My mother’s greatest gift was her faith.
May 14, 2017
Faith of our mothers, living still
In cradle song and bedtime prayer,
In nursery lore and fireside love,
Thy presence still pervades the air.
Faith of our mothers, living faith!
We will be true to thee to death.
A B Patton penned the lyrics to the song, “Faith of Our Mothers.” These lines describe a mother’s faith that she hands down to the next generation. Each time I hear this song – usually on Mother’s Day – I think of my mother, Forrest Betty Greer, whose grandfather Roane was a Baptist minister. At an age too early to think about marriage, she fell in love with and married Jesse Howell, a young man who became one of the last circuit riding preachers.
In rural Oklahoma, he traveled to a different church each Sunday. During the early years of their marriage, my mother traveled with him and led the congregation in the tried and true Gospel hymns we all love to hear. Between farming and traveling from one church to the next, their lives were hard, but filled with love.
My mother during the early years, the hard years in Oklahoma.
However, eighteen years later and eight children, ranging from six months to fifteen years of age, Forrest Betty became a young widow during the Great Depression. I grew up listening to her stories about the hardships of a mother who, in the 1930s, had not been prepared for any career other than the role of a wife and mother.
Growing and harvesting a small vegetable garden, canning during the summers , and come winter, working at the local factory sewing men’s shirts, she somehow managed to make ends meet. My mother described the grueling nightly task of washing by hand, starching, and ironing the one dress per daughter she could afford so that her five girls would look well groomed for the next school day.
No matter how difficult the week had been, come Sunday morning, she and her eight children were sitting in a church pew. Her faith lifted her up, gave her reason to hope. She prayed daily that she could provide for her children and keep the family together.
When the dust bowl of the thirties defeated her struggles to provide adequately for her children, my mother packed all of her belongings and moved to East Texas where her boys acquired jobs in the oil field boom. East Texas offered much more to my mother than jobs for her sons.
It was in Kilgore that she met my father Jesse Greer. They fell in love in their early forties. I was their only child, born when my mother was forty-four and my father forty-six. I lived a life of privilege, but both my parents, especially my mother, emphasized charity and kindness to others. My mother never allowed anyone to tell me that I was pretty, but she was the first to let them know how smart I was as.
Since I had nieces and nephews my age and they often spent time at our house, I had opportunity to observe and to admire the bond she developed with each of her grandchildren. In fact, as I spend time with my own grandchildren, I am reminded of the love and devotion she exuded as she rocked one of them in her lap, singing a hymn.
She was their confidante when they grew older and needed grandmotherly advice. My goal is to let her be the example for me as I pass on her legacy of love and faith to my two Grands.
Throughout my teenage years, Mother criticized my independence and stubbornness – not realizing I inherited her DNA — claiming that of all of her children, I was the most difficult one to rear. I took nothing on face value and had to be shown proof of a statement before I believed it.
Even as an adult, I have to admit that her criticism was quite accurate because I still possess an inordinate amount of independence and determination. Both of those attributes have served me well.
Pundits say that history has a way of repeating itself, and that theory can be applied to my mother. Once again, Forrest Betty enjoyed only eighteen years of marriage. My father died when I was fifteen-years-old.
I had to grow up quickly because, two months after his death, my mother suffered a heart attack. Though she never complained, never expressed any bitterness for her life, I know she must have thought, Oh, no, Lord, not again.
My mother was determined that I would continue my education. She insisted that I enroll in the local junior college. I attended classes each morning and then in the afternoons, I worked part-time as a secretary for an oilfield tool company.
Forrest Betty and I became more than mother and daughter. We became close friends. She taught me to attend church, to pray, and to grow spiritually. She gave me more than the stubbornness and independence buried in her DNA.
By example, she instilled in me a deep faith in a living God who loves us as we are and who lifts us up in times of trial. I feel her with me each morning as I begin my day with a daily prayer for those who are in pain physically or emotionally or who need their spirits lifted, and as I do so, I remember the faith of my mother who gave comfort to those who suffered.
The memory comforts me still.
I miss her every day but most on Mother’s Day.