Last of a Long Goodbye

Mary Arthur Anderson would have turned 91 years old on August 31, had she not passed away this year on Easter Sunday.

She was the first of five siblings that include Bill, of which he is second-to-last born. His younger sister, Hazel, and he are the two surviving siblings.

Mary was a faithful wife of 50 years to her husband, Cecil, on whom she waited and cared for when his health declined toward the end of his life. After his death, her strong bond with her children and grandchildren grew stronger as they drew even closer to her, making sure she never had a need nor a moment of loneliness.

Mary came to know a gentleman friend who kept her company, under the ever-watchful eye of her family. She was, hands-down, Bill’s favorite cook, whose versions of fried chicken, chicken and dumplings, rhubarb pie and banana pudding were his favorites. Look up the word “pistol,” as used to describe a human and not a firearm, and you’ll see Mary.

I wish I had a dollar for every time she told me how glad she was Bill and I had found each other.

Bill with his father, brother and sisters at our wedding.

She and Bill adored each other, her from a maternal orientation. Her father died when Mary was a small child, and several years passed before her mother married Bill’s father. After their parents had a baby boy, then a boy who died as a toddler, Bill finally came along. He was a toddler still sleeping in a crib when Mary married Cecil. On her wedding night, she made her new husband take her to her parents’ house so that she could kiss baby Bill goodnight and tuck him in.

Celebrating Mary’s birthday with her grandson, three sons, brother and man friend.
Birthday kiss

Her birthday was celebrated almost every year up to the last three or four, when her memory began to fade.

When memory loss progressed to the point she could no longer recall how to cook her family-favorite classics, or much else, her three sons arranged for a home health aide to stay with her over the work week. Her sons shared rotating duty for sitting with her on weekends.

Along with memory, time stole some of her pistol quality, but her eyes never lost their twinkle.

They looked out on Douglas Lake from her house with that spectacular view.

Her three sons and their Uncle Bill and I spent a Saturday there a couple of weeks ago, at the estate sale of her belongings and home furnishings–minus everybody’s sentimental favorites and heirlooms.

As much as such family business is routine and happening every day, somewhere, it still felt really personal and a little strange.

Strangers pulling up, walking through a grandmother’s home, turning over rugs and sliding clothes hangers over rods, picking up knick knacks and stacking up dishes.

I don’t have to tell you how odd it feels to answer a buyer’s question about an object at the same time it conjures a memory you’re keeping to yourself.

Or to stand by as people walk through parts of Mary’s house few but she and her husband ever occupied.

The day was hot, the sun relentless and the stream of buyers steady. We were scheduled to shut down at 4 p.m., but people were still buying until at least 5 p.m. Lots of buyers also were interested in the house. Which isn’t for sale, yet, but I expect to sell quickly, based on the number of inquiries. Not to mention the incredible, lakeside location.

Family birthday party, 2014.

We made the 2.5-hour drive up from Chattanooga that morning, and we were returning that night. On our way home, first, a Taste of Dandridge. That’s the actual name of the restaurant picked out by Mary’s son, Mike, where we had dinner before heading off on our separate ways. With Mike and his wife, Velina, that would be home in Strawberry Plains. Mary’s eldest, Cecil Jr., and his wife, Pam, live in Farragut. Her son, Mark, and his wife, Linda, live in Dandridge, only a few miles from Mary’s house.

The restaurant was good, so was the food, and the company was even better. It was a perfect ending to the day. We shared stories about Mary that still make us laugh.

If she’d been there, she would have laughed loudest.



I Know That My Redeemer Lives

I haven’t posted in a while, I know. Today was Easter Sunday, and it was exceptional, one to remember for multiple reasons, so here I am.

The exceptional and memorable part wasn’t all good. About 8 a.m. today, Bill got the call that his older sister, Mary, had passed away. She was about 16 years older than he is and, after daytime in-home care for the last seven years, she transitioned to a local nursing home not far from her house in Dandridge, Tennessee about three weeks ago. On Thursday night, Mary had what her doctors called “a mini stroke.” Between that and developing pneumonia in a lung, she never really recovered.

A short while later, we left the house for church with Mary on our minds. I’ll always remember this Easter for it being the day she departed this life.

As close friends know, we have struggled to find a church fit in Chattanooga. The exceptional group of people we’d known and worshiped with in Knoxville for more than 20 years, and the special chemistry and shared outlook we enjoyed as part of Grace Presbyterian, have proved a tough act to follow.

Let me caution that the jury is still out, but the church we visited this morning felt more like home to us than any of the several we’ve been to previously in Chattanooga. Most churches are fuller than usual on Easter morning and the order and program of worship tends to be not just Easter-centric, but kind of all about Easter. As it should be, since Easter Sunday is the most important day of the Christian calendar.

All of which is to say that we walked into the third of three services at Northshore Fellowship this morning busily managing our expectations, given the past lacks of connection where we’ve tried going to church. When I tell you the sanctuary (an older, reclaimed, medium-sized building very typical of a new church plant) was standing room only, believe it. We had to wait to go inside for all the people leaving the service just ended to come outside.

The church meets in a still very up-and-coming, but already trendy part of downtown Chattanooga. Its website points out that “parking is in short supply,” and cautions about some next-door businesses: “Do not park at Walgreens or the Post Office. They will tow.” Depending on your age group, Bible study and other gatherings happen in an adjacent coffee shop, pizzeria, architectural firm or donut stand.

We were glad to find a parking spot on church property 10 minutes before services. That 10 minutes was used up as the last worship group before us made their way out in the morning’s beautiful sunshine.

People were dressed variously–overwhelmingly casual and informal, just like the introductions and passing of the peace.

Bill and I have been accustomed to a mix of standard hymns and contemporary songs at church for years. In my heart, though, I do tend to light up at a hymn. There’s a familiarity with both the lyrics and the melody that lets me sing as fully as I feel like. As I’ve become more practiced at contemporary praise songs, they’ve also become more familiar, but singing a hymn is like catching up with a long-lost loved one for me.

Well, let me just tell you, when Northshore Fellowship began the 10:45 a.m. service with its 30-person choir (all ages, both genders, no choir robes) knocking me backward with its rich harmony on “I Know That My Redeemer Lives,” I was already getting to my feet before the song leader turned at the end of the first verse and gestured for the congregation to stand.

You don’t know how long I’ve waited to have that feeling in worship.

So long, in fact, that I quickly pulled out my phone to record the audio of the hymn. It was so great, I knew I’d want to listen again. I replayed it for Bill in the car after church, and we both talked about the good experience we’d just had. A timely, animated and impactful sermon, too. We will be back next week.

Meantime, I felt like I ought to do something with the audio. Among the many reasons I love hiking, including the times we’ve traveled specifically to do some hiking in new, celebrated territory, is that spending hours in majestic scenery is for me like spending communion with the Creator. Climbing mountains, overlooking a pristine lake or tromping in the “cathedral of the woods”–the hand of God is everywhere I turn.

Not to mention, as John Muir said and it’s so often true for me: “The mountains are calling, and I must go.”

So I put my recording of the opening worship song from Northshore Fellowship to use as the soundtrack of a slide show of some images from some of the most beautiful and inspiring places I’ve gotten to visit–checking out the Master’s handiwork, that is. I hope you like it.

And remember what Henry David Thoreau said, too: “Not all who wander are lost.”

I suggest those who are might find God if they go outside.