“When gone, this goes to Larry.” The plain paper sign is still on the back of the cabinet in Mama’s handwriting.
When Gone – Remembering Mama on Mother’s Day
“When gone” was Mama’s way of saying, in a nicer, gentler way, “When I’m dead, you can have this.”
So, pieces here and there in her house were so designated as “when I am gone” pieces with names of her children, whoever had been first to ask for the piece, usually.
It was a nice custom, one of Mama’s own making. She knew who would be getting what of her personal belongings, and her sons and daughters also knew ahead of time.
It was not unusual to hear a brother or sister say, “Remember, this belongs to me ‘when Mama is gone.’” It was not a morbid thing, but was sometimes filled with good humor.
“Well, Mama, I want that when you’re gone.” “Mama, I hope you’re not planning to go very soon.” “Mama, I wanted that!”
So, scattered here and there – Springfield and Clarksville, Tennessee, and Wingate, North Carolina – there are Mama’s most treasured things.
However, long before her death, whenever someone would say, “Mama, I want that someday (the “someday” was another way of saying “when gone”), Mama would say, “Just take it now.”
So, at our house is a set of old, old dishes, used at our table when I was growing up, and several very old pieces that Mama and Daddy had when they “set up house-keeping.”
Beautiful pieces, delightful things, with memories that linger and give us good, warm feelings of times long ago!
At our house is also the homemade table, the saw marks made at the sawmill can still be seen in the wood, that Mama and Daddy had at their first house after marriage and still in use as we were growing up.
Old and rustic looking, but so beautiful and filled with memories of growing up eating our meals in an atmosphere of laughter and family fun, which was usually always true with Mama and Daddy.
The cabinet mentioned above actually came to be in Larry’s house long before Mama “was gone.”
After Daddy’s death and when declining health made it necessary for Mama to go to a small retirement center, so as not to live alone, many of her things went to where she had so designated them, “after I’m gone.”
She lived to see the renovated and repainted cabinet in its new home in Wingate, North Carolina.
She was pleased with the finished product and, I think, it made her happy knowing this old piece of kitchen furniture had found new life and a new home.
We came to realize only after we grew up that these were parts of Mama’s life, they were in a sense her, things she loved and had used in raising her family.
That, of course, is why they have meant so much to us. We see them, use them, make them a part of our lives, too.
And, all of a sudden – “Precious memories, how they linger; how they ever flood my soul.”
Beyond the dishes, pictures, and various pieces of furniture is more, much more.
We did not realize until after Mama was old – and indeed we too were older – that Mama and Daddy were both, in a sense, philosophers, or even theologians.
They would not have known those big words, but if you mean deep thoughts, a good concept of life and death, mature thinking, and a living of life to the fullest – living too until the very day they died! – those words describe Mama and Daddy, “Miss Jessie and Mr. Pete,” as most of the community knew them.
We grew up hearing Daddy say, “If the Lord lets me live another year, I’m going to do such and such,” or “If the Lord wills . . .”
We saw two plain, down-to-earth people, who were poor in the world’s riches, but who always had a positive outlook on life. If things were bad, Mama and Daddy assured us they’d get better. If things were good, Mama and Daddy urged us to be grateful.
Perhaps, a P.S. is needed on my saying they were poor.
I heard Daddy say many times, “I’m rich. Just look at these six great kids.” He really felt that way, and we six kids were immersed in that attitude of self-worth.
Where we lived on 4th Avenue in Springfield was called “the hill,” a place strangers would have described as a poor section of town, and materially, I guess it was!
A friend of mine who lived near us on “the hill” said to me recently that those of us who grew up there did not know how rich we were. We both agreed we were indeed rich!
We, of course, were referring to our home atmosphere, our parents who loved us and did the best they could for us, and the positive attitudes we developed that has seen us through a lot as adults.
From time to time, though, I am struck with the depth of thought contained in Mama’s phrase, “When I’m gone.” Daddy would use the same terms in talking about friends who had “gone away.” Daddy’s friends never died; they simply had “gone away.”
I came to understand that those words held lots of meaning. Death is a part of life. Death is something that comes to all and need not make us afraid. The Lord is controller of life and death.
So, we learned from Daddy to say, “If the Lord wills” or “If the Lord lets me live another year . . .” recognizing that life and death are under the divine control of God.
In their lifetime Mama and Daddy told many friends goodbye and they grieved. We saw them grieve at Bobbie Nell’s death.
She was our sister who died at age 49, the first of their six children “to go away.” To Daddy it simply was not the way it was supposed to be – the daughter should live to bury her Daddy and not the other way around.
So, they grieved. When Daddy was in the hospital, just a few days before his death, Mama sat by his bed.
We had celebrated their 65th anniversary just a few months before. I heard her say sadly, “When he goes, I wish I could crawl up into that bed and go with him.”
Both Daddy and Mama are “gone” now; Daddy died 25 years ago (age 91), Mama 19 (age 87). We cleaned out the house and distributed Mama’s things according to her instructions, written on the back of the various pieces.
When we see them, we remember and we’re grateful for a Mama and Daddy who raised us to be good people, who put into our hearts the desire to be all God intended for us, and who, in their simple way of loving life, taught us to love life, live it to its fullest, and to know that death – “going away” – was a real part of life.
They’re not really dead. They are a part of us. They live in who we are. There’s not a day that goes by that something said or done doesn’t remind me of them – great people.
Dead? No, not really. They’ve just “gone away” for a while.
On Mother’s Day I’ll wear my white flower and remember Mama and be grateful!
About the Author
G. Byrns Coleman is a retired Professor of Religion and Chair of Department of Religion & Philosophy, Wingate University, Wingate, NC . He is also a member of Wingate Baptist Church .
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