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.

 

 

Z: It’s All about Mary/ #a-to-z challenge/ Zee End

We’ve reached zee end of my April posts on Mary Scott Gash Thornton.

For those who have read the daily blogs, thank you, thank you, thank you.  Your responses have made me smile, tear up and thank God for having people in my life like Mary and like you.

Even if you’ve just read one or two, I thank you, too.

For me this exercise has brought back so many wonderful memories of people, places and things that, though centered on Mary, have enriched my life immensely.

Much more can be said about this short, round, rosy-cheeked woman. She had a heart the size of Greenland and brought music and laughter to the lives of so many.

Mary continues to teach  me.  When she was alive and mothering me, I tended not to listen a lot.  Examining her life over the past 30 days I have seen more clearly who she was and what she has meant to me. And to others.

My spirits have improved over the past four weeks. I do believe I’ve fussed less at David, groused fewer times at Katherine, felt less angst, sang more, cried less (except for those of remembrance and love) and generally behaved like a better human being.

Mary continues to have her influence on my life.

My prayer is that one day my daughter will have a fraction of the good things to say or write or remember about me.

Mama will never be remembered in history. Her passing left no mark on our times. But her well-lived life, her laughing spirit, her music-filled days have enriched mine immensely.

Mary Scott Gash Thornton — a woman of exceptional talent, a quiet person who was loud and clear about what she believed and whom she loved, a mom who made every one of her children feel like the most loved person in the world and a wife who loved her husband until her last breath.

I wish you could have known her.  But I suppose by now you do, at least a little.

Thank you again for being with me for the A-to-Z Challenge…It’s All about Mary.

 

Y/ It’s All about Mary/a-to-z challenge/ Young People’s Class & Youth Group

I spent most of my Sunday evenings until I was 17 with Mary in the musty brick basement of (what was then) the Presbyterian Church in Greenfield, Illinois.

Our motley youth group gathered there in the evenings,  our butts squirming on the cold metal seats of the same tan folding chairs that have long populated church basements coast to coast.

Mom, dutiful wife of the preacher man, assumed the role of teacher for our handful of young people in the church. What we lacked in number, however, we made up for in energy and laughter.

While the Bible states that parents hold the primary responsibility for raising their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, Mary took her role as teacher of the young very seriously.
imagesShe provided flannel graph stories and maps of the Old Testament. We had a model Tabernacle that showed us where the presence of God resided.

Mama pulled out huge maps showing where the Israelites wandered for 400 years, the lands of the 12 tribes of Judah, the city of Jerusalem and routes of Paul’s missionary journeys. il_570xN.451302875_d3xo

Mom held Bible drills to help us learn the books of the Bible. She would call out Nehemiah 1:12 or Ezekiel 4:2 or some other obscure verse and our fingers would fly through our red-letter Bibles. First one to get to the passage won.  Believe me there was a whole lot of jumpin’ and shoutin’ going on.  She hardly ever called out a verse in Psalms because we all knew that was huge, long book smack in the center of our Bibles. That wasn’t a challenge at all. The Old Testament– now that was difficult.  The New, not so much.

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I’ll be a sunbeam for Jesus, to shine for him each day…

She had us memorizing Bible verses weekly. And singing sweet, chirpy choruses that are still stuck in my mind five decades later: Climb, climb up Sunshine Mountain,  I’ll Be a Sunbeam for Jesus, and I Have the Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy Down in My Heart.   My favorite was, Zacheus was a Wee Little Man, complete with all the motions. They don’t write songs like that anymore.

Prayer served a central part of each meeting and we dutifully bowed our heads as mom prayed for children our ages all over the world. Jothi, an orphaned, mentally challenged, poverty-stricken little boy in India, stayed at number one on our top-ten list of people to pray. He held that spot for well over a decade. Of course, we also prayed for church  members, teachers, the president of the United States, upcoming tests and all things important to growing girls and boys.

As we little kids grew into pre-teens, the flannel graph stories went away and the model of the Tabernacle disappeared into a metal cabinet somewhere.  Choruses grew quiet. We joined with the adults in singing hymns. Even verse memorization ended.

By the time we reached high school, our young people’s class had evolved into an official youth group that met before evening service. Kids started coming from other churches. My brother John and his wife Marcia were the youth leaders and they kept the atmosphere relaxed, fun and energized.

 

Every year, about the third week of June, you could drive through town, down Route 67 and observe a line of fidgety, highly active little boys and girls doing their best to hold their line outside the red bricked Presbyterian Church. Vacation Bible School, the harbinger of summer was about to begin.

We’d arrange ourselves close to the basement door, jostling for the two most important positions — those at the front of the line were bearers of the U.S. flag and the Christian flag.

Mary sat at the piano and, at the proper time, she’d start playing Onward Christian Soldiers and our troop of little believers would march in as to war.  We sat in our rows of tan metal chairs and started the day with songs of praise.

After the music got the juices flowing, we’d break off to go to our classes. Accordion doors would slide along their tracks, snap into place (or not)  and close off each age group. More flannel graph stories drove the message home. We’d learn Bible verses that supported the lessons and tackle some amazing handcrafts.  Oh, the things you can make from seed corn and Popsicle sticks.

Then it was snack time.

Mrs. Wiesner brought the best snacks. Homemade refrigerator cookies with big slices of almonds. Other mothers brought food, too, but for me the highlight was biting into one of Joey’s mother’s homemade cookies.almond-icebox-cookies

How much of what we learned on those sticky, hot summer days inside that cool church basement did we remember?  Was there value in lining up and marching in to church to the beat of a call to war?

World War II wasn’t far behind us. Ten years at the most. We had a hymnbook full of songs with militaristic lyrics. Battles against Satan, victory over sin and death, being more than conquerors – all these messages filled our little brains with thoughts of waging war and reigning victorious.

Years later, when I had outgrown Vacation Bible School and moved away to college, I read Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo and became anti-war. A pacifist.  I lost my love of John Wayne war movies and America the Great and began to look at U.S. intervention in foreign wars very differently.

But that’s another story. One far removed from the many years of Sunday evenings and dozens of hot summer days spent in the basement of a small church in Greenfield.

Mary wasn’t the only one who invested her life in the young people at the Presbyterian Church.  LaVerle Hilyard, Barb Kahl, Normadeen Young and many other women poured their love, attention and energy into raising a generation of  boys and girls in the knowledge of their Lord.

Mary seemed to be their leader. As the minister’s wife, the music leader, the Bible School teacher and a mother, she had her hands full.  And in all those Sunday evenings and hot summer days, I never heard her once complain.

W: It’s All about Mary/#a-to-z challenge/ Watson Says Goodbye

17806737_10209216265699263_1132299665_nMary and Watson had their final days on earth well planned out and prearranged. They were to have no caskets. A memorial service would be sufficient. They wanted gifts to be made to their favorite mission organizations in lieu of flowers.

So when mom’s time came one spring night, she was cremated in Carterville, Illinois and the urn holding her ashes was hand delivered to dad a few days later. He placed mom’s remains on top of the cherry tansu in their bedroom. He would take it with him to the second memorial service to be held in our former hometown, Greenfield.

The Thornton family had one remaining plot at the Greenfield Cemetery and I suppose dad planned to place mom’s ashes there. I’m not sure. As the youngest child, and even though I was 35 at the time, I didn’t know much about Dad’s plans. He talked to the older kids about that.

I imagine Watson planned to bury mom’s ashes next to the graves of his parents or else close to my sister Susan’s plot.

Unfortunately, the burial never took place. Watson made the four-hour drive to Greenfield and left mom behind on top of the chest of drawers.

When dad returned to Southern Illinois a few days later, there she was. Exactly where he had left her.  So one clear night dad walked outside into his backyard, opened the urn and threw the ashes into the wind and over a fence to the empty field next door.

What he said into the night, what thoughts he had as he set those ashes free, what words he said in prayer I’ll never know. He’s gone now, too. Besides this was a private  sacred time between lovers of more close to 60 years.

Children don’t need to know their parents’ grieving.

But I do know something took root in that cool spring evening.

Five months later, well into the fall, I returned to Carterville to visit dad. As I drove up to the house I noticed a profusion of color in the field next door. Bright, bold and hearty Black-Eyed Susans — one of mom’s favorite flowers — flooded the the wide open space.download

“I’ve never seen flowers here before, ” I told dad as we stood together in the back yard.

“They’ve never been there before,” he said.

Mom.

She was back to remind dad and me and anyone else who noticed that her she was still with us. I probably made (and make) much more out of that field of color than dad did. But no one will ever convince me that it wasn’t Mary who helped transform that wide-open empty field into one beautiful fall bouquet.

V: It’s All about Mary/#a-to-challenge/ Voracious Appetites

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When she wasn’t in the kitchen, she was often at a piano or in a book.

She started out a little bit of thing and ended her days definitely rounder around the edges.  Giving birth to 11 children in all (one child lived only a matter of days) adds pounds to any woman’s figure.  Add to that a fondness for food, a sedentary life and being a great cook and it’s easy to understand why Mary grew to become almost twice the woman she once was.

On a number of occasions, mama talked to me of her days as a young girl. How she played music for a ballet studio. This was the era before CDs, cassette tapes and mp3s. How one or more boys usually walked her home from school. How she was so limber she could bend over backwards and touch her … head? nose? some body part to the floor. Pictures of mom as a child are rare, but the few I’ve seen show a petite, happy girl with a stylish bob and fashionable round glasses.

My very favorite photo of Mary Scott Gash shows her as a young teen, facing the camera with a big smile and lots of confidence, totally unaware that her slip was showing a good two inches on the left.

Of all the things that mom left behind, this is the one thing I miss. Mom promised it to me but in all the moves and busyness of dividing up things and resettling dad, the sepia-toned portrait vanished.  That photo captured the essence of mama. Confident, happy Mary boldly facing the world while revealing a fashion faux pas.

Mom’s mother, Mattie, was a large woman. Short and very, very round. I’ve heard plenty of stories about Grandma Gash. She lived in the Wesco house when the oldest kids were young, having moved there after mom and dad returned from Japan.

The Thornton family car was either a Model A or a Model T (I have no clue, but definitely a letter of the alphabet). The tale goes that on one occasion Mattie wanted to go for a ride with the family. Dad (as politely as he could) had to help push up and into the back seat from behind, resulting in significant list to grandma’s side of the car.

For the most part, the Thornton women folk tend to be hefty.  Dad would refer to his daughters as corpulent, never fat. Mattie passed on the gene to Mary and she did the same. Many of the Thornton girls have fought the battle of the bulge for decades, some with more success than others.

I believe we’ve used food for a number of reasons.  For growth and nutrition, obviously.  To soothe troubled feelings no doubt.  To stuff negative emotions during trouble times. But first and foremost, food has been a source of fellowship, community building, enjoyment and socialization.  Conversations always go better with pie.  Biscuits help bridge any generational differences.

One of my nephews, Mark, runs a large camp outside of Chicago. About 20 years ago our family rented his camp for a week and held a reunion. Aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings and in-laws, babies and old-timers from all across the country spent seven days swimming, hiking, boating, laughing and eating. Mark commented at the final meal of the reunion that our family had consumed twice as much food as the camp usually allotted for a week of guests.

Granted that was two decades ago.  Most tend to eat much healthier now. But I admit I love to see guests enjoy the food I put before them.

Mom did, too.  She served crispy fried chicken with mounds of her fluffy, buttery mashed potatoes.  Comfort food like creamed chipped beef or eggs on toast.  Of course platters heaped with biscuits that we learned to break open with our hands, never to slice with a knife. Mom visited her niece in California and came back with information on tacos and pizza. These exotic foods had not yet made it to our table in the late 50’s and early 60’s.  Mom’s first homemade pizza had cottage cheese as topping not mozzarella. It’s really not bad.

We made doughnuts from scratch and fried them up after Sunday evening church.  Mom taught us how to make taffy — how to cook the candy just so then pull it to the right consistency.  Rich homemade fudge that must be boiled until a drop formed a ball in a cup of water. Who needs a thermometer when you know that skill?

Gooseberry pie and homemade ice cream.  Tapioca pudding — my grandmother made the grape kind.  Hot, savory hurry and rice topped with tart pickle juice.  Grandma Thornton introduced that to the family from their years in India and mom continued the tradition. Chop Suey by the truckload.  In later years, mom and dad added tempura to their offerings.

Food — the making, serving and sharing thereof — was central to the family.  I do believe that is one way mom felt most comfortable in demonstrating her love.

I enjoyed heaping servings of everything she offered.

 

U: It’s All about Mary/#a-to-z challenge/ Unforgettable

To those who knew her and loved her, Mary is most certainly unforgettable.

I wonder if, in my posts about her, I have glorified my 5’1″ mama. Made her bigger than life.

I hope not. I think not.

Warts and all, she impacted the lives of many in a positive, laughter-filled way.

A number of friends of mine have no such positive memories of their mothers or of their childhoods. I am amazed and impressed with the women they’ve become despite dealing with some pretty horrible childhood experiences.

My gratitude for being blessed with Mary’s spirit of joy, love and kindness will never go away.

On my good days as a mother, I am thankful for the example she gave me.

On the days I fail as a mother, I sometimes think “What would Mary do?”

Well, Mary would honest.  Forthright. Firm, as needed. And when occasion called for it, apologetic.

Here are a number of  ways that Mary Scott Gash Thornton is unforgettable to me:

  1. How she loved Watson and stood by her man no matter what. I never heard her disparage him or not support him.  Any negative things she may have thought was expressed to him in private or in Japanese (which absolutely drove me crazy!)
  2. The way her voice lit up when heard me was on the phone. She made me feel like I was her favorite. I wasn’t. But she had a way of making each of us feel that way.
  3. Her commitment to keep in touch with friends, family and all those missionaries spread out around the world.  This in an age before email and Skype. Long distance phone calls were rarely used.  Letter writing was her mode of communication.
  4. Her love of reading. The Bible mostly. But also literature. She kept a log of the many books she read in her later years. It’s a treasure.
  5. Mama’s scrapbooks that could have been a goldmine for cultural anthropologists.
  6. She was the real thing. No pretense. I felt a sense of wholeness when i looked at her. She was who she was.
  7. Young people enjoyed her.  Dad and Mom had “adopted” a dozen or so Japanese students at Southern Illinois University.  The young people brought many friends with them week after week to my parent’s home for dinner, Bible study and conversation.
  8. Mama had a soft spot for dogs.  She didn’t let on about it but many a morning I overheard her talking to my dog(s) while she scrambled an egg or two for them.  “Don’t tell Watson,” I heard her say to my poodle, Edwin as she served him a hot breakfast.  Later, I heard my dad say much the same to Sir Edwin. So I guess they did have secrets.
  9. 220px-US_67_south_of_US_136
    Our long and winding road four-hour road trip that somehow became eight.

    Mom’s sense of direction was terrible.  Terrible.  Mine isn’t much better so put the two of us together in a car without a map and it becomes a Laurel and Hardy show. One particular drive from Greenfield to Carterville takes four hours at the most for any of our family members.  It took us eight.  “Why is it taking us so long?” Mom asked before she burst out laughing.  A mystery to this day.

 

All families have rich and ridiculous memories.

Most of mine revolve around my unforgettable, unabashedly reall mama.

 

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.