One of my first Life Stories clients, Mary, died last month. She was 94.
Her father had been a sharecropper in Kentucky, and soon after I met Mary she recited with dizzying speed the names of the communities where she lived as a girl: Jenkins, White Oak, Lisman, Burnt Hill, Townsend, Dixon.
She soon shared that her mother got sick with tuberculosis in 1932, only a few years before penicillin was in common use and might have saved her.
A patch of goldenrods grew along Mary’s path home from school, “and every day when I passed them I hoped that my mom would be awake when I got home. She slept a lot because of the medicine she was taking, but if she was awake when I got home, I would sit at her cot and we’d talk. As she got closer to death, she didn’t talk much, and I’d just sit beside her quietly.
“At about the same time, I was learning Helen Hunt Jackson’s poem ‘September’ in school. I still recall the first stanza: ‘The goldenrod is yellow; The corn is turning brown; The trees in apple orchards with fruit are bending down.’ Goldenrods still remind me of my mom.”
One of the songs sung at the funeral of Mary’s mom was “God Will Take Care of You.”
“Be not dismayed whate’er betide, God will take care of you,” the song begins. “Beneath his wings of love abide, God will take care of you.” Standing outside the small country church with her father after the service, the 6-year-old girl put her arm around her father’s leg and said, “I’ll take care of you, Dad.”
Over time, I learned about Mary’s job helping to manufacture aircraft wings in a war plant during World War II. It was during that time that she met the love of her life, Sam. Sam, whom she came to think of as her anchor in life, died in 1993, just shy of 47 years of marriage; more than 20 years later Mary still considered herself the luckiest woman in the world for having had him in her life.
Her description of their standing Sunday afternoon date at Club Trocadero will always make me smile: “Every Sunday at 2 o’clock we’d go to the tea dance.The club had a marble floor, so easy to glide on, and a band played. … We did slow dances and the two-step.”
For her November 1946 wedding in Chicago, Mary wore a royal blue dress with a black velvet, stand-up collar and velvet-covered buttons. With it she wore black suede sandals and a gray broadtail lamb coat, a present from her groom.
Their song was “Always” by Irving Berlin. “I can still hear Sam singing it to me: ‘I’ll be loving you always, with a love that’s true always.’”