May 9, 2024

Words of old hymn are befitting for Mother’s Day


           “Precious memories how they linger; how they ever flood my soul.”

            As we sang those words last Sunday morning, I thought about the upcoming Mother’s Day. And precious memories of Marjorie Vines NeSmith flooded my soul.

            If Mother were alive, she’d be 100 on Oct. 11. Instead, she died at age 90. On her deathbed, she clutched our hands and whispered to my sisters and me, “Please don’t worry about me. I can’t lose. If I live, God allows me to spend more time with all of my loved ones here on earth. If I die, I can’t lose. Because I will be in Heaven with your daddy.”

            Her final words were “I love you.”

            On the way home from church, I scrolled through these memories that keep Mother’s spirit alive in my soul:

§  Mother was a talker. She grew up in an era when Lucky Strike cigarettes had a slogan: “LSMFT, Lucky Strike Means Fine Tobacco.” Her girlfriends had another interpretation: “Let’s Stop Margie from Talking.”

§  But talking helped pay for sisters Sandy and Sheila and me to go to college. She was the receptionist for Rayonier, the pulp mill with 1,000 or more workers. Mother was legendary for recognizing voices and remembering names. Children could call the mill’s switchboard, and Margie would know their voices and connect them with their mother or father. When she retired, two people did her job.

§  You could hear her smile in Mother’s voice. I’ve had people tell me—dozens of times—that they’d call the mill just to hear her voice. One man told me, “If I was having a bad day, I would call Rayonier. Margie would make me smile.”

§  Sister Sandy was 6. I was 4. A bar of chocolate Ex-Lax disappeared from the medicine cabinet. Mother quizzed both of us. We shook our heads. “Well,” Mother said, “the truth will come out.” And did it ever. I smiled—because it wasn’t me.

§  On Feb. 9,1964, Mother made the First Baptist’s youth choir smile, too. My friends and I were fretting about missing the Beatles’ American debut on The Ed Sullivan Show, which was being televised that Sunday night. Mother, the youth director, said, “Shhhhh. Here’s what you do. Sing your special song, and while Brother Jenkins is praying, quietly slip out and go home.” That’s what we did. And when the reverend opened his eyes and turned around to thank the youth, he was baffled by the empty choir loft. Sixty years later, Mother is still their hero.

§  Mother thought all Baptist boys should go to Mercer University. Better yet, they should attend Brewton-Parker for two years and then go to Macon. “But Mother,” I said, “I want to go to the University of Georgia.” “It’s so big,” she countered. “You should pray about it.” I did. When she asked, “Well, what did you and the Lord decide?” I said, “Mother, I’ve narrowed it down to two places: Vietnam or UGA.” She barked, “Go, Dawgs!”

§  No doubt you’ve heard the post office is struggling and losing money. One reason is that it is missing Mother’s tsunami of cards, notes and letters. She didn’t start the day without sticking stamps on a stack of handwritten missives. She called writing her ministry. A friend—battling cancer—showed me more than 350 notes of encouragement that he had received. A doctor’s desk drawers are stuffed with uplifting messages in my mother’s distinctive penmanship. He professed her words had healing power for him, his staff and his patients.

            In the South, old-timers would say, “That boy (or girl) could make a preacher.” Indeed, Marjorie Vines NeSmith could have. She had a scripture for every occasion. And if she was asked to give thanks before a meal, you could count on the biscuits being cold.

            But that didn’t bother our three, Alan, Emily and Eric. They were convinced that their grandmother had a direct line to God’s desk in Heaven. They never faced a big test unless Grandmother had lifted a prayer for them.

            Yes, indeed.

            “Precious memories how they linger; how they ever flood my soul.”

            Happy Mother’s Day.