Monday, January 31, 2011

9. An Article about Fran

Gayle Davis motivated and helped Mary make a scrapbook of Mother's 80th birthday celebration in 2005.  Mother relived her party many times through this album.
Gayle also interviewed Mom and wrote this article, which was published it in our church's newsletter in 2006. 
There is some repeated information from other blog posts but Gayle brought out a few interesting tidbits not yet touched upon.

          Frances Isabel Willis Freeman was born on July 15, 1925 to Robert Alexander, an attorney, and Bessie Willis Freeman, a housewife, in the city of Dobson, NC.  She had 3 older siblings, one brother, Robert, Jr., and two sisters, Elizabeth and Mary.  Fran and Mary were born only 13 months apart.  Their mother dressed them alike and people thought they were twins.

        Fran was very nearsighted and got her first pair of thick glasses when she was in second grade.  She then wore contacts most of her life.   

        One of the most frightening experiences for Fran and Mary was when their father took them to Mars Hill Jr. College for the first time and left them there to start their first year of college.  They roomed together and were homesick more than once.  Fran became ill with pneumonia so both girls dropped out after the first semester.   

          Later she completed three years at Meredith Baptist Girl’s College in Raleigh but decided her best bet was to stop school and marry a certain handsome red-haired man named Walker.

          Young men who were stationed at Ft. Bragg came to Meredith College to date the girls.  (The soldiers called Meridith "The Angel Farm.") She met Walker May, Jr. in May, 1946 and they were married August 15, 1946, under one of the many large oak trees in the front yard of the Freeman home.  This is also where Walker proposed to her.  Yes, it was a short courtship but led to a very strong marriage.

          Walker brought her back to Mockingbird Hill to live with his parents and she has been there ever since.  She says that Walker’s mother, Ruth, was very intelligent and taught this city girl how to live in the country and cook, can and freeze.  When Fran’s children were growing up, Grandmother May would tell them stories, recite poetry that she had memorized when she was a child and she helped all her grandchildren with algebra!  

          Fran started attending Donovan Memorial United Methodist Church the first Sunday after they moved here.  She joined the church, moving her membership from the Baptist church in Dobson, and became a very important part of our Church Family, serving in many capacities.  She was a Sunday school teacher, Sunday school superintendent and member of the women’s group of which she held all the offices.   

          At one time there was Children’s Church, led by Fran and held in the basement during worship time.  She later presented the Children’s Sermon during worship.  When Rev. Widmyer was pastor, their sermons were on the same subjects more than once, even though they had not conferred with each other.  Fran believes that this was God’s doing.
She also sang in the choir for years; music was an important part of her life.
She credits Maude Lee, her Sunday school teacher for many years, with helping her learn the Bible and grow in the Christian faith.

           Mary Elizabeth, named after Fran’s two sisters, was their first-born and the first female grandchild of the Freeman’s.  Anita and Philip completed their family.  She looks at her family as her biggest accomplishment and was especially proud of their children when they joined the church.   Fran now has 2 granddaughters, 1 grandson and one great grandson.

           Fran recalls that her Aunt Pat, who lived with the Freeman family in Dobson, NC and was a teacher, bought Fran and Mary school desks and set them outside the door to her bedroom.  Before Fran and Mary went to kindergarten, she taught them their ABC’s and how to read.  Maybe Aunt Pat instilled a certain knack for teaching in Fran.  Her Aunt Callie was a teacher and her father was a teacher before becoming an attorney.   

          Dorothy Swank, a country school supervisor, saw Fran presenting lessons in church and asked if she would be interested in teaching.  She taught homebound students for a while and then she took a half-time reading teacher position at Ottobine Elementary.  Later she taught at Singers Glen Elementary and Mt. Clinton Elementary.

           Losing her husband, Walker May, Jr., to cancer in 1985 was the saddest time in her life.  Walker was a farmer and sang in a quartet at church made up of Leonard Hollar, H.L. Arthur, Rev. Millard Floyd and himself.  He sang with the Four Tones and later with The Milk and Honey Trio, both well known local gospel groups.  Walker also hosted a gospel music program on Radio WHBG on Sunday mornings for 35 years.

            Fran’s unique story-telling ability was known far and wide.   She did a southern rendition of Tar Baby, an Uncle Remus Brer Rabbit tale, for her Children’s Literature class at JMU, which was well received.  

-- Reading, collecting (angels, bells, bird figurines) 
-- Goes to the Wellness Center 3 X a week, where she enjoys the pool exercises and the people.
-- “Proud” to have learned to use the computer in her late 70’s and enjoys email.

-- Europe and USA.  Many of the trips were with her sister, Mary.  Her favorite trip was to Hawaii.

           Fran is an upbeat, positive person always smiling and congenial.  We are very fortunate to have Fran in our church.  Thanks, Walker, for stealing her away from the city and bringing her here and making a country girl of her!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

8. Memories of Fran by Friends and Family

In no particular order...

Maribeth Hester May, Phil’s wife, Fran’s daughter (daughter-in-law)
          Fran was always on the back porch no matter what time we got to the farm yelling, "WELCOME,WELCOME, WELCOME," always with a big smile and hug for us.

          Fran was always so happy when we would come home for the weekend and Philip would play the piano at the Methodist Church.  I would always worry that when Levi was a toddler that he would misbehave during church.  I was so impressed at how many things Fran had put in her purse to keep Levi occupied. My most favorite was when she would put small pieces of scotch tape on his hands and fingers and just let him pull it off and put it back on over and over.  What a smart lady my Mother-in-law was.  I will miss her dearly.

          Over the last 2 years when Fran was with Philip and me in Texas she told me several times how she thought of me as a  daughter and she appreciated how good I was to her.  Just thinking about that brings tears to my eyes. I loved her very much!!!!

Hunter Hollar, Cousin in Singers Glen
             What a wonderful celebration of your Mother’s life. I learned some new things about Fran, but, most significant to me was to hear the three of you talk about your Mother. Nothing can replace the love of one's Mother, and I know you will all feel the loss. I feel honored to have been present for the meaningful celebration of her life at a special place--Donovan Memorial--where we all grew up and learned our values and about our relationship with God. We are so fortunate to have grown up in a loving family and even an extended family where our grandparents were so much a part of our lives.

          I have some memories of Fran. I remember the warm family meals that the Hollars shared with the Mays in the upstairs kitchen. Somehow, indelibly etched in my mind’s eye I can see a Red Velvet cake--I believe the first one I had ever seen or tasted. Yum! It just symbolizes for me the gathering of our families. 

Speaking of gatherings, none of us will forget the Hollars getting snowed in on the hill with the Mays. We only lived a couple of miles away, but couldn't get off the hill in those blizzard conditions! Fran welcomed us to stay! 

             I also have a definite recollection of Fran calling Walker "Red". We always referred to him as Walker, as did others around church, but Fran always called him "Red" as I recall. I think it was a neat name of endearment. I like it and I even got that nickname from some of my high school teamates. 

           I can't picture Fran without thinking about her smile. She had narrow lips, but the line of her mouth just lengthened into the most wonderful smile...which was sometimes followed by a laugh which seemed to come from deep in her "gut". I don't know why I remember that, but I can see her laughing! 

            Many talked about her "Southern charm", and I remember it as well.  I always liked that she retained that definite hint of a North Carolina accent. I first heard it from Fran, but I could later identify it clearly when I played baseball with a bunch of North Carolina guys. 

Thelma Hollar, cousin and close friend of Mom             
          Fran was my very dear friend.  She and Walker were married exactly one month before Leonard and I.  Our families grew up very close because Walker and Leonard were in quartets together.

            Our families had many good dinners and picnics together.  I remember the evening we were at the Mays for dinner.  It started snowing while we were there.  We were all having too good a time to notice how much it was snowing.  When we were ready to leave, we couldn’t get out.  We spent the night at the Mays.

            Fran was always a gracious hostess and a real Southern Lady.  I remember her children’s sermons at church and the beautiful tables at every Birthday Dinner.  Fran had been busy planning the beautiful table decorations and napkins from year to year.    I’ll miss you, Fran.   Love, Thelma

Barry Hollar, a cousin from Singers Glen           "Mary, your mother was always so kind and joyful.  I know you are missing her and will always have a kind of emptiness.  God bless you with resurrection hope."
Aldeen and Eugene Wenger, close family friends
            Mom May was a real classy lady.  We both will forever be grateful for how Walker and she took us in as adopted parents and included us.  We always felt welcomed, loved and enjoyed many fun times.  It was gospel music that bought us together.  We liked Walker from the beginning when we moved to Virginia because Fran and he would share with us about the harmony and the words of the songs.  It was the message of the songs that ministered to us all.

           Gospel concerts, classical concerts, Nut Cracker productions, dinners, Shenandoah Music Theater plays, and best of all, just sitting around their place visiting and laughing enjoying good food together.  We enjoyed Fran’s sweet, warm smile.  She will be missed.  What an honor to have been able to say she was our friend and like a “fill-in’ mom.

Ed Angelil, Fran's son-in-law, Mary’s husband
          I came to Virginia to meet the family, which was basically Mary's mom.  I flew into the small regional airport, where Mary and Fran picked me up for the drive back to the family farmhouse.  I knew it was hilly country from looking down on the geography from the airplane but I had no idea how narrow, windy, and twisty the roads were.  

          Fran drove way too fast, to my way of thinking!  The curves, the hills and the swoops were coming faster and faster and faster.  I knew on the next curve I was going to die.  I thought,  "I've come all the way to this place to die because of the way this madwoman is driving."  I understood why, the first time I picked up my son when he came to visit, he kept saying,  "Dad, slow down!  You're going too fast for these roads!"  

          Now, I drive even faster than Fran did that first day.  I know I'm not going to die from any accident on these winding roads because I learned from Fran how to drive skillfully.      
Shelley McDonough, Mother’s sitter and “adopted” daughter in Texas for the last  two years.
           Where should I begin?   As you know, Fran had a sense of humor.

          In the beginning of Fran’s recovery there was what was known as the "Phil Card". When Fran was not motivated to do what was required, especially with practicing walking, several of us would use the card. “Phil would want you to do this,” or “Phil will be disappointed if you don't even try.” I have to admit I was not the only one using the card. Therapy was definitely using it also.

          One day I had used the card.  The next day it was raining and I was about 5 minutes late.  I walked in as my cheerful self and gave a big hello. Fran didn't say anything -- just kept on eating breakfast. It wasn't until she finished that she just looked at me and said, “Phil would want you to be on time.” As luck would have it, she couldn't keep it together and we just started laughing. This is the first time I got a taste of Fran's sense of humor. 

          One day after the stroke had taken away her ability to feed herself, I began the task. At this point everything was pureed and colored. Given the fact that I already knew she didn't like green peas, I proceeded to give her a mouthful. She began to moan and groan to which I said, “Spit them out!”  She didn’t spit – she just let them run out of her mouth all over the place.  After I had cleaned her up she looked at me and said, “Southern women do not spit and I don't like peas.”

Rosalie Bailey,  wife of Paul Bailey, one of our favorite ministers in the Glen
          I remember Fran as being always cheerful and sweet-natured.  She made a lasting impression on me that long-ago day when Paul and I were being moved from the old parsonage to another house in the Glen in order to demolish that parsonage and make room to build the new one.  The demolition had begun even while we were trying to move our belongings out of the house.  It was a very stressful day, especially with a toddler underfoot.  

           At lunchtime, Fran surprised us with a wonderful hot lunch from her kitchen—meatloaf, baked potatoes and fresh lima beans.  This took place in 1963 and now, almost 48 years later, I still vividly remember Fran’s smiling face as she brought us that treasure of thoughtfulness and caring.  You know that meal had to have been special if I still remember it after all this time!

Joe Price, a family friend who sang in a quartet with Daddy and was a disc jockey at WHBG (the station where Daddy hosted Sunday Morning Gospel Time for 35 years.)
To the May Family; 
          I was saddened to read of the passing of your mother.  I remember many good things about your Mom and Dad.  They were very kind to Nancy and me when we first moved here.  And to find out she was from our home county in North Carolina, made her almost family.  She rode with us once down to Dobson when we were going to Elkin, and there were times we would deliver the Christmas packages to the Freeman home when we would go to Elkin. Once your Dad had driven her down to Dobson and she rode back with us. 
          I recall many good Sunday meals at your home with one of you serving as the "slave" and waiting the table from your window-seat perch, singing good ole gospel songs with Walker and Leonard Hollar, and early morning "howdys" at WHBG.  They were extraordinarily good people, as I am sure you know. 
           I very much regret that because of obligations I previously had made, I will be unable to attend the services or family night.  I am sorry.  I send my condolences and my best wishes to each of you.

Bill Bartelme, Mother’s “Tax Man” who used to live near the farm
          Please accept my condolences.  Your Mother was a very special person, and a good friend to me.  I remember a couple of things that I would like to share. During hay season, I would try to get home early and help -- not for the money, but for the great meal in the evening -- some of the best iced tea ever, and gravy bread was LEGAL!  The other thing I will always remember was Christmas Eve.  No matter who we had staying at our house (across the road from Bob and Ginny May), we were all invited up when Walker and Fran got home from church for coffee and red velvet cake. Our signal that they were home was the pole light being turned on.  It was the perfect way to start the holiday.  I still miss Walker, and now miss Fran too.  

Maggie Gridley, friend, hairdresser and house-sitter for Mary and Ed
          My memories of Fran are so awesome. I loved her the moment I met her. I was her hair stylist for several years and I loved giving her a "Fran Style," not a "little old lady style". She had the greatest hair to work with and the smile on her face whenever I saw her made her very young and loveable.  I would also grab her hand and dance with her. She never gave up, no matter what.    

          At one time, she wanted to learn to knit. I went over to her house and gave her several lessons. I think we both found out that knitting was not her thing. At least she was happy to try and she loved having the company.

          I also went over to Harrisonburg Rehab and cut her hair there. It was difficult because, at that point, she was in a wheelchair and could not move very much.  Her back was so bad.  I know I made her feel better, even though it was not the greatest hair cut with all of the obstacles.  I have thought of her many times over the past several months with no quality of life and I just wanted to cry. I shall miss her Happy Face and I am very glad to have been her friend.

Mitzi MacAllister, the Postmaster in Singers Glen for many years, also a cousin
          Fran was a gracious lady and great companion to her husband Walker. When I think of her, I can hear her southern accent obtained by growing up in the North Carolina Piedmont. I especially remember how artistic Fran was as the person in charge of the 'Birthday Meal' at church for many years. She would come up with very artistic and creative items for the tables that represented a theme for each month of the year.
Ellen Brown Mauzy,  Anita’s friend since first grade
          I had wonderful times visiting the Mays when a child and will never forget her warm smile and cinnamon toast extordinare!  Please share with your family my sadness and memories!
           My thoughts and prayers are with you. No matter how ready they are to go and you are to let your parents go, it is a profound loss.  Allow yourselves time to heal and as time passes you will remember them with warmth and laughter at the most unexpected times.   That has been my experience as well as many others who have shared with me.   For me and most I know, it takes time for the good memories to come, but when they do, it is so wonderful.  Don't push it, just love and hold on to each other as you process and heal. Wish I could be there for the services, but just returned to my home in Atlanta from a wonderful visit in the Valley.

Faith Histand, one of Mom’s caregivers when she was still at home, who now rents the farmhouse
A few memories of Fran:
--- She loved to be read to. I spent many afternoons reading to her.
--- She enjoyed food. Different times she’d say “I’m so hungry for “chide fricken”.” (fried chicken)  Sometimes after doctor’s appointments we’d stop at Wendy’s because she wanted a salad. I forget which one was her favorite – I think it was something sesame – maybe?     
--- She had a great sense of humor. Even though she was diabetic she still had a sweet tooth. One time we stopped at Food Lion to get some fruit and salad. I was getting out of the car to go in and she looked at me with a twinkle in her eye and said, “Get me something “GOOD”” (meaning sweet)!

Laura Koogler, a special neighbor
         What memories do I have of Fran? I remember her as a kind neighbor and friend. I remember her as the ideal of a southern lady. She always looked so nice with her pretty white hair. I loved to hear her talk with that wonderful southern accent. Sometimes we would walk up the hill to visit awhile. She was always so happy to see us. 

          We would talk about lots of things. She would catch us up on what her family was doing. She was proud of her grandchildren and always excited to tell about a planned visit from any of them. To put it briefly, she was the kind of neighbor everyone would like to have. We were very sorry when she had to leave. Mockingbird Hill isn’t the same without her, but we are thankful she is now at peace.   With love, Laura & family

Mike and Nyoka Stroop were both in Mom’s class in Singers Glen Elementary - the same year.
          We are very saddened to hear of your mother’s death. What a true lady she was, so very kind to everyone.  We will never forget our special second grade teacher with the pretty white hair.  Our hearts are with you and your family.  God bless,  Mike and Nyoka 

Nancy and Buddy Strawderman, friends from church
How do I start?  First, I feel honored to have known Fran.  She always had a kind word to say to me.  She was my son’s first grade teacher and a very good one, too. She loved her church and family and friends. I could go on and on telling you good things about her but you already know them. If I can do ANYTHING please let me know. Love and prayers are with you all, Nancy & Buddy Strawderman and family

Virginia Dare Morris, a neighbor
Virginia Dare wrote: "Mary, so sorry for your loss but rejoice in knowing that she is where she has been longing to go. Our thoughts and prayers are with all of you." 

Beth Brower Foerster, a friend from church
Fran had a good sense of humor that must have served her well through the years. Mary, you inherited that from her.

Fran did know how to put together a snazzy outfit! In looking at all these photos, it occurred to me that a big part of Fran's style was her smile. Her smile was genuine and made her eyes twinkle, hinting at her adventurous, fun-loving qualities and her sense of humor.

Jewel Shenk, taught with Mother at Singers Glen Elementary School many years ago. 
Jewel happened to be in town and surprised Mother by appearing at her 80th Birthday Party.

Jewel wrote: "Fran was such a sweet and gracious lady. I am blessed for having known and worked with her. May wonderful memories bring you joy as you celebrate her life."

Gayle Davis, a close friend from church
One of my last memories of your mother was the time I took her for a doctor’s appointment.  I told her I wanted to be one of her daughters although I was a little old to be her daughter.  She was so pleasant to be around and I actually enjoyed our trip to her doctor.  She was grateful for the ride and later gave me a P. Buckley Moss cross stitch kit, which I treasure.

Donna Sampson, friend of Anita May Krull and choir director at Mom’s church
Anita and I met in high school concert choir and have been friends ever since. I will always remember the warmth and kindness of Fran the first time I visited Mockingbird Hill for a sleep-over. Most of all I remember those delicious blueberry pancakes she made for breakfast - the very best I have ever eaten!
Every time Anita came home through the years we would get together and Fran always made me feel like a part of the family. She was genuinely interested in what was happening in my life and asked about  my entire family. She really cared about people. 

I did not know that Fran was a piano major in college. She always asked me to play the piano every time I came to their home. She made me feel special as she did everyone. I only wish I could have heard her play the piano. I remember one Sunday I played a song on the organ and Fran expressed to me how much she liked the song and wondered if the choir could learn it and I said, "Sure" and so we did sing it for worship. The song was "Give Them All to Jesus". I always think of Fran when I hear or play this song.

We will miss Fran at Donovan UMC but I can just see her singing in that heavenly choir and smiling that southern smile that will forever be implanted in my mind.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Philip's Eulogy for Mom

Eulogy for Frances Isabel Willis Freeman May by Philip Freeman May
January 22, 2011

         Bittersweet. An adjective that can describe what we cannot escape from experiencing.  Its definition; if you look it up, is simply, both bitter and sweet. Its second listed definition is: experiencing contrasting emotions of pain and pleasure. We are having a bittersweet time. We experience the pain that we must endure because we are temporarily separated from our loved one for a time. But then we also experience at the same time the sweetness of our mother’s life as we remember, share, and commemorate our experiences with her. The bittersweet experience is strong. I think we all are having it right now. 

         I speak to you today with an attitude of gratitude. There are so many people to thank for caring for our mother over the past several years. I can only begin count them all. Physicians, nurses and many other medical professionals worked tirelessly to help make Mom’s life as good as it could be. 

          In Texas for the last two and a half years, Mom, Maribeth and I were well supported by our Christian communities of Virginia, North Carolina and Texas. That support came in the form of cards, gifts, letters, phone calls, visitations and prayers. On behalf of my mother and my family, I thank you all. In the funny vernacular of the state of Texas where we live, I guess I would have to say that I thank “yall”.  And maybe that doesn’t quite cover it completely.  The pleural form of “yall” is “all yall”, so I thank “all yall” for your awesome love and support for our mother and family. Momma May was greatly loved. I think it was because she loved greatly. 

            I don't know anyone who has 5 names, with the exception of my mother: Frances Isabel Willis Freeman May. Our names help define us and show our connection to our families. There is special meaning in each name we have. In my mother’s name there is her first name, Frances. It means by basic definition, "from France". Well my mother was not from France but her parents liked the name and so it became my mother's first name. My mother’s second name, Isabel: means "promise of God". This name was given to her in honor of her mother's sister, which was my great Aunt Isabel. Mom’s third name, "Willis", was my mother's mother’s maiden name. Her fourth name was the name "Freeman", which was my mother's maiden name; and finally, the last name, "May". This became her married name, as she became grafted into the Walker May family tree. 

          By name and by her own choice, my mother was very much connected to her family. We are all connected to one another in various ways at different levels. We all share a biological, chemical, and atomic connection to each other simply because we are all made of the same physical stuff. On the human level we are connected biologically and genetically to our ancestors who came before us. On the social level, our family, tribe, ethnicity, nationality, or whatever social organization we affiliate ourselves with, they all connect us. But more importantly than all those connections, we are spiritually connected. 

          We are created souls and beings from the same creator, made in his image. Our creator owns us for his own purposes. Our life is an incredible thing. In my mind, our existence is way beyond a simple random event of evolution. In Psalm 139, the Psalmist says, "I will praise God for I am fearfully and wonderfully made, marvelous are your works", and furthermore the Psalmist notes how we are, as he says, "knit together in our mother's womb". God created us all, so that makes us His children. So, all of us being His children, that makes us all "brothers & sisters". 

          As for us here, we are Christians. We are people of faith. We stand in faith and we walk by faith. We are members of the "body of Christ" because of our connection to Jesus, Lord of the universe. We are family. We therefore refer to ourselves as: brothers and sisters in the Lord. As Christians, we celebrate, remember, and commemorate many things. We celebrate life. We celebrate especially unions, and reunions. We celebrate the union of a man and woman in marriage. We celebrate the fruit of that love which brings to us children. We celebrate a child’s birth and the anniversary of that birth till the day that they die, and even then, we still remember that blessed day of our loved ones. 

          I think of a birthday party as a reunion of people celebrating the creation of life by our creator. In this celebration, we are actually praising our creator for creating us. How did he do it? How does one take a scoop of total nothingness and create an immortal soul, place it in a body of flesh and blood and place it on this planet for a little season of time? I don’t know, but yet, here we are. I, Philip May, in particular, praise God every day of my life for the gift of my mother to this world. I wouldn't be here talking to you if Mom had not come into existence. Well … Duh! 

          What an incredible life journey Mom has had. She was a loving wife and mother and played some part in the formation and transformation of us all. To some of you she was a teacher, to others a fellow musician, to others a Christian worker, to others a friend or associate. My mother's life touched many people in such a positive way. On a humorous note, I guess you could say that she played well with her brothers and sisters in the sandbox. 

         In honor of her life we are all here today. We honor her in this family reunion for the love she has given each of us and for the good things she has done for each and all of us. This is the Ultimate Bon-Voyage gathering to wish Mom well in her journey to the ultimate reunion in heaven. What a reunion that will be!  She is eternally reunited with Jesus, Mary and Joseph, all the angels and saints who have loved and served God through the ages, and with her ancestors and loved ones who gone before her to that eternal reunion. She is in a place that the Bible scripture tells us that there is no more sorrow, where "every tear is wiped away", and there is no more pain and suffering, for all things are made new. Mom is in a place of light, love, and peace and total social harmony. 

          When I think about this, I think that we could all be a little envious of Mom right now because she is in a better and more beautiful place than we are. But because we are people of faith, we have a wonderful future ahead of us to look forward to. It’s just like we were each given a check for million dollars, which we haven't cashed yet. We have a big smile on our faces, because we are excited about what good things we have to experience when we cash that check. We experience not the fear of death, but rather, the joy of anticipation for our ultimate future life. 

Even the scriptures tell us in St. Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, that "eye has not seen and ear has not heard the things that the Lord has prepared for those who love him". We can only begin to imagine those things at this point. Look at this picture. I believe that this is where my mother is right now, in the strong arms and gentle embrace of our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ. As the author of Psalm 131 says, "Like a child rests in its mother’s arms, so will I rest in thee". Right now, my mother is that child. 

          There are some special things that I would like to remember and share about the life of my mother. I will always remember that Mom was a strong advocate for education. She herself was a teacher. She taught as a home-bound teacher for the county, and then as an elementary teacher at Ottobine, Singers Glen, and Mt Clinton elementary schools. She was a Sunday school teacher here at Donovan Memorial for years, helping to form the faith base of many people of our community. Mom was an educator at home as well. She was our mom. She was really, the first teacher to my sisters and me. She tried to teach us to play well in the sandbox with others like she did. 

          Mom loved music. She was a piano major in college at one point in time. I can still play a few of the piano pieces that I heard her play when I was a child. Mom used to take me and sometimes my sisters to the Community Concerts back in the 1960’s at Wilson Hall at the campus of what was then, Madison College. I always thought that was a pretty big deal when I was young. I still do. It helped inspire me to pursue musical studies. My mother selected 4 of the 7 piano teachers for me that I have had during my lifetime. She saw to it that all her children had musical education. Mary and Anita can play the piano. Anita can sing and play the guitar as well. There is even rumor that my sister Mary can carry a tune in a bucket but that topic is still under some debate. Just kidding,  Mary. Mary does play the piano though. 

        Most importantly, what I will remember about my mother the most is her great love. She loved God. She loved her husband, she loved her children and grandchildren and her extended family, which included all the people of her church and community. Her love has touched and transformed us all in some unique way. She loved many. She loved well. She lived with an attitude of gratitude for a multitude of blessings in her life. I believe that Jesus is telling Mom right now, "Frances, you have run the race well. You have heroically fought the good fight; but most of all you have loved greatly and you have loved well. Well done my child, well done."

         As for me, Philip Freeman May, son of Frances Isabel Willis Freeman May, I will always remember my mother's love.

Friday, January 28, 2011

7. Memories of Fran from Family

Many friends and family members have shared colorful and wonderful memories.  This post will include the "kin by blood" family members. 

Mary May Angelil, The Firstborn Child      
Mother’s sense of faith showed, not only in her church work, but in other areas as well.  How many women can say they lived with their mother-in-law their whole married life and never had a cross word?  Mother taught us to receive compliments by turning them back to the person with,  “How nice of you to say so.”  or “Thank you for noticing.”        
Mother’s sense of adventure shows in her offspring.  Every year, she and Daddy planned a vacation for educational purposes.  We went to Niagara Falls, The World’s Fair in New York in 1965, the Midwest to visit relatives, Florida and other places.  She had “childlike enthusiasm” which was contagious.
Mother’s sense of style showed in many areas, such as her beautifully decorated cakes and her angel Christmas tree.  Money was tight when we were growing up but in later years, shopping for clothes became Mom’s hobby.   Mother always fought her weight.  She and Aunt Mary were less than a year apart so people thought they were twins.  However, Aunt Mary was thin as a rail, while Mother was chunky.  They used to say that Mother ate her own food, then pushed Aunt Mary off the bench and ate hers, too. 
A sense of humor is what I most admired and enjoyed about Mother.  She didn’t like the Greeting Time (Passing of the Peace) during the church service.   If you’re young, you won’t understand this but…..she called it Howdy Doody Time……when you say howdy to everyone.    

Mother always hated brown.  When they were young, people who sold baskets and other handmade items came from down in the country in the summer .  They got Aunt Mary this little green chair.  It was sooo pretty and it had flowers on it!  They got Mom a BROWN chair.  When it was time for school, they got Aunt Mary the prettiest little blue raincoat with red lining, trim and buttons.  They got Mom a BROWN coat.   

Every summer, before Mother could drive, Daddy would take us down to Grandmama Freeman’s for a week or two.  There was no air conditioning in cars in those days.  I remember stopping for gas and seeing a couple of nuns in full habit – probably the first nuns we’d ever seen.  Mother couldn’t imagine how they could stand the heat in those heavy black robes.  When we got back in the car she said,  “I’ll bet those nuns get in the car, put the dash fans on high and just let them blow up under those robes.”

Anita May Krull, the Middle Child
Our mom had strong family values.
She was a hard worker:
  She canned beans, tomatoes, peaches and apple sauce
  She washed thousands of dishes and clothes
  And she fed us, clothed us, encouraged us, called us, visited us and wrote us

She left us many memories:
     -She loved the birds and had a bird feeder outside our kitchen window
    -She decorated a lot of cakes for people’s birthdays. She was creative and her cakes were beautiful.
     -She would get us up in the morning by saying "Rise and Shine" and sometimes she would sing it  "Rise and shine and give God the glory, glory. Rise and shine and give God the glory, glory, Rise and Shine and give God the glory, glory, Children of the Lord"
    -She did a lot of fried chicken on Sunday lunch
    -When we were hungry at night she used to say" Go get yourself a piece of butter bread!"
    -She collected bells and liked the song' "When they ring those heaven bells"

Philip Freeman May, the Baby           
There are so many things to think about when remembering my mother.

Mom's cooking comes to mind.  She used to present quite the spread of food to all the hay-baling help during the summer.  We were all exhausted after baling hay.  There would be ice tea.... the sweetest ice tea in the world, hot dogs and/or hamburgers, steaks, chicken, rolls, beans, slaw, corn, taters of various sorts, and of course apple sauce.  Then there was desert:  ice cream, pie, cake ... always something yummy!  It was always a good time for stuffing ourselves and telling a zillion jokes and making a zillion puns over one word or another.   Good times!

Ellen Krull, First grandchild 
When I think of my Grandmother May, I remember the summers I went and visited her at her house. She would always be standing on her porch waving and welcoming us. And, of course, she gave us all great big hugs. I can still see this image in my head of my Grandmother. 

When I was very little, some mornings Grandmother and I would be the first to wake up in the early morning. On mornings such as these, my Grandmother and I would get in her car and go down to the post office to pick up her mail before it was delivered. It wasn't often that I got to have my Grandmother all to myself and I really enjoyed this special time with her. 

My Grandmother was very patient, no matter what was happening, she was calm and laid back. I enjoyed it when she took us to the book fair. I also enjoyed breakfast at her house because she had bagels! This was something I didn't get to have very often.  I am glad I got to know my Grandmother because she was a remarkable, loving, and kind lady.

April Krull, 2nd Grandchild    
wrote on Facebook on 1-17-11:  “RIP Grandmother May, you will always be in my heart....” 
          After several supportive comments from friends, she said,  "Thanks for your support u guys.  We all knew it was coming but to get the call at 2 am I was not expecting it and it hit me a reality check. It just makes me think we need to be thankful for the time we have here and thank God everyday for it.   At less I know now, she is not trapped in a body that doesn't work any more, but has a new body with no pain and works. She will really be missed....."

Levi Walker May, 3rd  Grandchild, The only “May” to carry on the family name
I remember the swimming pool Grandmother always had in the yard when I would visit her every summer.  I used to have a lot a fun splashing around in it with my cousins, April and Ellen.

Every summer my Cousin Bill May would let me borrow one of his 4 wheelers to ride around the farm with when I would visit Grandmother.  I used to go around and around the farmhouse and every time I would pass by the kitchen window Grandmother was always there waving and smiling at me.

After meals at the farm Grandmother would let me take all the scraps out to the fence and feed the cows.  I used to love to watch the cows come running over to me to get the scraps.

Back in the spring of 2008 I came up to visit my Grandmother and attend an open house at JMU called Choices.  It was a 4 day trip for me with 2 of the days visiting JMU and the other 2 days spending time with my Grandmother, just the two of us, together.  She insisted on ironing my shirts and made blueberry pancakes for me.  She made me feel so special.  She was so proud of me for choosing JMU for college.  I'm glad I made her proud!

Ever since I was a young boy I can remember Grandmother telling me I was the only one to carry on the May name in our family.  She used to tell me to make her proud.  I hope she knew how much I loved her.

Duane Krull, Great Grandson
On the way home from Grandmother’s funeral in Virginia, 6-year-old Duane happened to share a thought. He said " Do you know why Grandmother May died?   It was because she was a very kind person and Jesus wants kind people like her to be in heaven with him."

Bobz Freeman, nephew who lives in Asheville, NC      
There are so many memories it is hard to separate them.   My most vivid early memory is of THE WEDDING (of Red and Fran).   I can still see the rose arbor that they took their vows under.  I remember thinking how pretty Auntie Frances looked.  Hey, I was six years old, you know, and I was wondering who that red-headed stranger was that was taking her away from us.   Probably due to the fact that she and Aunt Mary were away in college and I was spending a lot of time with my maternal grandparents in Grayson County Virginia, I have no recollections beyond the wedding.
My next memories were of your family visits to Dobson each summer.   This was something we looked forward to with great anticipation and excitement.  I was always impressed that Auntie Frances and Uncle Red dressed up in their "Sunday go to meetin' clothes" for this occasion.   Even Mary Lib, 'Nita and Philip were always "spic and span."  I always wondered how y'all could stand to travel dressed that way..…  remember this was the days before A/C.   Uncle Red's car was a big black Pontiac, about a 1949 as I recall.  I still picture the big metal sun visor on the outside of the windshield.  It must have covered the top half of the windshield.
Then, of course, there are our visits to Mocking Bird Hill Farm.   What a wonderful place and what a "spread" Auntie Frances always put on the table.  She was always the gracious and wonderfully happy hostess.  But this is nothing new, as so many attested to at the (funeral) Service.  She was always smiling, always happy, always so polite and nice, but so emotionally strong - a true Southern Lady as someone said.   Those memories don't stand out because we were so accustomed to her being that way.  That was just Auntie Frances and we never knew any different.
I was too choked up at the service but had I been able to speak after my baby brother's remarks, I would have corrected him on one point.  I don't think Grandmother Freeman was too sad to see her baby girl go off to Virginia.   After all, she was a native of Culpeper, Virginia and was probably glad to see one of her children return to that beautiful country.   Mockingbird Hill Farm will never be the same without Auntie Frances.

Bill Freeman, nephew who lives in Winston, NC.
I am one of the Freemans from way down south in the Cradle of Civilization, Dobson, NC.  At least, that is what my wife calls it.  I did not want to do this and did not think I could, but if Phil can sing, surely I can talk.  I don’t have to tell you folks what a wonderful lady Aunt Fran was, because most of you knew her as well or better than I.  
I will try to add a little levity to this service and some of my remarks will be better understood by family members who know the family better.  There has been a lot of talk about Fran’s lack of any pretension.  The reason for that is that she had an older sister, who you have not heard anything about, who got it all.
My family has lived in NC since the Revolutionary War and most of us never left NC.  The family was very concerned when Fran moved off to Virginia to marry a farmer, but I guess it worked out OK.  They were also very concerned that she became a Methodist.  They were all Baptist and not at all sure that any Methodists would make it to heaven.  I guess that worked out OK also.  But the thing I could never get over was when I spent a week with her when I was young and discovered she did not know how to make cornbread.
You have all heard a lot about Fran’s sister, Mary.  Well she also had an older sister that you never hear anything about.  Now I know things are very peaceful in Heaven, but there is probably a big argument going on there now.  When Fran got to heaven,  I am sure that she was so happy to see her mother and sister Mary.  However, the bad news is that Aunt Lib was there also and she would not approve of Fran’s dress and would be ordering Fran to change into something more appropriate immediately.  Fran would stand her ground and neither would give in.

Thank all of you for being so wonderful to my Aunt Fran and for being here today.  She was truly a wonderful lady and we will all miss her.
Stashia May Kline, niece           
Mary, you know there are no coincidences with God.  I "happened" to play "Surely the Presence" at church on Sunday as well.  I know I am getting old when I remember LOTS and LOTS of things from childhood. I was remembering some little sheep that Aunt Fran used to have on one of her end tables in the living room upstairs when we were young. I was also remembering how she used to let us comb her hair when I am sure she had lots of other things she could have been doing. Both our mothers were exceptions to the rules as far as many mothers go.  Since the Mays were always so close anyway, I considered your mommy my second mom. It was special that she played my mom in a church play one time. Kenneth Davis was a fireman and saved me and had to carry me somewhere.
I remember when your mom also played a black character in a play at the Singers Glen Elementary School at the time. She was all padded up with pillows, had a red kerchief around her head and with her natural southern accent, she played the perfect part of a "Mammie."  I think they did several productions of that play.
I also enjoyed helping her as a volunteer assistant in her first class classroom at Mt. Clinton at the beginning of school before I went to college. That was good experience for me. Who would have thought I would teach 1st grade for 4 years!  She was great!!!!!  

Patty May Golightly, niece
When I think of Auntie Fran, I remember coming up to eat in your kitchen when you all still lived upstairs.  I remember eating rum cake.  I was in hog heaven -- I’d never eaten anything so good in my life!  To this day I love rum cake.

I remember  your little dog, Perky (mostly Chihuahua)  went missing and you all were in a panic.  She was gone for days .   She was found in the “cubby hole” closet over the stairway in Phil’s room.

Auntie Fran liked to read and I always felt I had to be quiet so she could concentrate.  She had an accident in her little green Rambler – rolled it down over a little hill.    I was glad she wasn’t hurt but I always thought about that when I drove by that place.

I remember the flannel board stories she told at church.   I thought it was so neat that she could get pictures to stick on that board. 

I loved her Southern accent.  She seemed to pick it up again when she went to NC each summer.  When she first got back, I had a hard time understanding her – it was like a foreign language.   

When I see families that don't have good memories like we do, I feel bad for them for what they missed.

Becky and Bill May, nephew and his wife
(Becky sang at Mother's Home Going Service and Bill kept her driveway clear of snow for many years.)      
Bill and I were talking and the one thing that stands out in his mind about Aunt Fran was her fabulous chocolate chip pancakes. He has raved about those since we started dating in 1967. I never could duplicate them. I remember your Mom for her beautifully decorated Christmas trees. I thought the fact that she rotated the theme each year was quite unique. I liked the Angel theme the best. I always looked forward to her Christmas card, too.  It very often was a beautiful Angel. She took great care in selecting the unusually pretty ones. 

Bill and I both commented on what a pleasant person she was. It always felt good to be around her with her giving and hospitable ways. Her countenance always reflected her positive and encouraging nature. She will be sorely missed by all.   Our heart goes out to you, Mary, Anita and Philip.  Please know our prayers will continue for you all.

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