I’m sure that everyone has memories of their mother and hopefully, most of them are good.
Let me be the first to tell you that I had two wonderful parents who did their absolute best to teach me the difference between right and wrong.
It was August 3, 1992 that my father passed on at the age of 71 after a long battle with cancer. And now, more than 25 years later, the day has come for us to tell my dear mother good bye.
Her name was Frances and she was a wonderful woman who was blessed to be married to my father for more than 45 years. She had a long and productive life and had celebrated her 94th birthday in September.
She was independent to a fault and lived alone until April 2013 when she broke her hip again and simply wasn’t able to take care of herself any longer. That’s when she moved to Elm Croft, a wonderful assisted living facility on Gunbarrel Road. She loved it over there and couldn’t have been happier in those final years.
I’m so grateful that mother was a healthy person all her life and spent very little time in the hospital or sick in bed. She had been taken to the emergency room at Erlanger on Sunday morning after being non-responsive at breakfast and she took her final breath across the street at the Hospice Care Center early Thursday.
I guess her official cause of death was a horrible blood infection called Sepsis, but the bottom line is my mother was old and tired, her body was just worn out and her prayers were finally answered for the good Lord to take her home.
Earlier this week when I went to bed, I lay there and thought about all the wonderful things my mother did for me and what a positive impact she had on my life. My goal is to share some of this same information at her funeral on Tuesday, but I wanted to offer a final tribute to her and to let you be part of some wonderful memories I’ve experienced in my 62 years.
My family moved to Chattanooga in 1960 and lived in a Glenwood duplex while our house was being built. I was just four at the time, so most of my days were spent with mother before I entered the first grade. It was during that time my parents built the house I was raised in on a wooded lot in Murray Hills.
That neighborhood wasn’t nearly as populated then as it is now, but I’ll never forget my mother and I would go up to our new house almost daily to see what was going on and to watch the progress of construction. That was a pretty cool experience and I’ll be forever grateful that we were able to do that.
Another unique I had with mother came when I was still in elementary school, probably around the third grade. My father took both of my sisters to a basketball tournament over at City High while my mother and I decided to attend a rodeo at the old Warner Park field house.
I have no idea why we went in different directions that night, but we did. I was really amazed at what I witnessed, but my heart was really feeling heavy during the calf roping part. I was just sure that those young calves were really getting hurt as they got lassoed, thrown to the ground, their legs tied up and left to fend for themselves.
Finally, I turned to my mother and started crying because I just knew they were being hurt really bad. She did a great job of convincing me that all was okay. Although I’m not sure I really bought into the idea, but we stayed until the end.
I think it’s ironic and fitting that my mother’s last meal was breakfast on Sunday. As long as I can remember, she was always harping at me about why I should eat breakfast and that it was the most important meal of the day if that was the only one. I bet my mother didn’t miss breakfast five times in her life.
My mother was a proud graduate of the University of Georgia and a devoted Bulldog fan. She spent her life as a homemaker, wife and mother. For most of my life, she cooked three hots meals daily for seven days a week. Her mother was also a great cook, so she took on that role seriously and that’s why we ate out only on rare and special occasions.
Birthdays were also special at our house and we always had homemade birthday cakes. What a special treat that was.
I’ll never forget when my oldest sister Emily was a freshman at UT-Knoxville and our family would go up for football games on Saturday afternoon. Back in those days, most games had a 2 p.m. kickoff.
My mother would get up at the crack of dawn and fry chicken for our lunch before the football game. We’ve laughed a bunch of times in the years since, remembering the looks we got from passing fans as we spread the tablecloth on the parking lot and had fried chicken with all the trimmings and a homemade cake for dessert.
Thinking back on all those experiences, not all of them were good and certainly not funny at the time.
One was a time when my dear friend Steve Parker and I decided to get into a paint fight at our house. Don’t ask why we thought it might be a good idea, but we got out cans of pine green paint and basically started slinging it everywhere. It was on the carport floor, some on the red bricks of the house, but mostly on us.
I'm pretty sure my mother was never more mad at me than she was that day. It just so happens that my father was in Memorial Hospital at the time after surgery for kidney stones and she came home from there to find us being total delinquents.
I’ll never forget the gasoline bath I got and just how bad my skin burned from that raw gas my mother used to get the paint off my body. It’s a dang miracle that sparks didn’t fly and cause an explosion.
No doubt, my father wasn’t too happy to hear that story, but I paid dearly in the coming weeks as we spent a bunch of Saturdays on my hands and knees scraping the paint off that carport floor with wire brushes and steel wool.
I have no idea where Steve disappeared to that day, but he saw the handwriting on the wall, knew that stuff was getting ready to hit the fan and was out of there as quickly as possible.
Another time my mother got really ticked at me happened on Feb. 13, 1972. I was a junior at Baylor at the time and it was a Sunday afternoon. On most Sunday’s, I’d go to youth choir at my church, but I was AWOL that day as my friends John Cavett, Monte Coulter and I had wandered off to Pine Hill, the TVA property between the Coast Guard station and the Chickamauga Dam swimming area.
We went down there from time to time to push down dead pine trees – please don’t ask me why – and that day I suffered a broken arm. It was really a tough day for me because I had to throw my cigarettes away as my parents didn’t know I smoked at the time.
When I got home and ran into my mother, she didn’t have time to deal with me as my sister and her husband had been home for the weekend and getting ready to leave. She didn’t have the least bit of compassion for me, but it wasn’t long until we went to the hospital and I had a cast on my left arm from my hand to my shoulder.
I guess she eventually forgave me for that, but it seemed like it took forever.
My father did a lot of traveling for work back in those days, so my mother basically ran the house in his absence. She never was a big woman physically, but her word was law and that was the end of the discussion.
I’ll never forget moving back home after I had flunked out of UT my freshman year. I was in the habit of staying out until the wee hours of the morning and then sleeping most of the afternoon.
My mother made it real clear real quick that if I planned to live in her house, I was going to abide by her rules and that included being up at a decent hour in the morning and doing something productive, namely work. Again, it was one of those lessons that took a while to catch on, but I survived those days and she never killed me.
My parents used to take their Airstream to Florida every winter, leaving a day or so after Christmas and staying down South until early spring when my father had to come home to plant his garden.
Even after my father’s death, my mother purchased one of those fancy Airstream motorhomes and continued on those annual treks, driving from Chattanooga to south Florida all by herself. I was always amazed by her courage and lack of fear driving through Atlanta at all hours of the day.
Many years later when my sisters and I made the big decision to take her car keys away, she tried to pull a fast one on us. She called AAA and told them she had lost her keys, so they came out and made her a new set.
That didn’t sit well with me and I made it real clear to her that we were serious about her not driving any longer, making sure she knew that we’d take her anywhere she needed to go.
Perhaps one of the happiest days of my mother’s life as far as I was concerned took place on May 6, 2001 when I finally earned my undergraduate degree from UTC. I had wasted lots of time and even more of my parent’s money, but I was finally awarded a college diploma and it was a joyous occasion for all of us.
I joked for a long time that I was on the 30-year plan, but both my parents were believers in the importance of education and no doubt, my mother was thrilled when her little boy finally achieved that goal.
I always felt like my mother was like the cat with nine lives. She really lived a charmed life for the most part and dodged more than her share of bullets.
The first was back several years ago when those horrible tornadoes came ripping through town. At the time, she was used to sleeping late, but on that particular day, was up getting ready for a Bible study at Red Bank Baptist.
Two huge pine trees crashed into her house, including one directly above her bedroom. A huge piece of sheet rock came crashing down onto her bed and would surely have killed her instantly if she hadn’t already been up.
Another time she was the victim of a home invasion. The guilty party knocked on her back door to see if anyone was home, but because she was slow getting up and getting to that end of the house, they just kicked her back door in.
As she was walking down the hall to answer the door, she ran into those young thugs. Miraculously, they turned and ran without laying a finger on her. You want to talk about missing a good opportunity to get hurt.
We were always relieved with the happiness she felt in her second home at Elmcroft. I must confess that I didn’t go see her as often as I probably should have, but I’d drop by at least once every week or so.
Even in recent months when her memory was slipping and carrying on a decent conversation was all but impossible, she still had her wits about her.
Even at the very end when I’d go see her and she was confined to a wheelchair, I’d lean over to hug her and kiss her cheek as I was preparing to tell her goodbye.
Without hesitation, she’d look up at the and say, “You haven’t shaved today.”
She was exactly right and we laughed about that, but I just responded by saying that she was spoiled rotten by my father Bruce and that there wasn’t a day in their life together that he didn’t shave first thing every morning. Too bad I haven’t followed in his footsteps concerning that habit.
We all knew that our mother wasn’t going to live forever, but there were times when we weren’t real sure. I’m really glad that we all got to visit with her every day this week and even on days she was totally unresponsive, I’m sure she was aware of our presence and could hear clearly every word we were saying.
I always felt like my father was the most influential of my parents, but I’m quickly realizing that mother played a big role in my life as well.
As you can tell by what I’ve written, she did an awful lot for me, even on days when I didn’t deserve it. She loved me unconditionally and did her best to teach me similar life lessons.
It’s been a long and wonderful journey for my mother, but after 94 years, two months and 16 days, she’s finally reached the finish line.
I will always be thankful to her for all the sacrifices she made on my behalf and I’m sure that we’ll continue to laugh in the days ahead about all the wonderful memories we have.
I’m just glad that today, she’s not confined to a wheelchair, she’s not bed-ridden and she’s finally reunited with my father.
It just doesn’t get any better than that.
(email John Hunt at firstname.lastname@example.org)