As we observe Mother’s Day once again this year, I’m mindful of a mother by the name of Elsie. That was the name her parents chose when she was born ninety-six years ago.
Barely five feet tall, Elsie was a giant in the lives of her two sons. She embraced motherhood with tiptoe enthusiasm. Her creative flair and hands-on joie de vivre left her mark on her family and all who knew her. Having had an amazing mother herself, this mom took her cues from one who had quit school in third grade to help care for her eleven younger siblings on a farm in Kitsap County.
Elsie’s mother had taught herself how to play the guitar, piano and harmonica. She was a gifted artist and vocalist. She modeled compassion and nurture. She guided her three children in the ways of the Lord. Since Elsie was her youngest, the baby of the brood was the recipient of her mother’s focused attention.
As she entered adolescence, Elsie resisted being called by the name her parents chose for her. That was about the time that the mascot of Borden Milk Company was a cow by the name of Elsie. For a petite pretty blonde to be called by a bovine’s name was “udderly” embarrassing. So, when she entered high school Elsie began to go by her middle name.
Following college, Elsie met a young Greek American who was the pastor of a small church in the panhandle of Idaho. After a dozen dates, they became engaged and were married in January of 1951. She became a mom fifteen months later.
And then there was another mother by the name of Elsie. This Elsie became a mother in 1931. Unlike the other Elsie, this Elsie did not have the godly example of a nurturing parent. Longing for love, she found herself in the unenviable situation of being pregnant without the benefit of being married.
As a nineteen-year-old, Elsie chose not to abort the child within her. Valuing the miniature life she was carrying, she gave birth to a baby boy. She attempted to keep her son, but soon discovered the demands of caring for the child on her own were beyond her ability. Elsie made the courageous decision to give up her little one to the Children’s Aid Society of Vancouver when the boy (whom she named Hugh) was only six months old.
Elsie never saw her baby again. While she would eventually marry and have three other children, she died without knowledge of what had become of her firstborn. While she assumed her son would be adopted, she could never have imagined the life he would lead.
Following his education and beginning a career track with a major department store chain, Elsie’s son married and began a family of his own. A call to cross-cultural missions found the young husband and father living in Mexico City where he discovered his abilities as a writer.
Fifty books (and countless magazine articles) later, Elsie’s son, now ninety-two lives in Southern California with his wife of seventy-two years. He has recently written his memoir in which he includes a letter he wrote to a mother he never knew.
This man has shared with me the angst with which he has lived having been denied a relationship with his birth mom. After all, I married his firstborn daughter.
And in case you’re wondering, I knew the first Elsie mentioned in this story as well. The middle name by which she chose to go by was Star. And she was the guiding star of my life from the time she gave me birth seventy-one years ago until she died four years ago.
She sang about the good old days. With love she built a bridge that helped her run away from the “black dog.” She knew where she was going when her day for dying came. Naomi (from her youth) reached out to God.
“Don’t be cruel!” she prayed intently as she’d cry herself to sleep. “Your Baby’s Got the Blues” was in her head. The rhythm of the rain drowned out the morning birds who’d chirp. A change of heart is what she daily pled.
But still this mother languished from depression’s dreaded spell. She verbalized her pain most publicly. Her country music lyrics often called to mind young love as she dreamed of joy and freedom. “Why not me?”
This Mother’s Day two daughters will be grieving for their mom who couldn’t bear the torture one more day. May Ashley and Wynona recognize love is alive. Please carry them, dear Father, this I pray.
** My introduction to The Judds came as I was spinning records as a deejay while working at KICY radio in Nome, Alaska. It was the summer of 1987. I had just turned thirty-five years of age. My wife and I along with our children accepted an invitation to serve as short-term missionaries at a radio station owned and operated by our denomination (The Evangelical Covenant Church). Much of the music played on the station that served the rural villages of Western Alaska was country/western.
“I Know Where I’m Going” by The Judds was on our play list. I loved the harmony of the mother/daughter duo. I also loved the title. Although the song was not spiritual in the least, it was an invitation to trust the Lord to lead me to a future of His choosing. While I didn’t know the details to what my life and ministry held in store, my Father knew. He knew where He was going with my life. He invited me to come, too.
Curiously, I just turned seventy. As I look back it’s hard to realize that experience in Nome was half my life ago.