April 12, 2010

Sturtevant's Funeral Home
Portsmouth, VA

I want to thank my sister Cris. You were the glue that held our family together during Mom's final days, and you have ascended nicely to take her place as the head of the family. While we suffered as her life ended, Mom suffered more, but you did so much to help all of us to suffer less.

Thanks to everyone here for joining us in mourning. Your presence and your condolences are so comforting. Some of you called her Mrs Davis, some called her Verna or Verna Mae. A precious few remaining Griffiths called her Sissy, and a still smaller group called her Mom. But led by April and Jeff and Charlotte and Daniel, and Ericka and Hunter and Clayton, everybody called her Nanny.

Dr Kersey, Mom was so happy with the funeral service you led for my dad, and she was so pleased with the education you provided for Charlotte. Charlotte is an educator now, as well, and that is part of the legacy you have created.

While we all pray for a spiritual legacy that Mom has earned in the great beyond, I want to talk to you about the legacy she created right here on Earth.

One summer morning, I said I was bored. Mom had the cure for that: She gave me all the pots and pans that had built up black soot on the bottoms, and told me to put them in the wash tub out back and scrub them down to bare metal and make them shine.

When I accept that contentment is my own responsibility, Nanny is still with us.

We always ate breakfast at 7 oclock, morning snack at 10 oclock, afternoon snack at 3 oclock and dinner at 6:15. Mom passed away at 10 am on the dot.

When I complete a project on schedule, when I arrive at an appointment on time, Nanny is still with us.

I came home from Sunday school and told Mom about the clothes that one boy had worn. Everyone had been making fun of him. Mom asked had I made fun of him too? I said yes, of course, it was a silly outfit. She asked me to tell her exactly what he had been wearing. Why, I asked. Because I'm going to make you an outfit exactly like that and you're going to wear it every Sunday until you learn to not make fun of people.

When Ericka or Hunter or Clayton has sympathy for another person, when I am tolerant of another person's differences from me, Nanny is still with us.

When I was oiling my bicycle, I squirted oil on some shingles on the side of the house. Mom made me scrub those shingles every day for months, the oil had penetrated halfway through.

When I accept responsibility for my own actions, Nanny is still with us.

In a novel called A GIRL OF THE LIMBERLOST, Elnora goes to high school, where she has trouble blending in with the other kids because of her poverty and her unfashionable dress. She cannot afford tuition and books and almost has to drop out, but she comes up with a scheme to sell moths and stuff she finds in the Limberlost Swamp. That book was Mom's favorite, she read it many times. Elnora's story was so much like Mom's, and I think she modeled herself after Elnora. I remember when Mom used to do piecework embroidering on sweaters to supplement our family's income.

When I work hard for small returns, instead of feeling sorry for myself, Nanny is still with us.

Mom said that every boy should learn how to cook and sew.

When I'm in touch with my feminine side, Nanny is still with us.

When we played baseball in the back yard, Mom would holler out the window "Over the fence is an out!"

When I sacrifice success to avoid offending my neighbor, Nanny is still with us.

One year my birthday was coming, and I wanted coconut shell halves to make the sound effect of galloping horses. My birthday arrived, but she didnt give me the coconut halves, and I thought she had forgotten, but then I found them hidden in a basket in the garage. The cut was out of kilter, like when you start cutting around a watermelon and the end of your cut winds up way out of line with where you started. I figure what happened is Mom asked Dad to do the cut, and he refused because coconut would mess up his saw. Mom waited until he wasnt looking, said under her breath "Heck with your saw", and she tried to do the cutting. The coconut halves didnt really work, they sounded like horses wearing socks, but

When I dont have what my children need, but I try my best anyway, Nanny is still with us.

I learned a long time ago that I got along better with Mom if I ignored the first thing she said, and listened closely to everything that followed.

When I shoot from the hip with some sharp sarcasm, yeah, Nanny is still with us. And I'm proud of it, for whatever reason.

Mom made clothes for me, for all of us. She was an excellent seamstress. And she had an expression she used all the time, which turned out to be prophetic, about working your fingers to the bone. Even when her osteo-arthritis was so bad that her fingers turned at almost right angles, she continued working for the family. All through her final illness she was still running the store, cutting the grass, and she never was comfortable asking for help.

When Cris works ungodly hours without getting proper sleep at the risk of her own health, and when any of us in some instant works unselfishly for others, Nanny is still with us.

Mom was one of eleven kids in an economically poor family. They never had a car, Mom never learned to ride a bicycle. During the war, when goods were rationed, Mom's family would trade their tire stamps to other families for shoe stamps. When I was little I would go to the grocery store with Mom on the city bus, but eventually we bought a second car. Mom didnt have a driver's license, but she would drive that car to the store, driving very slowly and hovering inches from the curb. When she saw a car coming that might be a cop, she'd just come to an immediate stop and then, well, she technically wasnt driving, right? You dont need a license to sit in a parked car. I'll never forget the day she got her license, she scared me to death, driving fast down the middle of the road. I never knew she had it in her!

When I am humble and quiet when I break the rules, and magnificent and proud when I follow them, Nanny is still with us.

Whenever I stand in line and somebody cuts in front of me and I just sort of take it on the chin and stew in my own quiet anger, Nanny is still with us.

When we moved into the family house in 1959, I discovered Elizabeth Manor Country Club only a couple blocks away. I went to the pro shop and asked them if I could play golf there, and they said I should have my mother call them. I went home and said to her "Mom, they said I can play golf there if you call them!" and she said "Roger, they are a different class of people from us."

Whenever I feel that I am somehow not as good as other people, but still accept my own lot in life with grace and dignity, Nanny is still with us.

When Mom was 10 years old, she broke her arm, but her Dad wouldnt take her to the doctor, he said she should stop complaining and get back to work. When the arm got worse instead of better, the bone had started healing incorrectly and they had to rebreak it over the back of the bed to set it properly.

That experience helped her grow into a person with such an extraordinary power to confront and overcome adversity that I cant claim that I have ever done the same. But if I ever overcome pain that is more than a person should have to, and rise above circumstances that could conquer a person's soul, like the pain I'm feeling now at her loss, and do it with a stiff upper lip, then in that moment I will be worthy of having been her son, and Mom will still be with us.

When I was four years old, our upstairs tenant made me a white ceramic elephant. Mom took it from me and put it onto her nick-nack shelf, where it stayed. In hind sight, it makes no sense to give a four-year-old a ceramic statue to use as a playtoy, but I always felt that Mom had stolen my elephant. In later years, I always said "I'm going to take that elephant when you die."

On the day Mom passed away, I told Cris "I am going to put that white elephant into Mom's casket, to show her I forgive her for stealing it from me." I thought I had it figured out, but this morning a truer meaning came to me: For years I had full benefit of the virtues of that white elephant, strong and graceful and proud, but I never appreciated it because I thought I had to possess it for myself. Today I feel so sorry for myself, so hurt, because I have lost my mother, but her legacy lives on in everything she made, everything she taught to all of us, and perhaps in a great beyond where she is reunited with her beloved husband. My own pain at losing her is short-sighted, simply because I can no longer possess her and kiss her soft and loving cheeks. In her legacy, my precious white elepant lives on, Nanny is still with us.