photo by Richard West
Memories of Mom
by Bill Butler
June 30, 2013
A Remembrance for Mom's Funeral
There are lots of pictures of Mom smiling, but in her first car
and with her first grandchild are the most joyous I have found.
Clara Nell Maness was born on November 12, 1919 at home in Montgomery County, NC, the sixth of seven children. Her parents were Neill Wade Maness and Margaret McMillan. Mom graduated from Campbell College, then a junior college in 1938 and from East Carolina Teachers College in 1940.
She taught home economics in Jacksonville, where she met Sykes Butler who taught agriculture. The Ag teacher and the Home-Ecc teacher made a pretty good match on paper, and as it turned out in practice, too. They were married at the Campbell House where her family was living, in Buies Creek, on August 8, 1944, just days before dad shipped off to England. When he returned from WWII, they moved to Snow Hill where mom worked as county home agent until I was born.
In 1963, dad accepted a position as agriculture teacher at Wallace-Rose Hill High School, and we moved to Rose Hill.
The first time we went through Magnolia on our way here, she saw the sign Rose Hill 5 miles and said, I wondered if I’ll ever see that sign and think, I’m almost home. Well, since then, she told me that story almost every time we passed the Rose Hill 5 miles sign and added, I do feel like I’m almost home.
Mom did go back to work after Margaret was able to take care of herself after school. She worked at the Poultry Diagnostic Lab as a technician until she retired around 1984.
What she meant to me.
Mom has been my best friend my whole life. That is partly sweet, and partly sad, and I'm sure says more about me than her. But from her I always got unconditional love. Even when I thought I didn’t deserve it. Maybe because she didn't know about everything that I did, but I suspect she would have found a way to love me even so.
She was for me, as the best mothers are for their children, the first and most lasting example of a loving God. From her love, I learned what God’s love was like. From her hugs, I learned what God’s forgiveness was like. After I reached adulthood, she was still the measure of right. and she continued to be my priest until her memory began to fade some time in the last decade. To her I confessed my sins and found forgiveness. It was much quicker than confessing to God and frankly the outcome of forgiveness felt more certain.
Word's from John Roberts
John Roberts, the long time pastor of Woodbrook Baptist Church in Baltimore, and one of my closest friends, met mom on her six trips as I count it that she made to Baltimore to visit me. We had lunch after church together a few times.
Everytime I returned from a trip to NC, John always asked me, “How is Nell.”
And he counseled me again last week as Margaret and I struggled to honor mom’s wishes to avoid a long painful death.
John sent me these words that I’d like you to hear as well.
“Her beautiful eyes and warm smile are what I remember best about her. She had a way of giving a knowing look of wisdom, understanding, and gentle good humor, a rare and special combination.”
And he offered the following words of comfort to me, that I pass to all of you who grieve as well.
“We will offer prayers of gratitude for Nell's long life and the blessing she was for so long for so many. We pray that God's strong and gentle Spirit will be close to you as you deal with your great loss and as you go forward.”
Mom had a reactionary sense of humor, which I inherited. She didn't tell jokes but she would come up with a clever comment often. This happened more as she got older and was less concerned about what people thought, or didn't think anyone else could here.
I first observed this honest observational style when a McDonalds opened in Kinston, and we drove the 15 miles to check out this new food phenomenon. As we ate our 14 cent hamburgers and fries, a woman walked in front of the car. I don’t remember what she looked like, but she was not a handsome women.
Mom said: My goodness that’s an ugly woman.
I was kind of taken aback but she quickly followed with “she can’t help how she looks.”
and then she added, “but she could stay home”.
Mom never said anything like that in public.
I jotted down a few things that mom said the last two years, because I didn’t want to forget her humor, her insight, and her sometimes off-beat philosophy on life.
During a hospital stay in 2012 as she drifted in and out of sleep:
Mom: Who's that talking?
Me: It's a soap opera on television.
Mom: That's where they belong.
This past year or so, I sat with her at Rosemary almost every night till she went to sleep and since March 4 this year when she had a small stroke that weakened her left side, I was with her for most meals to make sure she took her pills and towards the end to help her eat. She quoted little poems that she learned as a child.
My nose itches
I like peaches
Somebody’s coming with a hole in their britches.
Lord have mercy on my soul.
How many chickens have I stole?
Drink until you're 21, nothing but clear water.
[on Jan.21, 2013; as we watched the Inauguration]
Mom: I'm glad you're not the President.
Mom: It looks awfully cold outside.
After taking a sip of freshly opened diet cola: “this burns my goozle”
[April 6, 2013]
We had some set conversational questions and answers. I would ask, Did you sleep well last night? and she would answer, I must have, I didn't wake up to find out.
One morning I asked “How did you sleep last night?”
She said, “With my eyes closed.”
She would often ask very practical questions about philosophical concepts, such as: What time you recon the early bird got here?
Then about a week and a half before she died, after her most devastating stroke that ruined her ability to swallow and left her speech slurred, still in the hospital, a nurse came in to take her vital statistics. The nurse said, Mrs. Butler, I’m going to listen to your chest. She placed the stethoscope on a couple of spots on her chest, then put it on her back. Mother told the nurse in the best speech she could muster, “That’s not my chest.”
And one day in hospice, in her last week, I told her, “I’ll be right back,” and walked out to the nurses station for something. When I came back into the room, I announced, “I’m back” she said, barely intelligibly now: “All in the same day.”
On June 4th, 2013 she quoted what turned out to be her last poem, I discovered later, correctly word for word :
There is so much good in the worst of us,
and so much bad in the best of us,
that it hardly behooves any of us,
to talk about the rest of us.
My mother was a woman of faith.
I became even more aware of it in her last year.
She would walk down the hall and say not quite under her breath, “Lord help me, Lord help me, Lord help me.”
At other times as I helped her in and out of her rocking chair, she would say, “Lord help me, Bill help me,” then “Lord help Bill help me.”
I waited until she went to sleep almost every night. Often while she lay in bed, I could hear her whisper “Lord help me to stop hurting.”
Then one day she said walking back to her room from the dining room:
(I’m paraphrasing, I don’t remember exactly) “Lord thank you for helping me, if it hurts this bad with you helping me, I couldn’t stand it if you stopped.”
Her faith never faltered. She didn’t have pain as bad as some, and she was thankful for that, but she never blamed God for the pain she had. She simply thanked God for God’s presence during and through it.
One of the songs played before the service was “Day is Dying in the West.” I asked for it to be played it because when I sat with Mom in the evenings, she would out of the blue start quoting hymns. She didn’t remember all the words, or get them exactly right, but I jotted down some of them, then looked them up later. and of this hymn she remembered two lines:
Day is dying in the west,
Heaven is touching earth with rest.
She and I both use to say that dusk was our favorite time of day, or maybe it was just I who said it, but I always said it to her and she always agreed with me. Dusk is my favorite time of day. Work is over, Rest is coming. a perfect symbol for life as a Christian.
Another of the hymn lines she remembered was “trim your feeble wicks my brother.” I don’t know why she remembered those words, why they had found a permanent place in her brain, but when I looked them up I found “Let the lower lights be burning” and along with that hymn by Phillip Bliss, this introduction by Dwight L. Moody:
On a dark, stormy, night, when the waves rolled like mountains,
and not a star was to be seen, a boat, rocking and plunging, neared the Cleveland harbor.
“Are you sure this is Cleveland?” asked the captain, seeing only one light from the light-house.
“Quite sure, sir,” replied the pilot.
“Where are the lower lights?”
“Gone out, sir.”
“Can you make the harbor?”
“We must, or perish, sir!”
And with a strong hand and a brave heart, the old pilot turned the wheel. But alas, in the darkness he missed the channel, and with a crash upon the rocks the boat was shivered, and many a life lost in a watery grave.
(That’s the way they use to preach)
Then comes D.L. Moody’s great lesson: Brethren, the Master will take care of the great light-house: let us keep the lower lights burning!
I don’t know why she remembered it, but I think it exemplifies how she lived her life, not as a great beacon for many, but as that steady light on the shore that kept me safely directed to the harbor. and Margaret, and Daddy, and I’m sure others I know nothing about.
When we finish we’ll sing two verses of “Let the lower lights be burning” and as we do, I hope each of you will think of how Mothers light has helped you along the way.