My sweet mother, Dixie Ann Frye Stanton, was born on July 17, 1946, in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. She died 25,698 days later, this past Wednesday, at her home in Salem. She drew her last breath as my wife, my sister, and I sat with her, as her grandchildren and close friends talked in her living room. Surrounded by people who loved her, by people she loved. We traveled from the south and from the north to share Thanksgiving with our family, knowing this might be the end. And so it was.
Those of you who knew my mother personally already know everything that I have to say today. You know how sweet my mom was, how cute, how feisty, how supportive, how loving. I wish you were up here instead of me to tell those stories. My stories are all the stories of a mama’s boy, of a man who has lost his biggest cheerleader, who has lost someone who always believed in him and always encouraged him and always helped pick up the pieces when everything seemed to be falling apart.
My sister shared with me the exact right verse from the bible to describe my mom, from Galatians 5:22-23 – The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, [and] temperance. My mother epitomized all of these virtues.
If my mom were helping me write this, she would tell me that this is the part where I should make jokes about how short she was. Where I should tell you all that she was so short that she had to look up to look down. I’m glad you laughed at that/I wish you had laughed at that. She would tell me I should make a joke about how old she was. I don’t want to say that she was old, but even God called her “grandma.”
And some of you may feel that such humor has no place here, but I know my mom. And she would not want such sadness. Tell me I am wrong. My mom would say there is nothing funny about cancer, nothing funny about death, but plenty funny about life itself. And if you were sad, she would listen to you and try to find a way to restore at least a little happiness. And so it goes.
I wish I knew more about my mother’s life. I wish I could tell you now about her childhood, about how she and her brothers got along, about places she went and adventures she had as a pre-teen. Here’s the only thing I know: her father owned property in Big Run, Pennsylvania. And part of that property included a hill where blueberries grew. And my mother would go with her mother to pick blueberries there. And they called it Dixie Hill, after my mom. Isn’t that a great story? Can’t you see my cute little mom with ringlets in her hair plucking ripe blueberries and putting them into a little metal pail? You know she’d have blue fingers and blue lips from the berries she sampled. Dixie Hill – I always loved that story. And the only reason I know it was because she took me there once when I was a very little kid. I think I was six and my sister was two.
I know nothing about my mother’s teenage years. I don’t know what sort of student she was or what her favorite classes were. I don’t know who her best friends and mortal enemies were. I don’t know what kinds of music she liked, although she did tell me once she never really cared for the Beatles. I wish I knew these things. I wish I knew what her dreams were, but I know this: she loved the way life played out.
There are so many stories I wish she had shared with me, so many things I wish I had asked. Do you know, I don’t really even know how she met my father? Doesn’t that seem like the kind of thing someone should know about his parents? They never told me; I never asked. I wish I knew, just to know.
I know she and my father got married on May 20, 1966. I came along in April of 1967, and my father once told me that people were definitely counting the months. I wish I had asked my mother how she knew that he was the one, how he proposed to her, how he courted her. But who thinks to ask such things until it’s too late?
Mom and dad were married for 32 years, until he passed away from cancer in 1998. Some years were lean, some were prosperous. My father was a dreamer, and I wish he’d had greater success than he did. He wanted to be a musician, and he had a band and a steady gig at Showtown Bar in Gibsonton, Florida, for several years. And right beside him, all the time, my mom. It was like, my dad was the big showman, attracting the attention and the crowds, but it was my mom who took care of all the details. Dad would be on stage carrying the crowd, but my mom would be looking to see who needed companionship in the bar. Who needed a dance, a drink, a friend. That was my mom. Years before that – in the early 80s – mom and dad had pretty good success at selling cookware. Like you might have a Tupperware or Pampered Chef party today? My dad and mom would put on an entire dinner featuring this cookware – Lifetime, it was called. And I got to go to a few of those dinners. There was my dad, putting on the big sales presentation; and there was my mom, answering questions and dealing one-on-one with people. My mom loved my dad, and she did everything she could to support his dreams.
Here is my favorite thing she ever did for my dad, and those of you who know my mom probably don’t know this, and I think you’ll be surprised and amused. This was after Cyndi and I had grown up and moved out, so they were free to do whatever. And my dad had a CDL and drove truck, and sometimes he would take her with him. Well, they got the idea of becoming a driving team. If my mom could get her CDL, they could travel the country, team driving. You remember how short my mom was, right? All 4’10” of sprightly joy? Do you know, ladies and gentlemen, that she did it? My itsy bitsy mother mastered the type of trucks that Red Sovine used to sing country songs about! Can you picture that in your mind? Dixie Stanton, putting the pedal to the metal, eastbound and down, loaded up and trucking!
The things she did for my dad. What an amazing woman. She was always there, always ready to support him no matter what.
That’s the kind of person she was, though, for everybody. I know you all have stories about my mom, and I wish I could hear them all.
After dad passed, mom devoted herself to her children, and to her children’s children. I will not tell their stories, other than to say that she followed Cyndi up here to Kentucky, to be here for my nieces Corri Ann and later Michelle, to be my sister’s rock, her best friend, her stable place in the universe when everything seemed all topsy-turvy. But that’s who my mom was – always there to help make the world a better place, always there to brighten someone else’s day, always a bright star shining on the darkest nights. I know she did all that for me, and I would guess she has done similar things for you. She worked at Wal-Mart for over a decade, and she cherished the friendships she made while there. I know she brought a smile to your face, happiness to your lives. Please celebrate her life by telling your stories to others, and let her life be an example to you to find a way to love each other and to make the world a better place.
So take this away from me, a mama’s boy who wishes he knew more: Tell your stories. To your kids and your grandkids, so they know you before they knew you. And kids, ask your parents to tell you stories. Good or bad, the lessons they learned from their lives made them into the people you love the way I love my mama. Tell your stories, promise me.
I leave you with this: an outpouring of love from Dixie that should wash over you whenever you think about my sweet mother, and an apology from me for not knowing more of her stories. The truth is that my mom’s story is the story of her family, and of her friends, and of her love for each of us. Her legacy is the way she made each of us feel: as if we were important, as if we mattered, as if we could do anything we set our minds to. She loved us all, and I like to think that we all keep a part of her within ourselves forever more.