For the past two decades, New Year’s Day has had memories of loss mixed in with the anticipation of the coming year. Mother passed away on January 1, 1998, and while a day doesn’t go by when I don’t think of her, the memories are especially poignant on New Year’s Day.
Thankfully, mother’s life left many legacies in her family, her church, and her community. Mom’s love of family never changed and was unconditional. She loved each one of us as individuals who had unique gifts and ways to serve. The lives lived by her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren (who she never met) and in-laws are part of her legacy. Her commitment to her faith and her church was just as strong. She was a life-long reader (as was my father) and she shared that love through her decades of service at church libraries in Tennessee. She also believed in the power of women in the church, and became the first female deacon at First Baptist in Murfreesboro. Mom served her communities in so many ways, from PTA president to her years as the children’s librarian for the city. Mom’s commitment to reading and education was one reason the Helen Brown Scholarship Fund was established by her family at First Baptist Church. For two decades now it has helped young people attend college. Most of them never knew Mom, but they are blessed by her life and legacy.
As we look ahead to 2018, I’m reminded of a few of Mom’s many strengths which will help me face this new year with confidence in the future.
Treat everyone with respect. This seems old-fashioned after the year of taunts, lies, and slander we’ve endured. However, it still has meaning today, and Mom lived this value through good times and bad. She was the PTA president the year our school in Cookeville was desegregated. Very difficult times. Mom went through that year with her values leading the way, but with an understanding of the challenges she faced. I later heard her say that there were never any problems with the children in desegregating the schools, only with the parents. I am often reminded of that when I speak about others who are different from me.
Be the person you were meant to be. From their understanding of faith, Mother and Daddy gave us a blessing of unconditional love, unconditional acceptance, release to be the person God intends for us to be, and affirmation and support as we work out our understanding of who we are meant to be. They both said it out loud, and through their lives. Their unconditional acceptance also seems old-fashioned in a world where too many are frightened by those who are different, but to me it seems so necessary for our life as family and community.
Money can’t buy happiness. Mother and Daddy were never rich in money, but as Mom phrased it, they were rich in love. Mom would relate to a note from my Dad about money:
MONEY CAN BUY . . .
a bed, but not sleep
books, but not brains
food, but not appetite
finery, but not beauty
medicine, but not health
luxuries, but not culture
amusement, but not happiness
flattery, but not respect
a house, but not a home
companions, but not friends.
No woman of quality has ever preferred football to baseball. My mom never said this. The line actually comes from Thomas Boswell’s Why Is Baseball So Much Better Than Football? But Mom lived this. She would watch football and basketball, but she loved baseball. She told stories of going to old Sulphur Dell park with her father to watch the Nashville Vols. I’ve acquired her love of baseball and have passed it along to my daughter Claire (another woman of quality). Looking ahead to 2018, she would join me in my optimism for the Nats!
Memories live on. I once asked the singer-songwriter Claire Lynch if she ever played her tune These Flowers — about remembering a parent who has passed on — in concert. It was during a mid-set break, and I was hoping to hear this tune, which meant so much to me, live. She replied that she didn’t play it live because it was too emotional for her. I told her I understood, and added that I would probably start crying out in the audience. So when These Flowers came up on my playlist yesterday as I was driving home from dropping Claire (Brown) off at the airport, I — true to form — started crying.
We all gathered round, and stared in the ground,
While the heavens were weeping with rain.
We smiled. We cried. We said good-bye.
And the children made handsome bouquets,
From flowers that lay on your grave.
And on the long ride home, in their warm little hands.
The blossoms were withering fast.
So we wrapped them in paper and tucked them in books,
And prayed that the memory would last.
With these flowers.
Though time marches on and memories fade,
And flowers surrender their youth.
It’s funny how old pedals pressed on a page,
Brings everything back into view.
I still picture you there, in your favorite chair,
With grand-babies held on your knee.
And its hard to believe you’re really gone.
It’s as if we have all been asleep.
What we find when we wake from the dream…
Are these flowers. These flowers.
Twenty years later, the memories do fade. But then something…like New Year’s Day…comes around and everything comes back into view. Miss you mom. Love. David
More to come…