Sunday, December 28, 2008

"Home" for Christmas

My dearest mother, Helen Lela Valantine Stay, got to go "home" for Christmas this last Tuesday, December 23, 2008. I'm sure the reunion with my father was grand, even better than when he came home from being a bomber pilot in the Pacific for three years during World War II. Also greeting her were her grandchildren who had already passed on, so excited to see Grandma again. And her parents, and all the friends she had served over the years.

Mom was born in Los Angeles at the beginning of the depression. They lived on the hillsides of Los Angeles in a tent until Grandpa could build a small house. Often they would have bread and milk, with maybe a little fruit in it, for dinner. She wore clothes my grandmother made out of scraps of material. But she was generally happy, beautiful with her blond curls, and quite a tease to her older sister and younger brothers.

Mom's life was one of sacrifice. She sacrificed her husband during the war for three years, bearing and raising a daughter on her own. She sacrificed a stable home by following her husband through multiple moves during his career in the Air Force. She sacrificed her incredibly beautiful body by bearing seven children. She sacrificed her money by giving and giving, to her family and her church. Their Air Force income was meager, yet we were given every opportunity to learn and grow through music lessons, art lessons, dance lessons, whatever we desired to do she would make sure that we had the opportunity. It seemed that everywhere we went, the fledgling branches and wards would be building chapels, and I know their sacrifices in that regard would be miraculous compared with their income and other expenses.

But most of all, Mom sacrificed her time. Even though she had seven children and I was in the middle of it all, I never felt left alone or neglected. She had an unwavering testimony of the Church and her Savior, and built up in each of us that testimony. She gave her time to the church, or, to be more accurate, to the members of the ward. I remember when, in our small branch in Virginia, when my father was very busy being Branch President, she was Primary President, primary chorister, Blazer teacher, Mia Maid teacher (mine) and Relief Society teacher all at the same time! She also worked during much of that time as a pre-school teacher, earning money to pay for my brother's mission. She also would spend hours listening to friends troubles and helping them out. And be our mother and give us chores and correct us and make us clean our rooms. She gave three years of her life to be a mission president's wife. I didn't realize the extent of the faith that required until I went on my own mission and worked with mission president's wives. What heroines they are!!!

Our vacations were memorable. We often travelled across country to California so Mom could go "home", and we would stay with her mother, Grandma Valantine. Besides visiting aunts and uncles and cousins, we would go to the beach and to the new theme parks, Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm (very different in those days, but still magical!). On the long trips she would read to us from the "Journey to the Land of Promise" series, instilling in us a knowledge of and love for the Book of Mormon stories. Better still, she would make up stories, magical stories, that we were in, of course, of grand adventures and lots of fun.

Our greatest vacations were while we lived in Spain. Unlike most couples who spent their vacation leaving kids with the maids and seeing Europe, my parents took seven children, one a newborn, and my grandmother in a station wagon pulling a rickety trailer carrying our saggy baggy elephant canvas tent, the trusty camp stove, and lots of canned food for a month through Europe. For two summers! What an adventure! How hard it must have been for her, and yet how much we gained from those trips! They changed my life. She also took us older children by herself on trips to Portugal and southern Spain. I could spend hours telling stories from those trips. It wasn't easy for her but she was willing to sacrifice for us to have those experiences. And notice the dresses. She always had us looking our best, even while camping!

She loved little children. She gave her life to children. I remember spending what seemed like hours in the car while Mom picked up every child for Primary or Sunday School whose parents wouldn't take them. She always taught in Primary, even when she held other positions. When she was a temple matron as my father served as counselor in the temple presidency in the Los Angeles temple, she would still spend hours translating lessons and songs into Spanish to teach Primary at the Spanish Branch in Huntington Beach. Even into her eighties, until she got too weak to go to church, she was teaching singing to the nursery children AND teach Relief Society.

And she loved me. One small example: when we lived in Spain she had given me the opportunity to take flamenco dancing lessons. A talent show was coming up for our school (I was in sixth grade), and I was asked to dance. The problem--I didn't have a flamenco dress. Mom took me shopping for the entire day before the program, going from place to place, but as much as she was willing to sacrifice, she just didn't have the money that they cost. I came home and cried myself to sleep because I wouldn't have a dress to dance in. When I woke the next morning, there was a beautiful flamenco dress hanging on my door. My mother had spent the entire night making it out of material she had been saving for drapes. I looked so beautiful! And it was voted as the most beautiful costume.

And she loved her grandchildren. She has fifty of them. And loves them all. When she was younger and more able to give her time and energy, each grandchild thought they were the most special to her. She would play with them, read to them, make up stories about them, and always welcome them to her home, no matter how busy she was. Even when she was getting her degree and going on to get a master's degree in library science, she always had time for her grandchildren. This is her with my oldest son, Jason.

Was she perfect? Of course not. Though she was great with little children, she didn't know how to relate to teenagers. She and I had a rocky relationship during that time. She had a habit of pointing out everything that was wrong about us, from messy hair to not standing up straight to a little extra weight, or anything else she happened to see. But she knew that she was too critical, and I remember her prayers in the last few years always asking to be able to let go of criticism and judgment. And because of her incredible faith in our Savior, I know that she is forgiven and greeted Him during her "Homecoming" spotless and white.

Thank you, Mom, for being my greatest example, for always loving me, for teaching me about my Savior and the great Plan of Happiness, for loving my children and all children, for always giving and giving. You are a blessing to the world. Have fun at Home!!!

Until we meet again,
Dr. Judi

No comments: