These past nine days seem like about 900. They began about a week and a half ago on Thursday morning when we found out that my second Mom, Phyllis Harris, was not feeling well at all. By noon that day her doctors had her in the ER; by 11 that night she was in the hospital. By Monday afternoon she was in the hospice. And by 9:00 or so last Thursday she was in heaven. Yesterday morning our small family group huddled around her grave in the cold morning air, and then we gathered with a hundred friends to give her a wonderful send-off.
For those who don’t know, as you’ll find out in reading on, I grew up in the house next door to Phyllis. She was a dear friend of my own mother, and through the past 54 years has become a mother to me, as well.
After leaving the hospice for the final time last Thursday night, I sat down and wrote the following piece. I entitled it “A Tale of Two Mothers”.
I was fortunate enough to be born with two mothers.
One of them lived in the house where I did over on North Goliad Street; the other lived just next door, where I spent almost as much of my time growing up. Back in those wonderful days before we began fencing our neighbors out, Phyllis and Harold’s yard was simply an extension of our own, and our play spilled over into both. The doors of both houses were always open, and it was a challenge to keep screens intact on doors so well-traveled by little boys who never took time to use the door handle. Phyllis’ husband Harold (who could fix anything) took it upon himself to regularly patch them, both ours and his. My mother and Phyllis were fast friends from before I was born; my mom was fond of saying that between the two of them they half raised me….and that it was too bad there hadn’t been two more moms and the job might have been completed!
It dawns on me this week that there has never been a time in my life when I did not know the love and oversight of a mother. When my first mother died about the time I was thirty, Phyllis was already there eager to serve as my mom’s backup. They may have even planned it! There has never been a time when I did not have at least one of them in my life. Until now. And that is why tonight after watching this dear woman make her way to heaven, I’m feeling kind of like an orphan, left standing on the track as the train steams away. It’s disconcerting, and suddenly I’m 4 years old again, a little boy terrified when he turns away for a bit and then turns around and his mother is nowhere to be seen. For that which has always been, for something I have known and found to be an anchor from my earliest memory—is no more. Being an orphan isn’t feeling so great, so far–but maybe I’ll finally be able to get away with stuff…!
We moved away from hometown Amarillo and our comfortable world on Goliad Street when I was 16, far away to a foreign country called Houston. It was a sad parting, with many tears between my two sets of parents, and especially my two moms. And while my two mothers kept in contact, I was too busy graduating from High School, and then college, to think much about my other mother on Goliad Street. Too many years passed. But then a year or so after I married, we found ourselves back in Amarillo, and it took a terrible incident, I suppose, to cement me tightly back into the loving care that Phyllis had always had for the little boy next door. Almost 30 years ago now a horrible collision took Harold’s life and almost that of Phyllis. As she began to recover and rebuild her life alone, we moved back into the neighborhood and God allowed me the supreme privilege of repaying some of the mechanical kindnesses that Harold had bestowed on the Shelburne’s, and so many others, for years before.
While I may have imagined I was in some small way helping take care of her, in fact, in so many ways she was taking care of me. She was always a soft touch for stray boys! Maybe that’s because Phyllis knew how to have fun, didn’t mind hard work or getting dirty, or handing you wrenches when you were under the sink. At Phyllis’ house, you were always special, always the guest of honor. And that was true whether you were a little boy begging for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, or a grown man, sitting across the room from her, looking somewhat guiltily still almost 50 years later at a deep gouge you yourself had created in her brand new piano bench, as a four year old showing her a really big rock. It didn’t matter to her. All that ever mattered to her was you. And Rick, if you’re reading this, while she claimed both of us as sons, and while I must admit you are the better singer, and maybe, perhaps, better looking—I’m pretty sure I was the favorite.
Without rambling endlessly on here, while I am rarely at a loss for words, they quickly begin to fail when I think of the impact of this woman on my life. What little I might have ever been able to do for her is nothing compared to what she has done for me. I was born with two mothers, both of them godly renegades. They’re both in your hands now, God. Good luck with that!
And so there is order once more , symmetry in heaven. It’s finally Phyllis and Harold again, and G. B. and Wilma again, and Pop and Mom Clouse–neighbors now for all eternity, all a part of that great cloud of witnesses who in ways we cannot imagine—join to cheer us on. As we remember them, we should remember that they are not all that far away. And we will see them again, soon.