What I Learned by Being My Mother's Daughter
George Travie Henry and Pamela Brown Carpenter
Daddy was one of nine, mother an only child. They met in Norfolk, Mother's city, when Daddy was in the Navy. They were married in 1946 and in 1950 moved to Georgia, Daddy's home state.
Reunions of Daddy's siblings and their children occurred when Daddy's mother said it was time and whenever there was a 25th or 50th wedding anniversary to celebrate.
My brothers and sisters and I decided to invite all the uncles, aunts, and cousins to a reunion for Daddy and Mother's 40th anniversary. Nobody objected to a party, even if it wasn't the 50th yet--especially when somebody else would do the planning. The reunion was a success, and 1986 became the year that our generation--the grandchildren of Walter Raleigh and Annie Lou Henry--inherited the mantle of reunion planning, and the Henry family reunion became an annual event.
Daddy and Mother had 46 years together before Daddy died in 1992. Their 40th anniversary was only their 2nd anniversary with no children living at home.
Months before the celebration of Mother and Daddy’s 40th wedding, my sister Pamela dreamed of a quilt to honor Daddy and Mother and to express thanks for the years God had given them together.
Pamela recruited squares from each of the sisters and sisters-in-law. Each sibling was responsible for one "story" square. Pamela designed and made Rolfe's, Garnett's, and Benjamin's and also the message squares that weren't associated with a particular sibling. Noël, Diane, Gwynn, and Pamela made the filler patchwork squares. Then Pamela assembled, quilted, and stenciled the gift for Daddy and Mother.
As I look over the squares of this quilt, from oldest child to youngest, I'm reminded of a few of the things I've learned by being my mother's daughter.
He Said – She Said
This “extra” square reminds me of some of the phrases we heard most often. Some might be considered oral wisdom passed to the next generation. Others simply play the role of revealing the at-home character of Mother or Daddy.
Comments in purple (Mother):
--You didn't throw away something GOOD, did you?
--Eat it for your character's sake.
--Now where did I put my "do-it" list?
--Do you smell something burning?
--I told you something was burning!
Comments in blue (Daddy):
--The fact of the matter is . . .
--You've sure got a pretty mama.
--Boys! Where are my tools?
--A man can't get alone to think--even in his own bathroom.
--If a bullfrog had wings it wouldn't bump its tail so much.
--You'll get better before you marry a widow twice.
--Do as I say, not as I do.
--Thank you, Jesus!
--I hear you talking . . .
--syrup, butter, 'n bread
Daddy was in the Navy and on the other side of the world when I was born. In those pre-email days, the quick way to send a message was by telegram, at a per-word rate. To save words, Mother sent a minimal message: "Noel Frances born 12/27." But no pennies were saved, because Daddy had to wire back, "Boy or girl?" In 1986, it looked as if we Pipers were a family of all boys, thus my square. "Boy or girl?" Girl then--boys now. It would be almost ten more years before God blessed our family with Talitha’s arrival.
Garnett, Mother's youngest, was born the year I was married. I can't believe now what I did to Mother. I got engaged in the Spring. During the summer, I started the plans for our wedding in Georgia, then went back to college in Illinois. This left mother, with seven children still at home, including a newborn, to finish all the preparations for family Christmas as usual, and a Christmas holiday wedding. It was only a few years ago that I realized how I presumptuous I had been, because she never let on that this might have been a little much.
I want to be that generous to my own children.
When Karsten, our first, was born, he had a 4-year-old uncle. Twenty-seven years after the birth of Garnett, we were deciding to adopt Talitha. Johnny wondered if we were too old, but I was the same age as Mother had been when Garnett was born. If she could do it, what was the big deal for us? And to further parallel Mother's family, Talitha became an auntie when she was four.
Every Christmas, Grandaddyand Grandmother Carpenter visited us in Georgia. Every summer we drove the 600 miles up to Virginia Beach to visit them. Walter's square gives a small earful of the trip.
NO! Noël, I can't wait ANY LONGER! . . . OUCH! Travie, quit kickin' me in my FACE! . . . Walter, did you do it? PHEW! . . . Where's Julie? I saw her at the restaurant. . . . Gwynn spilled her juice all over me. . . . Ben, do YOU know why the trees are all crooked? . . . Christa wet her diaper and spit up. . . . Daddy, will Pamela like the beach? Goo goo. . . . George, I smell something burning! . . . Calm down, Pam. It's okay. We'll stop at the next pullover for the night. . . . Daddy and Mama, this is FUN, isn't it?
We called it vacation; I'm not sure what Mother might have called it.
Mother was faithful to her parents. Later, when their health was poor, she traveled up regularly to help them, until they could move to Georgia to be near her, their only child. This faithfulness was not always easy. Grandaddy had a prickly attitude toward Daddy. I must honor Daddy by saying that I didn't realize this until I was older, because I wasn't aware of it from Daddy or Mother when I was a child.
We Pipers have always lived far away from Daddy and Mother. I am ashamed now to think that during the time our sons were growing up, we thought it satisfactory to visit every other year. And yet, they never complained or made us feel guilty. The lesson of faithfulness to my parents has come late to me.
Even more deeply, Mother's faithfulness to her parents was shown by her persistent prayer for Grandaddy. Often he was not an easy man to be with. And yet she kept praying for God to save him. One of my sisters describes what happened a couple of weeks before his death as a Holy Spirit moment. Perhaps the most significant change that testified to God's work in his heart was his new attitude toward Daddy.
I want to keep learning to pray like Mother does.
George Travie Jr.
Here's Travie, meditating or hunting--or both--in the woods where we lived, just outside town. This wasn't what Mother had been raised for. She was the only child of professionals on the edge of high society in Norfolk. She was college-educated and loved words and language. Now here she was in small-town/rural America. If she pronounced a foreign word correctly, she sounded hoity-toity.
I learned from Mother that I don't have to use every talent God has given me in every chapter of life. If God wants me to use a particular talent, there'll be a time. I learned that if I'm not doing everything I want to, I should wait to see how God might use me differently later.
When Daddy knew he had liver cancer, it seemed possible there'd be a long stretch of decline, requiring increasing care. But when he rang for something, I never saw in Mother a twinge of "oh no, not again."
And she knew this wasn't the end of her life. When Johnny commented on the long row of computer how-to books, she said quietly, "I have a lot to look forward to."
During the Daddy's-illness chapter, she gave herself to Daddy. Afterward came the chapter of traveling, short-term missions, computer classes, renewing acquaintance with favorite piano pieces, and helping with ESL at her church. She went to Brazil for our Benjamin's wedding, and used her college Spanish to learn Portuguese. The last couple of years, she's been the sole Spanish speaker on 2 short-term teams to Honduras.
I want to be like that when I'm 85.
When I ask my siblings what they learned from Mother, at the top of the list is hospitality. Julie recalls the busload from her college dropping in to stay overnight--wall-to-wall sleeping bags and people. Daddy and Mother made sure they experienced catfish and hushpuppies.
For years, Mother and Daddy's home was an overnight stop for traveling missionaries. And it wasn't just perfunctory. Mother still keeps up with missionaries who stopped late and left early 10 years ago.
I learned you can always stretch a meal to include mealtime drop-ins--and some of Daddy’s family had great timing like that. I learned that I might as well leave all the leaves in the table. I learned it's not the menu that counts, but conversations and connections.
In the process, Mother taught us manners. We never achieved the china-and-fine-silver life her parents had. But we learned the basics that make for easier visiting.
When I scramble because of unexpected guests, I wonder if Mother felt this hassled. Of course, life with 6-7-8-9 children was a hassle, but I don't remember that extra people added more.
This spirit of hospitality was strong even when finances were tight. I learned from Mother that pennies matter. When we needed bunk beds for the boys, Mother picked out sturdy ones from a furniture outlet in North Carolina. Then the penny-saving began. I remember her switching us from ice cream to ice milk and from jugs of store-bought milk to powdered milk. But I don't remember cutting back on the numbers of people visiting at our house and table.
On her square, Gwynn lists the names of her family as it was in 1986. Jacob came later.
I learned from Mother that names are important. She and Daddy chose our names carefully. The birth certificate for Christa Sue wasn't completed until several days after her birth, because they were still working on her name. We too have tried to give our children names that have significance.
I have learned from Mother that as important as our names are, it is even more important--way more important--that our names be in the Lamb's Book of Life. Most days, Mother names each name in prayer--of each child and his or her spouse and each grandchild and great-grandchild. That is a gift that can't be measured, except by God.
I want to keep learning from Mother to pray faithfully for my children.
In 1971, when Benjamin was 16, he died in a car crash.
I was far away in Germany, so I wasn't there with my parents to see the day-to-day grief and reactions and adjustments to Ben's absence. It was a major thing in those days just to call long distance domestically, and even more so to place a call internationally to Mother and Daddy. When I did get through, they told me that they had received a call to notify them about Ben and had rushed to the hospital. They knew as soon as they walked into the emergency room where he lay that Ben was gone. I heard that Daddy's immediate response was, "Thank you, Lord."
One of my sisters says that for weeks afterward, Daddy would go out into the woods and lean against a tree and weep. But she says that through it all, their words and hearts said, "God is good" . . . "In everything, give thanks" . . . "God doesn't make mistakes."
That is the God they had always told us about and now we saw that they lived what they said they believed.
Grandmother Henry, my father’s mother, had taken turns living at her children's homes. When Mother and Daddy were able, they renovated a small house down the hill into a home for her, where she lived more than thirty years. Soon after she settled in, two of her brothers came too--Uncle Eli and Uncle Claude. Uncle Eli was not well and didn't live long, but Uncle Claude was a beloved fixture for a lot of years.
Family lore remembers Grandmother Henry making plans with her daughters for a reunion. This would be at my parent's place, which included their house and hers, the lake, and woods. Much closer to the date, Mother learned of the plans. Then the rush was on--bush-hogging at the lake, mowing lawns, buying paper products, clearing the tools and car parts from the carport . . .
Christa's square remembers that, no matter what was happening among the adults, we children loved to visit Grandmother and take turns spending the night.
When Johnny and I had two preschoolers, we invited his grandmother, Ma Mohn, to live with us. Because she had outlived both her children, she was failing in spirit, and so was also failing physically. She lived with us two years, until she was ready to move to Pennsylvania, which she considered home. We had very different backgrounds and personalities. But I had an example that made it seem right and natural to do.
Pamela pictures herself fishing in the lake down the hill near Grandmother Henry's and swimming in the ocean at Virginia Beach during a visit to Grandmother andGrandaddy Carpenter.
Mother, also, loves the water--in particular, the ocean. I learned from her example that water is an essential ingredient of a good vacation.
Here then is a conundrum. Mother loves the water. Yet almost every time Daddy would say, "Let's go down the hill for a swim," Mother would say, "You go ahead with the children. I have too much to do here."
At the time, it made sense to me that she would have so much to do, so we just got used to the idea that Mother was seldom able to join us swimming. Now my adult mother-brain tells me more was happening. How many times have I myself said, "No. All of you go ahead. I better stay here and . . . " And then when the door shuts behind the last one out, I flop down in my chair and inhale the silence--the house all to myself.
Rolfe was only four when I left for college. I felt as if he were my baby. I learned how to be a mother by being big sister. With him, I was old enough to be pretty competent. And Mother let me. I learned from her that it is a good thing to let my children do what they can do, without hovering for perfection or redoing less-than-perfect jobs.
When I was a high schooler, Mother would send me to the grocery store with her long grocery list, taking blatant advantage of my desire to drive the car and to see the bagboy I had a crush on.
Rolfe was not yet married when the quilt was made. His words to Mother and Daddy are:
From the new eagle flying,
From the mouth you've fed,
From the steel you've forged,
From the man you've made,
I love you.
Happy 40th Anniversary
(The other half is for the other half).
He didn't know yet who his wife would be, but he knew that Mother and Daddy already were praying for her. I learned from my parents to pray for the wives and husband of my children beginning the day we knew we were expecting a baby to arrive.
When I wrote home about a cute curly-haired South Carolina boy, Daddy and Mother were ready to pray for him by name and fold him in while they waited to see how God would lead. They never expressed reticence about my choice to marry Johnny. They did, however, resist pleas and tears for an earlier wedding, adamant that I finish college first. So that Christmas holiday wedding date was the earliest possible date.
I hope I am following Mother's example in stepping back and letting my adult children follow God's leading. When I was 17, for example, my parents never told me which college would be a good choice. I don't recall their saying a word about the expense when I chose Wheaton. They never complained when it was long between visits, and they always welcomed me home.
Christmas, 1965—Grandaddy Carpenter's annual portrait of the Henrys (Far right, 1957 Ford, the first car I wrecked. I was terrified of what Daddy’s reaction would be when I got home, but all he said was something like, "Nobody hurt? Tell me about it. . . . Well, things like that happen.")
Between Rolfe and Garnett—Leaving Home
Christmas 1965 was my first holiday home after Daddy and Mother had sent me off to college. It would be only about 6 months until I met Johnny.
It was an eye-opening experience when I sent my 18-year-olds off to college or work and realized that now I must depend totally on God on their behalf, that all I can do is pray for them. And then I would stop myself. What did I think I had before? I had had the illusion that I was somehow to some degree in control in their lives. Yes, I had more direct influence when they were at home, but in the end, all I can ever do is depend on God on their behalf--all I have is prayer, whatever their ages.
I learned from Mother and Daddy that home in Georgia is always home, even when I have my own home in Minnesota. It's always home, because as long as either of them lives, I am welcome at any time.
My sister, Julie, after so many years in Cameroon and Congo, says "Mother has held her children with open hands, trusting them to God, never holding on or making me feel bad or guilty when I went overseas, but rather sending me with joy. Even during or after hard times like wars or sickness, she has never encouraged me to come home or stay home, but is glad for us to be where God wants us."
I want to be glad that my children are where God wants them to be.
Garnett's basketball jersey reminds me of an important lesson from Mother: Don't kill yourself giving your children all the best opportunities. Take a child's interests into account, yes, but choose what works for your family. Some of us had piano lessons. Some didn't. Some had art lessons. Some didn't. Some played basketball. Some didn't.
Thinking of driving yourself crazy driving and arranging schedules, imagine what Mother's life could have been with ten birthdays a year. I've followed the pattern she set. Each child has a family birthday meal with gifts and cake (we added the tradition of a family outing). Then each child gets to have one party one year with lots of friends.
One memory shows me the importance of capitalizing on a child's interest. When I was five, I thought I'd surprise Mother and Daddy one Saturday morning when they were sleeping late. I'd watched Mother cook breakfast, so I "knew" what to do. What I didn't grasp was the concept of timing. First thing, I slid bread for toast under the gas oven's broiler, then broke who-knows-how-many eggs into the huge yellow Pyrex mixing bowl. Before I could finish scrambling the eggs in their flood of milk, the toast burst into flames.
I don't remember what happened that morning after the bread flamed up and I ran screaming back to Daddy. But I do know that by 2nd grade my career of breakfast chef was well-launched. So Mother must have taken advantage of my "teachable moment."
Hard Times and Blessings
Having ten children is a great blessing. Mother and Daddy made sure we knew that. One time I heard somebody ask Daddy if Garnett was a surprise, coming seven years after the others as he did. Daddy said firmly, "None of our children was a surprise--we had nine months to prepare." That was a funny way to deflect a nosy question. But we all knew that Mother and Daddy considered children a heritage of the Lord and they taught us that God was the one who created each one of us and placed us in our family.
We knew that in their best times, our parents leaned heavily on the Lord. Most mornings, Mother would disappear behind her closed bedroom door. We knew not to disturb her then, because she was there quiet with her Bible and prayer.
But not all the times were good. In the hard times, I learned from Mother and Daddy the importance of having practiced Christian disciplines during the good times. Some things were not optional as long as we lived in their house. Every night we had “story and prayers time,” reading the next chapter from the Bible and praying aloud around the family circle. This was such a habit, that it continued even when Mother and Daddy were having some extremely stressful years between them. I think breaking the long habit would have been too hard to explain to us children.
Regular church attendance was another long habit that continued even when I expect Mother and Daddy sometimes didn't feel like it.
I learned from these years that God uses good habits, even when there's not much heart in them. Because the habits of his Word were there, Daddy and Mother were in a position for his Word to be heard and felt when the right moment came.
Leaning on the Lord
I learned from Mother the importance of leaning on God during stressful, difficult times.
One of my sisters wrote, "Mom might have been fretful about little things (do I smell something burning?), but whenever there were really hard times, like when Ben died, or when Dad was sick and in and out of hospitals and she basically had to keep the family and the office running all by herself, she seemed steady like a rock, leaning on the Lord, not moaning or complaining as far as I can remember, although surely there were concerns about trying to make ends meet, not knowing if/when Daddy would get better, etc."
The Scripture Mother quoted most often was "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof" (Matthew 6:34). In the stressful times and the difficult times and the grieving times, Mother was leaning on the Jesus who spoke the words of the wholeverse:
"Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. "
Mother has helped me know that Jesus is sufficient for each day.
Remembering and Forgetting
Someone might think from what I'm saying about Mother that she's everyone's dream mother. No. None of us is anybody's dream anything. We are humans in need of God's salvation and constant work of sanctification. There are things I've learned from Mother that fall into the category of "I've learned I don't want to do that, or be like that." It's pretty sobering and realistic to realize that my own children have garnered plenty of that sort of learning experiences too.
It's interesting to think about a characteristic that is one of Mother's most endearing and at the same time most frustrating. She always sees the best in me--or that's what she lets on anyway. She makes much of whatever I do. And she doesn't seem to remember negative things about me.
How in the world can that be frustrating? Like this. There are times I've wanted to remember aloud ways that I did her wrong when I was younger. When I get started, she says something like, "Really? I don't remember that." So I can never get out a full confession and receive forgiveness, because she thinks there's nothing to forgive.
And so, for my children, I still work at learning the balance between forgiving and forgetting . . . and remembering enough when I need to.
“Hearts All Round,” representing the twelve in our family, worked by Gwynn.
A Godly Heritage
Psalm 127 says children are a heritage from the Lord. And I say, that to the children, Godly parents are a heritage from the Lord.
For us--the children of George and Pamela Henry--and for our children and for their children, I pray that Psalm 78:4-7 will be true: "We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might, and the wonders that he has done. . . that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, [Why?]so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments."
May we be a godly heritage for our children.
More Than We Know
Only God knows all that we have learned from Mother and Daddy. For all of us, it is more than we can express--more than we realize. I haven't tried to speak for my brothers and sisters. They have helped me remember some of the things that we value in common, but for each of us the list would be different than anyone else's.
This book hardly begins to tell all that I do know I’ve received from my parents. For what I know and for what I have yet to discover, I thank Mother and--even more--I thank God.
P.S. 2001—Mother’s 80th Birthday
Imagine, when we were young, how Mother must have looked forward to the day when we would all behave well all at the same time for family photos.