What a week this has been - you have been amazing companions on this journey, and I am thankful for your support and interest. It is fun to consider that Mom can make this much splash after twenty one years! As I've said this week, one of Mom's best gifts was her ability to teach us all through story; so I guess it is no surprise that her voice is still alive.
I've heard from so many folks this week, from distant family members to old friends to Mom's former students. You've remembered the stories with me, and that means so much. I hope Mom knows about all of our remembering and laughing - I bet she does.
I couldn't tell it all in just five posts - that's not possible. There is much to tell; there are wonderful stories and hard times, unforgettable moments and moments of sadness. Mom's life was like ours, a terrific mixture of so much. She struggled and laughed and worked and cried and loved and learned like us all. That's a picture too large to paint with just the words on a blog, but it has been a wonderful gift to attempt to describe her, to give you the essence of who she was.
There are still many stories left to tell, and I believe I will tell them. I'll keep searching and remembering, and from time to time, I'll let Mom speak again on this blog. I'm convinced she still has much to tell and to teach. Fridays are 'list days' on Press Pause, so today's list will be a few things that I didn't get to tell you about my mother.
- Mom's interesting name was actually quiet common when she was a child in South Georgia. It was a custom to be called by a combination of your mother and father's first names. She WAS NOT the only Mary George in her little town of Douglas, Georgia. She told me once that she and the others with the same name instituted the Mary George Club, and it came as no surprise that she was the president of the club!
- Mom tried everything in her growing up years. My grandfather used to tell me that Mom took lessons on everything, looking for her niche. She tried it all, from horseback riding to trumpet playing and everything in between! She was interested in politics from her beginning and specialized in 'oratory.' During the Sibley Commission that toured the state of Georgia (aiming to keep schools segregated, but offering both sides to speak their minds), Mom was a speaker on behalf of integrating the public schools. That was the start of life to be filled with speaking out for equal rights for everyone, an ideal she held always. Mom was not afraid to speak her mind, and she continued to feel that it was her duty to use her talents, her voice and her story-telling to help make things right.
- There are many times I've been proud of my mother; one of those occasions was when she quit her teaching job of years in Jackson County, Georgia when there was a large book-banning policy implemented. In my opinion, the letter she wrote in defense of her decisions and the need to have systems in place to allow qualified professionals the autonomy to make decisions on behalf of their students, was among her best writing. She felt it was wrong for anyone to let fear keep them from speaking out for the right thing.
- I didn't get to tell you about the time that Mom tried to display her penchant for the dramatic in a play production at LaGrange College - she described it so well, using her voice to foreshadow her impending doom . . . she took to the stage, reciting her lines and she felt that a dramatic leap towards stage front would mark her place in the play. I will interject here that dance was not among Mom's best talents. She ran towards the audience, neared the stage edge and did her best, most athletic and beautiful leap with all that she had. Unfortunately, she soared into the air and then off the stage, into the laps of the unassuming folks in the front row. I wish you could hear her tell about the number of people who tried to help to force her legs back together. It was her best 'split' ever, and she finally had to be awkwardly belted into a wheel chair, and rolled away to the infirmary, one leg still forcefully pointing towards the heavens! Like other moments, she would always laugh the loudest as she recounted her doomed performance!
- I did not get to tell you about how her two favorite classes to teach were the very highest level students and the very lowest level ones or about how she set up systems to bring the two together. I'd like for you to hear the parents of her students describing how they, too, read the assigned books and had their children (Mom's students) explain what Ms. Murphy had revealed in the class discussion that day.
- I didn't have the time to tell you about the nights she spent at her sewing machine, making costumes for our ballets, the likes of which you cannot imagine. When Mom heard about what needed to be made, she didn't spend any time explaining what she didn't know how to do - she just got busy, inventing, creating, learning how to do what was required. She often seemed like a bit of a magician, just like she described her grandmother Jones. She could take ten random items and use them to create a costume that was then used by the Atlanta Ballet in The Nutcracker!
- You read about her sense of adventure and her need to search for the answers; but I didn't get to tell you about the time she tip-toed alone through a pasture in the hills of England, suddenly to realize that she was being chased by a humongous black bull! And I didn't get to share about a crazy search she set out on in Saint Simon's Island, where she poked through weeds and debris, searching for answers to historical questions - she loved to tell about how she quietly plodded along, nearing a dilapidated old slave cabin, concentrating on what she was searching for, when suddenly she startled a large, antlered deer who chased her back to her car at the edge of the brush. Guess what? She waited for a bit to catch her breath and for the deer to find another interest and then she got back to the adventure at hand and went back on her hunt!
- You might not know about Mom's move to Saint Simon's Island; a move that marked a re-starting of her life. She rediscovered herself there, spent time with folks she loved and began to make her mark on a new group of people. I always felt that buying her new house there, the house that was just hers, was a wonderful beginning for her. She had dreamed of living on the island, and she loved her time there. During her first summer, Mom decided to use her preparation time completing a research paper, an exercise that she would share with her new students to walk them along the steps of constructing the perfect paper. She opted to research the history of the area where she lived, to look deeper into the lives and stories of the people who had resided there years before. She loved the investigation and found herself contacting descendants of early islanders and digging up old stories that needed to be told. At one point, a friend read her 'paper' and exclaimed that she thought that Mom just might know more about that area of the island than anyone else ever had. The friend took Mom's work to acclaimed writer, Eugenia Price, who agreed. Mom struck up a relationship with Ms. Price and many other area authors, and they put her in contact with Mildred Huie, a well-loved artist and historian of the area. Mildred asked Mom to write the last book of a series she had begun years before with a friend who had passed away. The duo had written books on each of the main plantations of the island and had only the Kelvin Grove area to write. It was the perfect match! Mom and Mildred combined their efforts and published a book about Kelvin Grove, the East Beach and King and Prince area of the island. It was an amazing experience for Mom and for all of us. I still have some copies from the last publishing of the book - if you'd like one, let me know. I'd be happy to send you one, compliments of Mom.
- And I didn't tell you about the other sides of her life; those other sides we all have. I didn't describe her struggles, the times she didn't feel she measured up. She was human, like the rest of us, and she had the same dark times that the rest of us do. She suffered with depression during parts of her adult life and she and I spent years arguing with one another, screaming out our anger at each other and saying things I know we both regretted later. She came out on the other side of her bitterness and sadness felt during her middle years and, together, the two of us came out of our arguing and got to be real friends in her last years. We had always had fun together; but in the last few years of her life, we were able to truly enjoy each other, to notice the good in each other and to ignore the ways that we had hurt each other in the times we did not get along. I thank God for that. I remember looking out the plane window on the trip to England in l99l and realizing that my Mom and I truly appreciated each other, that we were adults who respected the other, who adored each other. I am eternally grateful.
- Mom died on a trip to England in 1991. I accompanied her on the trip, along with fifteen or so of her past students. Mom had spent the previous summer in the Cambridge College summer program and had been invited back to serve as a tutor in the program. Many of her former students, hearing that Mom would be there, registered for the program to share the experience with Mom, and we all traveled there for the summer. Mom had some health problems and had been urged by her doctor not to make the trip. Her doctors were puzzled about what was wrong with her, and they wanted the summer to try to make a diagnosis. Mom wouldn't hear of cancelling the trip. We wondered, all of us, in the months leading up to our departure, why she was so insistent that the trip take place. We urged her to change her mind and assured her that we could do the entire experience the following year. She was insistent that we go along with our plans. We set out for England, for our summer adventure, with that marvelous group of young people. We laughed often with Mom, about how giddy she seemed about the whole thing. To her, experiencing her promised land with one of her daughters and all of those precious students was a life-changing event. She reveled in every day, every adventure and every moment that she sparked the imagination of one of her students. It was an unbelievably special time. During the week, we lived in a dorm on the campus, pretending that we were in college in England! Each weekend we took trips by train or car to areas that Mom had investigated and wanted us to see. She took us to each of the areas in T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets (except for the one in the states) and we followed behind her, laughing when she did something crazy and listening intently when she read to us the words she loved so much. Mid-way through the trip, Mom and I and two others headed out to spend the weekend in a cottage tucked away in the Cotswalds, a particular cabin she knew to be important in the literary genius of Britain. On Mom's last day on this earth, we experienced magic unlike any other on the trip. Mom co-piloted directions as I drove us to Little Gidding, a community of Anglican prayer which sheltered the king during the war, fifteen miles from Cambridge. Looking back through the very book that Mom read from on the day - the book that still has the pressed rose given to her by a student on our day at East Coker, another of the four quartets in Eliot's final published poem - I can see clearly now how the many pieces of Mom's life culminated there, in that place, on that day. Though my mother lived and thrived in many places on this earth, that day we stood in a place that contained so much of what she believed about her earthly life and Mom told us the stories and read the words that she felt best described life's meaning. She was connected to that space in a way I cannot understand, in a way I cannot explain, and I have no doubt that there was a reason we visited there on that day. As I write this, I feel thankful to be telling another part of her story. It is sad, to be sure, but today I feel a vast sense of awe about it all. Today I am thankful. I'm holding Mom's tattered copy of Eliot's book, and I am glad I'm telling this story. It's one of the stories of Mom and one of the stories about me and one of the stories of all of the other people who have read the same words, prayed the same prayers. On my mother's last afternoon, she led her three fledgling ducklings into the chapel at Little Gidding and to a grave stone just down the lane, a space where she had never worshiped and a place where she had always worshiped, and she read us these words . . .
. . . and that is where we start. We die with the dying: See, they depart, and we go with them. We are born with the dead: See, they return, and bring us with them. The moment of the rose and the moment of the yew-tree are of equal duration.
. . . We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. Through the unknown, remembered gate when the last of earth left to discover is that which was the beginning; at the source of the longest river the voice of the hidden waterfall.
. . . And all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well when the tongues of flame are in-folded into the crowned knot of fire and the fire and the rose are one.
We left Little Gidding on our way to the Cotwalds and detoured a bit for a visit to Coventry, a place my Mom and I had always wanted to visit. Much of the efforts of Mom's life were for peace, for her great hope that this world's different people would one day live together in a loving way. Coventry was the perfect illustration of those beliefs, a town with an active cathedral which has become known the world-over for it's peace and reconciliation efforts.
On the night of 14 November 1940, the city of Coventry was devastated by bombs dropped by the Luftwaffe. The Cathedral burned with the city, having been hit by several incendiary devices.
The decision to rebuild the cathedral was taken the morning after its destruction. Rebuilding would not be an act of defiance, but rather a sign of faith, trust and hope for the future of the world.
Shortly after the destruction, the cathedral stonemason, Jock Forbes, noticed that two of the charred medieval roof timbers had fallen in the shape of a cross. He set them up in the ruins where they were later placed on an altar of rubble with the moving words 'Father Forgive' inscribed on the Sanctuary wall.
In this space of horrid destruction, the scene is now one of complete peace. The altar area of that bombed cathedral still stands and you move through that area to enter the new worship area. It is moving beyond words. That Friday afternoon we arrived there, laughing and enjoying our time together. Our jovial celebration quickly turned to a silent time of prayer when we entered that amazing place. We no longer talked and each of us quietly spoke inside ourselves. I remember watching Mom as she made her way to that great sanctuary of reconcile, that moving testament to forgiveness. She walked slowly, and I actually felt all the times of her life when she had preached and spoke and written the ways of peace - I could see her teaching her students lessons far past any that they would face on an AP test, I could imagine her marching for the rights of her sisters and brothers of a different color, I could even hear her telling my sister and me her quiet disappointment when she heard others, in public or in her own family, speak of other of God's children in a derogatory way. I could see in her eyes, in her slow movements, the many pieces, the struggles and the victories that had pieced together to create her life. It was another gift of quiet magic in that day.
No one can look at that crooked "Father Forgive" sign, site of all of those prayers, and ever be the same. I won't forget it and I won't forget being fortunate enough to be there with my Mom.
My Mom left this world soon after that. We had a delightful dinner, where we talked and laughed and marveled at what we had seen just in that short afternoon. We knew then that we would never forget that time. We didn't know everything then, but we knew we were living moments that would be at the forefront of the rest of our being.
My Mom died in a head-on collision on a small, country road in the literary haven that she so loved. After stopping to get our final mile of directions to the cottage, I apparently re-entered that road on the wrong side of the road (the right side) and the last I remember of our time together was laughing. I had entered a pub in the middle of Hereford County to ask for directions. The pub was loud and bustling and the moment I opened my southern-born mouth, the whole place stopped what they were doing and looked my way. They gave me the simple directions and I went back to the car, all of us laughing about my breaking into that average evening at the country pub.
I am thankful for the sound that I still hear - the sound of my Mom laughing. I don't know why we had to have the accident. I don't know why my mother decided not to put on her seatbelt. I don't know why that was the only time in my adult life that I saw her oversight and didn't ask her to buckle up, though I do remember thinking that the day was just too wonderful. I didn't want to break in with any reality - didn't want to take even a moment to rain on her parade. And so I didn't and my Mom was the only person lost in the accident.
I will not claim that it has been easy, because it hasn't been. I spent years in a guilty haze, a place I know now that I'm a mother myself, that my mother would not have wanted me to be. I thank God and my amazing family and friends and a few years of life-changing therapy that I came out on the other side.
I would give anything to see my mother again, to watch her looking at my children and laughing with Tim. I would like to talk to her about my new creative life. I would like to laugh with her about all of the ways that I just know that Molly is so very like Mary George Dean of Douglas, Ga. I would love to be witness to Mom and Emma as they worked on a project together, sharing their love of wondering and creating. I would relish in watching my Mom and Harry laughing and dancing, as he attempted to teach her how to do the latest moves. And I can actually envision Tim and Mom, lingering around the dinner table, beating each other with smart, sarcastic retorts or in a gentle and quiet conversation about their most intimate beliefs.
Those moments would be wonderful, they would, but they are not part of this life. That is not to say that Mom is absent here. She is in my house when someone in my family says something that could only have originated with her or when I study hard to figure out the meaning of a story or when Emma stares off in thought and looks exactly like my Mom and her 'people.' She is here and I know she laughs with us. She is still alive in the stories, and she helps me remember why telling them is so vital to our existence.
I plan to keep looking for the stories and I appreciate those of you who come along on the journey. This week has meant more to me than I could have imagined on Sunday night, just five days ago. I had no idea what I was attempting, but I am thankful that we've done it. I've spent the week with Mom, and I thank God for that.
I don't know why things happen the way they do instead of the way they don't - I just know that we are supposed to keep telling the stories and that is what I intend to do. I plan to tell you about my unbelievable father, too, and I promise I'll do that while he is here to read it.