another room. Mom ceased her work in the kitchen. I waited for the wrath of the Old Testament Jehovah to descend on me. Punishment came, and it was not as awful as I thought.

I lost my record player for months.  I moved to the front row of church for weeks. And I no longer could teach the little ones in Sunday School.  No belt lashing followed. No hairbrush or fly swatter either.

That day of our fight, dad returned to his study.  Mama led me into the music room and told me to sit next to her piano. Then she began to play– hymn after hymn–and I listened, then began to sing. The music soothed me, the familiar words comforted me. When she started in on the first verse of “I Must tell Jesus” however, I began to sob.

I must tell Jesus all of my trials,
I cannot bear these burdens alone;
In my distress He kindly will help me,
He ever loves and cares for His own.

Refrain:
I must tell Jesus! I must tell Jesus!
I cannot bear my burdens alone;
I must tell Jesus! I must tell Jesus!
Jesus can help me, Jesus alone.

I must tell Jesus all of my troubles,
He is a kind, compassionate Friend;
If I but ask Him He will deliver,
Make of my troubles quickly an end.

Tempted and tried I need a great Savior,
One who can help my burdens to bear;
I must tell Jesus, I must tell Jesus:
He all my cares and sorrows will share.

Tension existed between Dad and I until his dying day. I loved him deeply but I never felt I was good enough for him. Not Christian enough.  Not spiritual enough. With Mama, however, I felt nothing but tenderness and love despite not living up to all she had hoped.

P8060977 (2)Now I have a 12-year old daughter who, despite being carried in another woman’s womb, is the spitting image of me. Maybe not in looks but we share a red-hot temper, strong will, intense passion and an independent spirit.

All I want for her to know as she grows is that she is unconditionally loved, celebrated for her uniqueness and encouraged to become whatever she wants.  I also want her to know that, aside from being able to talk with her father and me about anything, she can always tell Jesus. He comletely understands and cares for His own.

 

 

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.

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.

 

I: It’s All About Mary/#a-to-z challenge/ I Cannot Tell

My sister Elsie Lois had a voice so beautiful I teared up when I heard her sing. When she and mom made music together,  I inevitably felt a sense of calm and peace.  All would be right in my world for at least the length of their songs.

Elsie was as innately gifted with music as mama was–Elsie’s instrument was her voice and mom’s was the keyboard.

My favorite song they did together was “I Cannot Tell,” a hymn written to the tune of the Irish classic “Londonderry Air.” Any time I was with them both, I requested it. When mom died in the 80’s, that song went silent. Occasionally I heard Elsie sing it, accompanied by one of my other sisters and it was beautiful. But it wasn’t mama.

All the girls played the piano. Ruth placed a close second to mom in my opinion. Alice and Martha tickled the ivories but I wasn’t around to hear them much. Elsie could accompany herself but preferred not to. Kate and I never made it very far with the piano.

By the time we came along, mom’s method of teaching piano to her children was to correct us from the kitchen. As she cooked in the back of the house, we’d play.  Every few bars we’d hear,  “No! F sharp. F sharp!”  We’d adjust our fingers and continue our struggle. Both of us gave up along the way.  Kate found her creative outlet in art quilts. I’m working on mine.

Elsie and her husband Vince left Greenfield for Hopkinsville, Kentucky and then Belle Glade, Florida. Their growing family — eventually eight children in all  — made the trip back home most Christmases or Thanksgivings.

On a cold winter day, the Marquess vehicle pulled into our driveway, the doors flew open and out tumbled tow-headed children of all sizes dressed in tee shirts and tennis shoes.  They had little need of winter wear in south Florida so dressing for Illinois winters posed a challenge. Layering was the key. And on the enclosed porch where all the children slept, a well-vented gas heater remained at the highest setting.

I never saw a child that Elsie didn’t love and that didn’t love her back. She could have been Francine of Assisi. She had a quiet way about her. She smiled warmly at strangers, engaged them with questions that sounded like she was totally interested.  And she was. She listened no matter how long they went on. And on. And on. Something I’ve not been able to do and, at age 65, probably never will

Mom and Elsie — in fact mom and most of my sisters — had a lot in common. Love of music and laughter. Great cooks. Contented wives. Struggle with weight. Women of faith. And, for the most part, lousy housekeepers. Mom outshone Elsie on the housekeeping. Elsie was much better with children. I believe all the sisters hold people as priorities.

The three boys are like silent partners.  They have important positions but speak little and go on about their lives without much fanfare.  Charles left home for the army when he was a teenager. Then he went to college, then seminary, he married and lived far from family. He is retired now, in Alaska. Sam, the middle son, remains in Greenfield and chose to farm. John died at 35 and left us stunned and silent.

So it seems the Thornton women are the ones that make the noise and sing the songs and gather the families and help keep the memories alive. Mom would like that. She loved to see her children together, filling her home house with music and commotion.

She wanted us to all get along. To remain connected. To be at peace. Once, when I was driving mom home from an appointment (she didn’t have a license) I made an ugly comment about dad. (I unfortunately went through some anger years and am afraid he felt the brunt of it.)  She turned to me and said,”He’s a very good man, Nancy, and he loves you.”

Watson was a very good man. He certainly loved me. He loved all his children deeply and demonstrated it through his actions and his presence. But mom’s love was different. I felt it. I heard it. I saw it. I knew it absolutely. And I loved it.

Now if I can give that to my daughter…

 

 

C: It’s All About Mary/ Counting My Blessings

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.

WatsonM7
The Thornton family well long I came to live with them. Mom delivered 11 children in all. I was #10.

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.

 

 

What makes me one the world’s richest people

A former co-worker, Anne, told me she woke up every morning to the sound of Martha 220px-martha_and_the_vandellas_1965and the Vandellas filling her home. Her parents would stack 45’s on their stereo and crank up the volume. Instead of an alarm clock, Anne and her sister would rise and shine to the beat of Heat Wave. They dressed, ate breakfast and scooted out the door to the Motown sounds of Nowhere to Run, Jimmy Mack, Dancing in the Street or any of the other hits from this favorite girls group of the 60s.

The Thornton household was a bit different. We woke to the sound of music, but the beat was different. We had hymns. Love Lifted Me or Crown Him with Many Crowns or Like a River Glorious or any other of the number one hits of the First Presbyterian Church Hymnal.

Despite the fact that most of our music was penned more than 100 years ago, I loved it. Never tired of it. Three decades later, I’d give anything to be able to wake up to those melodies each day.

mn42002ucmf_1_0013No pre-recorded music for us. We had the real thing. My mom, Mary Scott Gash Thornton, sat at her grand piano in the front music room and played her heart out.

She didn’t look like a piano virtuoso — not the tall, thin, long-fingered personage of Arthur Rubenstein or even the sophisticated presence of Victor Borge. She certainly wasn’t a rockstar.

Rather, mom was short, plain, plump and matronly and modestly dressed. Her braided bun seldom remained in place for long and, as the day progressed, we’d see more and more wisps of hair about her face. Her cheeks stayed rosy. Her eyes sparkled bright with a deep inner joy.

Mary also loved to laugh. That’s a delicious combination – a house filled with music and laughter.

Boy could she play. When she sat at our aging grand piano, music filled the room and lifted my spirits, slowed my tears and helped me smile, caused me to break out in song and fall in love with life. Heartbreaks mended more easily when she played. Joy seeped in as her notes flowed with such expression.

Mary Scott played the piano like few others could.

She was something of a child prodigy. Smart as that whip people are often compared to, Mary could carry on a conversation with nearly anyone about anything. She skipped two grades in school. At the age of eight she performed a concert in St. Louis for the purpose of raising funds for the WWI war effort.

She went away to college in Wheaton, Illinois but quit after one year. At age 20, she married tall, handsome Samuel Watson Thornton. They sailed to Japan within the first year to serve as missionaries. She gave up her music to be his wife and, soon after, mother to 10 children.

Who knows what Mary Scott Gash could have done with her music if she hadn’t chosen to change her marital status, name and country at age 21?

Dad realized what she sacrificed and as soon as he could, though it took a few years, he bought her a piano.

She played day and night. She offered her gift to the many churches they attended throughout the years. She taught lessons to hundreds of children and accompanied musicians in myriad concerts and performances. She provided her services free of charge, introducing many to classical music for the first time.

She played with passion and her audiences loved to listen.

One of my favorite childhood memories was standing under our mulberry tree at 707 Main Street in Greenfield, Illinois one summer evening and listening to her play.  This was in the 50s when air conditioning didn’t separate neighbors like it does today.

Our front door and large front window that faced Main Street were open as were the side windows next to the alley. Neighbors to the left and right of us, as well as a few across two-lane Rte. 67 sat on their lawns or gently rocked in their peeling porch swings, taking in the sounds of music from our home.

There in the shade, leaning against the rough bark of the mulberry tree and staining my hands with its fruit, I listened to mom and felt such pride in her. My life was rich and good and full.

Things would always be right.

But they weren’t of course.

Air conditioning came and the windows closed. I grew up and challenged just about everything mom and dad believed and said.

Tensions mounted, anger erupted, I went off to college and my parents moved to Japan. Four years passed without seeing one another. I graduated and eventually grew up. A career was established and I moved as needed to advance. I went my own way and tested their way of believing and living. I sought a faith and lifestyle that was my truly mine.

By the time mom died, when I was 35,she and I had moved from being family to being good friends. We were alike in many ways, although she was so much nicer at being her than I have been at being me.

In my growing up years, mom and I stayed up late to watch Ziegfield Follies extravaganzas and black & white musicals with Ginger Rodgers and Fred Astaire. Mom would later play the songs on the piano and we would sing.

She encouraged me to get along with dad when I was in my bitter, he-doesn’t-understand-or-accept-me stage but she didn’t push it.She’d only remind me, “He’s a good man, Nancy.”

And that he was.

Good and caring -– for his family and others. Generous I thought to a fault. Principled and consistent. Hard working and at the same time he enjoyed a day off as well as anyone. Samuel Watson loved his children and found immense joy in being with his offspring and their offspring.

He was devoted to mom and showed it. A quiet man who may have preferred to be alone, he went along with mom and opened their home to countless guests over the years.

Rev. S. W. Thornton lived out his very deep and real faith and he felt called to introduce others to it. It seems his passion got twisted up in a legalism of sort though he would deny it. He definitely held himself to higher standards than I believe God held him to.

Watson lived more with law than grace. He held his sons and daughters to that as well. And that was the tough part. The part I fought against. The part that kept me scrapping until way too late into my adult life.

Dad died on my 45th birthday, one week shy of his 91st year.  I wept of course, but the intense grieving that I experienced when mom died was absent.

Dad was ready to go. He longed to leave his weakening body and aching bones behind. He was eager to meet his maker. Mom had died, he had few friends around. My sister Elsie and her husband Vince provided him with a warm and laughter-filled home, overflowing with children and grandchildren, plenty of conversation, music and love. Despite that, he longed to be “released from his body.”

Parting is much easier when the one you love is ready and eager to move on.

By the time he left the constraints of this world, Dad and I were on a much better footing. I had experienced his graciousness. His loving, caring side. During one visit, not long after mom died, I broke down in tears and confessed that I was involved with a married man.

The stern pastor/father who at one time would have chastised or judged me only looked at me with tears in his eyes. “You will get hurt,” he said. He then went on to reveal to me a time in his life that he was tempted to get involved with a woman other than mom. He didn’t, he assured me. But he knew the temptation. His gentle, loving response wiped the board clean of any harsh feelings I had harbored against him.

This aging, lonely, wizened man with thinning snow white hair and clear blue eyes demonstrated tremendous tenderness to me at a time I was at my lowest.

He saw me as a daughter and a single woman in search of love, not someone who needed to be judged for bad conduct. My heart began to heal at his expression of love. I felt the grudges I had held against him since childhood melt away.

So mama’s wish that I knew dad as good came true.

They both were such gifts to me. I can’t imagine nor do I desire having any other family but them. My life was blessed beyond measure by so much that they taught me and gave me.

They demonstrated love for each other. Compassion for many. They welcomed thousands of people, from all walks of life, into our home. Bankers and medical students, homeless and derelicts, foreign students and the lonely of all ages sat side by side in the extended table and shared delicious home-cooked meals. They gave generously out of what little they had. They shared freely with what they had been given. And they gave the world music.  Dad provided the piano and a lifetime of support. Mom played her heart out .

I am among the richest in the world.