A 24-year-old rerun about the saint who taught me the most important truths that could ever enter the mind of man:

“Did I wake you?”

With that earnest, considerate question preceding her calm plea for help over the phone just before dawn, she faced death with the serenity of an eighty-two-year-old saint. It was a heart attack. As we raced to the hospital she said softly, “Don’t worry about me. I’ve had a wonderful life.” A day-and-a-half later, following the best hours of my life with her, Mother joined the heavenly choir.

Everyone who knew Alberta Wetterling loved her. She taught me how to be a friend, to say my prayers, and aspire to the Golden Rule. This saintly, silver-headed warbler spent her last twenty winters on the Gulfcoast of Florida in a condo near my family, migrating from Illinois on the first of November. She always arrived cheerful as a mockingbird at dawn, and the sun shone brighter for the rest of the season. It was the season when I went off my austere low-fat diet, dining one night a week at Mom’s Café—some things are worth dying for.

Sure, it was a bit of a bother to take time out of our busy schedules to fly up to Illinois and drive her down to Florida so she could have her car here with her. But it didn’t begin to equate to the bother I was to her for the first eighteen years of my life. It began when I demanded to be born in the middle of the night and the hospital was twenty miles of mostly gravel roads from home. I am sure it was a terrible bother when she sat up with me when I cried in the night from an allergy that drove the doctors, Mom, and me crazy until they figured out it was the chicken feathers in my pillow. Getting a haircut on the back porch from Mom with her mechanical, semi-sharp clippers was a bother and a pain for both of us. I was fifteen years old before I experienced the joys of a barbershop haircut, and it is still one of the highlights of my social life.

I owe Mom for everything I have, am, or hope to be. Her prayers brought me safely home from 268 combat missions in an awful war half-a-world away. Two generations of Illinois farm folks owe her for a great first grade education. She taught hundreds more the joy of music. At her wake I heard scores of tearful testimonies to her impact on lives young and old.

Her work ethic was beyond my reach. As a fatherless child she hired out, with her mother, as a live-in maid at an age that’s now far below the legal minimum. As a farmer’s wife she cleaned a big old farmhouse devoid of indoor plumbing, cooked twenty-one meals a week for six mouths, tended a large garden and hen house, push-mowed a huge lawn, and interrupted her teaching career to raise four children with abundant love. In the evenings, as Dad rested from his labors, Mom hummed her favorite hymns as she stood and worked at the ironing board till bedtime. Then she sat at the foot of the stairs darning socks as we trooped up to bed and said our prayers in unison loud enough for her to hear.

God blessed Mom with many other gifts. She could bring an ax to bear on a chicken’s neck with finesse, drive a team of horses, slop the hogs or milk the cows when Dad worked late in the fields. Those same hands played the piano in accompaniment to her beautiful soprano voice. She could wield an elm switch across my behind like a Puritan schoolmarm…or cheer louder than any teenager in the stands when I scored a touchdown. And she got more Christmas cards than anyone I know—the fruit of selfless friendship.

Sunday was her favorite day because singing God’s praise was her passion. With a college degree in music, she directed the church choir all her working life. No one in Henderson County was properly married or buried unless blessed by Mother’s solos. From age four until two months before she died Alberta’s ageless vocal cords were in demand.

By Grace alone I’m adjusting to life without her hugs, but when Mom’s favorite hymns are sung, I can still hear her angelic voice just half-a-decibel louder than all the other voices in church.

“She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue” (Proverbs 31:26).

See you in church.


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