(Mom’s memorial service was held on Saturday in Jacksonville. She asked me, many years ago, to speak at her service. This is what I said.)
Thank you, all of you, for being here today. Mom is sorry she couldn’t make it, but God promised her a spot as the defensive coordinator in the highly-anticipated Angel Bowl, and that was an offer she could not refuse. She’ll be joined on the sidelines by my father, who is in charge of the tailgate spread, and Sugar the greyhound, who is the team mascot.
I have spent a lot of the last two and a half years cleaning out my parents’ home. I came across many treasures during that process, but none delighted me quite as much as a copy of a speech mom gave at an RPDS event many years ago. At the end, she included a survey taken of her graduating class, where each student shared what they wanted to be when they grew up. My uncle Louie, for example, wanted to build ships for the Navy, and Tom Borland wanted to be an underwater demolition expert.
My mom wanted to be the director of a summer camp for girls. Let’s all take a moment and envision the kind of summer camp my mom would run. I’m pretty sure it would be heavy on archery and horseback riding and waterskiing, and very light on arts and crafts. There would be no camp nurse, just a bottle of aspirin and a few band-aids in a paper bag behind the bar. And oh yes, there would be a bar.
Obviously, she did not fulfill the dream she had when she was 11, but that bit of information helped me understand her so much better. She lived her whole life like it was summer camp – where you’re encouraged to be active, get dirty, and throw yourself into the world around you.
So instead of playing genteel country club tennis, she played extreme full-contact tennis. Mom’s enthusiasm for the sport earned her several tennis-related trips to the emergency room. The most notable of these occurred after she laid out for an epic shot and broke her toe, bit through her bottom lip, and punctured her spleen with her thumb knuckle. Eventually, her doctors begged her to take up a less violent hobby.
Instead of breezing through a museum or zoo, she made sure to read every sign in front of every exhibit. I used to think she was just trying to get her money’s worth out of her admission ticket, but she really was interested in everything from the pygmy marmosets to the African elephants.
She had trouble understanding gift-giving, and never knew what to do with gifts she received. Instead, she gave out nicknames. I guess when your own nickname is “Winkie,” you can’t help it.
Raise your hand if you had a Winkie nickname. Me too. My brother and I had about five apiece. Growing up, I thought all my parents’ friends had unusual names like me. It took me way longer than it should have to realize that no one in their right mind would actually be named Mikeman. Or Dirt. Or Yo Ho.
My mother didn’t teach me how to curl my hair, or what colors looked best with my skin tone. She offered no advice on jewelry, clothes, or makeup. We never shared a bottle of wine or a pedicure. Those are not summer camp activities.
Instead, she taught me to be helpful and loyal and brave. She encouraged me to try new things and seek adventure, but always pay cash. She taught me to be a fierce competitor but a good sport.
And she never, ever, ever counseled moderation. When my son Tyler was in elementary school, he spent a whole week in the summer with Mom, just the two of them. She discovered he liked peanut butter and jelly sandwiches – and proceeded to make them for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and all between-meal snacks. Tyler came home oozing peanut butter from his pores.
I would not have made it through the last two and a half years without the support of my husband, Jason, who handled our household during my frequent trips to Jacksonville, and who did not hesitate when we decided to move her in with us. Mom adored Jason – she told me once that if anything happened between us, she was keeping him. For his birthday one year, she bought him a seersucker suit. Well, let’s be honest – she told him to buy a suit, preferably on sale, and turn in a receipt for reimbursement. Anyway. He wore the suit to Riverside one Sunday, and she proudly introduced him to all her friends. “This is Jason Taylor,” she would say, “and this is his birthday suit!”
I had planned to have tiny gin & tonics passed out in the communion trays so that we could all toast my mother together – but I have been informed that is frowned upon, even in the Presbyterian Church. Oh, well. Let us raise an invisible glass to my mother, who lived every day like it was summer camp – and may we find ways to bring that energy and enthusiasm into our own everyday lives.