On the worst day of my life, Mary showed up to save the day with nothing more than a smile and a cough drop. My grandmother had died the day before, and I spent the night alternately sleeping and crying. When dawn finally came, I woke fully with a cough and that sick feeling you get when you realize it wasn’t just a bad dream. I could hear my grandfather sobbing in the next room. I cried more. And I coughed more. I could hear footsteps approaching my bedroom and expected it to be my mom. Instead, it was Mary, with her Mary smile and a cough drop. She unwrapped the cough drop and put it in my mouth, as any good mom would do. She said, “Good morning!” and I believed her.

Mary had visited our home many times, but never had she been there before eight o’clock in the morning and never in a church dress. Even as a teenager, I understood that this was something much more than a friendly visit. Mary had arrived early and dressed to do the Lord’s work. She was, in the most literal way I have ever seen, the hands and feet of Christ.

Mary and Pam and my mom and I all met in Mrs. Ward’s first grade classroom. I can’t even remember who became friends first, the moms, or us, the little girls, but I remember almost everything else.  The moms baked cookies for our class parties, took our Girl Scout troop to camp, and kept each other company in their cars, parked by the curb, waiting for school to dismiss. They took us to wrap houses when we were too young to drive, and they drove us across Houston to junior high football games so we could cheer for our mighty Leopards. They made countless youth choir sandwiches on Sunday nights and washed cars with us in the church parking lot to raise money for missions. And they laughed. About everything. In spite of everything. Sometimes, about nothing at all.

It was Mary and Pam, in fact, who invited me to the afore mentioned church. It was there that I met my first boyfriend and another boy who I would later marry. It was the church where I was baptized and where I learned that church was more than Sunday School shoes and a dime for the offering plate. I also learned what it meant to be an integral part of something bigger than myself, and that young people really could make a difference.

You’ve probably heard the saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.” I believe that’s true, and I believe I am blessed beyond measure to have had Mary in my village. Today, there is a little less laughter in the village, a little less joy, a little less compassion. What remains, however, is the memory of a life well lived, a role model surpassed by none, and a smile and a cough drop signaling that I would be okay. And I will be again. Even without a cough drop this time.


That Kind of Guy

dino flowers

I went to a celebration of life for Jim last week.  I called him Jim, but he was also known as Jimmy or Pop.  Sometimes, when his wonderfully wacky wife instigated shenanigans, he was known as “Poor Jim.” Though it was used often, it was a momentary label.  Everyone knew how much he adored her, even in her wackiness.  Especially in her wackiness.  He was that kind of guy.

Twice, when I had propane problems, Jim volunteered to come over and relight my water heater.  I knew how to do it.  I had done it before.  He insisted, though.  He was a volunteer firefighter, and said he’d rather light it for me than have to come put out the fire if something went wrong.  He brought the family along, and we got to visit.  It was something we didn’t do nearly enough.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but he would have come to help out even if there was no danger at all.  You see, he was just that kind of guy.

Jim’s wife once got it in her head that we could get rich making a grown-up version of Underoos with celebrities instead of superheroes and cartoon characters.  With a little help from Google Images and some iron-on transfer paper, I created a “prototype.”  We laughed.  A lot.  Jim laughed at least as much as we did.  When his friends found out about it, they all laughed too.  Because he was that kind of guy with that kind of friends.

At the memorial service, when no one was looking, the grandkids’ toy dinosaurs managed to attack and destroy a flower arrangement.  We can’t really be sure how it happened, but it’s no wonder.  Those dinosaurs were herbivores, after all.  Grown-ups could have been mad.  Grandkids could have been in trouble.  Neither was the case, however.  The messy arrangement remained throughout the service.  One dinosaur stood guard while the other tried to sleep off an over indulgence in mums and greenery.  It was a welcome bit of humor in the midst of great sadness.  Pop would have laughed the most.  That’s what a grandpa does when he’s that kind of guy.

As all things do in this social media age, word of Jim’s death appeared on Facebook.  Several people offered condolences and prayers for the family, but one comment read, “I will pray for your community.”  This person understood that grief would not, could not, be contained within a family.  It would engulf an entire town.  That’s the way it is when you lose that kind of guy.