As the holiday season arrives, all of us have that empty chair at the dining room table: a parent, a sibling, a child, a friend. If you will be patient with me, I’d like to make a suggestion.
At that special meal, acknowledge that empty chair. If you’d like, put a photograph there or a special momento. To teach the young ones at the table lessons they need to learn and to bring comfort to the adults, share two or three stories about the ways in which that person made a positive difference in the lives of others.
This year I chose to honor my mother, Opal Bowling, known as Aunt Bo and Granny Opal and to her children, Mother.
Story Number One: Many of my readers know little or nothing about home-made dresses, but as a child – and until I was a teen – most of my clothes were homemade. Fabric was inexpensive at the time, .29 a yard, and for a dollar or so, plus time and some talent, Mother could make me a dress. I still have one such dress in my cedar chest. It’s white pique with a square neckline and a hem that has been let out several times to accommodate my growing height. Mother made the dress for my initiation into the Girls Auxiliary at the Central Baptist Church in Cumberland, Kentucky. I still remember the whir of her Singer sewing machine as she worked through the night to finish my dress as well as one for my middle sister, Marilyn. Such a pleasant sound.
Story Number Two: Mother’s baby sister, Muriel, was dying of cancer. Mother boarded the Greyhound bus in Toledo, Ohio, and rode to Cumberland, Kentucky, to care for her sister during the last weeks of her life, doing all those highly personal tasks for her that, shy as Muriel was, only a sister could do with respect, comfort, and love.
Story Number Three: One day a young girl who was Mother’s neighbor called and said, “Opal, please come help me? I’ve cut my wrists and now I don’t want to die.” Mother rushed over and saved Mary Kay’s life. It was not only about the first aid and getting the girl to the hospital: it was also about the compassion and the power of her healing words for years afterward. That girl became a registered nurse and a country Western singer. She came from Florida to my mother’s funeral in Toledo. I know as she sat there in silence as we had the service before laying my 89-year-old mother to rest, Mary Kay was remembering that day when she thought she wanted to die and changed her mind. And Mother was there for her.
Story Number Four: Mother loved flowers and had a green thumb. She could take flowers from wooded areas, plant them in her yard, and they would prosper. When we were children, she would take us walking in the woods and identify all manner of wild flowers: violets, lilies of the valley, jack–in-the-pulpit, black-eyed Susans, goldenrod, bloodroot. She was a master rose gardener as well, and Jackson & Perkins packages arrived regularly at her home on Boone Street in Toledo with rose bushes looking as if they were dead. Before long, those ugly brambles had turned into beautiful flowers.
We have the ability to make a powerful difference in the lives of others. With our behavior, let’s make our world better even as during this holiday season we share the memories of those who have inspired us.
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