Eulogizing My Mother

img_1239First, we are deeply grateful to our Tullahoma FUMC family for helping Granny Due navigate church life. As our brothers and sisters in Christ, you gently guided Granny around our church home. You extended steady arms, offered countless re-introductions, and sat by her side. Your loving-kindness lifted our worries. To the staff, especially Theresa for short notice preaching: thank you! You allowed us to keep a vigil with mom and begin our grief work.

To my sons, Lewis who picked mom up from Trinity Care Center three days a week, brought her home, fixed her a snack and then shared holy conversation, it is no surprise that Granny offered her last strained words to you, who listened so well. And Caleb- four years ago at supper, as Granny worried aloud about her confused presence being “a burden on our family”, I sat pondering how to comfort mom, you interrupted granny’s grief exclaiming “granny you are our family”. Your unequivocal welcome lifted her spirits. Lewis and Caleb, for never once complaining or even giving a flippant teenage shrug, when Granny added a task or delayed our plans, I am proud of you to my core.  “Honor our parents”- is the sixth commandment. Thank you for freely returning honor to Granny who poured love into you.

My brother, who has always asked what can I do, and has never complained, second guessed, or judged the decisions I have made during the four years mom lived with us. Thank you John.

Connie, thank you for deeply loving my mother, who always took your side in every argument!  You two have lived the passage from Ruth, where Ruth says to her mother-in law, “Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried.” (Ruth 1:17-18). As Mom and I washed dishes, after meeting Connie mom said “Paul, I like that girl; she is the first girl who can shut you up.” Mom thought Connie might be a wise partner. Connie, I do not have enough time to thank you enough.

The greatest commandment is to first love God and then love later. Mom was a person of regular, conversational, and deep prayer. Mother continued to be able to find her words in prayer long after Alzheimer’s took her sentences away. Perhaps she was most comfortable speaking to her “Heavenly Father” with ease, clarity, and beauty. Even when she could not remember where she was she could pray “Heavenly Father, we do not like this disease, we do not understand. Lord, help us accept your will… Help us see your blessings.”  

The happiness, smile, and moral courage in my mother’s life came from a deep reservoir of love for God and service to neighbors. She saw her parents, Ark and Clackie’s, faith in action. My grandfather rode along on the milk truck run to Louisville, to visit church members in hospital. My grandmother read the Bible and the newspaper to Ark every night. Clackie feed the preacher most Sunday afternoons. My mother kept up that tradition and helped each son hear a call to ministry.

grampyMom and dad modeled equality. Mom did not getting married until age 26 holding a degree and a teaching career. As partners they bickered but valued each other’s opinion. They talked about problems, debated issues, and prayed together. Dad told me, “Your mother is the greatest thing that ever happened to me” then pausing to weight that he added “well, maybe the Lord….”

Joann Sims Purdue, Momma Due, Granny Due was a great mom. Mother always taught. Riding home from a West Virginia swim meet we wondered aloud if the blackish rocks dotting the hillsides were coal? Mom pulled over, tractor trailers whizzing by, as we gathered potential coal samples, put them in the car trunk, and later burned them in our wood-burning stove. Not coal, but maybe a lesson in the scientific method. As an adult Connie and I took a houseboat vacation with my folks. Asleep in our cabin mom comes whispering “wake up and come see the stars!” Pointing out my lack of enthusiasm for a “Ranger Talk” at 2am, I reluctantly ascended the ladder to the houseboat roof to join Connie and six other summoned houseboat guests. Mom handed me a blanket and scurried off to make hot chocolate. The dark sky, free from human lighting, danced with starlight. We sat in holy silence. A TV-free childhood filled with such teaching moments, made carrying her gear easy, as she hiked Mount Leconte at age 79. Atop the Mount, watching eight children romping around, she taught me to see God in children’s play saying, “Look, Paul, children playing in a mountain meadow. What could be more glorious? Thank You, Jesus!”

Now, Mom could be tough enforcing her progressive discipline. She set the stove timer for what some called “time out”. In solitary confinement I sat fuming at our yellow Formica kitchen table. Like a prison warden Mother, seeing me scowl would say “I don’t like your attitude Mr. Purdue” and twisting the knob moved my sentence back by 5to10 more minutes. Mom did not tolerate back-talk, sassing or any “ugly” speech. She once washed my Uncle Dave’s mouth out with soap. She did not spank much; she simply arranged the contingencies to direct our behavior.

When dyslexia made my learning to read elusive, (I struggled to spell “what” even in college) we sat at the dining room table weeping while sing-song working through words- “Va-ca-tion”. We did the fourth grade twice, mom teaching me to joke that “the teacher liked me so well she wanted me to come back”.   Years, later mom stood weeping different tears at my induction into Phi Beta Kappa. A dean, unaware of our long journey, patted mom’s arm with a patronizing hint said “You must be awfully proud”. Mom stood taller and said ‘Dean Flowers, “You have no idea” how far we have come’!

Each summer Mother took each of our boys individually for a long visit. At the suggestion of a seven year-old, they arose at 3am Eastern Time and drove back to Nashville before everyone woke up just to surprise us by ringing the doorbell at dawn! She would snuggle with Caleb writing words on his back with her finger. When I came in to check on them, she would pull the covers over their heads and they would snore. Driving home through a rainstorm we arrived home to see the boys romping about in a series of muddy puddles left by some driveway construction, the boys squealing “don’t tell daddy”.

Jesus says “If you only love those who love you, what eternal reward is there in that?” (Matthew 5:44) How are you any different from anyone else?” John Wesley labeled that simply heathen morality!  My mother and father taught Sunday school, gave well beyond their tithe, went on mission trips, bought Christmas presents for needy children in mother’s classes, and opened their home for people needing a place to stay. One young man lived with them for over 2 years. Mom knew if you love God, then you must serve your neighbor, the stranger, the poor, and the hungry.

Mom grew up without electricity or running water. At 16 she saw workers putting up tall narrow utility poles across the field and wondered what kind of fence they were building before realizing that Rural Electrification was bringing lights to the farm! Mom taught the pleasures we take for granted like electric lights. Mom taught us to laugh at ourselves, when we think the utility pole might be a fence post for an elephant.

With a second grade education, Ark and Clackie saved money to send Mom to college. Mom wanted to go to Union College, several hours away. Her older brother Clellon protested “I am not driving to Tennessee every weekend to bring that girl home”.   Ark sent mom to Campbellsville College less than an hour away. In protest Mom did not go home until the Christmas break. Ark relenting saying “Honey, you made your point, you can go to Union”. Her college roommate from Korea, came home with mother and rode to church on a workhorse with the Sims. I wonder how many families without indoor plumbing sent their daughters to college in 1948? Twenty five years later, my dad cooked twice a week, as mom took night classes to earn her master’s degree in education from the University of Kentucky.

When she got to college, the administrators gathered all the students in the gym as the professors shared all the majors: medicine, education, geology, science, and law. The deans then took the boys out to register. The dean of women announced to the girls “all of you who want to be a nurse go to that end of the gym and those who want to be a teacher go to the other”.   Mom sat on the half-court line wondering where all the exciting options had gone! She hated to see blood, so she became a teacher. Mom could make you think about injustice in the most natural ways. Mom deeply loved God- if you deeply love God you will start caring about justice.

mom-schoolMom taught inner city school for decades at Harrison Elementary- a Title one school. One year Harrison made statewide headlines as half the first graders flunked first grade. At our dinner table, mom offered us a window into her children’s struggles.  She shuddered one snowy evening sharing how a certain Robert’s father punished the child by boarding up the fourth grader inside a doghouse during a snow storm. After such a tale, righteous indignation burned within her and she muttered towards Central Office “and they think all we need to do is teach these children to read” Like our Lord, mother was color blind. When some suburbanite would ask if an unruly child was black, mother would let an uncomfortable pause linger, and say “I can’t remember”. Mom who once campaigned for Nixon, came home in 1984 and whispered “I voted for Jesse Jackson, don’t tell your father.” Within seconds, I blurted out the news. Mother carried the dinner table debate saying “Bob, it is time for someone to care about the children I teach” Mom did not grow tired in good works. She pressed on with good works and good humor. She dressed up like a pilgrim and made huge stuffed orange pumpkin outfit she wore to school each year on Halloween. Without steady parents the teacher’s did all the Bake Sales-no fan of the kitchen mom bought a cake at Foodtown, placed the cake in the oven and labeled the card “from the oven of Joann Purdue” In college I once asked mom, why she stayed at a school with 5 fourth grade reading groups, “I want to light my candle and shine in my little dark corner” Friends, that we might all shine our good works, so that people might again know Christians, not by slogans or politics, but by our love. Mother poured love into us, nourishing us, but more than that giving us living water to share with others.

Oh, friends, this is not a sad day. Mom’s eternal life began long before we sang her into heaven on Monday. No, her eternal life is woven into us. We are richer for knowing her. She taught us to see God in a starry sky or a roomful of new students, light a candle in the dark, always pray, think, see injustice, find your better angels, give freely, love everyone, take a risk, women can do anything, and never take yourself too seriously. More than anything, I want to say thank you to mom. Amen.

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