My sisters - Paula, Shirley, and Patricia - graciously asked me to speak today on their behalf and that of our departed brother, Michael. I realize that they would speak of different memories and perspectives, but so would we all.
Our Mom, or Mother - as I called her, will be missed greatly, even as her memories live on within us, and her love continues in our hearts and in the lives of our family. I find myself wanting to tell her about things that are happening - like talking to all four of my children by phone since her death approached - one of which I hadn't heard from in several years! And my oldest daughter, Rebecca, flew out from California for the funeral.
One of my sons, Brian, whose birthday was January 18th, remarked: "I do miss the card my Grandmother always sent to me with every word underlined at least once. She is so special to me. But I will look to fond memories of her and [me] together, and smile."
Rebecca, one of my daughters, added: "I ditto ... Brian's comment about realizing that we won't be getting the birthday [and] Christmas cards with just about every word underlined: the more underlines, the more significant the word - funny how it's the little things you remember most." Maybe it's because the little things make up the solid structure that we can depend on - that show the nature of the person we know and love.
Frank, my niece, Charity's Dad, and my good friend, said of Mother: "Great woman.... We're gonna miss your sweet voice, gentle smile, and always, kind words."
In fact, over and over, I have heard people speak glowingly of her smile and kindness, and how she made each person feel special.
Veronica, another friend, characterized Mother as - "sooooo beautiful. Inside and out. Thank you for gracing us with your presence, m'lady." Even people on Facebook, who did not know my Mother, have commented on her beauty!
My Mother was named Gussie Pauline Brinkley at birth. I think that her Mother, Pauline Brinkley, passed on to all her daughters the legacy of gracious hospitality and kindness - as well as what my wife, Marge, calls "Steel Magnolia" toughness.
But Mother, in my opinion, had an especially soft heart for those she loved. In our family, we have a great many stories that are told with loving affection. One of the most poignant story was about my Mother and her Mother, whom I called Ma. On a trip to town, each child was allowed to choose a candy bar. Upon reaching home where it would be time to enjoy their candy, my Mother - whom I'll call Gussie - kept insisting that Ma take her Baby Ruth candy bar. Gussie simply was not taking no for an answer. Finally Ma gave in, and began to eat the candy bar. At that point, the reality of what she had done must have got the better of Gussie, because the family accounts say that she went outside and stood by the house, crying.
I can recall a trip that Mother and I made from the West Coast on a greyhound bus, when I was about seven years old, I think. I was getting car sick, and Mother insisted that the driver pull the bus over, so that I could throw up outside the bus. As the trip continued, I know money must have been almost nonexistent, because I cannot remember Mother eating, at all. But she would buy me something to eat during rest stops.
I won't go into detail about incidents and situations as my siblings and I were growing up that brought Mother sadness and tears. One reason is that the incidents that I remember the most might be different than Paula, Mike, Shirley, and Patricia would recall. Another reason is that the times of sadness and tears did not defeat my Mother - nor us!
One move that all Gussie's children agree was the best thing for all of us was when, with the help of my Uncle Jack, we moved into the house built by her parents, Pauline and Lonnie Brinkley. Not only did we get to attend school where Gussie and her brothers and sisters went, at Faceville Consolidated School, but we also were blessed by the relationships at Franklin Baptist Church, always special to the family.
Later, Gussie and all of her children moved elsewhere. And our family grew. We began to sense a growing desire to return to our roots. First, Patricia returned. Then Paula, with the help of Jim, Patricia, Mack, and many others, restored the home that Pauline and Lonnie built. And then, finally, Paula and Mother moved in.
While it is true that Mother's health had already begun to deteriorate, there was a happiness and joy that I think needs to be emphasized. Marge remarked that Mother's joy was in seeing her children and family settled and happy.
We've had family reunions, told stories, laughed, reminisced, sang, gone to Homecoming at Franklin Church, reunions at Faceville Consolidated School, held and watched babies and toddlers, and fondly taken many family photos while gifts were exchanged. Marge says you don't really "own" your gift until a photo is taken of you holding your gift with the giver staning beside you.
Anyone who saw our Mother's face would have known that she was happy and joyous.
And I'm so glad that this is so. Certainly she worked hard and had many rough moments in her life. But you know what? We were not poor in heart and spirit. We may have eaten dried lima beans when Mother's waitressing tips weren't that good, but we never starved and we valued what we had. And we learned to bond together as a family.
I want to say this to you, Mother, because my granddaugher, Savannah, and I think you may have entreated God for special permission to keep watch over your family:
I pledge to you, Mother, that we will continue to bond together as a family and we will
never forget to show kindness to others, as you have taught us. Thank you for not only
being the beautiful person that you are - inside and out, but also for all that you've done
for us, and for so many. I pray that God richly blesses you for the kind spirit that you
are, and that your gentle smile comfort our hearts, day and night.
[delivered at Mother's funeral, Monday, January 25, 2010. She died on January 22, 2010, at 8:19 a.m.]
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