My mother was raised in the little coal mining town of Welch, West Virginia. Born in 1926, she was the last of six children born to Guy and Lillian Hollandsworth. Grandpa was the principal of the school in Welch. He and Grandma worked hard to raise their six children deep in those West Virginia mountains. They instilled in them a love for God; a love for family; a love of culture; and a love of good music.
|Mom, fourth from the right on the front row|
I loved hearing our mother talk about how she met my dad. They met when Mom’s brother, Luther, married Dad’s sister, Mary. Beth saw in Jack the sort of man she had never come across. He was kind and thoughtful, a man of quality to whom she was drawn. And as they became acquainted, they each learned something that helped seal their interest even further……they both loved classical music. Dad was just a farm boy from Oakvale, West Virginia, who worked for the Norfolk and Western Railroad………and Mom, from a coal town deep in the mountains, was teaching Home Economics. But quality music was important to them, so their mutual love for the same music was important as well.
Our home was full of music as we were being raised in Princeton, West Virginia. It seemed that music was always playing on the old record player, and later the newer huge stereo cabinet in the living room. Most of what we heard was classical, but Mom and Dad also loved the hit musicals. I bet all five of us kids still know the words to the songs from Sound of Music, Carousel, South Pacific, and Oklahoma. Christmas was full of beautiful and fun Christmas music. I remember children’s records full of fun songs, too.
|Mom, on the far right, as part of the Laidley Hall Trio, 1946-47|
|Mom, fourth from the right on the front row|
Mom didn’t just love to listen to music. She also had a beautiful voice, and sang in choirs and madrigal groups during her high school and college years. She was an accomplished soloist and sang in many area churches for revival services and other occasions. A favorite song of hers…….her signature song, really……was “I’d Rather Have Jesus.” This is the song she was singing in a little church during a revival service one night in the early 1950’s. Jimmie Jones was preaching that night. Mom stood up to sing, and God used the words of that song to pierce her heart.
I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold;
I’d rather be His than have riches untold;
I’d rather have Jesus than houses or lands;
I’d rather be led by His nail-pierced hand
Than to be the king of a vast domain,
Or be held in sin’s dread sway;
I’d rather have Jesus than anything
This world affords today.
As Mom sang those words, she knew in her heart that she had never asked this Jesus into her heart to be her Savior. She knew that she was standing before those people singing a lie with her beautiful voice. She walked down the aisle that night during the invitation, and Preacher Jimmie led her to the Lord. Dad had accepted Christ months earlier but hadn’t said much to Mom about it for fear of angering her. Now they were united not only in marriage, and children, and their love of music…….but they were spiritually united in their love for the Lord that grew and grew over the following years.
Now our family had the completed element of being raised around God’s Word, and being active at Johnston Chapel Baptist Church where Preacher Jimmie was our pastor for all of our growing up years. Now, too, were added beautiful hymns to the music that graced our home every day.
All of us sang and soon we children were singing together for church. I remember one Saturday that we even sang…..live!…….on our small town radio station. We sang and Preacher Jimmie preached, and I have no idea how we sounded way back then. We continued to sing as we got older, and were known as the King Sisters when John left. And during all this time, Mom was still singing solos and blessing many with her pretty voice.
Many years have gone by since those days of early marriage and raising five children. Dad went to heaven in December of 2008, during the season of Christmas carols and Christmas joy that Mom and Dad loved the most. And now our mother has Alzheimer’s, lives in assisted living, and doesn’t know any of us five children or our spouses……or her grandchildren or great-grandchildren……or even her Jack, her husband…..Dad. We can’t ask her for advice or ask her to tell us a familiar family story or ask her for a favorite family recipe. All of that is gone.
Gary and I went home a few months ago. Everyone was there except for Jimmy and Kathryn. As we gathered at Jan’s house, near the end of our day with everyone, I suggested that we sing to Mom. A friend of mine, Bev, had told me about singing to her mother who had Alzheimer’s and how her mother remembered the words……and it was their last real connection.
So we stood around Mom that evening at Jan’s and we sang “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.” To our surprise and delight, Mom joined in. She knew most of the words, and then to our complete surprise, she sang the descant at the end…….her voice still beautiful and sweet. You can click on the link below to see the video of her singing that song.
We sang a few other hymns as well, and then we decided to see if we could make it through our family song…….Dad’s favorite song……”Tis So Sweet To Trust in Jesus.” Again, Mom sang most of the words in her sweet voice. And at the end, as you can hear in the below link, she tried to describe how special that song was. She couldn’t put her finger on why it was special……she couldn’t remember exactly……and she couldn’t find the words……but she knew. Deep inside she knew that this song was a very dear part of our family, and a dear part of her Jack……of Dad.
I’m so thankful that we sang with Mom that evening. We were all blessed beyond measure for that time with her. Her heart was happy as she sang. What memories those songs stirred in all of us, including Mom.
Memories of wonderful parents who taught us about the Lord…..who filled our hearts and our home with music……but more importantly, filled us all with love. And over the years, as we’ve all experienced both joys and sorrows, we can fall back on the love they gave us and the Lord they made sure that we knew personally. Many parts of our early life are gone…..and now the Mom we’ve always known is gone……but the hope we have in Christ will never be gone. The certainty of heaven will never be gone, where we can sing together forever!
Tomorrow is my mother’s birthday. She will be 88 years old……and she won’t know that it’s her birthday…..or how old she is. But as friends and family gather around her, I hope that she knows how much she is loved. And I hope that she joins in as everyone sings “Happy Birthday!”
I bet she will, with a smile on her happy face and a twinkle in those beautiful eyes.
We love you, Mom! Happy Birthday!
And thanks for showing us over the years that you really meant it when you sang, “I’d Rather Have Jesus.” And that we needed to mean it, too.