If there’s a better place on earth than home, I haven’t found it. No matter where I am on the globe, my personal compass is pointing back to home—Jesup and Wayne County. Each time I cross the county line, my spirits lift.
The old Alfred Dorman warehouse can’t hold my memories of the community that has nurtured me from the time I arrived 66 years ago into the hands of Dr. Alvin Leaphart Sr. Here, my roots are so deeply planted along the banks of the Altamaha River that Hercules couldn’t rip them from the soil.
In our family, I am not alone in my love of this special place. So as my sisters—Sandy and Sheila—and I were discussing the best possible Christmas gift for our 90-year-old mother, we said, in unison, “Let’s move Mother home.”
Our dad died in 1998. For the next 10 years, Mother lived alone, doing much of what she’d been doing for decades—driving here and there, public speaking, writing mounds of inspirational notes each day and teaching Sunday School. If you needed something to be done, you could count on Margie.
And then cancer arrived. Her faith never wavered. Mother sailed through chemotherapy and radiation, but we knew she was entering into another phase of life. That’s why, in 2008, she moved to Athens to a retirement community, just a few miles from our house. As we knew she would, Margie flourished, making new friends and spreading cheer wherever she went.
But some days, Sandy, Sheila and I had to cheer Mother up. She missed her friends back home. As she often says, “I have more days behind me than ahead of me.” That got us to thinking and praying. We agreed, “Mother is going home for Christmas, and when the time comes, she’ll go to heaven from a happy place.”
God answers prayers. In less than three days, every detail was resolved. I called Tim Harris. Yes, he had a ground-floor apartment on Orange Street, Mother’s favorite. Then I remembered the wonderful couple who cared for Mrs. Nanelle Bacon. Yes, Shelli and Joey Williams could live with Mother and be her fulltime caregivers. Everywhere we turned, the answers were: yes, yes, yes, yes.
And while she was away, Hospice of South Georgia had moved into Wayne County. What an incredible organization. Its staff is filled with compassionate professionals. Each brings a skill set that is heaven-sent. One of Mother’s biggest smiles came when Jim Poindexter, the hospice’s liaison director, walked in the door. Like Alan and Carey Jones, Jim was in her youth department at First Baptist Church. The “boys” and “girls” of her old department are now grandparents, too. Every visit is an old-home-week reunion taking Mother back to the 1950s, 1960s and the 1970s. The steady stream of friends floods her heart with joy, and we thank you.
As a little boy, I remember reciting, in cherub-like voices with my friends in Sunday School, this Christina Rossetti Christmas poem:
“What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would give him a lamb.
If I were a wise man,
I would do my part.
Yet what can I give Him?
Give my heart.”
I can’t name all the people who have done “their part” in making Mother’s homecoming one of the best gifts she’ll ever receive. You’ve given your hearts, and your love proves—once again—there’s no place like home.
Merry Christmas, everyone!