A Few Words for Mom, by @jackaurquhart

©2013 by Jack Andrew Urquhart       1124 words

Mom 2013, Ninety years young.

Mom 2013, Ninety years young.

On the afternoon of December 7, 2013, I received the telephone call that most of us think (and hope) will never come our way: the call that informs us that a loved one has suddenly been taken.  In my case, the one taken was my Mother, Thelma Ashley Urquhart, killed in an automobile accident in front of the church where she’d been a devoted attendee and member for over fifty years.

She’d just attended a Christmas luncheon for the ladies of her Sunday school class.

What follows is a slightly edited version of the remarks I offered at her memorial service, December 12, 2013.

A few words then, for you, Mom.  With my love. –Andy

Purple squiggle 14

Good morning. On behalf of my brother and the family, I thank you for being here today to celebrate Thelma Urquhart’s life.  She would be so pleased—is pleased, I think, to see such a fine turnout.  That is because—as she’d be the first to admit—Mom liked being the center of attention, and she appreciated being on the receiving end of a little affection.  So it looks like she hit the jackpot today.

Mom, circa 1946

Mom, circa 1946

This may come as old news to some of you, but Mom—Ms. Thelma, as many of you knew her—was a bit of a character and a big-time storyteller.  She liked to tell how she came to Central Florida in the late 1940s when she was in her early 20s—a self-described skinny little knock-kneed Alabama farm girl.  She always said that she came seeking employment.  Instead, she found the rest of her life.  That began when she met Dad, Jack Lee Urquhart, who had only recently returned from his World War II service in the Pacific.

Mom liked to tell the story of how Dad proposed to her on their second date.  She said she figured he was joking, but when he kept popping the question over the next few weeks, she decided to call his bluff.  She said, “Jack, I’ll marry you.  But only if you promise to get a good, steady job!”  And surprisingly, Dad went out and did just that.  So they were married in April of 1947.

Wedding Photo, April 1947

Wedding Photo, April 1947

Mom liked that story.  She liked bragging that for the next nearly 5 decades, she made sure Dad kept his promise—the one about keeping a steady job—along with all his other marriage vows.

When I was a kid, I thought Mom and Dad were an odd couple.  Dad was a quiet, private person—a man of few words.  Whereas Mom—she lived to talk, and talk, and talk.  She was friendly that way—would tell her life story to anybody.  And if you were out and about with her, she might tell your life story too—to the sales clerk at Penney’s, the pharmacist down at Rexall Drugs, the waiter at Morrison’s Cafeteria.  So, it seemed to me back then that Mom and Dad were an odd match.  But I was wrong.

Now I understand that they were a good balance for each other—my father’s introversion was tempered by Mom’s exuberant extroversion; Mom’s flightiness was modulated by Dad’s careful thoughtfulness.  They were married for 48 years, and as a result here we are—my brother and I.  And all these beautiful grandchildren you see here today.

Happy family, circa 1953

Happy family, circa 1953

Mom did her best to raise us all right—she taught us our “please and thank you’s,” made sure we wiped our feet and emptied our pant cuffs before we dared tread across her clean kitchen floor. She wanted us to have good manners.

But she also wanted us to look good.

I remember when we were boys how she used to dress my brother and me up in matching Sunday outfits—in clip on bow-ties, and plaid sports jackets that she’d made herself, in navy-blue pants and Buster Browns that she’d bought on sale—always on sale—at Sears or down at Blackwelders Department Store.  Speaking for myself, I didn’t much appreciate all the fuss and bother.  But Mom was steadfast.  She continued that tradition even when the grandchildren came along.

She took such pleasure in frilling up her granddaughters, in dude-ing up her grandsons for Sunday school—often in outfits she’d made herself.

Mom and little Dillon, circa 1981

Mom and little Dillon, circa 1981

I think that she did that because—as a child of the great depression, who’d grown up in hand-me-downs and flour-sack undergarments—it gave her pleasure to see her children and grandchildren all gussied up.  It was as if our Sunday finery was a symbol of her triumph over hardship.

Lord knows, she had definite ideas about how a person should dress for church—for any occasion, for that matter.

Mom had strong ideas about a lot of things.  About God and religion, for instance.

We had, she and I, many discussions about matters spiritual.  And though we didn’t always see eye-to-eye, what matters most to me now is how she evolved and grew in her God—how the God she talked to me about seemed more and more expansive over the years, a God with room for us all.  Saints and sinners.

Mom at Church luncheon, Valentine's, Day 2008

Mom at Church luncheon, Valentine’s Day 2008

Certainly, Mom knew she wasn’t a saint—she knew well her shortcomings.  Of course, it’s also true that she didn’t like admitting to them, much less having them pointed out to her.  But then, who does?  In self-defense, she’d sometimes say that except for Jesus, who she firmly believed to be the only begotten Son of God—there was no such thing as a perfect human being (“So there!”).  But then, she also believed that we humans were created in God’s image, and that that meant there was a spark of Godliness in all of us.  And it was our job, then, to fan that spark into a little flame as best we could.  So she tried.  Sometimes her attempts could be awkward and clumsy.  But other times her efforts—her efforts to be more godly—were simple and graceful, and amazing.

Finally, I’d like to say how important Mom’s friends and neighbors, this community, and especially this church were to her.  The Church was right at the center of Mom’s universe.  She loved the Bible Study, the music; she loved participating in the quilting bees, in the bunko gatherings; and she loved the senior citizen “Lamplighter” activities where she got to show off her bread pudding, her casseroles, and her macaroni and cheese.

Mom, circa 1931. Forever young.

Mom, circa 1931. Forever young.

So I think I can speak for the family in saying that it gives us comfort to know that Mom spent the last hours, and literally the last minutes of her life on this earth with her church brothers and sisters.  With people whom she loved.

Thank you all for that.  And thank you for coming out for Mom.

About jaurquhart

Jack Andrew Urquhart was born in the American South. Following undergraduate work at the University of Florida, Gainesville, he taught in Florida's public schools. He earned a Master of Arts degree in English, Creative Writing, from the University of Colorado at Boulder, where he was the winner of the Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Award for Fiction (1991). His work has appeared online at Clapboard House Literary Journal, Crazyhorse Literary Journal, and Standards: The International Journal of Multicultural Studies. He is the author of So They Say, a collection of self-contained, inter-connected stories and the short story, They Say You Can Stop Yourself Breathing. Formerly a writing instructor at the University of Colorado’s Writing Program, Mr. Urquhart was, until 2010, a senior analyst for the Judicial Branch of California. He resides in Washington State.
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10 Responses to A Few Words for Mom, by @jackaurquhart

  1. rlboyington says:

    Loving, kind, and generous words from a dear man.

  2. marydpierce says:

    Oh, Andy, you did your momma proud. This is lovely and warm and captures the truth and beauty of your mother with such kindness and gentle humor. I wish I’d been there to hear you read this.

  3. termitespeaker says:

    Such a beautiful tribute, Jack. I’ve been thinking about you and wishing you well. I know you’ll miss your mother, as I miss mine.

  4. My sympathies to you and your family, Jack. This is a lovely tribute to your mother’s life and spirit. It has been a tough year for you, huh? Sending a cyber- hug your way.

  5. Norm Jacobs says:

    Your words help me to feel a little bit like I knew your mother too. You paint with kindness and insight a picture that will help all of her friends and family remember her.

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