I’ve known several wonderful Marys who have made a difference in my life. After all, at my seasoned age I’ve known quite a few. Someone recently used that description of people past seventy and I love it! Seasoned sounds a lot more exciting than just plain old. Our elders have ever so much to offer those coming behind. I’ve always found it to be so, way before I began receiving senior discounts myself.
So–about those Marys, two of them, particularly.
There was a wonderful lady in the church where I grew up named Mary Church. She had grown up in a nearby community with the maiden name of Mary Loggins. My parents spoke of her affectionately as “little Mary.” I thought that was pretty funny since, when I knew her, she was a lady with many responsibilities in Clarkesville Baptist Church and our little town. It was hard to think of her as a small girl on the Loggins’ farm up on New Liberty Road. I knew that farm. When our hens weren’t laying enough eggs for our big family my brother and I were sent to buy eggs from Mr. Loggins, Mary’s father. Could that beautiful lady I knew once have gathered eggs and dug potatoes?
Mrs. Church, as I knew her, sang beautifully, directed our church choir, and taught Bible lessons to the children. Her husband was a mortician whose business, the only funeral home in town at the time, was directly across the street from our church. It seemed to me that Mrs. Church lived at our church. I couldn’t imagine it without her. In fact, she was the church. Pastors might come and go but Mrs. Church was always there.
When Mrs. Church sang, her voice lilted with peace, love and joy from the Master Himself. Her face glowed with the message she was trying to impart. I particularly remember her singing “His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.” I had no doubt God was watching her because I saw His goodness in her face and also in her life.
She didn’t have children of her own. But she loved all us “church” children as if we were hers. She made Bible stories come to life, stories of Abraham and Moses and Jesus. She taught or directed Vacation Bible School many years and told the most fascinating missionary stories. Even when she reprimanded us, we knew Mrs. Church was our friend.
As a teenager my respect for Mrs. Church grew. She talked my parents into letting me join the choir with the understanding that she would pick me up at our rural driveway for practice on Wednesdays. What I didn’t realize, until that first pick up, was that Mrs. Church would be driving the hearse. I was quite awed by the long sleek black automobile with its plush, roomy interior that smelled slightly of old flowers. But Mrs. Church’s warm greeting and completely comfortable attitude set me at ease. I probably was brazenly smug with my siblings who had never had such an unusual ride.
After Charles and I married we went together to visit Mrs. Church and her husband, Marler, in their neat bungalow beside the funeral home. She was, as always, warm and interested in what we were doing. She asked questions about veterinary medicine and encouraged me to write. It was the last time I would see her. Some time after she died when I was visiting Clarkesville Baptist, Mr. Church came to me and told me sorrowfully how he missed his Mary.
The other Mary so important in my life is Mary Ward of Cairo, Georgia. When we moved to Cairo in 1968, Charles was a new graduate of the University of Georgia School of Veterinary Medicine. He worked very long days at Cairo Animal Hospital with Dr. Eugene Maddox. I was home alone, five months pregnant, and homesick. But Henley and Mary Ward lived right across the street from us. They weren’t the only good neighbors. We were surrounded by sweet caring folks. But “Miss Mary” became the mentor I needed who might say “I’ll pester you to death, honey. I’ll always be right here.” As the time came for my baby to be born, she called every day. “I don’t see diapers on the line yet,” she might say hoping maybe I’d begun labor pains.
After William was born, Miss Mary settled in to her role as substitute grandmother. She cuddled him, cooed over him, begged to babysit any time I needed her. She did not hold back from correcting me when she saw the need. She shared her grocery coupons and her wisdom. She assured me it was okay for my baby to scoot himself using one leg as a pusher instead of crawling on all fours.
We moved away from that neighborhood when William was three so I didn’t get to see Miss Mary as much. But I loved the way her eyes lit up whenever she saw us around town or at church or when we popped in at her house. Her “How are you doing?” was genuine and called for a full response.
For the last few years I’ve seen Miss Mary in a different setting. Her husband and oldest son, Phil, had died. Eventually she moved into an assisted living facility named Magnolia Place. Her son Dennis and his family are very attentive. She’s always been happiest bragging on those she loves and now when I visit her she brags profusely on Dennis. And, since I do a devotional at Magnolia Place nearly every Tuesday, I see her often. When I pop in to her room to remind her it’s devotional time, she raises her eyebrows and smiles. “Tuesday again already?” She’s very deaf so can’t hear much of what is said at devotional. But she smiles and contributes anyway.
Recently, I arrived at Magnolia Place sad since I knew Miss Mary had fallen and was in the hospital. When Charles and I visited her in the nursing home she was moved to, she couldn’t talk, only barely smile and pucker her forehead. But in my head I could hear her saying “Let me get you both some sweet tea. It’s hot outside” or “Honey, I’ll pester you to death. I’ll always be right here.”
Shortly after I wrote the above paragraphs about Miss Mary I got word she had died. I missed her so when I walked into Magnolia Place yesterday. Dennis and his family will miss her more keenly than anyone. But Miss Mary is having a wonderful reunion with her husband and son and others right now, I have no doubt. She may be climbing a mountain free of her walker, or picking flowers in a glorious garden, drinking crystal clear water, hearing the angels in chorus, and, best of all, meeting Jesus face to face. And someday we will see Mary Ward again in that place reserved for those who trust in Jesus.
Two dear Marys–I’m glad God put them in my life.