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

imagesTen Little Thorntons and How They Grew.

Now that sounds like a book.

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

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

Some resentments are to put down.

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

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


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

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

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

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

But I could tell.

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

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

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

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

“No,” he insisted. She resisted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

They certainly mellowed over time.

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

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

I watched her when she wasn’t aware.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’ll see.





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

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


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

And the Gash family was certainly not rich.

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

Friday, Undated, 1927

Dearest Mother:

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

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

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

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

Much love to you,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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







H: #a-to-z challenge/It’s All about Mary/ Holidays

Home for the holidays.

It sure wasn’t like the pictures you find posted on Pinterest or featured in Better Homes & Gardens. We were more a straggly Charlie Brown Christmas tree with a table full of food and tons of laughter.

Living on a tight budget meant the Thornton family didn’t spend a lot of money on Christmas. For many years we didn’t even buy a tree. Dad brought home a tree from Greenfield High School where he worked as a teacher, guidance counselor and temporary principal. Dad hauled the tree home after school closed for the holidays and we’d make it our own.

Me, with no patience, would glob strands of tinsel on the tree after we had wrapped the limbs in strands of brightly-colored bulbs.

c1a21f9aeb72b3f30a894abfe85a15f3I’d turn off the lights, stand back and squint to determine if and where more tinsel was needed. There was always need for more. Beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder.


Our trees were like this, but uglier and with fewer toys

We had some pretty ugly trees but I didn’t realize it at the time.  And when aluminum trees arrived on the scene and dad conceded to purchase one, I was thrilled to replace tinsel with even more lights.


Mama was hands off to tree decorating, at least when I was at home. She left that task to Dad and the kids. She focused instead on practicing for the church cantata and preparing the children’s Christmas program.

Every Saturday during the month of December, had choir practice at the church.  Our choir, though small, sang loud and with great enthusiasm. Mom’s accompaniment drowned out any flat notes.

If I remember right, the cantata was on Sunday morning and the kid’s Christmas program was the Sunday night nearest the 25th of December. Mrs. Mears took charge of the centerpiece in front of the church.  She used a lot of tin cans–large coffee cans –which she painted gold or silver. The arrangements would contain something colorful and reflect the season.  Red and green (of course) for Christmas. For Thanksgiving, her motif might be seed-covered tin cans surrounded by ears of corn. The rest of the year fresh flowers from her amazing garden would fill up the front.

The children’s Christmas program followed the same format for decades. The youth group performed a song song or two. The little kids (and a few reluctant teens) acted out the birth of Jesus, complete with bathrobes and turbans made of bath towels or lengths of shiny fabric. Then Dad would wind up the evening with a short homily and prayer.

That was when the festivities began.

Everyone in attendance received a cardboard boxes stuffed full of hard Christmas candy. Families exchanged gifts and everyone saw to it that no one left empty handed.  The small sanctuary felt alive with laughter, conversation, children’s squeals and music. The world felt safe and warm and happy on those Sunday evenings.

I don’t know what my siblings had as their responsibilities at Christmas, but mine was to set up a little village on top of the organ speaker.

Angel hair served as the base. I would spread it out to form a cloud-like foundation and then, very  carefully I would place our treasured angels and elves, cardboard churches and other figurines just so.  I thought it was beautiful. Magical.  Again I would squint my eyes and look through my lashes at the scene.  Magical.  My villages appeared every Christmas until I left for college.

The highlight in our family was the meal, not the gifts. For many years, our Christmas dinner took place at Grandma Thornton’s house. She and her maiden sister, Effe, lived together a few blocks from our house.  Dad’s sisters and brother would arrive from Indianapolis and St. Louis and the commotion began. Cousins running wildly everywhere. The women moved to the kitchen to help Grandma and Aunt Effe dish up the traditional meal. The men grabbed the rockers and easy chairs and waited patiently until the food was served.  The high point of Christmas dinner at Grandma’s was her money pudding. In honesty, not my favorite dessert, but each serving held a monetary surprise!

Ask anyone who was there at any Christmas and they’ll remember the anticipation of biting into or digging around for the money.


Grandma’s famous money pudding.  She topped each piece with a butter/sugar hard sauce (no alcohol, of course).  Any bite could uncover a nickel, a dime or– the grand prize — a quarter.

Once Dot and Aunt Effe grew too old to host the clan, the party moved across town to our house. Mom held court in the kitchen with help from Grandma and the aunts. My sisters joined in because it was too fun not be to in the kitchen. Occasionally my brothers took part, too.  Kids ran in and out. Hot rolls came out of the oven. Someone mashed the potatoes. Dad always carved the meat, be it turkey, ham, roast beef or all three, until one of the boys decided it was time to take over.


Our frosted name plates disappeared at some point. Names were written and then erased for the next big meal.

I had the task of assigning seats. Mom handed me her frosted glass name plates and I determined who would set where. I felt very important.

Gift giving was not a big thing in our family.  I remember being disappointment most Christmas mornings at the dearth of gifts for me…the that soon faded. Everything else about Christmas day was fantastic!

My childhood memories of Christmas are rich in love, company, laughter, food and warmth.

Mom’s idea of a gift exchange was to go around the house and select things she loved that she thought someone else would appreciate. She’d stack her items to be wrapped on the dining room table and I would get to work wrapping. While I created bows and filled out name takes, she’s play Christmas songs on the piano. Or make a pot of tea.  Or sit and talk with me while I used up the tubes of wrapping paper and rolls of tape.

My daughter, an only child, knows little of a house full of loud, laughing people at Christmastime.  Our tradition is quieter, smaller and more focused on gifts.  I feel I’m doing her an injustice. We have been creating our own traditions, yes. But she knows nothing of the noise, the craziness of 18 or 20 people having to share one bathroom over Christmas vacation. She hasn’t helped put up tables in every room to accommodate a growing guest list. She has never spent long afternoons around a cluttered table with her mom and sisters, aunts and friends  talking, laughing and even shedding a few tears.  She hasn’t seen Dad and the brothers-in-law and uncles dozing in the front room or quietly playing games of chess until they hear the call to come back to the table for supper. Katherine hasn’t played so hard with her cousins that she collapses onto the floor in the glass-enclosed front porch and gives in to sleep. Nor has Katherine gathered with her tribe in the front room to close out the day with favorite songs and special performances by great uncles with booming voices.








G: It’s All about Mary/#atoz challenge/ Great Family Photos


Because my sister-in-law Marcia and my sister Kate don’t mind spending time looking through photos, I have a few family photos to share.

I study the images and wonder about these people with whom I share my lineage but whom I know so little. What traits do I share with them?

I know I’m much like two great aunts from Kentucky–outspoken, opinionated and abrupt.  I inherited creativity from both my mom and my dad’s side, with artists and musicians going way back. Like my father I have a red-hot temper that cools in a flash. I feel I was blessed to inherit my mom’s sense of humor.

One of my favorite memories of all time was something dad said to me.  Mom was not at home, she was off visiting a sister who had just delivered yet another baby. Dad, Cathy, John and I were sitting around round oak kitchen table.  We were laughing and carrying on when dad turned to me and said, “Why, you’ve inherited your mom’s humor.”

My 13-year old self was beaming from ear to ear.

What with giving birth to 11 children and cooking for an army much of her life, mom put on a few pounds over the years.  Her smile remained the same.


The Thornton women back in the day.  (LtoR) Front:  Martha, Mom and me the wild child with the lovely hair and dress. Back: Ruth,Elsie, Kate, Alice.


The Gash Family, probably close to the time mom and dad left for Japan.  (LtoR) Dad, Mom, Grandpa and Grandma Gash, Mom’s brother Perce and wife Elsie, Mom’s sister Alice and husband Ralph and son.

When Mom’s two brother — Perce and Charles — came to visit at the same time, I knew I would get earaches.  Both were exceptional singers and when they sang together (with mom accompanying them) my ears would pound. But, oh, I loved their concerts.


A common scene in our family.  Mom at her piano and dad close by. He loved to listen to her play and he’d often break out in song. He wasn’t quite as skilled as his brothers-in-law, but he carried a tune quite well.


Japanese family growing quickly.  Mom  with baby Elsie in arm, the twins Alice and Ruth, and Charles. The next and final child to be born in Japan would be Martha.

On the left, about-to-be-married Mary Scott Gash.  The silhouette was made of Mom in St. Louis two or three decades later.


When mom wasn’t playing, she was reading.  Housework could always wait.

E: It’s All about Mary/ Everybody has a Seat/ #a-to-z challenge


Sundays and holidays found our dining room filled to over-flowing

Year ’round, family flowed in and out of our house.  Older siblings and cousins off to university returned with hungry fellow students. Married brothers and sisters brought their beautiful blue-eyes babies for the weekend or for the big holidays.  They littered the two upstairs bedrooms with suitcases spilling over with tee shirts, mix-matched socks, diapers and an assortment of pajama bottoms.

“Mom, I can’t find my pajama top!” some child would inevitably cry each night. “Just sleep in what you’ve got on,” was the response.

A crazy kind of love-infused chaos ruled when everyone landed at home at the same time.  Rooms filled with cackles and wheezes, snorts and guffaws. (A few years ago I learned the nieces and nephews referred to my sisters and me as the “wheezers.”  Why? Because we laughed so hard we wheezed.)

Children dashed in and out of rooms, around the table and up and down the steps, not once listening to their distracted parents shout, “Slow down!”  “Go outside.”  “This is the last time….”

And mom cooked. Man, did she cook. For a woman who couldn’t make a boiled egg when she married, she became quite proficient at whipping up comfort food on her tiny four-burner gas stove.

Homemade rolls were a sure bet for the entire tribe. Mounds of butter-rich mashed potatoes with rivers of white or brown gravy filled the plates. When meat was scarce, potatoes was plentiful.  But it seldom was on holidays or family gatherings. Platters of crispy fried chicken or not-so-thin slices of roast beef made at least clockwise rounds at the table. Plenty for everyone.

And everyone had their chores.

Dad was the meat carver. He pulled out his silver carving knife and sharpener and proceeded to rub the two together to hone a razor-sharp blade. He sliced the roast or ham or turkey and didn’t waste a bit.  Brothers John and Sam would be recruited in the kitchen to help mash the potatoes. John used sound effects to enhance his efforts in whip up the perfect dish.  The noise level in the kitchen increased considerably.

The sisters and other women folk moved between kitchen and the dining room, the swinging oak door seldom still. Freshly picked green beans were cooked with bacon. Steaming ears of corn weighed down each end of the table.  Jiggly gelatin salad with fruit cocktail was  served on a leaf of iceberg lettuce and topped with a dollop of Miracle Whip.

I had charge of plates of pickled beets and crudités and I took my task very seriously. Gherkins and dill pickles were well-balanced and properly placed with green olives, carrot and celery sticks.

Mom cared little about social rankings.  So she sat the prosperous bank president next to the town drunk.  When my closest cousin and his oh-so-smart friends from medical school drove up from St. Louis for dinner, mom would place our friend Joe Gemp in the middle of them. Joe was a 40-something, mentally challenged man who had become part of our family. People from the wrong side of the tracks found themselves right next to some of the community leaders. And everyone did just fine. Mom saw to it that everybody joined in the conversation.

Most of the family got up to help clear the table for dessert. Mom would bring out her homemade cake with penuche icing, berry pies and homemade cookies.  Coffee was poured and guests lingered around the table until mid afternoon.

My sister Cathy (now Kate) and I headed for the kitchen. Someone had to clean the dishes. Grandma and her maiden sister, Aunt Effe, would usually join in.  Joe Gemp grabbed a dish towel and set to work drying the dozens of dirty dishes.  The conversations continued and laughter prevailed.  My memories of Sunday dinners are as rich as the desserts that mom served.

Grandma Thornton and Marcia

Grandma Thornton & sister-in-law Marcia were two of the faithful kitchen help

By this time in her life, mom had morphed from a slip of a 21-year old girl who married without any knowledge of homemaking skills into a middle-aged woman with greying strands that fell around her face as she whipped up magic in the kitchen.

We weren’t rich by any means. Dad pastored a small church and supplemented his income by working as a guidance counselor in the local high school.  We’d run short of cash by the end of the month and eat our fair share of macaroni and cheese,  but mom and dad always plenty of food for guests.

I didn’t realize at the time how rare it was to have so many people eat with us until much later when I learned some of my friends never had guests. Dad and Mom took their roles as host and hostess seriously.  In part they felt it was their duty as Christians to have people into their home. Mostly it was because they just loved people.  They made call to serve a delight for hundreds of men and women who dined at 601 Sycamore Street.

The Dining Room/It’s All about Mary #a-to-zchallenge

DOur white Victorian home at 601 Sycamore Street seemed much larger when I was young. Not that that’s unusual. Objects always appear bigger than they are when you’re a kid and you are the one responsible for cleaning them on Saturdays.

Upstairs held three bedrooms. Mom and dad’s which was off limits except for me to clean. The other two bedrooms were mine. I floated between them, depending on my mood. Larger and lighter was the front room. Smaller, quieter and a bit more formal the side room. By the time I was ninth grade, all the other siblings were out and about and I felt I held free reign of the second floor.


Not exactly like our window, but close enough!

Downstairs,  the music room  with its large front window and beveled trim overlooked the front yard. As the sun set, beams of the afternoon sun reflected off the prisms, transforming the pale green walls into a display of shimmering rainbows.

Once my cleaning was done, it was here I sat and rocked in dad’s nubby swivel rocking chair. To enjoy the quiet in a freshly cleaned home felt therapeutic for me. The ultimate delight was having taken a bath and put on clean pajamas, I would watch the light and color dance across the room as I  listened to mama play.

Even then I knew I loved being alone more than just about anything else.

For me, the most difficult room to clean was the dining room. It was not a big space by any means. It held a small coal fireplace.  A plate rail around the room displayed mom’s favorite platters and things. All required dusting.

The family table could be extended to seat 12 or more, depending on how close everyone wanted to be. In the bay window stood a small, marble-topped walnut table. Intricately carved, it caught all the dust from the drive way when windows were open. A slightly stuffed side chair, claimed by our basset hound, Higgins, showed wear. When guests arrived, a clean throw hid the worst of the damage.


In one corner, next to the built-in cupboard that held mom’s good dishes and serving bowls, stood an 4-drawer metal file cabinet. Sheets of music and piano books overflowed. Saved articles, pictures torn out from magazines, a few choice books, various papers and spiral bound scrapbooks covered the top.

This was mama’s domain. Her office during the week; her table for entertaining on Sundays and holidays.

As a piano teacher, she stockpiled exercise books for early beginners to advanced level students. Over the years she had accumulated countless pieces of sheet music. Classical works by Chopin, Beethoven, and Mozart, contemporary favorites like Rhapsody in Blue, Christmas music, choir music, hymnals and hard to find sheets from the early 1900’s.  A total mess to the untrained eye, but mama knew what she had and where to find it.


Mama was into scrapbooks before scrapbooking was cool. But she didn’t have any order in the way she saved things. Slap dash was her form of organizing. She stuck anything she found interesting onto the pages of myriad paper scrapbooks. Illustrations of sad dogs, cartoons from The Family Circle strip, obituaries of neighbors long past. She added cards from friends, photos from grandchildren, Bible verses that spoke to her. A recipe for peach ice cream was positioned next to an article about fine pottery in Japan. A grandson’s first grade photo appeared adjacent to handwritten stanzas to a favorite song.

These books of memories had absolutely no rhyme or reason. Anything her brilliant mind found funny or touching, uplifting or insightful was glued to a page. Lots of pages.

She kept her visual journals in their earliest days in Japan, raising the first pack of kids in the Ozarks and the second half of the family in Greenfield, Illinois. Their life back in Japan in the 70{s provided a lot of fodder for my mother. She kept scrapbooking until her final days in Cartersville, Illinois.

After mama died the five sisters (Alice, Ruth, Elsie, Martha, Cathy and I) and one sister-in-law (Marcia) spent hours sifting through the stacks of scrapbooks, determining what to keep and what to toss. The first ten years after her death, we kept the books intact. We stored the volumes in large cardboard boxes and each spring when we would gather for a week at our cousin’s lake house, one of the sisters would deliver the trove of memories. We spend many days and evenings pouring over the pages, reliving mom’s life through her memorabilia.  Only a few years ago (almost three decades later) were the scrapbooks disassembled.

These compilations of information said a lot about who mom was and what she loved. Every page was interspersed with newspaper articles, lyrics to songs, recipes, photographs, cartoons, Bible verses, pretty pictures, silly pictures, birthday cards and anecdotes she wanted to remember.

Her entries  yellowed and grew brittle. Pages fell apart. But over the decades, her collections revealed her lifelong passions:  Family, faith, music, food and humor.



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.


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.