More Than “Brother Charlie’s Wife”

One month ago today I sat in the chapel at JH Churchill funeral home in Murray, KY beginning what would be the family’s final good-by to our 99 year-old mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. The service began with a song that my brother, Harold, had written for the occasion. He and his wife gave a superb performance. Following Harold’s greeting of the group that had gathered for the occasion, Mike Turbeville, a man, not of the cloth, but of the Book, presented his remarks. They were interrupted by his tears that conveyed a clear message of his love and respect for Mom.

His remarks and prayer were followed by congregational singing of three songs Mom had requested. Her grandson did an excellent job leading the songs that she loved. They were favorites of generations past, not his. This was followed by the remarks of the minister that our parents contacted many years ago to be the main speaker at each of their funerals. Bobby Gardner spoke of knowing our folks for over sixty years and repeated many of the remarks he had made at Dad’s funeral five years and three weeks ago. Bobby referred to Mom several times as “Brother Charlie’s wife” but she was more than the preacher’s wife and it was her life we were celebrating. She deserved recognition as her own person and she had some qualities that were particularly significant.

Mom was resourceful. I wanted a particular white dress for my graduation activities. Her miniscule budget would not cover it so she went to the department store on the south-east corner of the square in Elkton; looked it over carefully then went home and duplicated it without a pattern of any kind. When any toddler in her Bible class refused to sit still, she fashioned what she called a “seat belt” out of fabric and that eliminated the interruptions to her illustrated Bible stories.

Mom was a financial genius. Dad gave her $20.00 a month or a week, I don’t remember which, but neither would have been reasonable to feed and clothe a family of eight and to the best of my knowledge, the amount never increased through the years. We never went hungry but some of our clothes were very creative and she made them herself on a treadle sewing machine. She also demonstrated her ability to manage money as the chief cook in the Mayfield, KY school system. That responsibility was a source of pride for her and she took it seriously.

She demonstrated her confidence in her ability to handle financial issues at a new height less than twenty years ago. Dad had emergency surgery for a previously undetected brain injury that occurred when he made a left-hand turn into the path of an oncoming vehicle, totaling their sedan. While he was recovering, Mom asked her younger sister to go with her to Taylor Motors in Murray and Mom bought herself a car. As she explained to Dad, getting in and out of his pick-up was difficult for a woman of her age and stature. Mom loved that Chevy Lumina longer than she owned it.

Mom was a survivor. She had that “Just do it” attitude long before Nike made the phrase a household word. Her independent attitude was frustrated by having lived under the strict control of first her parents, then her husband, and later her son but nothing any of them did could extinguish it. It served her well as she faced the heartaches of motherhood including the death of her first-born less than twenty-four hours after his birth.

To her grandchildren and great-grand children, Granny was an iconic maker of donuts and served as mentor to several of them as they grew up sharing her kitchen. Her children also remember fried pies-apple, cinnamon, peach-whatever was available. The birthday cakes she made for her kids were either angel food or chiffon but she never failed to make one even after some of us left home. Sometimes they came in the mail with popcorn for packing. We ate that too! Homemade ice cream was also a staple at our house as were jam and coconut cakes. She had one of those for her 99th birthday party and she ate it with pleasure but without useful teeth.

Mom was a woman of grace. I remember the surprise birthday party the members of the Hatler’s Chapel congregation hosted several years ago at a small restaurant in Lynn Grove. It was pure pleasure watching her move from table to table greeting every guest individually. She was just as comfortable doing that as she was picking blackberries.

Mom treasured her solitude. People used to fret when Dad went on extended mission trips and left her home alone. She enjoyed those trips at least as much as Dad did. Having the house to herself meant she could stay up as late as she pleased and sleep in if she chose. There was no one banging around at 5 AM waking anyone who happened to be in the house!

Mom loved kids; her own and everyone else’s. Obviously when there were fewer of us, she had more time to play with us and she did. She made our favorite book, “The Yellow Cat with Purple Ears” come alive. She used her blue food coloring to make our cat Sunbeam’s ears purple. The cat wasn’t particularly happy with the transformation, but we were ecstatic. She played ball with us, taught us to play Chinese checkers, and made our favorite food for our birthdays. She may have been the original “motorcycle mama”. No one remembers when she took her first ride but it was the start of a life-long love affair with the bike. She wasn’t particular about who was driving and each of her four sons chauffeured her on whatever the current motorcycle happened to be. She was often ready and waiting for them to mount. This was entertainment at its finest and continued until she was in her mid-90’s. Mom never wore pants but she could whip a skirt around her legs to maintain her modesty like no one else I ever saw.

It seemed appropriate to close her service with the congregation singing, “Jesus Loves Me” and I’ve never heard it sung with more enthusiasm.

We’re going to miss her but knowing that the pain that was constantly part of her life is no longer forcing her to live on pain medication gives us peace and we know that we’ll have an opportunity to see her again in her new body that is not distorted with arthritis. So good-by for now, Mom. You’re still the best!

Freeda Arnett Holladay


About Doc Arnett

Native of southwestern Kentucky currently living in Ark City, Kansas, with my wife of twenty-nine years, Randa. We have, between us, eight children and twenty-eight grandkids. We enjoy singing, worship, remodeling and travel.
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