On March 20, 1949, there was a wedding in the little mountain coal town of Welch, West Virginia. Rachel Elizabeth Hollandsworth married James Willis King. They had said they would marry sometime in the spring, but why wait? The first day of spring suited them just fine. Everyone knew them as Jack and Beth. I know them as Mom and Dad. This March 20th would have been their 65th wedding anniversary.
I’ve written about their life before. So much can be said about this wonderful pair, but I know that I do not need to repeat what has already been said and written. God blessed Mom and Dad with five children, of which I am number four. Mary Beth, John, Jan, and Kathryn round out the quintet. We grew up in Princeton, West Virginia, where Dad worked for the Norfolk and Western Railroad, and Mom worked to direct the school lunch programs in thirteen counties.
We were a close family, with Mom and Dad being very involved in our lives despite their busy work schedules. The most important heritage that was given to us was spiritual. Mom and Dad came to know the Lord after they were married, Dad first and then Mom some time later. They both made sure that we were faithful to attend church all during our years of growing up, and also made sure that we each were developing our own intimate walk with the Lord.
I remember so many great times in that house on North Third Street. So much laughter, good food, games, friendships, and fellowship with not only each other but with others……..friends, college students, missionaries, preachers, extended family. As the years went on, there were hard times, too. We were not immune from the trials that everyone faces. There were tears and stressful situations and heartache…….but we always had each other, and we always had the Lord that Mom and Dad had taught us to lean on over the years.
Each of us kids married and left home. Mom and Dad eventually retired within months of each other. Instead of going their own ways, they became closer than ever. They never tired of each other’s presence. Rarely would one make even a quick trip to the grocery store without the other one going along. They held hands and kissed often, and just shared all that life had for them……together, totally. This included Dad’s lung cancer and then four years later his liver cancer, and finally his death in December of 2008. Mom never left his side……never wavered in her care for him…….and neither of them ever faltered in their love for the Lord and for each other.
Mom now lives in a beautiful assisted living facility where she is well cared for. Bob and Jan, and John and Jeanie, take excellent care of her as well. No amount of love and care, however, can take away from her the insidious effects of Alzheimer’s. Mom is basically happy, yes, and mostly healthy. But the mother that we have known all of our lives is gone now. Forever gone.
It’s really stunning to see and to hear the depth of her forgetfulness. I called her the other day and as she answered the phone, I said, “Hi, Mom! This is Patty.”
“Who is this?” she replied. I told her again who I was, and she asked, “And WHO is this?” She had no idea that Patty is her daughter, even after I told her. She has no memory of her children, except for seeming to still know Jan. She is surprised every Sunday that the man preaching in the pulpit is her son. And when told that she has five children and then is given their names, she says, “I had all those children?” Bob wrote all of our names on a picture of us, but Mom has no emotion or connection when she looks at it. She doesn’t recognize anyone in the picture, including herself.
Of everything and everyone that she has forgotten, the most amazing and the saddest one that she has forgotten is Dad. At first Jan and John weren’t sure that she had lost her memory of him, but she has shown over and over that she really doesn’t remember him. She shows no recognition of his pictures. When she passes the cemetery where he is buried, she only talks about her parents buried there…………not Dad.
But one day when she was shown Dad’s picture and reminded of who he was, her voice softened and she said, “Jack. He was such a special man.” Her doctor at a recent visit was asking her questions. How many children do you have? Mom didn’t know. Do you remember any of their names? No, she did not. Then she was asked to give her husband’s name, and she paused before saying, “John?”
The doctor said, “No. Jack.” And suddenly, at the mention of his name, Jan said that Mom’s chin began to quiver. It didn’t last long, but there was an unmistakable connection there……maybe a memory? Deep inside, maybe she does slightly remember the wonderful man that was her husband for 59 years.
But it’s OK, Mom. We’ll remember for you now. We’ll remember all the years…..all the love…..all the treasures of the life that you and Dad built together. We’ll remember your devotion to each other……..your laughter and silliness and fun………your faithfulness and your routines and your enthusiasm for life. And what a life it was! We have no reason to be unhappy about that at all. We’ll remember the jokes and the family stories and the music…..oh, the music! Especially “Oh It Rained, Rained, Rained,” which we are all sure that we will get to sing in heaven.
As long as God allows, we will remember what you have forgotten. And we will honor you and Dad for being the most wonderful parents, and the most loving husband and wife, that we have ever known. You won’t realize that it’s your anniversary on this March 20th, but we will know. You won’t even remember Jack……Dad……but we will remember for you.
We will remember, and we will be thankful for this most precious gift……this gift of memories…….this gift of you and Dad.
Happy Anniversary, Mom. You are loved. We remember.