My sweet, spunky mother, who had an overabundance of personality, left this world for her eternal home on Monday morning, January 30. She had been admitted to a nursing home five days earlier. I was able to be with her this past weekend in Everett, Washington. Pati and I visited Mom and Dad in December, knowing that she would not long be with us. We played Trivial Pursuit and Mom (as usual) won! This last visit she was barely conscious. I don’t know if she recognized me at all in my two visits. On Friday I brought my dad with me to see her. She said three words then that turned out to be her last: “my sweet Daddy.” Dad didn’t hear her so I repeated the words to him. This next month they would have celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary.
In 2009 I wrote a living eulogy for four people; I wanted them to know the huge impact they had made on my life. A month later, two of them—quite unexpectedly—died. Harold Hoehner, my longtime mentor and friend at Dallas Seminary and Joe Aldrich, my pastor at Mariners Church when I was in college, both died on the same day in February 2009. The other two were Ed Komoszewski, my former intern and best friend, and my mother. Only Ed is still with us.
Below is what I wrote about Mom in January, 2009.
The third in the series of four ‘living eulogies’ is dedicated to my mom. I know, I know: it’s absolutely shameless of me to extol the virtues of my own mother when the rest of you don’t have your own blog so you can’t. Life isn’t fair; get over it.
At the same time, I am quite sure that what I have to say about my mother will relate to an awful lot of you. You’ll get your chance to say so, of course. And that’s when we can all play ‘Queen for a Day’ (in case the allusion is lost on you, this was an old 50s TV show that pitted deserving, pitiful women who told their sob stories to a live audience; the woman who got the loudest applause was made queen for a day; think ‘Extreme Makeover’ as a full-contact competitive sport). But I digress.
Nayda Baird Wallace celebrated her 79th birthday last November. Her health is not the best, but her mind is still sharp. She’s one of a rare breed of people who have been blessed with an overabundance of common sense. Both my parents have an extra share of the stuff, but for some reason it completely bypassed me and was a-genetically transferred to my wife. Mom also knew how to package it in such a way that made it palatable to my brother and sister and me, rebels without a clue that we were. My folks for decades have carried on conversations with themselves and others in which all the world’s problems would obviously be resolved if the world would just listen to what they had to say!
A keynote to their poetic ranting was responsibility. At times, it seemed as though that was the sum total of what life was all about. In some respects, they were free market thinkers for the family unit. But instead of the law of supply and demand, they developed the law of infraction and natural consequences. One of the greatest lessons I learned growing up was that if I violated some principle of life, there would be natural consequences to face. Unlike so many parents today who shield their kids from ever having to face the consequences of their own actions, my folks almost seemed to relish in brandishing the consequence sword. They had a great game face: even when doing the tough love thing was brutally difﬁcult on them, they didn’t ﬂinch. And all three of us learned that we couldn’t appeal to third base to get out of consequences: Mom was just as tough as Dad, and they were both united in the discipline that was doled out. Great models for my wife and me to follow! (And, by the way, an essential means of parenting is seen in this: the father should always be on the mother’s side and the mother should always be on the father’s side; if the father and mother do not present a united front, the kids learn to favor one parent, manipulate the other, and disrespect both.)
But Mom also had been given an extra measure of compassion and passion. She was the biggest believer in her children, always fascinated by what we did, always encouraging us to shoot for our dreams, whatever they may be. Her compassion was displayed in constant worry, something that I would especially exploit (sinner that I am!). After awhile, she started to turn that worry into prayer, and conveyed to me how to do the same (since I, too, am a born worrier). She and Dad prayed especially that we would know the Lord, love the Lord, and marry someone who did the same. And her passion was obvious in her belief that although her kids could certainly do wrong, they were nevertheless quite capable. Most memorably, she defended me in front of my second-grade teacher when the teacher thought I should go into a special school for mentally challenged children. Mom simply declared, “You’re wrong about him and you don’t know what you’re talking about. If he’s not learning well in your class, perhaps the problem is with the teacher.” Mom should know: she was the best teacher I ever had; she could consistently bring out the best in all of us. At bottom, Mom cared for us. Really, really cared.
When we were weak in some areas, Mom would help us shore them up in a creative way. Whenever we went on vacation, Mom would tell us stories hour after hour. (I have no idea how Dad stood it all those years! I’m sure he wanted some adult conversation, but this was Mom’s time to instruct her charges.) She would get us to play mind games, and use every opportunity to teach us. I remember seeing her wheels spin as she ﬁgured out in front of us how to tell the difference between a stalactite and a stalagmite. She was always working on mnemonic devices for just about everything. My brother had great difﬁculty learning how to spell. He still is no William Saﬁre when it comes to the mechanics of the English language, but Mom helped him become far, far better than he would have been without her aid. She would ‘drill’ into us how to spell all the states’ names. But the drill was always a game. Always. It usually had a story with it that she created ex nihilo on a moment’s notice. I recall distinctly her helping all of us learn how to spell Oklahoma. It involved the story of an Italian man who, with his Italian wife, traveled all over the U.S. in search of a place where they could settle down. They landed in Oklahoma. Now it just so happened that the man’s nickname was ‘L.A.’ So, when they got to the great state, his dear wife put her foot down and declared, “O.K., L.A., this is homa!” I never forgot how to spell that state’s name since. I don’t ever recall her cramming knowledge down our throats, but I do recall hundreds of hours of imaginative and fun instruction.
Combining her aptitude in common sense, ability to teach, and love for the Lord, Mom taught me the rudiments of theology well. There was a time when I had doubts about my faith because of some fairly trivial matter that was being challenged in my thinking. Mom reminded me that at the core of my beliefs must be Christ himself. And on the periphery should be less important matters. And that a wise man knew how to tell the difference between vital matters and peripheral ones. She would say, “Nail one foot to the ﬂoor inside the circle where Christ is; let your other foot tap dance all it wants, recognizing that you can never get too far away from that inner circle.” The making of a doctrinal taxonomy in that simple but effective illustration!
There is so much more that I could say about my mom. I owe her a lot. She was always there for me, and was my ﬁrst and best mentor. Thanks, Mom, for all you’ve done for this sometimes-wayward son who never got a dime’s worth of common sense, unfortunately. Maybe you still have a few things to teach me!