Twenty years ago this August, my wife, daughter and I moved from the Bush Hills neighborhood in Birmingham to the Forest Brook Community in Homewood.
On the day after we moved in, one of our new neighbors showed up at our doorstep with some pastries she had picked up specifically for us after church that Sunday. It was her way of welcoming us to the neighborhood.
That’s how we met Mary Sue Lunceford and her husband Mabry. They were an elderly couple, but hardly seemed like it because they were so energetic and lived such active lives.
They became two of our most beloved and trusted friends and were very supportive of our teenage daughter Krystal in her studies as a pianist. I remember when Krystal wanted to go away for two weeks for a music camp before her 13th birthday and we were somewhat reluctant to give our permission. It was Mary Sue who convinced my wife Dena that it was OK to let Krystal go.
“Honey, that’s just what they do at this stage,” Mary Sue told Dena in her tenderhearted voice.
When we signed our wills and needed two witnesses, it was Mary Sue and Mabry who came along with us and they treated us to lunch afterward.
After Mabry died in 2000, I would visit Mrs. Lunceford — which is what I always called her out of respect — from time to time to see how she was doing and hear stories about their life together – that is when I could catch her at home. She continued to be active at church and with her friends and family.
Finally, at the age of 83, Mrs. Lunceford died on Dec. 29, 2003.
At Mrs. Lunceford’s funeral, her pastor read a tribute that Mrs. Lunceford’s son had written about her. It’s something I wish I had written. Because another Mother’s Day is upon us, I want to share with you what he wrote:
4/18/1920 – 12/29/2003
“Christmas is a wonderful time of the year. It is a joyous time, a happy time. It is a time that families gather to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. It is a time to celebrate love for our Heavenly Father and for other people. It is a time to recognize the sacrifice that God made to send his only son to this earth. We exchange gifts with others, symbolizing the giving of gifts to Christ at his birth.
“Quite often, in the days immediately following Christmas, we return gifts to exchange them for something else. This year I have struggled and agonized as I came to realize that I would have to return a gift shortly after Christmas Day, but there would be no exchange. This gift was not to be returned to a store. This gift was to be returned to God. The gift that I knew I would have to return was my Mother.
“My Mother was a gift to this world for 83 years. She was a gift to her friends. She was a gift to her family. She had so many wonderful qualities to fulfill all of her roles in life – a daughter, an older sister, a wife, a mother, a grandmother, a great grandmother and a friend to so many people. Mother had the ability to balance all of her roles and to excel at all of them. From the perspective of her only son, the two words that I would choose to describe my Mother are love and sacrifice.
“Mother loved her parents. You could always tell by the things she said that she loved them very much. She returned from a year at the University of Alabama to work in Montgomery, closer to home, to help her mother after her father died. She loved her brothers. If you picked on one of the Thompson children, you had picked on all four, including Mother. Her older brother Lane told me of a time when he had gotten in a fight after school. He was on the short end of it until Mother jumped on the other boy’s back and got the best of him, ending the fight. Mother had a competitive, fighting spirit that she maintained until the end.
“Mother loved my father dearly. There is nothing that my Mother would not have done for him. They were always together, almost inseparable. Mother was extremely efficient and organized, but she sacrificed careers that she could have had to be with my father and to take care of her children. She was ready to go to the mission field with my father if that had worked out. A major part of Mother died when my father passed away three and one-half years ago. She was never quite the same after that. A void was created that could never be replaced. She had known him for all but eight years of her life. She had been married to him for 62 years.
“Mother loved my sister and myself with an unconditional love. She taught us fairness, loyalty and integrity. She taught us sacrifice in very real ways. Mother hated to get hot, much less to sweat. I played Little League baseball in the summers when I was growing up. Parents would have to “volunteer” to work in the concession stand. Mother would flip hamburgers over a hot grill on 80-degree nights in June because she loved her son and was willing to sacrifice her time and her feelings for her children. She had to have hated it, but she did it and never complained.
“Mother was very proud of her grandchildren and great granddaughter. The grandchildren called Mother “Gam,” a name that Patrick, her oldest grandchild, derived at an early age when he could not quite say grandmother. “Gam sips” became legendary and dreaded because if Gam took a sip of your drink, you might as well head for the refrigerator to get another one. There would not be much left.
“Mother had a sense of humor, which she maintained to the end. Two days before Mother passed away, my sister and I were talking to her in the hospital. We had taken a break from the difficult waiting in the Waiting Room, and we had gone to the Bright Star Restaurant, one of Mother’s favorites. When I told Mother this, she quickly cut her eyes toward me and said, ‘Well, I’m glad someone is having a good time because I’m sure not.’
“So many people will miss my Mother. Her family certainly will. We should not dwell on the sadness that we feel in losing Mother. We should reflect on the many wonderful qualities that she had and on the memories that we have of her. We can all rejoice in knowing that the sadness that we have on earth is countered by the celebration that is going on in heaven. We can rejoice that Mother has returned to her Heavenly Father.”
— Gene Lunceford
I’m sure many of you can give similar tributes to your mother, whether they’ve passed on or are still alive.
My wife and I lost our mothers within seven weeks of each other in the fall of 1989, hers after a two-year battle with cancer and mine in a car accident. They molded and shaped the kind of people we are today. They made sacrifices for their children – me and my four siblings and my wife and her five siblings. We miss them, but they are in a much better place.
I think Proverbs 31 sums up what a mother is and does. Read it when you get the chance.
To moms everywhere: Happy Mother’s Day.