Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Her Admiration Taught Me


SHE LOVED TO be involved, a southern woman in a small North Carolina town. It was not too much to have an ill mother living in her home, a husband beset by business hurdles, a son at home just after a war and married a year to a wife now pregnant and also bedridden in her in-laws' home, due to health problems, and... a young daughter. The tiny home she kept on schedule had three bedrooms, a narrow galley-like kitchen, an eating area that included access by and egress from a circle that led into the small living room...and one bathroom for seven people.

She went to the First Baptist Church regularly, and the church women service/missions group; she was active in the town's Woman's Club's book and garden groups (she loved her rose bushes), and a bridge group. Amazingly (I see now), she did not seem absent from or overwhelmed  at home.

She collected favorite people from book club and church club meetings: an opera singer who overcame polio challenges (Margaret Lawrence); a popular singer who beat alcoholism; a preacher-author popular at the time (Peter Marshall); and Mahalia Jackson, a singer of jazz, then only gospel, with operatic range. What was said about these famous people erupted in the admirer's brief phrases that came naturally from her lips; they seemed to be thoughts expressed randomly, in passing, as they would say.

In hindsight, it appears that she was intentionally teaching as well as spontaneously speaking. It seems that as she thought of someone she wanted to mention, among that group of admired people, she chose her few words carefully: "She said she often wanted to give up (the opera singer), but she so wanted to sing, that she kept resolving to learn how to walk again (polio)"; "She had to go to the bottom before she would work to save her singing career by leaving alcohol"; "He had to have faith to overcome"; and, "She said she decided to commit her life to sing for God, only gospel songs."

Who growing up cares a lot about whom their elders admire, who their heroes are? Children are so caught up in childish things. But...they do hear, even if they seem not to care. And...they remember more than we imagine. Sometimes...they remember who their mothers admired, and why. somehow makes a big difference in the larger and longer picture of what really makes a life and a hope... and whom we admire.

by Jean Purcell
(c) 2011

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