January 6, 2015

Marjorie Vines NeSmith

“Life should be measured not by the number of years, but rather by the love shared, the memories made, the joy given and the blessings received.” –Unknown

     As I stand here, thinking about Marjorie Vines NeSmith, there’s no way to measure the love shared, the memories made and the joy given by my mother in her 90 wonderful years on this earth.  And there’s no way to measure the blessings we’ve received during her 32,950 days, 790,819 hours or 47,316,080 minutes she breathed hope, love and encouragement into her family and friends.
     On behalf of her three children, sisters Sandy, Sheila and me, along with her six grandchildren (Blaine, Alan, Morgan, Emily, Sail and Eric) and nine great-grandchildren (Will, Wyatt, Hayes, William, Henry, Fenn, Bayard, Smith and Stella) I say thank you to this church and this community.  You have been our rock of support, our true north on our family’s compass.  And when Sandy, Sheila and I knew Mother’s days were short, our compass and hearts pointed right to here—home.  When the time came for Mother to go to heaven, we wanted the ascent to be from a happy place, the place she loved most, Jesup and Wayne County.
     During the Thanksgiving week, I made a few phone calls and visits.  Just as I knew you would, you flung open your arms and your hearts to welcome Mother back home.  With your help, we were able to give Mother our best ever Christmas present.  She was able to exchange goodbyes with so many of you.  Time and time again, over the last 30 days, we were reminded that God answers prayers and opens doors. 
     In these Charles Dickens-like “best and worst” of times, we’ve sung your praises.  Hospice of South Georgia was heaven-sent.  And two of the most magnificent angels we will ever meet were her caregivers, Shelli and Joey Williams.  How blessed Mother and our family have been to be under your umbrella of love and compassion.  We are forever indebted and grateful.
     Sixteen years ago, I stood before you to celebrate my father’s 76 years and thank you for your loving devotion to the NeSmith family.   And just like then, I now give the same answer, when you asked: “What can we do?”  I say, again, don’t let the memories or stories of Margie NeSmith die.  Please keep those memories alive.  One day, share your favorite recollection with her grandchildren, great-grandchildren or yet to be born great-great grandchildren.  That’s the best gift you could give us.
     There are so many stories that I could tell.  Here’s perhaps my favorite, because it tells the origin of our family—one that puts me here, standing before you today.
Let’s go back to 1930.  Side-by-side the two families lived in the small village of Putney, outside Albany in Southwest Georgia.  Between the two houses, there were nine children and one radio.  No one complained about the lack of television, video games, computers or the Internet.  None of the nine imagined those entertainment gadgets any more than a man walking on the moon.  That’s why the blended band of the Great Depression Era children was in the yard and up a tree, playing.
         The limbs were shaking with laughter until the youngest girl dropped her doll.  When its porcelain face shattered on the hard Doughtery County dirt, the curly-headed 6-year-old started to cry.
     Scrambling down, the kids were pelted with falling tears.  All vanished except one.  An 8-year-old boy helped his grieving playmate to the ground.  Patting her shoulder, he said, “Please don’t cry.  One day, I will get you a baby doll even prettier than this one.”
     Before long, the train whistle blew, calling the boy’s father to another railroad job on the other side of the state.  Seven years passed.  The little girl’s father decided to take a trip to see his old neighbors.  With his wife and children packed into their Packard, they were surprised to see an older but familiar face greeting them on the Cherry Street curb.  The car hop was startled to see them, too.
     When the white-jacketed teenager attached the refreshment tray on their car, he noticed the girl wasn’t little anymore.  Nor was she crying.  She was a beautiful young woman with sparkling blue eyes.  And she was smiling.
     The chance encounter made an impression.  Another five years rolled by, and a handsome Army private appeared in Panama City, Fla.  Before he left for the South Pacific, he had to say what he had been thinking—“I love you”—to the girl who once dropped her doll.
     He was the first to correspond from the Philippines, asking, “Why don’t you write a lonely soldier?”  A handwritten romance flowed back and forth.  By the end of World War II, love letters filled shoe boxes in her parents’ home on Ichauway Plantation, where they operated the country store for Robert W. Woodruff, president of the Coca-Cola Company.
     As 1945 drew to a close, the young woman was washing dishes and looking out the window when she saw someone kicking up Baker County dust in the lane leading up to the store.  The closer and closer he came, she could see the mystery person was a soldier.  By the time the corporal got to the edge of the front porch, Margie sailed into Dink’s eager arms. And that’s where she remained for
52 years.  This coming February would have been their 69th anniversary.
     On Dec. 2, 1946, there was a knock outside Room 321 in Ritch-Leaphart Hospital on the corner of Cherry and Macon streets in Jesup.  The door swung open.  The visitor was holding a bundle in his arms.
     “Margie,” Dink said, “do you remember the time when you dropped your doll and cried?  And do you remember I promised you that one day I would get you an even prettier baby doll?  Well, here she is—our daughter, Sandy.”
     Two years later there was another baby—me.  And then in another four years came our family’s baby, Sheila.  That’s why—my sisters and I, through our tears of sadness—are overjoyed with tears of celebration that our mother and father are finally back in each other’s arms.  Only heaven can make that possible, amen?
     Looking back on 1924, some other notables were born: Marlon Brando, Doris Day, Lee Iacocca and Jimmy Carter.  But the most notable to our family was Marjorie Vines NeSmith.  If Mother were standing here today, she’d say—stretching all the way back to those Putney days—“There’s never been a day that I can remember that I haven’t loved your father.”  And if Big Dink were here, he’d say, “I loved your mother so much, and there are so many stories I could tell about her.”
     And since he’s not here, I’ll share a few:

Margie was always a looker.  She prided herself with fashionable clothes, and she didn’t face the world without a fresh swipe of lipstick. She called it her war paint.  And Lord knows, she was fussy about her hair.  But once she bemoaned to her husband about some unwanted facial hair.  Big Dink quizzed her about her desire to get it removed.  Being the thrifty fellow that he was, he asked, “How much will that cost?”  Hearing her answer, he responded with a playful smile and assured her, “I can fix that, just sit in this LazyBoy, lean back and close your eyes.”  Daddy went to his shop and got a roll of duct tape and placed a strip along her cheek.  Riiiiiiiiip!  Mother’s yelp could have been heard all the way from Persimmon Street to right here at First Baptist Church on Brunswick Street.  Our family will never stop laughing about that infamous Big Dink Duct Tape Facial.  And I’ll bet Margie and Dink are laughing in heaven, too.

     Margie was always a talker.  That made our dad happy, especially when one of them was asked to pray in public.  He was pleased to respond, “Momma, why don’t you do that?”  And she could.  Mother was good—very good—with words.  If it was a prayer before a meal, her words would be heartfelt, but the biscuits would be cold before she was done with the blessing.  Growing up, her friends teased her that the popular cigarette’s motto: LSMFT—“Lucky Strike Means Fine Tobacco,” really meant, “Let’s Stop Margie from Talking.”  They couldn’t then, and we couldn’t ever, until now.  But her gift of words lives all the way through each of her great-grandchildren.  And I can safely say she was a legend, talking on the switchboard of Rayonier.  She could recognize thousands of voices, even those of children whose parents worked at the pulp mill.  People have told me—many times—“When I was having a bad day, I’d call the mill, just to hear your mother’s voice.  Right away, I’d feel better.”

     Margie was always a friend to young and old.  My peers still hoist her high, dating back to the night the Beatles premiered in America on the Ed Sullivan Show.  As members of the First Baptist Church youth choir, we were itching to see the historic British Invasion.  “Shhhhh,” she said.  “When you finish singing your special, tip-toe out and hurry home.”  When the Rev. Floyd Jenkins turned to congratulate the choir, the loft was empty.  Margie, the youth department director, asked the befuddled minister for forgiveness.  Mother was my Cub Scout den mother. And she helped start the first Girl Scout troop in Jesup. 

     Margie believed in doing her part and more. Her dream was to be a teacher.  But when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, the valedictorian of Warwick High School dropped out of Georgia Southwestern College to join the War Effort.  And once she moved to Jesup with her husband, she got involved in the church and community.  She was a motivational speaker for the Chamber of Commerce, public schools and civic groups.  Margie was a favorite to install new officers in organizations.  She was made a lifetime member of the Orange Street Elementary School PTA.  She was the first woman president of the Jesup Lions Club and a former chair of the Jesup Housing Authority.  She traveled extensively as an officer and spokesperson for the American Cancer Society, as well as AARP.  If you wanted it done, you asked Margie. But one time, she balked.  Mother’s neighbors were encouraging her to run for a seat on the city commission.  She called for my advice, and I said, “Mother, you are 72.  I think you can make your own decision.”  She pressed harder, “But I want your opinion on this.”   “OK,” I said.  “Go to the kitchen.  Get a pitcher of water and ice.  Then go to the bathroom and give yourself an ice water enema.  If you like that sensation, then I think you’ll love politics.”  And that was the last I heard about that.

     Margie was a prolific note-writer.  She called her note-writing a personal ministry.  As if it were her mission to keep the U.S. Postal Service afloat, she wrote four or five notes every day, until her beautiful cursive writing became harder and harder to get on paper.  She loved greeting sunrise at her writing table.  I have several friends who have saved every one of her notes.  My doctor, David Allen, once pulled open his desk drawer and showed me more than 100 Margie notes.  He often reads them aloud for inspiration to his staff during their morning meetings. Another friend, who was battling cancer, has 350 Margie notes held together by a ribbon and stored in a very safe place.

     Margie was an unsinkable encourager.  My sisters and I grew up thinking our mother wrote the story about “The Little Engine That Could.”  Until she died, she could zing uplifting scriptures, pithy quotes or inspirational Margie originals.  This past year has been a tough one for her.  We’ve watched a once spry, go-anywhere and do-most-anything woman’s body show its 90 years.  She’d quip, “Aging ain’t for sissies,” as her robin’s-egg- blue eyes danced.    Her unsinkable spirit always shooed away the black clouds.  And in recent times, as I stood by her hospital bed, she ignored her needs.  Squeezing my hand, she said, “You can do it.” 

     And now, as our family—along with all of you, our friends—face the future without Marjorie Vines NeSmith here to squeeze our hands and say, “you can do it,” we must dwell on the joy she brought us.  And we should celebrate the joy she and Big Dink enjoy being back in each other’s arms.  And when we struggle, she would want us to remember one of her favorite scriptures—Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
     “Life should be measured not by the number of years, but rather by the love shared, the memories made and the joy given.  That reminder embraces the 90 years of Marjorie Vines NeSmith.  And you being here to celebrate her life and her rise to Heaven is a never-to-be forgotten blessing that you have given our family.
         We love you and we thank you.