Two and a half years ago I wrote and read the following at my mother’s funeral:
Sweet, loving, kind, joyful, playful, spunky, good sense of humor, positive energy, having strength, real nice lady—these are just a few of the qualities friends and family attributed to my mother in her passing. In her journal she answered the question “Who Am I?” by writing “helpmate, a mother, a homemaker, a substitute mother, sister, a friend, a servant, and a teacher.” I believe the quality that helped her fulfill all that she saw herself as and all that God called her to be was devotion. First and foremost, she saw herself as devoted to God and everything else grew from there.
She met my father at a nightspot in 1950 but didn’t start dating him until after he graduated from the University of Maryland in 1952. When I talked with her about this, she told me she was engaged to another young man, but that her father did not approve of him. My grandfather did approve of my father and my parents were wed on October 2, 1954. Often, they would lovingly banter back and forth about who proposed to whom, and that she, in her vows, had promised to obey him.
For the record, she’s the one who said “let’s get married” and as far as obeying, she intuitively saw a deeper meaning to that vow. I asked her what it was she liked about my father when they were first dating and she said he was so reserved. He used the word shy and said he thought he would never get married. Through the many trips they took, raising a daughter, medical procedures, multiple miscarriages, loss of a stillborn daughter, and ups and downs of day to day living—they were devoted to one another for 62 years. In her journal she wrote “Married life teaches you one invaluable lesson—to think of things far enough ahead not to say them,” which made me wonder what she didn’t say since she was pretty outspoken.
After her passing, I was going through her 40 plus cookbooks and found The Wise Encyclopedia of Cookery. I wasn’t going to keep it until I opened it and saw the inside cover on which she had written “Susan, keep this book.” My father told me she had this book in her hope chest and brought it with her when they married. What makes this 1,300 plus page volume special is that my mother went through school with an undiagnosed case of severe dyslexia. She repeated second grade twice and graduated after completing eighth grade with very low grades. She never could sound out words using phonics, so she learned to read by memorizing what words looked like which explains why she had an amazing memory. She became quite an avid reader. Her school grades did not reflect her high degree of intelligence.
When I read the Encyclopedia of Cookery, I am awed by her tenacity, determination, faith and perseverance– these qualities helped her learn how to cook, crochet, knit, sew, manage a household and much, much more.
Early on in their marriage, with limited cooking experience, she decided to fix a steak for dinner one night. The Encyclopedia directions were to broil the steak for 350 degrees for eight to nine minutes for a medium well steak. She could not believe that it would take so little time, so with my dad expected home at 5pm, she put the steak in the oven at 3pm. You can imagine the rest—and yes, he ate the steak, or what was left of it.
In time, her coleslaw, macaroni salad, various cakes, pies, cookies and casseroles were deliciously legendary. Next to many of the recipes in her cookbooks she wrote “very good,” or “good.” There were even a few “very, very good,” a few “not to good” and an “OK” here and there—because she would try a recipe on Dad and I and then write our responses next to it in the cookbook. She learned that the “it was OK” response meant “don’t make it again.”
While dad worked and I went to school, she volunteered her time to help others. Over her 62 years of homemaking, she held 20 plus volunteer positions for 13 different organizations. Among these were President of the Asbury Guild of the Central District, President of the United Methodist Women and Church Women United, President of the Sligo Creek Homemakers and Montgomery County Homemakers, Sunday School Superintendent, Brownie Troop Leader, Girl Scout Troop Leader. One of my favorite memories of her volunteerism is when, in her late 60’s and 70’s, she led the exercise programs for the Berkeley County and Jefferson County Senior Centers.
I’d call her and ask, “what are you doing today, Mom.” “I’m going to do exercise with the old people.” Or in her 80’s, “Your Daddy and I are delivering Meals on Wheels to the old people.” You want to know the secret to a long life, that’s it right there—being young at heart.
One of the many benefits of her community service was the enduring and life-long friendships she made and kept. Once you were Josephine’s friend, you stayed Josephine’s friend. She had a tremendous capacity for compassion for all people from all walks of life in all circumstances of life.
Tucked away in her cooking Encyclopedia, I found a newspaper column by Erma Bombeck about children and parents. In it, Erma writes “What does a mother owe her child? Stability, gentleness, a presence during good and bad times, and heels that dig in as she pronounces ‘I’m never going to give up on you, so get used to having me around.’” She was and I did.
The article goes on to say: “What does a child owe her parents? You owe them a fair amount of patience, understanding and forgiveness, and love that is always there even when you don’t want it to be.” To be honest, in our relationship, I was inconsistent at best. Fortunately, with God’s help, we finished well together.
She was there when I breathed my first breath in this world and I was there when she breathed her last. Witnessing that sacred event made the following verses from I Corinthians ring even more true in my heart and soul: Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this scripture will be fulfilled: Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ. So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.