Tomorrow we celebrate my mother’s 90th birthday among family, friends and fellow church members. It is the second 90-year celebration for our family this year as dad turned 90 only 5 months ago. We asked how other families in her heritage celebrated this particular milestone and heard the surprising reaction, “Our mother’s don’t turn 90.” We are truly blessed indeed.
Mom and dad eloped 72 years ago on her 18th birthday. They were married by a Judge just across the state line with dad’s sister in tow for a witness. It wasn’t a traditional shotgun wedding by any stretch; mom remembers thinking they needed to steer clear of her father for a while so that he could cool down. She was really young and theirs was by the standards of 1946 a racially mixed marriage.
Mom remembers receiving a quietly cool reception from dad’s family. Not outright prejudice but more of a pause because they didn’t know what to think. She later had to talk dad out of throwing a rock through a restaurant window because they told him they wouldn’t serve her. Knowing what it feels like to be viewed with tentative suspicion and outright prejudice lies deep within our legacy. But then, so does rising above the way others view you in favor of God’s view.
Mom and dad found more than acceptance in the arms of the church. As new Christians many years later, they would find lifelong friendship, unselfish generosity and true compassion after relocating and in the face of a devastating fire. Dad remembers one of the church leaders taking a beautiful picture off his own wall and handing it to him just to help them start over. I was just a baby.
Some of the most satisfying times in their lives came when their local church was thriving and growing. Love was a constant expression and homes were for sharing meals and fellowship. It wasn’t a question of whether to invite someone home to Sunday dinner; the only question was who would be invited.
People were very important to them as they served others not just at church but in a local business for decades. Using the skills of their hands, they repaired and recovered furniture before they began to finish precious needlepoint into everything from checkbook covers to rugs or church kneelers. I learned early how to behave when delivering high dollar possessions back to the richest homes in Tulsa, proud of the reaction I saw to their work.
I cannot remember a time when I was not encouraged to better myself. Whether practicing a skill until it could be performed in my sleep or taking advantage of learning from a mentor or a book or a University, improving my knowledge and ability was always presented as the path forward. Despite never intending to have more than a college education, I haven’t stopped learning after the Ph.D. And neither have they at 90 years young.
Without a doubt, the most enduring legacy we enjoy is the deep love of a devoted wife and mother. I’ve never pulled out of a driveway without witnessing a longing look and a wave from behind the screen door as I drove away. Whether it was through a hearty meal or a curious set of questions about how I was doing, mom’s heart has always been focused on her family and friends. Sharing that love with neighbors and other members of the church filled many an afternoon or evening. Relationships are everything to them and friends are friends forever.
Thank you, mom, for the lasting legacy of love you display. With two more generations following in these footsteps, there will be much to celebrate and rejoice!