I am going to tell you a story about a woman who lived her life striving to give what she had to those closest to her – unselfishly and without regard to her own needs. This is a story about each one of us as well.
The story begins — and ends — in Southern, Illinois, where, in 1910, Charles Snedecor married Lena Yates, and began to grow a family. They included Earl, and Phillip, and Mary, and Esther, and Chuck, and Wilma, and Louise, and Dorothy, and Kenneth.
Mary Elizabeth, my Mom, was born in 1919. Her family didn’t have much for material goods, but they had each other and they shared a lot of faith. That faith helped the Snedecor clan get through many events during their lives. Mom quit school after the eighth grade to care for and help support her family during the Great Depression. She did laundry, cleaned houses and cared for her younger siblings. Then, as a young woman, she moved to Detroit and became a factory worker.
Mom survived the Depression, making ends meet during World War II, and raising two children. She returned to her roots and her family in Southern Illinois in 1985 because this was the place she was suppose to be – near her family. I was with mom on her birthday about four years ago and Aunt Esther said something so profound as we sat and had lunch together. After talking about how the Snedecor brothers and sisters migrated from Southern Illinois to Northeast Indiana and finally “back home,” Aunt Esther said, “Brother, let me tell you something. We Snedecors sure know how to stick together.”
This stickiness lived in my Mom as well. In the ’80s she came to West Frankfort – and to the family she loved – so she could give something back to them. So she could care for them as they lived their golden years of life. And she gave all she had. Through her sheet cakes and refrigerator pickles, through her hugs and her tears, mom spent nearly 25 years giving what little she did have in very big ways – through her love.
She did for others because she could.
And when she faltered, when she couldn’t do the things she knew to do to show her love, it hurt her deeply – she didn’t want to give these things up. And she didn’t give them up easily. Her good deeds gave her significance. Each of you here today were significant in mom’s life.
Throughout my childhood, mom made sure I knew who my immediate family members were. I remember the Saturday morning phone calls she shared with Grandma Snedecor. They would reminisce, pray and plan to see each other. That copper telephone wire kept Mom connected to her family more than 700 miles away. And because they were so important to her, the aunts and uncles and cousins became important to me. They were – YOU are – my family, too. The trips we took to Eldorado, Spillertown, Hammond and Gary — and later Ashley and West Frankfort – left me with many wonderful memories. When mom left Iowa, she and I launched our own weekend phone call ritual.
Hers is fondly called, “The Greatest Generation” because of the great obstacles they lived through. And mom met head on many difficulties in life, but her meaning and joy for hard work, faith in God, and love for family stood strong. There have been many values that connected mom and me as I continue to work my way through life. Most importantly, I learned from her that when you give of yourself you have far less to worry about than if you only think of yourself.
She instilled a sense of pride in me. Pride, from a little woman who scrubbed apartment room floors on her hands and knees until her fingers were raw. Pride in giving of herself to those she loved – family and friends – even when she had very little. These are the values of a woman, a mother, a sister, a friend, an aunt, and a grandma who faced catastrophes in her life and stayed resolved to live a better day. She did her best for her children. She taught me well. She helped me understand the important lessons of love and family.
Of course, this is a story we sons and daughters know from personal experience. We share this story and we share the values passed on by our moms and dads. Look around the room today, or at a Snedecor reunion and it is obvious what we share. Look and you will see people who look like Aunt Esther, but aren’t Esther; people who sound like Uncle Chuck, but aren’t Chuck; people who quietly inspired us like Aunt Wilma, but they aren’t Wilma; people who tell stories like Aunt Dorothy, but aren’t Dorothy; people who grin ear to ear like Uncle Phil and joke like Uncle Earl.
I’m most proud of the Snedecor family because they shared their notions of right and wrong, and good and bad, and faith in the future and in church and in family.
And we also share their stories in life. Each of those who have passed before us have lived storied, if not humble lives. As their descendants, we’ve heard these stories many times. It’s these stories that assure us of who they were in life and what they stood for. It’s these stories that, today, along with all of you – my family – that comfort me.
So let me end with a quote by Harold Kushner…Rabbi Laureate of the Temple of Israel.
Kushner says…“If life is a story, we can wish it would go on forever, but we understand that even the best of stories have to end. It would be a strange story if it did go on forever. So instead of grieving that it had to end, let’s feel blessed that we were lucky enough to have been a part of it.”