On Monday, we had to say goodbye to my mother, Velma Jordan Shearer, who died last Thursday from complications from a broken hip suffered five days earlier.
It was certainly a blow to our family, but I feel thankful for all the positive lessons she taught me over my 52-plus years – including one bit of advice she gave me just a couple of hours before her unfortunate injury suffered simply while walking back from the mailbox.
My mother had somewhat of an unusual childhood, as her father died of tuberculosis in Louisville, Tn., when she was only three, while her mother died of pneumonia when Mama was only eight. As a result, she had to live in an orphan home in Ohio and later with her older sister.
But by the time I came along, my mother had managed to obtain a registered nursing degree in Memphis, marry my father, Dr. Wayne Shearer, and was enjoying a rewarding professional life while helping raise my sister, Cathy, and me.
Of course, my mother was human, just as everyone else is. This included the fact that she created a lot of humor among our immediate family when I was growing up for often falling asleep in an auditorium or theater within 10 minutes after a play or movie started and the lights were dimmed.
Around people, she was also relaxed, as I never saw her act grumpy toward anyone, unless she felt she needed to defend herself in some way or it was one of those very rare occasions when she admitted that someone had worn on her nerves. Nor did I ever hear her say she did not have time to help me or about anybody else.
She also appreciated all kinds of people and had a deep understanding of them. She would occasionally go to the annual black fashion show in Chattanooga simply because she admired the stylish way African-Americans dressed She also befriended the black minister, the Rev. H.H. Battle, whom she grew to know while working at the Downtown General Hospital and he was visiting patients.
And many of her lady friends in her various women’s clubs when she was middle aged were often a generation older, while one or two others were perhaps a little flaky, the kind of people with whom others would not necessarily want to spend as much time. But my mother had a beautiful and patient tolerance.
She also had an admiration for the arts and could sense those with special talents, whether locally or internationally. She also had a deep love for nature and nature’s critters. Often these two came together during my younger years, when we would hop in the automobile and head up to the Plum Nelly clothesline arts show on scenic Lookout Mountain every October.
Regarding animals, I remember a muskrat took up residence in the creek below our house one time, and Mama made sure the less-sensitive Valleybrook golf course workers did not bother it.
Extra special were the walks Mama and I often took over at our farm in Mountain Creek as I grew older. My wife, Laura, often joined us after we married, as did Daddy.
My mother also had a love for old buildings, and realized that such areas as Fort Wood, North Chattanooga, and even downtown Chattanooga would enjoy a renaissance long before most other people came to that conclusion.
I know my interest in writing newspaper articles over the years about such topics as historic preservation, the natural environment, and people – whom I have tried to chronicle through profiles -- was inspired and instilled in me by my mother.
Perhaps the most important positive attribute of my mother was that she lived out her quiet Christian faith by example through helping others and always trying to do what was right. Occasionally, she would offer some advice in a non-authoritarian way.
Although Alzheimer’s Disease/dementia limited the depth of her conversation in recent years – even though I was grateful she still knew me – she strangely seemed back to her old self one recent Saturday.
I had made the mistake of trying to cover a golf tournament that day as a reporter, thinking it would be over by the early afternoon and I could still go to the wedding of the daughter of my boyhood friend, Kurt Schmissrauter.
By the time I talked with my mother that Saturday morning as I usually did after talking with Daddy, I knew I would likely have to miss the wedding due to my own fault. My mother, however, was able to add something like, “You can always go to a golf tournament, but you do not get a chance to go to someone’s wedding but once.”
It was vintage Mama advice, and I was glad to hear her be able to carry on a deeper conversation with me for the first time in months or maybe years.
Unfortunately, later that afternoon, I received a call from Daddy saying Mama had fallen and broken her hip. It was too much for her to overcome at 87 years old, and she died on Thursday – which was also my sister’s birthday.
It was heart breaking, but we can take solace in our belief that she has been reunited in heaven with her parents after eight decades and is happily chatting away again with her identical twin sister.
Goodbye Mama. I love you, and we will see you on the other side.