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.

X: It’s All about Mary/#a-to-z challenge/ X for Mary’s 10 Children

I will admit that the letter X has been a challenge. But this morning I had an a-ha! moment.  X is Roman numeral for ten. Ten is the number of Mary’s children.  So if you will permit me, I’ll introduce you to the clan she nurtured and raised to the best of her ability.

Ruth Thornton Caldwell: she is older of the twins — by about 10 minutes I think. Again, my memory is rusty and I wasn’t in the room at the time.  I would be along 20 years later. Ruthie is …a character. A woman who has brought into the world (with the help of her husband Paul) five lively boys who have matured into amazing men, husbands and fathers. Grandchildren are now “begetting” their own babies so the Caldwell tribe increases almost monthly.

When I was growing up, Ruth was my go-to sister. I went to live with her most summers. When I was in college, she was home base.  Her children have felt more to me like brothers than nephews.

Ruth follows mom in her ability to play the piano. She has a personality that attracts people. She has warmth that puts people at ease.  Trained as a nurse, I believe Ruth is one of the rare people in the health field who actually has the give of healing. I’ve seen her put her hands on a person suffering and observe the injured person relax, breathe easier and become calmer. Ruth talks fast, jumps from subject to subject mid-sentence. Loves to laugh,read, entertain, play the piano–well she did.  She’s 85 now and slowing down. She along with sister Alice have been the matriarchs since Mary passed away.

Alice Thornton Hees has left the planet and moved on to another dimension.  Her passing a few years ago has left Ruth feeling a bit lost. “I miss Alice so much,” Ruth told me the other day during a Skype call.  Alice Jane was the more serious, studious twin. She wanted to be the best, the smartest, the most helpful.  Alice had a huge heart yet she often struggled to know how to show it.  She held no grudges.  Wanted to please and help as much as she could. Like Ruth she was a nurse until she completed her PhD and began teaching at a division of Southern Illinois University. I hear her students loved her.  The nephews knew when Aunt Alice was depressed.  She wore extra more makeup and bling.  She was one of the original wheezers. Ken, her husband, was an accomplished carpenter who was also over the top intelligent. Thanks to their three red-haired, blue-eyed sons the world is all the richer in smart, kind, wise-cracking men.

Charles Gash Thornton, the oldest boy, left home in 1949, two years before I became reality.  Our relationship has been more getting acquainted than catching up during occasional visits. He and wife Janice raised six young ‘uns–three boys and three girls. They’ve traveled the United States, with Chuck pastoring churches in Washington, DC and Kenai, Alaska and parts in between. The twins have many tales to tell of Charles growing up surrounded by girls. He alone with four sisters make up the Japanese half of the family.  He writes his memories down these days, sharing them with siblings and his children.  His recollections brim with images of heat-soaked July days in the Missouri Ozarks, swimming and fishing in the Meremac River, picking blackberries, walking miles along dusty backroads with Elmer somebody or maybe it was Rebus Collier.  I’m not sure. Charles has pastored people for decades, he plays a ukelele, he spins tall tales and cares a lot. I wish I knew him better.  His grandchildren have grandchildren now.  He sounds old but doesn’t look it.  As he’s aged he looks more and more like Watson.

Elsie Lois Thornton Marquess — now here’s a woman who knew how to make people feel good about being themselves.  She went one year to William Jennings Bryan College in Tennessee but got too homesick and opted to stay home after that. “To help mom with the new baby Susan” was her excuse.  Which was partly true, but she had also spied a handsome coach in town which quickly lead to marriage and eight little Marquesses in a row.

Elsie loved her babies, loved all babies.  And all babies loved her. Babies and old people. When at last her youngest left the nest, Elsie turned her attention and lavished her love on people living in nursing homes.  She played songs and sang for them. She involved them in art projects.  She helped them come back to life.

The Marquess home never seemed to be quiet. A whirlwind of activity. Boys playing every sport imaginable. The girls, too, for that matter. As her babies started having babies, the weekends and the house stayed full of the second generation of Marquesses. Elsie and husband Vince made a place in their home for dad the last 10 years or so of his life. Watson was never bored with the steady stream of family and friends who visited him.

Martha Henderson Thornton Miller holds the middle position in the family.  And like many middle children, she is quiet and sometimes out of the loop.  She attended college for a year or two, but ended up joining the twins in nursing school. Early in her career however, she met Don and her life path changed. With a growing family, they moved to Germany for a number of years then back to California. And San Diego is where they have stayed. Four children (Scott, Heidi, Curt and Sara) have added a passel of grandkids from San Diego to North Dakota, Pennsylvania to Switzerland.

Martha carries herself with grace. She is the most quiet of the Thronton women (and has also been one of the most trim.) She missed the fat gene passed on through mama’s side.  I feel she fails to value herself and her gifts.  Martha has opened her home to dozens of people over the decades, offering their extra room to a student or an unemployed worker or a man dealing with a failing marriage or someone who has lost their home. She has the gift of  hospitality in spades. I find myself quieter when I’m around Martha. I want to be gentler. Kinder. Though she was distant geographically as I grew up, she has always been one with whom I felt loved and accepted.  And that is another gift she has.  Martha and I disagree on the biggies in life, from our faith to our politics, yet she is one with whom  I love to sit and gab and share my heart.

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Three children shy of the full load of Thornton children. Kate, Susan and me were still a twinkle in someone’s eye.

Samuel Watson Thornton II is the middle son and I believe Dad had a special place in his heart for S.W. Thornton the second. Not that he loved others less…but Sam was his namesake and a farmer. Dad said if he hadn’t been a preacher he would have loved to be a dairy farmer.  I wonder if Watson wouldn’t have been happier in the barn than behind a pulpit. But that’s another story.

Sam is the lone Thornton who chose to stay in the hometown and never leave. He lives there still, close to his three grown children (Sam the third, Doug and Susan), grandchildren and even some greats. No longer a farmer, I think he has stepped into the role of helping keep the family connected. Mom would have wanted that. Sam and his wife Susan take off from central Illinois to visit Thornton siblings, from Illinois to California. He keeps up with nephews and nieces via Facebook and often encourages the young ones. He cares about his kin.  A pilot, an inventor of sorts, a story teller, a road commissioner and  retired farmer. He loved to be in the field and to work with his hands. Dad was very proud of Sam.

John William Thornton loved to laugh. He enjoyed so many things and brought joy to a great many people. Nephews and nieces loved Uncle John. He made fun of himself more than he made fun of others. His IQ was quite high but he had a rough time making it through college. He saw no sense in a lot of the assignments. John ultimately got his diploma but he didn’t really need to. His work ethic and way with people would take him far.

His death at age 35 cut deep and brought tremendous sadness to the family. John ended his own life and left Marcia caring for four little boys. Depression runs deep and strong in the Thornton clan and John dealt with it in the only way he knew how.  We still feel the shock and pain three decades later.

While he was with us, John was a blessing. He could light up a room with his wise-cracks. He was my idol when I was growing up. I loved being around him though I get aggravate him as much as I could.

I cried copious tears when he married Marcia, though I loved her, too. My brother was leaving me and I didn’t like it. A number of years after their wedding, I lived with John and Marcia. I witnessed my crazy brother leave the house one day and return home a changed man. Marcia delivered their first son, Jess and now John was a father.  Proud as can be of his first son. A few years later, he adored their twins, Matt and Aaron. And he was equally pleased with boy number four, Ben. Photos of John and his young family show only broad smiles and happy faces. We completely missed his deep grief.  We miss him still.

Mary Catherine Thornton Beebe now goes by Kate. Closest to me in age — four years difference– we really didn’t like each other until we were well into our 20’s.  Too close? Too different?  I don’t know but we saw little eye to eye. One fistfight comes to mind when she was in high school and I was not. She wanted to watch a movie with some short actor whose name I can’t recall but who in known for cop roles and I didn’t like cop shows nor for that matter short actors. I didn’t like him. I didn’t want to watch the movie and I said no. Fisticuffs followed in the basement on Sycamore. I do not remember who won.

Kate is a smart one. Far smarter than me (and really I’m not dumb).  She analyzes things and comes up with ideas.  Her most used phrases is “You should….” or “You could…”  Her mind never goes to sleep. For her entire career she directed airplanes in landing and taking off. Or else she taught people to do the same.  She keeps her cool.  Logic and reason prevail.  She’s retired now and quilts and creates beauty out of bits of fabric. She’s really good.  Her twin boys, Craig and Dwayne, say not to expect grandkids. We’ll see.

Nancy Agnes Thornton Vander Plaats — that’s me.  And by now you know enough about who I am and why.

Susan Wesley Thornton trailed me by 18 months.  I’ve written a separate post about so I will say no more.  Except that her death was the first in our the immediate family and we all profoundly felt her loss.

So there you have it.  Mary’s (and Watson’s) 10 children and where they stand in the order of things. We’re a family big in number, girth and personality. I’d want no other really. Though at times I admit it’s good we have a continent or two between us.

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.
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    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.

 

 

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.