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Posts Tagged ‘Crystal Thornton’

“Perhaps You’d Like to See Our Tombstone Catalog…”

March 27th, 2014 Sears Homes 2 comments

According to “Sears, Roebuck, USA: The Great American Catalog Store and How It Grew,” a Sears customer wrote the Chicago Mail-order giant and asked if she could return several bottles of patent medicine that she’d purchased the month before.

In her letter, she explained that the medicine had been intended for her husband and after ingesting the first bottle, he’d quickly passed on.

The clerk who received the inquiry responded quickly, with an assurance that certainly, she could return the unopened bottles, and by the way, would she like to see a copy of Sears’ Tombstone Catalog?

Funny story, but the sobering fact is, traditional, elaborate Victorian funerals were expensive. Tradition dictated that certain rituals and procedures be done, and a middle-class family might endure shame and scorn if they couldn’t afford a decent marker for their loved one. And what about the poor? Often, they had to quietly and stoically endure the humiliation of seeing their loved one placed in a pauper’s grave.

(An aside:  There’s a 1920s pauper’s grave in Williamsburg where 35+ bodies (many of whom are children) are buried. The only “markers” at the site were small granite stones - the remnants of tombstones - that were provided by the undertaker. These markers outlined the individual graves. With the passage of time, those graves were forgotten and now  there’s a condo built on top of part of that cemetery.)

After Aunt Addie’s exhumation made the headlines, several people shared “old family legends” about a time when a young child died, and the family - unable to afford a real burial and/or pay burial fees - surreptitiously stole into the city graveyard in the dark of night, and buried their little one in a make-shift coffin.

By contrast, such stories make a pauper’s grave seem like a mercy.

I have no pictures of Sears tombstones, but with all these testimonials, they shouldn’t be too hard to find. Plus, they were made from Vermont Slate, which as a distinctive color and veining.

If you look up Sears Tombstones on the internet, you’ll find there are folks claiming that Sears tombstones were hollow, zinc markers (metal) but this is one of those apocryphal stories. Not sure where it started, but it’s not true.

To learn more about Victorian burial customs, click here.

To read about early 1900s burial rituals, click here.

To learn more about Addie, click here.

Verse 1904 Thomb

The Tombstone Catalog from 1904.

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people loved them

Does anyone in Plain City, Ohio want to get me a picture of the Frazell tombstone? I would love to see one of these. And there's the Chitty tombstone in Rapid City, SD. That's also a fairly unusual name.

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freight costs might seem

You'd think freight costs would be prohibitive, but Sears had it all worked out.

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Lettering

Inscription cost six cents per letter, unless it's a verse, and then its 2-1/2 cents per letter, unless it's on the upper base and then it's 15 cents per two-inch letter.

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here lies mary

Mark Hardin observed that most of these images in the 1904 catalog depict young people. In the late 1800s, one out of five children passed on before they reached adulthood. In early 1900s America, there would have been very few families whose lives hadn't been touched by the death of a child.

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Mary again

When I was researching the life and death of my Aunt Addie (died in 1901), I came across one story in the 1893 Lake Mills Leader that I will never forget. It was the height of a diphtheria epidemic, and the diphtheria was present in many counties in Wisconsin. In southern Wisconsin, a family had lost seven of their eight children to that single epidemic. The paper reported that the "eighth child had also contracted the diphtheria" and was not doing well. The article said that the children apparently had "weak blood." Today, we'd call it a genetic predisposition .

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another one

The epitaphs mostly depict a young child.

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house tombstone

When my beloved mother died suddenly in 2002, she was cremated and her ashes were scattered. In retrospect, I now more fully understand the comfort that a marker such as this can provide to greiving families.

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another

For a poor family desperate to have their loved one remembered, the economical "Sears option" may have been a God-send. It provided an option to an unmarked pauper's grave.

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icky

"Verse inscription ideas - at no extra cost to you, our loyal customer."

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Whoa

I sincerely hope that no one chose this verse.

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house

This is not a Sears Tombstone, but I find the last line quite interesting. My daughter Crystal found this in an old graveyard near Hartwell, Georgia. Photo is copyright 2010 Crystal Thornton and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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To read about Penniman’s poor flu victims that were buried in a forgotten grave, click here.

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Ardara: Contrast to the Commonplace

June 4th, 2012 Sears Homes 5 comments

After my talk in Raleigh (May 19th), a woman named Lydia introduced herself to me (and purchased several of my books!). She said that she had family members living in a fine Sears House in Chapel Hill.

That was puzzling, because I had driven through Chapel Hill the day before, and I had only seen Aladdin kit homes, no Sears.

However, while in Chapel Hill, I’d become flustered by the vast amounts of pedestrian traffic (and non-thinking students stepping off curbs right in front of vehicles) and the trees: Massive, leafy, bushy, house-obstructing trees.

Within 30 minutes of arriving into Chapel Hill, I abandoned my search and returned to my hotel in Raleigh.

Had I missed a Sears House in Chapel Hill? It was a distinct possibility.

Soon after I arrived back home to Norfolk, Lydia contacted me and emailed a photo of this fine Sears House in Chapel Hill.

The photo she emailed was a beautiful Sears Ardara.

I’ve not seen many Ardaras in my travels. In fact, I’ve only seen four: One in Zanesville, Ohio, two in Elgin, Illinois and one in Crystal Lake, Illinois. And soon, I hope to visit this Ardara in Chapel Hill!  :)

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To read about Buster Keaton’s kit house, click here.

The Ardara first appeared in the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

The Ardara first appeared in the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

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In both the 1921 and 1928 catalogs, it was offered with and without the attached garage.

In both the 1921 and 1928 catalogs, it was offered with and without the attached garage. This is from the 1928 catalog, and if you compare it with the image above, you'll see the price actually had dropped by 1928.

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This is one of my favorite descriptions (taken from the 1928 catalog). The Ardara is "notable for its contrast to the commonplace...pleasingly combines Oriental and Occidental architecture." And the garage has "the same treatment as the house." Awesome!

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Notice that it has a Music Room. In the late 1920s, this could have a couple meanings.

Notice that it has a "Music Room." In the 1921 version, this room was identified as a den. In 1928, this could have a couple meanings. The phonograph and the radio were all the rage in the late 1920s, and in some of these old floorplans, you'll see this identified as a "radio room," or "space for phonograph." Or it might have been a designated space for the family piano. In this time period, it was expected that most people would own a piano.

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The Sears Ardara in Chapel Hill. What a beauty!  This photo is copyright 2012 Paige Warren and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.

The Sears Ardara in Chapel Hill. What a beauty! Note the oversized cornice returns. This is one (of many) eye-catching features on this Colonial-style house. (This photo is copyright 2012 Paige Warren and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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And heres a picture of the same Ardara in the late 1920s, soon after it was built.

And here's a picture of the same Ardara in the 1920s, soon after it was built. The small gable (at the top of the roof) was original to the house, and the dormer was added in the 1950s. (This photo is courtesy of the Wade family and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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The Ardara, soon after it came into the Warren family (February 1944). he in 1944.

The Ardara, soon after it came into the Wade family (February 1944). The dormer (shown in the contemporary photo above) was added in the 1950s to create living space on the second floor. (This photo is courtesy of the Wade family and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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The Ardara

The Ardara, as seen in the 1921 catalog.

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An Ardara in Crystal Lake, IL.

An Ardara in Crystal Lake, IL.

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A very sad Ardara in Elgin, IL. (This photo was taken in 2003.)

A very sad Ardara in Elgin, IL. (This photo was taken in 2003.)

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To learn more about what I found in Chapel Hill, click here.

Look at the abundance of Sears Homes I found in Raleigh, NC.

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Teddy, the Amazing Watch Dog!

October 7th, 2011 Sears Homes 3 comments

It was about 11:45 pm on a Thursday night when Teddy walked over to my side of the bed, stuck her snout next to mine, and gave me one loud “Woof.”

I opened my eyes and said, “What?” (as if she would answer). With an unmistakable intensity, she looked me right in the eye and repeated herself:  “Woof!”

Usually when there’s another dog outside, she’ll bark a bit and then settle down. If there’s someone walking down the city sidewalk, she’ll bark a little and then stop. But this was different.

I looked into her eyes for a minute and I swear I heard her say, “Listen, you need to get out of that bed and look outside. This isn’t just a random ‘woof’. This one’s important.”

She did not leave her station at the side of my bed but continued to stare intensely at me. I arose from my soft pink bed and toddled outside to the second-floor balcony just outside my bedroom. I looked outside and saw two highly questionable people studying my car, which was parked on the street. One was especially interested in the license plate. The other was leaning over and looking in the driver’s window.

The dog followed me out to the balcony and stood out there and barked. I was trying to figure out if I should yell or call 911, but Teddy’s barking was enough. They immediately stood upright and walked away.

Back in the bedroom, I thanked Teddy and gave her some praise. As I settled back under the covers, I said a little prayer of gratitude for her perspicacity. And I wondered, “How did she know? And how did she know how to get my attention with that little staring maneuver? How could she hear those silent people out there, preparing to mess with my red Camry?”

One of my favorite books is Kinship with All Life and its premise is that dogs are a lot smarter and a lot more intuitive and a lot more attuned to feelings and emotions that we humans can ever understand or appreciate.

The morning after the incident with the miscreants, I praised Teddy to the moon and stars. And that afternoon, she went outside and dug a hole in the middle of my freshly planted St. Augustine grass. Guess she didn’t want me to think she was the World’s Most Perfect Puppy.

This happened about two years ago, and we’ve since moved to another area, but Teddy still keeps a watchful eye over our property. These days, those “intruders” are mostly ducks and geese and racoons and muskrats - and the occasional snake.

She’ll be three years old this month, and she’s been a lot of fun in those three years. Best of all, I’ve never heard her voice one complaint about anything. She really is a good dog, a good companion and a trust-worthy friend.

To learn about the amazing collection of Sears Homes in Hampton Roads, click here.

Read about Teddy and the little boy here.


Teddy the Dog watches over her Sheepie on a Saturday afternoon.

Teddy the Dog watches over her Sheepie on a Saturday afternoon.

Teddy looks regal.

Teddy re-enacts her "watchful pose" at a local park.

Cute puppy, but she was incredibly ill-behaved as a child. Fortunately, she grew up to be a good dog.

"Theodora Duncan Doughnuts Ringer" was a real cutie-pie, but she was incredibly ill-behaved as a child. Fortunately, she grew up to be a very good dog. She's shown here at about eight weeks old, being cuddled by her adoptive daddy.

In this remarkable photo of baby Teddy, she inadvertantly shows off her incredible

Teddy shows here that she not only knows how to "speak duck," but she is mimicking the duck's facial expressions as well.

Ted

Teddy the Amazing Watch Dog.

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Victorian Rituals of Death and Their Meaning

September 22nd, 2011 Sears Homes 2 comments

In one of my favorite movies, Fried Green Tomatoes, there’s a scene where a young woman dies and her attendant immediately arises and covers a large mirror and then stops a nearby clock. I’d always been fascinated by this old tradition/ritual and wondered about its meaning. I assumed that these practices must have a reason , but I had no idea what that reason might be.

And then I was talking with my friend Joyce, who explained the reasons for these “odd” traditions.

Joyce is in her late 70s now, but was raised in the backwoods of Georgia in the 1930s. It was a time and place more reminiscent of Victorian America. When Joyce was a teenager, her little sister Louise died from from whooping cough at the age of three. Joyce remembers “Granny” rocking the child through the night and praying for her, hoping against hope that the little girl would pull through. It wasn’t to be.

Sometime in the wee hours, the little girl looked up at Granny, smiled broadly and then died in her arms. Later that morning, a family member went outside and rang the large bell in the front yard.

“It was almost like Morse code,” Joyce said. “The bell was tolled a certain number of times for different things. When Louise died, they rang the bell a certain number of times and everyone knew what it meant. Almost immediately, people started coming to the house to help.”

Joyce said they sent the little girl’s body to the mortician who embalmed it and returned it to the family, for the wake at home. In preparation for the wake, the mortician brought heavy, deep red draperies into the front room of the old house and hung them over the windows, blocking out all sunlight.

“I’m not sure why they put up those drapes,” she said. “Maybe it was to give a solemnity to the wake.”

During the two days of the wake, the little girl’s beloved dog sat dutifully beside the coffin and emitted a mournful wail. The mourners commented on that lamentable howling, and it left them all with a chill. After the wake, the coffin was moved to the church where a service was held. The child’s body was buried in the church cemetery.

The dog followed the family to the cemetery. Later that day, the dog’s body was found. The little girl’s pet had literally laid down and died.

My friend Joyce knows a lot about the old ways and about these old rituals.

When one of her elderly aunts lay dying, a family member sat quietly by the bedside. When the old woman breathed her last, the family member arose and draped a heavy cloth over the mirror and opened the clock’s glass face and stopped the clock.

“I saw someone do that in a movie,” I told Joyce. “What’s that about?”

“The cloth over the mirror is for the protection of the departed,” she said. “It’s believed that the spirits of our loved ones may glance into a mirror and become frightened when they see no one looking back.”

That had a resonance of truth, as I’d heard stories about people with near-death experiences saying they couldn’t see any reflection when they looked in a mirror. Wonder how they knew about that back in the 1930s?

“And the clock was stopped for a much more practical reason,” she said. “The clock was stopped so that the mortician would know the time of death.

There was also a requirement - never to be breached - that a loved one sit with the body until burial. I’d imagine this was a throwback to olden days before medical equipment when the dead occasionally came back to life (much to the surprise of the watcher).

It was all fascinating.

As Tevye sings in Fiddler on the Roof, “because of our traditions, we’ve kept our balance for many years.”

Traditions should be remembered and honored, because oftimes, they were created for very practical reasons.


Note at the bottom of this old tombstone, the macabre reminder, "Reader, you must die." Photo is courtesy of Crystal Thornton, copyright 2009, Crystal Thornton.

To read a similar article, click here.

To learn about Sears Homes, click here.

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On Behalf of a Grateful Nation…

June 20th, 2011 Sears Homes 2 comments

The piece below was written June 20, 2011 (Monday).

Today was the day of my father’s memorial service. And it was also the day that I delivered my first eulogy. Thanks to a lot of kind souls and a lot of help, it turned out to be a beautiful service and was well attended. More than 60 people showed up to pay their respects to Thomas Hoyt Fuller.

The service was opened with remarks from retired Methodist Pastor Dabney Walters, with readings from the Old and New Testament, followed by my comments (see below). After I spoke, Pastor Walters offered a closing prayer. At the end of the service, the Honor Guard did their presentation of the Military Honors, an honor earned by my father’s years of service in World War II.

A sombre and soft version of taps wafted from the back of the room as the two soldiers - in their Army Dress Uniform - walked toward the front of the chapel with the flag, stood ramrod straight before us, gently unfurled the flag, and then refolded it. After it was folded into a triangle, one of the soldiers turned to me, and then slowly and methodically knelt directly in front of me. Looking directly into my eyes, he spoke softly and respectfully and said,

On behalf of the people of a grateful nation, may I present this flag as a token of appreciation for the honorable and faithful service your loved one rendered this nation.

Heretofore, I’d maintained my composure and hadn’t shed a tear, but when that young gentleman presented me with that flag, and spoke those words with such conviction and tenderness, I felt the tears come to my eyes. And everyone behind me and beside me was doing a whole lot of sniffling. It was a beautiful service, and it was a day I’ll always remember.

The eulogy I delivered today at my father’s memorial service follows the photos (below).

My father in January 1943.

My father in January 1943.

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The folded flag I was presented today (Monday, 6.20.2011) at my father's memorial service.

The Eulogy

You may have noticed a statement in the obituary that said my father was moved into assisted living under “strong, strident and consistent protest.”

That’s an understatement.

But it doesn’t begin to describe how he felt when I took away his driving privileges.

Sometime in his late 80s, he became firmly convinced that four-way stop signs were an egregious violation of his constitutional rights and he’d roll right through those stop signs, boldly declaring, “I’m a veteran of WW2, and these stop signs violate those very rights I fought to protect!”

Frequently, he’d get pulled over by local law enforcement, but he told me one day that he’d never been ticketed, because he knew the magic words to say at such a time.

“I start shaking real bad when they ask me for my license,” he explained with a wry smile. “And then I tell them that I’ve already had three heart attacks, and that I’m feeling ill, and that I have to get home immediately so I can take my nitroglycerin tablets.

“They always put away their ticket book and tell me to get home and to be more careful next time.

“It never fails.”

In 2006, he called me and said that he’d had a little car trouble on I-264.

“I’m near the Rosemont Road exit,” he explained. I’m pulled over on the shoulder of the road, and I’ll wait for you here.”

Talking to him as I drove, I said, “Where exactly are you?”

“Oh, I’m easy to find,” he told me. “Just look for the fire trucks. They still have their lights flashing.”

“Fire trucks?” I said with my voice rising.

“Well, they put out the fire, but there’s still a lot of smoke rising from the car. You’ll be able to see me from miles away.”

When I got there, I found him - dressed in one of his fine suits - and standing next to a still-smoldering car. His engine had overheated and literally caught fire.

He got into my car and we got the Caddy taken care of. Heading back to the interstate, he said, “Listen, I was on my way to a dinner date with Cathy Creekmore. I need a ride out to her house and she’d love to meet you.”

I declined the date, and took him home.

After several more months of drama, which included the revocation of his driver’s license and disabling his cars, and removing the license plates from his vehicles and burying them under his azalea bushes in the front yard, and having two cops and one commonwealth’s attorney visit him in person and threaten him with arrest and criminal prosecution, he finally stopped driving, but it was under the most strong, strident and consistent protest.

In 2008, several weeks after he’d stopped driving, I dropped in on him one Sunday morning.

Walking up the front steps to his house, I saw the morning paper still resting on the porch stoop, and I felt a wave of panic.

He was an early riser and usually, he’d have read half the paper by now. Something must have happened to him.

I used my key and entered his spacious brick ranch, yelling his name repeatedly. No response. I moved through his house slowly and deliberately, gently pushing open each door.

As I entered the rooms one by one, I took a deep breath and steeled myself for whatever awaited on the other side, but he was nowhere be found. I left a note on his favorite table and went on to church.

He called me later that day to report that he’d caught an early ride to his church. He told me it was Senior Pancake Breakfast Day at church.

“I’m glad to hear from you,” I told him. “When I saw that newspaper on the front porch, I thought that maybe you’d…”

Died, was what I intended to say, but that sounded so cold and hard. In those fast few milliseconds when the brain scrambles to fill in any gaps in conversation, my alternate for “died” turned out to be a little wordy.

“I thought that maybe you’d…gone on to be with your parents.”

Immediately he replied, with the anger rising in his voice, “How am I going to get there? You took away my car!”

It was hard to know how to respond to that, so I did what I always do when the old man left me flummoxed. I changed the topic and asked what a Senior Pancake tastes like.

He answered by saying that he’d sat next to a beautiful woman at the breakfast and that even though she was 95 years old, she didn’t look a day over 75.

“A real babe?” I asked.

“The pancakes were excellent,” he replied. “And that reminds me, I need a ride to the liquor store soon. I’m almost out of booze.”

That’s Tom Fuller.

He was famous for documenting everything, and he’d take copious notes and then file them safely away. When I cleaned out the house on Briarwood, I found notebook after notebook on every topic imaginable.

The most interesting documentation was a small tablet I found in the living room. It was his “Roach Log.”

He started documenting the physical well-being of the roaches he found in his house, and their specific physiological reactions to being sprayed with toxic chemicals. Each entry was marked with a time and a date.

Knowing that I’d found the mother-lode of documentation, I immediately took a picture of the log and forwarded it to my children. They loved it.

One such entry read, “Unusually large roach found behind sofa. Sprayed at 8:32 pm, and adverse reaction was immediate. Re-checked at 9:15 pm. Legs still wiggling, albeit weakly.”

After he was moved into assisted living, my husband started taking bets on the odds that my father would be evicted from the beautiful facility within 30 days. Problem was, no one would take a bet on him NOT being evicted.

The manager of Province Place called regularly, and she was an angel. Just an angel.

The most interesting incident can best be described as “Grand Theft Rascal.”

Seems my father had walked to the Kroger behind the facility, and “borrowed” one of their electric scooters, and drove it back to Province Place, and parked it in a handicapped spot and then went inside the facility, and asked one of the female residents out on a date, explaining that “now he finally had wheels again.”

The last few years of his life were quite an adventure.

My happiest memory of Tom Fuller comes from my childhood.

When I was about 12 years old, I returned home from a school trip to Washington DC late at night. The chartered bus rolled up to our junior high about 1:00 in the morning and we all scurried off the bus and ran off to find our waiting parents. My father was waiting for me in his recently purchased car, a 1967 Buick Electra 225. It was 1971, but that was the newest used car he’d ever owned and he loved it. It had a 430 cubic inch engine and a four-barrel carburetor.

He told every one who’d listen that it was a one-owner car, and had been owned by a funeral home, so it had never been driven over 25 miles per hour. It was, in his words, a real cream puff.

My father and I were driving down High Street in the wee hours, headed west to our home in Waterview and the streets were deserted. I loved riding in the car with my father and I was so happy that he finally had a nice car. We spent many happy hours riding around in that car and talking, just father and daughter.

That powerful V-8 just purred as we rolled down the quiet streets. Relishing this quiet time with my beloved father, I turned to him and said those three simple words that every father longs to hear.

“Dad, goose it.”

He looked at me and smiled.

“Just this once,” I pleaded. “Let’s see what that V-8 will do. No one’s around for miles. Please Dad?”

He looked at the street for a moment, looked back at me and smiled.

“Hold on,” he said with a lilt in his voice.

And then he floored it.

You could almost hear that powerful engine whisper a quiet “thank you” in that millisecond before it roared to life. As the four-barrel carb drank in great quantities of fuel, those 360 powerful horses came alive. The torque was so powerful the car lunged a bit to the left as we took off. We hit 75 mph in the blink of an eye. That was one of the most delightful memories of my life.

My father eased his foot off the gas, hit the brake and we went back to 35 mph. Felt like we were standing still.

Next week, he took the car in for repairs. Turns out, that powerful torqueing and twisting had busted a motor mount which was an expensive repair. He told me about it later that week adding, “We won’t be doing that again!”

When I was 14, he left home one night, and for the next 30 years, by his choice, he was mostly absent from my life.

Thanks to the grace of God, at the very end of his life, I was able to be there for him, talk to him, comfort him, and kiss him on the forehead and tell him sincerely, “I love you Dad, and I always have loved you, and I always will love you.”

Sunday night, five days before he passed, he sat on the edge of his bed and made three simple statements, and they came from the depths of his soul.

He said, “Mother’s been gone a long time, hasn’t she?”

I asked, “Do you mean, Betty, my mother, or your mother?”

He said, “Betty.”

I said, “Yes, it’s been 10 years.”

He said, “She was the mother of my four children.”

I said, “Yes, that’s right.”

He said, “My four children turned out very well, didn’t they?”

I said, “Yes, your four children turned out well.”

I was comforted to know that at the end, my brothers and I were very much on his mind. It was like the pain-filled distance of those 30 years had closed a bit.

On Tuesday, his last good day, he told me that his parents had come to talk to him. He said they had a long talk, and a good talk. He also said that Betty had sat with him for a time, and they’d had a nice conversation.

He finally was at peace and was ready to go.

He passed on early Friday morning, and I was with him.

He came into this world surrounded by love, and 92 years later he stepped out of this world, again surrounded and embraced by love.

It was a good ending.

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The Quiet Heros Among Us

April 27th, 2011 Sears Homes No comments

When Crystal (my eldest daughter) was 13, she was a handful, to say the least. Oh, how I prayed for that child!

Fourteen years later, when she was 27 years old, she became my hero.

She was 27 years old when she made the decision to donate her kidney to her best friend. My daughter was inspired to do this after watching her 24-year-old friend sit through grueling dialysis sessions, and she saw that her friend was fading. (About 2/3rds of dialysis patients die within five years of starting dialysis.)

I was not thrilled with my daughter’s decision to submit to such a surgery. My first thoughts were about my own child’s health.  I talked to her father and he made a valid point.

“Rose,” he told me, “the odds of those two girls being a match are one in a million. Don’t worry about this. Chances are good that once she’s tested, it’ll all end right there.”

I was relieved.

A few weeks later, Crystal and I talked again.

“Mom, please understand,” she pleaded. “Kaycee might die if she doesn’t get a kidney within the next year or two. She’s 24 years old and has already been on dialysis for 18 months. This is something I have to do. Please support me in this.”

I sighed a motherly sigh and promised her that I’d try to be a supportive parent.

A few weeks passed when the next phone call came. “Mom, we’re a match. The doctors are just  amazed!. They say that it’s like we’re siblings. I told Kaycee that there’s a reason that we always felt like sisters. I knew we’d be a perfect match. I just knew it.”

The surgery was scheduled for April 23, 2007.

Less than five weeks earlier, I’d re-married, and now I asked my new husband to fly with me. I couldn’t imagine doing this alone.

Crystal (on the far left) with her sister Anna, Grandma Betty and cousin Laurel (1985)

Crystal (on the far left) with her sister Anna, Grandma Betty and cousin Laurel (1985)


My new husband and I arrived in Peoria the day before the surgery and spent some time with both girls. This was the first time I’d met Kaycee. I came prepared not to like her, but before meeting her, I literally begged God to open my heart and change my mind.

Kaycee was a soft-spoken, gentle girl with freckles, fair skin and red hair. The moment I laid eyes on her, I couldn’t help but love her.

Crystal took me aside and said, “A few weeks ago, Kaycee told me she couldn’t go through with this. She said that it was better for her to pass on than to take a kidney from her best friend. I told her that I wanted to do this.”

Crystal also told me a little about Kaycee’s background. She received her first transplant when she was two years old. That kidney (from her mother), had lasted almost 20 years. Since then, she’d been on massive amounts of drugs and had already endured countless hospitalizations and surgeries. A few years earlier, Kaycee’s beloved father had died suddenly.

At one point during the five-hour surgery, Kaycee’s stalwart mother stepped into a corner of the waiting room and sobbed uncontrollably. I felt a wave of compassion for this woman. How blessed I’d been to have had three healthy girls. How short-sighted and small-minded I’d been to rail against this procedure.

Here was a mother, hoping and praying that her child would live to see her 30th birthday. Tears came to my eyes.


Kasee (left) and Crystal (right)

Kaycee (left) and Crystal (right)


Soon, the surgeons re-appeared and told us that everything went very well. Within 24 hours of Kaycee’s surgery, the new kidney had produced eight quarts of urine.

“Dialysis is poor substitute for a God-made kidney,” the surgeon told us the next morning. “Kaycee’s new kidney is already hard at work, searching her body for unneeded waste and finding lots of things dialysis left behind. It’s already doing a fine job. And have you seen her? She looks better already!”

Within two months, Kaycee looked and felt like a new person. For the first time in two years, she was free to drink more than one liter of fluid per day. And no more one-hour drives to the dialysis center and three-hour waits. And no more swollen ankles and highly restrictive diet.

In retrospect, I’d have to say that, of the two girls, Crystal may have gleaned an even bigger blessing. After this event, her eyes were opened wide and she saw that one person can make a huge difference in this world and she’d been that one person. While she was still in the hospital room recovering, my quiet husband leaned toward her and whispered, “You are my hero.”

Crystal and Kaycee’s story was featured in a four-part series on a local TV news show, and inspired thousands of viewers. The reporter told me that viewer response was wonderful and people were profoundly affected by her unselfishness and pure love and generous spirit.

And I learned that our Creator gives us a few spare parts and one of them is kidneys. Most people can live a good, long life with only one kidney. And if Crystal is ever in need of a donor kidney, her name will be moved to the top of the donor list.

While convalescing, Crystal lived with my husband and me for several months and then she decided it was time to make some long-term goals a reality. She returned to college, supporting herself by working full-time as a waitress. She graduated in Spring 2010 and was hired by CMA CGM within hours of graduation from Meredith College.

I’m so proud of her for so many reasons. Yes, I invested a lot of healthy food and good effort and persistent prayer into growing those two healthy kidneys. Little did I know that one of them would be needed 26 years later to save someone else’s little girl.

To read the original news article that appeared in the Illinois press, click here.

To read more about live organ donation, click here or here.

Kasee and Rissle, several months after their surgery

Kasee and Rissle, several months after their surgery.

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Archaic Rituals of Death and Their Meaning

August 13th, 2010 Sears Homes No comments

In one of my favorite movies, Fried Green Tomatoes, there’s a scene where the young woman dies and her attendant immediately arises and covers a large mirror and then stops a nearby clock. I’d always been fascinated by this old tradition/ritual and wondered about its meaning. I assumed that these practices must have a reason , but I had no idea what that reason might be.

And then I happened to talk to an old friend who explained the reasons for these “odd” traditions.

Let me tell you about my old friend. Her name is Joyce and she’s in her late 70s now, but was raised in the backwoods Georgia of the 1930s. Translated: It was a land and a time more reminiscent of Victorian America. When Joyce was growing up, she had a little sister named Louise that died at the age of three from whooping cough. Joyce remembers “Granny” rocking the child through the night and praying for her, hoping against hope that the little girl would pull through. It wasn’t to be.

Sometime in the wee hours, the little girl looked up at Granny, smiled broadly and passed on quietly. Later that morning, someone in the family went outside and rang the large bell in the front yard.

“It was almost like morse code,” Joyce said. “The bell was tolled a certain number of times for different things. When Louise died, they rang the bell a certain number of times and everyone knew what it meant. Almost immediately, people started coming to the house to help.”

Joyce said they sent the little girl’s body to the mortician who embalmed it and returned the body to the family, for the wake at home. In preparation for the wake, the mortician brought heavy, deep red draperies into the front room of the old house and hung them over the windows, blocking out all sunlight.

“I’m not sure why they put up those drapes,” she said. “Maybe it was to give a solemnity to the wake.”

During the two days of the wake, the little girl’s beloved dog sat dutifully beside the coffin and emitted a mournful wail. The mourners commented on that lamentable howling, and it left them all with a chill. After the wake, the coffin was moved to the church where a service was held. The child’s body was buried in the church cemetery.

The dog followed the family to the cemetery. Some time later, the dog’s body was found along the road. It appeared that the little girl’s pet had literally laid down and died.

My friend Joyce knows a lot about the old ways and about these old rituals.

When one of her elderly aunts lay dying, a family member sat quietly by the bedside. When the old woman breathed her last, the family member arose and draped a heavy cloth over the mirror and opened the clock’s glass face and stopped the clock.

“I saw someone do that in a movie,” I told Joyce. “What’s that about?”

“The cloth over the mirror is for the protection of the departed,” she said. “It’s believed that the spirits of our loved ones may glance into a mirror and become frightened when they see no one looking back.”

That had a resonance of truth, as I’d heard stories about people with near-death experiences saying they couldn’t see any reflection when they looked in a mirror. Wonder how they knew about that back in the 1930s?

“And the clock was stopped for a much more practical reason,” she said. “The clock was stopped so that the mortician would know the time of death.

There was also a requirement - never to be breached - that a loved one sit with the body until burial. I’d imagine this was a throwback to olden days before medical equipment when the dead occasionally came back to life (much to the surprise of the watcher).

It was all fascinating.

As Tevye sings in Fiddler on the Roof, “because of our traditions, we’ve kept our balance for many years.”

Traditions should be remembered and honored, because oftimes, they were created for very practical reasons.


Note at the bottom of this old tombstone, the macabre reminder, "Reader, you must die." Photo is courtesy of Crystal Thornton, copyright 2009, Crystal Thornton.