(This is adapted from the eulogy I gave at my Mom’s funeral in August, 2017 and is offered here as a tribute to a great mom.)
So this little poor girl from Elizabethtown, KY, a telephone operator, met this young soldier from California. The story goes that they were at the roller rink in Radcliff one night and my Dad, Art, knocked her down. Whether it was a calculated move, or he just couldn’t skate, we will never know. The important part of the story was that he picked her back up. And so began a love story that would span over four decades.
Now I wasn’t there then – I showed up just a couple years later. And like most families the stories are passed down verbally – we get the dates and places confused through the fog of time. And sometimes facts are hard to find – most families probably don’t have a written record that tells you the when and where.
But I do have a written record.
As a young Army enlisted couple, and stationed in Germany, my parents bought a Scrabble game. Mom told me they scrimped and saved for the extravagant purchase so they would have something to do in the evenings, in the days long before television and endless entertainment devices. And a little-known fact about Mom – she was in the Library Club in high school. She loved to read and could express herself well with a strong vocabulary. And this may be where she got it. I can imagine the two of them facing off, long into the evening, far from home, as they sharpened their wits over this game.
But the really cool part of this story is the written record that my dad made inside the box – he carefully scribed every address they ever lived in together and added by code when each child appeared. And the reason that matters is because of the long list – I count eighteen addresses I lived in from birth until high school graduation.
My mom never really imagined she would travel, let alone live, much beyond her immediate surroundings. But over the forty-three years they traveled together they lived in and visited places most folks only see in newsreels.
Let me share some examples:
20 Bachstrasse “B”, Heidelberg, Germany was where they lived early in marriage, as a young childless couple. Imagine – only ten years after the most destructive war in modern history and mom lived in the epicenter of that war. The pictures of this time are glorious – there she is, a twenty-something little girl from Kentucky leaning on a Mercedes Benz. And pregnant. Because soon after they lived at 9-D Bull Run Court, Patrick Henry Village, Germany, and they had their first son, my brother Mike. Amazingly, the little girl from Kentucky had her first child while living 4,484 miles from home, across an ocean, in a foreign land.
They did find their way back to E-town, it seems Mom always did find her way back, and stayed a bit at 306 Central Avenue before heading to California. There are four entries for Monterey. Back in 2008 I visited the area and found the small house, directly across from the pounding waves of the Pacific Ocean, that they lived in with Mike. Mom told me that was the most beautiful place she had ever been. But they had to move – because I was headed their way. When I showed up, they were waiting at 1034 Spruance Road, 2,313 miles from E-town by today’s modern interstate highway.
For the next few years, they bounced back and forth from California to Elizabethtown to Fort Belvoir, Virginia. I can imagine, and her stories corroborate my thoughts, the young family crisscrossing America in a 1950’s era sedan, no AC, no Interstates, no fast food. It seems so primitive by today’s standards but they worked with what they had. And they only had good stories to tell about those adventures. Mom learned her love for travel in those first couple years of marriage, and it never left her.
The next thing you know the growing family landed in Germany again, this time at 29 Schlossweg in the little town of Waldorf. My memories start here and I recall we rented the top floor from a fine German named Hans. We walked the cobblestone streets of Waldorf, visiting shops, seeing friends, and generally enjoying the cross-cultural experience. Mom, to the best of my knowledge, never spoke German but it did not seem to slow the little girl from Kentucky down a bit. Soon my little sister Susan was on the way, so we got moved on base to 7B Bull Run Court. While pregnant Mom and Dad continued to travel. I have pictures of my very pregnant mother on the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France and enjoying a coke at a roadside bistro in Germany.
Before you can say “auf wiedersehen” we hit the ground in South Dakota. The memories are vivid of the Badlands, the Corn Palace and staring up in awe at Mount Rushmore. We were always traveling, always seeing new things, always looking around the bend. And Mom loved every minute of it – my dad always said that he “just worked the pedals” as she directed their adventures from the passenger’s seat.
I won’t bore you with all the sights and sounds and places and events the little girl from Kentucky was exposed to. But I will tell you that Mom loved our next tour in Germany where we spent three years exploring the tulip fields and windmills of Holland, the Swiss Alps, the castles along the Rhine & Neckar and even a gondola ride through the canals of Venice, Italy. It was a grand adventure and, by my count, we visited nine countries in Europe before heading back stateside to dad’s Army retirement in Virginia. My last address with my parents was 13705 Lynhurst Drive in Dale City, VA.
But mom’s last address recorded in the Scrabble Box is 120 King Arthur Circle, Elizabethtown, KY – because as usual she had made her way back home to E-town. Even from there they continued to hit the road traveling, and mom managed to set foot in nearly every state in the continental U.S. By the time her husband Art died in 1997 she had spent forty-three years on the road and the little girl from Kentucky had to take a break from her journeys. We did make every effort to keep her traveling though – to our kid’s graduations, to Jennifer’s wedding, up to Philadelphia for Susan’s wedding and a memorable trip to the beach at Gulf Shores with the Fleshman girls.
She did have two more addresses though that aren’t recorded in the Scrabble box. In the fall of 2015 Mom called me to ask if I could find a place for her where I live in Soddy-Daisy, Tennessee. She was feeling less confident of her ability to care of herself and wanted to see the grandkids more. I slept on the idea and hatched a plan to convert a couple rooms in our house so she would be right here with us. My wife Diana agreed – but Mom had to get her on the phone to hear it herself from her. She was not one to intrude or impose or put anyone out. She came and spent her last sixteen months at 8634 Harmony Lane in Soddy Daisy, Tennessee, adding another state to the list of the ones she had lived in.
After a brief and terrible struggle at the end Mom finally left that last earthly address at 5:15 pm on August 14th. Toward the end she could be heard quoting scripture out loud, praying specifically for everybody she knew by name, and even singing hymns. I had never in my life known my mom, a deeply spiritual woman, to be so vocal with her faith. I promise you if she knew you, and many that she did not, she was praying for you.
And that brings up that last address that you will not find in the Scrabble Box. Jesus told us:
“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. And where I go you know, and the way you know.” John 14:1-4
You see, Mom’s faith was real. She really believed what she had heard and learned in her youth and nothing in her eighty-three years showed her to believe anything different. When she was praying and quoting and singing at the end it was because she knew where she was headed – you could never have convinced her otherwise.
In Hospice care they teach that you often see this phenomena because they are literally standing with one foot in this world and one foot in the next. They are torn as to what to do – should I leave the pain and despair of this world for the joy that awaits me? Should I cling to life so I can see my kids and grandkids, or do I let go so I can see the only man I ever loved? These thoughts go through my head as I imagine her last days. Mom often called for her own mom to help her – was she seeing Mamaw Puckett? I will leave it to your faith perspective, but I’m on Mom’s side. She knew her earthly travels were about to end. But her travels into eternity, and the universe we humans barely know, were about to begin.
Mom spent her last day on Earth in the comfort of her little apartment at our house. I had a real estate closing to attend so I prayed for her and looked into her eyes and told her it was okay to let go, that God was waiting with open arms, that she could finish her course. While I was gone Diana felt compelled to read her this passage:
“The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Forever.” Psalm 23
By the end of the day the little girl from Kentucky, the one who had traveled this country and many others, who drove and flew and sailed to see the world, had finished her journey. And now that little girl, my mom, is out among the stars, traveling with her favorite companion, seeing sights beyond description.
And I won’t be surprised if dad stoops down and writes their new address in the Scrabble Box.
(I miss my mom. If you are lucky enough to still have yours in your life, call her. Not just today, but often. You will not regret the time spent. Call your mom!)