Dear Mom

Dear Mom~

You’ve been on my mind in a unique way. December 7 marks the day that I equal your age on the day that you died—the same number of months and days you lived into age sixty-two.

I was twenty-eight when you left this earthly pilgrimage. That was old enough to be past the years when young people easily evaluate the next generation as “you’re so old!” yet still not able to recognize that one’s early sixties shouldn’t be considered old at all.

I know that, now that I’ve reached it.

Of course, the paths of our lives determines how old we feel, and your path and mine couldn’t be more different. You suffered enough health struggles for the entire family. Your poor body was surely worn down, not to mention your spirit, when you received the news that you had cancer in your back and had to begin chemotherapy. While, only days later, your sudden death came as a shock, none of us were surprised to hear your doctor say, “She died of heart failure. The news of this cancer had hit her so hard. I think she had enough and finally gave up.”

The doctor’s suggestion caused none of us to argue that she didn’t know you, that you were a fighter, that you would never give up on life. Never give up on us.

Indeed, all you did, throughout your sixty-two years, was fight for life and fight for us. You soldiered on after being widowed from your first husband after only one year of marriage. You soldiered on through four miscarriages interspersed with the six babies you delivered. You soldiered on when Jim was wrongly medicated, leaving his brain so severely damaged that you and Dad had to sign him over to the state because you could not care for him and all of us, both physically and financially. And you soldiered on through the many assaults on your health.

Thus, when you were sixty-two and received not your first, not your second, but your third diagnosis of cancer, your three score and two years of life had been as full of trials as a person who lives to be ninety.

While I’ve had enough of my own troubles, I’ve arrived at this age-matching day in way better shape. My health has more closely matched Dad’s, who was active and quite healthy to age eighty-three, when a broken hip quickly took him down. Indeed, as Dad never stopped gardening, I am still at it and intend to follow his path.

Sure, bending and crouching made it more of a chore for Dad in his later years and he moved more slowly, but he kept at it. “Just peckin’ away,” we kids loved to say in our respect-filled way of mocking how he kept at everything he did—words that echo in my head when I am in my garden and ready to cash it in for the day, but I am moved to say to myself, “You can weed one more row. Then one more row. Keep peckin’ away.”

One thing I acquired from both you and Dad was flat feet. Do you recall how I had to quit football in high school, because the high arches in the cleats caused me so much pain I almost couldn’t walk after practice? Well, my feet have never gotten as bad as yours to have to wear orthopedic shoes. (How you hated those ugly shoes!) Thankfully, my flat feet could handle what we always called tennis shoes. Before you died, I had been jogging six years. Not only did I stick with it, I am days away from completing my fortieth year of running. And, I’m delighted to report that I’ve run more miles this year than ever—more than 1,100.

But, oh! I can’t deny that I’m sixty-two. For as fluidly I run my five- and six-mile routes, afterwards I find myself making noises when I get out of my chair, and it takes a few steps before I find my stride.

I recall your arthritis, your many aches and pains. I get it now. Age isn’t just a number. No matter how hard a person works to stay healthy, the body gradually wears down, wears out.

Since I can still do everything I want to do, I am grateful for how healthy I am at age sixty-two. I can’t imagine experiencing what happened to you. I can’t imagine being removed from my family so quickly. So prematurely.

We sure missed you. Truth be told, I still miss you. I am thankful for all the years I had with Dad and sad for all I didn’t get to share with you, even all of the crazy-tough stuff I endured this decade. Yet, because you are with the Lord, I’ve never wished you back to this earth. And though I’m in no hurry to leave this life, I also long to be with the Lord.

The too few years we had you were a gift. As on December 8 I will exceed the number of days we had you, I cherish the many gifts which comprise my life.

You taught me how to live well, to be a good person. Everything you gave me, taught me, instilled in me, continues to shape me. To live in me. Therefore, you continue to live in me.

You made the most of your sixty-two years. You made them a gift to us all.

I intend to make the most of the time I have left.

Till I see you in heaven,
your son,
Greg

Meet Aunt Mabel

photo_20170108_wm0085555_0_20170108

When I was in high school, she was the lunch lady. And she was my great aunt. And I am sure that the small talk we made as she dipped mashed potatoes onto my tray were a diversion so that the other kids didn’t see that she was giving me more than them.

That was my Aunt Mabel.

On Saturday past, the last of the generation on my dad’s mother’s side of the family left this earthly pilgrimage. Mabel (nee Schultz) Parker was the youngest of her two sisters, Ethel (my grandmother) and Martha, and two brothers, Les and Walt. She was younger than the rest by enough that the children she had with Uncle Gene—David, Joy Ann, Nick, and Dan—comprised a half-generation tucked neatly between their cousins (for example, my dad), and their cousin’s children (like me).

I cannot say that I knew Aunt Mabel tremendously well, but the impression which she and Uncle Gene made on me will not allow me to let her passing go without my penning my memories. Mabel Parker was, in a word, a gentle woman, and Uncle Gene a gentle man.

Aunt Mabel epitomized the Schultz spirit. She, my grandmother and their siblings were hardworking, easy-going, kind, generous, fun, and full of life. They were unflappable. And they made great use of their gift for gab.

I loved hot lunch in school, and I loved seeing Aunt Mabel. She was always upbeat, had a big smile, and made me feel special. As the head cook, she provided us with a quality of meals that public school students of today do not enjoy. Though she was small of stature she stood tall in my eyes, the kind of person you look forward to running into. Whom you know you should emulate.

Before I departed my home town, whenever I saw Aunt Mabel, perhaps at a wedding reception or in one of the aisles at Montague Foods, I knew what to expect. She would draw me down to her level, place both hands upon my cheeks, and plant on me an auntly kiss.

The Parkers lived north of Montague on Whitbeck Road, on the far side of Eilers Road. (Yes, Virginia, there really is an Eilers Road.) When I was young, I thought they lived way out in the country. Then, as a high-schooler, I would ride my bike up Whitbeck, turning west on Eilers, to pick asparagus at Benny Scholl’s. I could see their farm from the corner. Hmm, the Parkers weren’t so far out in the country, after all.

They had this distinctive concrete block building on the other side of the driveway. I am thinking it was the milking house, though I cannot tell you that they were dairy farmers. The building’s blocks were a creamy color, a shade that I don’t believe I have ever seen on another building. Even now, when I am visiting Montague and I purposely take Whitbeck Road north out of town, I have to gawk as I drive by. And I am a kid again.

After high school, my best bud Tim Todd and I joined the Thursday night bowling league. Uncle Gene bowled in that league. Now, I really got to know the man. He was good-natured and kind, always quick with a story and a laugh. That smile! Surely, when young Gene and Mabel first laid eyes on each other it was their smiles that drew their hearts together. They enjoyed true wedded bliss all of their sixty-three years, until Uncle Gene was laid to rest in 2000.

He must have had really bad knees. He was as bow-legged as I ever saw a man. Making the approach to throw his bowling ball, he looked like he was held together with some of the baling wire from his farm. Yet I still could not find a way to beat him.

Returning to the bench after a nifty strike, he was fond of finding me. “See, Greg,” he would smile. “That’s how you do it.” The stinker.

I never got to know their sons, David and Nick, but I crossed paths with Joy Ann and Dan plenty of times over the years and, in them, I saw their parents. Last February, I attended my first family funeral as Gina. Before the Sunday afternoon gathering, I went to worship at primo pal Tim’s congregation, Montague United Methodist.

During worship, they have a moment for sharing good news and prayer needs. Tim took the microphone to rejoice in the marking of the fortieth anniversary of his baptism. When Tim handed the mic back to the pastor, I stood and requested it. I thanked the congregation for the warm welcome they gave me before worship, noting that the last time I had been in that church was to be Tim’s best man in 1981. I spoke for a second about the challenges of being a transgender Christian, then asked for their prayers for all people who are easily cast off by family and society.

It never dawned on me that this was Aunt Mabel’s congregation. No, she was not in attendance as she had been confined to the local care center for some years, but Joy Ann was there. After worship, she sought me out. Seeing her, I felt like a punk for the shock she must have experienced when I spoke and she realized who it was. Finding me after worship, she greeted me with the familiar Parker smile. We threw our arms around each other and made quick catch-up talk.  All was well!

Later, at the funeral, I saw Dan. He also graced me with a big Parker smile. I said, “I ran into Joy Ann at church.” “I know,” he replied. “She called right after church.” Of course, she did.

In Joy Ann and Dan, I continue to know Aunt Mabel and Uncle Gene. And isn’t that how it’s supposed to be? We pass on ourselves through our children. Hopefully, what we hand down shows that it was good that we had children. It was very good that Aunt Mabel and Uncle Gene had children.

Our Lord Jesus, recorded in Matthew 5:16, said, “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Aunt Mabel and Uncle Gene did just that, and by their good deeds God the Father was glorified and we, their family and community, received the benefit.

And so concludes an all-too-brief snapshot of my Great Aunt Mabel.

And so she was. She was great.