So, my mother died in May of last year, at the age of almost 91. Incredibly, the last five years of her life found her in hospice, with given about 4-6 months to live as she suffered from lymphoma. Five years later, it was perhaps the reason they say that doctors “practice,” because her oncologist simply sent her home to die, and to do so quickly.
Still, it’s been a long while since we went through the funeral and then had to clean out her house to get it ready for sale. In all that work, it’s natural that some question arise that I’m sad to say I never asked her. I won’t include them all in this writing, but with your indulgence, I’ll take time now and then to just have a one-sided conversation as time goes by.
So, Mom – my first question is why you, and Dad too, never really sang out loud? With dozens of records and tapes ever at the ready for all of us kids to play and sing along with – like the cherished possession I claimed from your house – the “Sing along with Mitch Miller” album, I never recall hearing you sing as you cooked or sewed or sat in the back yard or did any of your thousands of crafts, or you read or wrote those volumes. By the way, I’m sure you remember, with Mitch Miller, how your sweet angelic children would sit around the stereo, and belt out such innocent songs like, “Drunk last night, drunk the night before, gonna get drunk tonight like I never got drunk before…”
But you never sang. You raised an entire troupe of singers, and from the junior choir at the base chapel in South Carolina, to choirs and ensembles and musicals and jazz, chamber, men’s and women’s groups, the Cross children would sing at the drop of a hat. Even today, my best singing has to happen alone in the car, since my family doesn’t seem to appreciate the thousands of songs in my repertoire. I know it wasn’t that you didn’t appreciate music – you did, and like I said, you surrounded us with music of all sorts – do you remember when we would get the albums from the Esso station with a fill-up, and we would put on the musical plays, miming the songs of the Jungle Book, and so many others? You sat patiently while we spent probably hours acting it all out for you.
Did someone tell you once that you were not good at that? You were so good at so many things, as a teacher, a counselor, a church leader, a scout leader, someone involved in elections and other civic things. For some reason, though, I never recall hearing “Drunk Last Night” out of your mouth… Dad only sang in church, which is where you probably did too, but it will be a mystery, I guess, until we have a chance to catch up in heaven someday.
Here’s another one for you, Mom – what made you so curious about your world? I never noticed it while we were together, but it was amazing how many different things you “tried out,” or explored or assumed into your life. I know your children always joked about the “Ruth Cross Museum of Kitchen Appliances,” but I swear, you found and purchased and were given more doo-dads for doing anything dealing with cooking or baking than anyone else on the planet. Cap snafflers, battery powered vegetable peelers, butter squirters, grinders, toaster ovens, at one time, the world’s largest microwave, the huge chicken broiler that you could “set and forget,” popcorn poppers, ice cream makers, bag sealers, tortilla steamers, and so much more. That’s not even taking into account the entire wing devoted to Rubbermaid and Tupperware lids without the containers, or the important collection of ballpoint pen caps. Just the caps. Not sure about that one.
But you threw yourself into creating herb gardens, and flowers and so much more outside, and then when you were inside, you did ink and paint decorations on fabric, you sewed miles of clothes, you did wood carving, jewelry making, metal work, scrapbooking, Chinese lettering, and just about everything that the local crafts store could provide.
What gave you that itch? The same itch that led you to read every devotional book you could find, and to write important journals, just for your eyes… and it was the itch, I’m afraid, that you gave to each of us to take on as well, with now numbers of homes across the country all filled with “things we are going to get to” sooner or later, or half-finished or soon to be started crafts and books and flowers and plants and trees and more.
Here’s my guess: with being given the mantle of caring for a house full of children, and a husband who was busy as an Air Force officer, it would have been very easy to just give yourself away to seeing to the needs of everyone else, while Ruth slowly disappeared from view. I think these activities, besides bringing you joy and even whimsy, allowed you to express who you were apart from and standing alone from everything and everyone else that demanded or expected you to take care of them. I think it was your way of saying, “Here I am – Ruth!” and put your own special signature on those pieces of creation.
Well, maybe two questions are enough for today. I do know, however, that one gift you gave us, and that I will always cherish, is the gift of being intentional about what you do. Do it on purpose, even if it doesn’t work out, and be proud of your attempt. Also, you gave us love, without ever ebbing or pulling back. We were a goofy group, and you loved us. That’s certainly the greatest gift I hold today.
Talk to you soon. I love you too.
Word for the day: sialoquent. Take cover. Pronounced sigh-AL-o-quint, the word comes from two Greek roots, loquent, which means “speaking,” and sialic or sialon, which means “saliva” or “spittle.” It’s that unfortunate combination of someone having an overabundance of liquid or moisture in their mouth, and the desire to share it all with the world. Daffy Duck is perhaps our greatest example of a sialoquent speaker. Our only response should be “Say it – don’t spray it!” Wouldn’t it be fun, however, to “compliment” someone by telling them how you consider them to be such a sialoquent conversationalist? They’ll probably thank you for it, and then you can pull out your towel and dry your face…
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.