Delivered at her funeral
First, on behalf of Mother’s family, let me thank you all for coming, despite the holiday weekend and the weather. I want also to thank our friends and family out there along the information super highway for their kind e-mails of condolences: brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, and of course cousins – from Florida and Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina, Ohio and Indiana – all over the country.
Being a Communications teacher and genealogist, I’ve found this eulogy to be both the most emotionally difficult story I’ve ever had to write and, at the same time, the easiest and most fulfilling. NOW, as a surviving son, if I can JUST get through it!
In a TV sermon of several years ago, entitled “The Scars of Sainthood,” John Hagee spoke of those in heaven with scars from their earthly experiences:
• Joseph, son of Jacob, from his time in jail under the Pharaoh;
• Our Lord Jesus, from his time on the cross; and
• Paul, the Apostle, from his various imprisonments and shipwrecks, to name a few.
I was reminded of those great individuals as I was preparing this message and reading over transcriptions of interviews I had done with Mom several years ago. I began to count all the physical and emotional scars Mom took with her to the grave, and because of those, but especially the way she responded to them, an example for us all, I believe she lives in heaven right now with, what Presbyterians call, “The Communion of Saints.”
Mom had quit school after the 8th grade, not unusual in those Great Depression days with large families. Her grandfather Campbell asked her to stay with them and take care of Grandma Rachel. Aside from helping with the washing and baking, one of Mother’s jobs was to churn the milk each day, taking the cans from the ice cold spring that flowed right through the cellar. I believe her life-long obsession for buttermilk, a Scots-Irish sweet and sour tradition, was reinforced by that chore. One day, her sister Edna stopped by the farm for a visit and on the way past the barn, Ruth was showing “Ed” how a corn cutting box worked. The ears are placed between the sharp knives, and when the crank is turned, the kernels are stripped away. Somehow, Mom got her finger in the cogs and the skin was painfully torn off. Without much adieu, the young teenager wrapped the bloody mess in her apron. Mother implored Edna, “Please don’t tell anyone what happened.” Grandpap Campbell was rather stern, you know, but moreso. Mom was never one to make a big deal of misfortune. Fortunately, when they returned to the house, her Aunt Ruth, who was also visiting, bandaged the wound properly, but Mom carried that scar with her all her life.
Earlier in her life, she and her siblings had been wading in Grandpap’s creek, barefoot of course, when she stepped on a piece of broken glass. They all managed to get the bleeding stopped, and her brother Bart fashioned a walking stick for her to limp back to the house. Mom told me, “I have scars all over me from being cut, because we went in our bare feet all the time.”
She had a broken toe as a child and never had it set. She had an appendectomy when she was pregnant with my oldest brother Paul, and she was 30-years old before she had her tonsils removed. Then, there are the scars for which I personally am grateful, the ones left from having four children. I’m sure sister Ellen will remember when we almost lost her to a botched female operation in the early 1960’s, after we had moved to Moon Township. But, what really earned her the label “Tough Old Bird” was surviving that horrible automobile accident in 1990 where she suffered a shattered pelvis, broken ribs, and the removal of her spleen. The only good that came of that was that the doctors discovered breast cancer early, and after radiation and chemo, she completely recovered. But, from our most recent conversations, I believe her deepest scars were emotional – the ones she suffered with the losses of her husband and her son within less than three years. Unfortunately, the greatest insult and assault was yet to come.
After 15 years of being cancer-free, that sneaky, cowardly, satanic bastard (excuse me, Reverend) [deceiver] again found its way into her body, hiding from the light, like it always does, to rob her, first of her consciousness and then of her life, so quickly, “like a thief in the night.” But, “Death – where is thy sting? Grave – where is thy victory?” Mother’s gone home to be with Dad and her “Big White Sonny,” my brother Carl, who passed away just about a year ago. I can still hear Rev. McCrum say in his eulogy, to all those who cried about “Butch” dying right before Christmas: “We’ll never have Christmas again without thinking about his salvation” made possible by the birth of Jesus. Now, I say, “We’ll never have Thanksgiving again without thinking of Mom, that saint whom God put on loan to all of us for almost 89 years.” Scars and sickness can take our loved ones, but it can’t take our fond memories.
One wouldn’t have to be a genealogist to learn that Mother’s ancestors came from stoic Celtic stock. She carried the superstitions and prejudices of her Scottish and Scots-Irish ancestors. Born into abject poverty, Mom’s crowning achievement was her family. She was the last of the old-fashioned mother and “housewife.” Most of her time was spent in the kitchen, and from there she nurtured us (too well, some say) and instilled in us what we’ve come to call “Ruthisms.” They generally centered around money and company. For example:
o Bubbles on top of your coffee meant you would get unexpected wealth;
o Moles on your body would predict where the wealth would come from – on the arm, money from the farm; on the titty, money from the city;
o Lay the loaf of bread on its back, or
o Drop a piece of silverware, and you’ll get company;
Rather than a strict disciplinarian, she taught by example. She was obsessively clean and orderly:
• Wash on Monday;
• Iron on Tuesday;
• Shop on Friday; and
• Bake on Saturday.
After church on Sunday morning, we spent the day at one or both of the grandparents’ homes. Supper was always at 5:30 when Dad got home. We ate fish with Macaroni and Cheese on Friday, probably because that’s when our Catholic neighbors here and back in Ireland ate it. Saturday was hamburgers and bake beans while we watched Studio Wrestling. (I’m not sure if Mom and Dad ever realized that it was all “fake.”) Later it was Lawrence Welk.
More recently, weeknights at 7:00, Mom watched Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune. This and her puzzle books kept her mind sharp right up to the end. I remember thinking, “This woman is going to outlive all of us,” during our regular Saturday morning phone conversation just two weeks before she died. Maybe, somewhere in the future, we’ll be able to transplant an older person’s brain into a new, healthy body. But then, what would happen to those “Scars of Sainthood?” When would that person ever be able to enjoy that heavenly reunion with the loved ones that had gone before? Oh, I guess God knows best.
So, here we are, celebrating Mom’s rich, full life, her faithful devotion to God, and her wonderful sense of humor. She leaves her brothers, including “Grin,” and sisters, including “Sook,” her sons “Paulie” and “Lad Boy,” and of course her beloved caretaker, “Ellie Weez.” There’s the legacy of six grandchildren and ten great-grandchildren. But, this past Monday morning, I’m convinced that she was able to reunite with her partner of 63 years, “Ralphie.” I can hear her saying to Dad, as she always did, “I love you,” and he replies, as he always did, “Oh, THAT’S nice.”
In closing, there’s a tradition with the Wycliffe Bible Translators that Susan and I volunteer for: “Never say, ‘Goodbye,’ but rather ‘Til we meet again.’” So, from all of us left here, whether you called her Mom, or Aunt Ruth, or Sis, or Whitey, we want to say, “We love you, and til we meet again.”