A TRIBUTE TO MY MOTHER

My mother was born Grace Geraldine Sasser on February 12, 1916 in Newark, Ohio, the youngest child of Charles and Anna Sasser. Mother lived with her family “in the south end.” If you were from Newark, as I was, everyone there was pretty much categorized by the end of town in which you lived. “The south end” was always a workingman’s neighborhood with humble homes and narrow streets.

It is the smaller end of town so students in Junior High School went to Central as Mother did. My mother then went to Newark High. She had a quick mind and shared the Sasser family attribute of a saucy tongue. She did all right in school but dropped out at the end of the ninth grade.

My Grandpa Sasser was never in very good health after he was injured in a training accident during the Spanish and American War. It was a challenge to provide for the family of three boys and three girls. He and my grandmother were paper hangers and got a little money for their needs this way. Grandma baked and cooked and sold things at a stand on the market on Saturdays at the old market house in downtown Newark. Grandpa had a crippling stroke in early middle age and that further challenged the family’s ability to sustain itself. His disability did afford Grandpa a tiny pension as an injured war veteran that was eventually to be my Grandmothers sole income.

One Saturday in early 1933 my mother was helping at the family market house stand when the eyes of a young man whose parents had an adjacent stand fell upon her. Over a few days time they became acquainted.

Not long after, the family decided to go swimming at a water hole in the nearby South Fork of the Licking River. It was a nice warm day to swim and be outside and Grace, called “Tiny” by everyone because of her diminutive size, was sitting on the sand watching the family have a good time in the water. She didn’t know how to swim and so coupled with an inherently cautious nature, she had a certain dread of the deep water.

As the merriment continued the young people, including Andy Taft, married not long before to Graces eldest sister, Martha, were diving down into the water. They would raise their hands in mock distress from time to time. None was an especially good swimmer but they were all having a good time scattered around the large water hole.

Suddenly, my mother was startled from her gazing around with the realization that she had not recently seen her brother who was one of the young people frolicking in the water. Instantly her Sasser family impertinence came to the fore: “Where’s Fred?” she called in alarm. “Has anyone seen Fred?” Next to her in age, he had always been rather small and a bit quiet. Where was he? He was there a minute before. Now where was he?

Everyone began frantically searching around in the dark water as best they could. A minute went by, then two. No Fred! Calling his name as they searched, the family soon arrested the attention of two young Boy Scouts who were swimming nearby. They rushed to the area and offered their help. They began immediately to dive here and there for the missing young man who was about nineteen at the time.

Terrified, the family looked on as the young Scouts searched. In about another minute they dived down and emerged pulling the limp body of Fred from the water. They gave artificial respiration and a doctor was called. The doctor came to the water’s edge as the youth was reviving. The doctor administered help and after a time the danger had passed. Shaken, the family retreated homeward. Fred seemed to be all right.

The young man at the market house came to the Sasser home, that evening, just hours after the accident. “I wonder if you’ll go out with me?” he asked as he was invited in. Tiny’s lifelong vigilance asserted itself. She thought she liked the young man but instantly told him: “My brother almost drowned this afternoon. He needs to be looked after. If you want to stay here with me as I watch him, you can. But I’m not leaving.” The hazel eyes of the young man looked over this pretty seventeen-year-old. He accepted her offer. That was twenty-four-year-old Kenny Pierpont’s first date with my mother. Ironically, had the swimming party been a couple of weeks later, my dad undoubtedly would have been with the family. He was a very strong swimmer.

On September the fifth, just a few months later, they were married at the Methodist Parsonage in Chatham on a cool fall evening. “The belling,” as they called it, was to include a ride in the rumbleseat of a Model A Ford down the road toward Newark and around and back to Dads parents home where they were to start life together. Les Bell, a cousin, was to sit astride the bridge works across the run near Dry Creek and administer the community’s bucket of water on the newlyweds as they passed under him. He knew the young bride had a cold and somehow “missed” as they came.

At their wedding a few simple gifts were given the young couple. The most significant was a five-dollar gold piece. Mother put it back during those first few months of life on the old Pierpont farm. The Great Depression was in full swing. Grandpa lost his farm that year in foreclosure. Dad had tried valiantly to save the farm by putting in a large field of corn, with horses, of course. Then he used the corn to feed out to the pigs he would send to market. When he sold the pigs they didn’t pay for the corn seed. Grandpa moved into Chatham. Mother and Dad moved back to Newark and lived in the south end with Mothers parents.

In January of 1933, a near miracle happened. Dad got hired at “Owens-Corning” as a laborer. It was a bitter cold winter. Long lines of men stood daily at the factory gates to take the place of any man who had hired in but showed little inclination to work. Mother took the gold piece to the bank. With the five dollars she got Dad a winter cap, gloves and a dinner bucket. He walked the two miles to Owens every morning.

After a few months it was time for the arrival of the one to be known as “little Kenny.” I was born in a house on Second Street in Newark. A few weeks after my arrival I developed “the Quincy and Gathered Ear” as they labeled it in those days. The doctor came to the house. “When he sleeps, don’t you sleep,” he told Mother. She reached back for the strength to see me through it.

Dad made forty cents an hour. The couple was able to save a little money. Dad went to the junk yards and got together enough parts to put a “T Model Ford” together. It became their first car. Eventually they did better and were qualified to buy a house. When I was a little boy, I remember them pointing out to me a few houses they could have bought that were very nice. But Mother and Dad picked out a small humble bungalow on Buena Vista Street in Newark about a mile and a half from Owens Corning. An old patched up barn stood at the back of the lot on an alley and served as a garage. A coal stove presided over the living room as the means to heat the house. As I recall none of the interior rooms had a door except the bathroom, so Mother put up curtains to give some privacy.

One morning, Dad got off work after night shift and slipped quietly into the house. He wanted to surprise Mother. He heard her working in the bedroom just off the kitchen. He jerked aside the curtain and stuck his head into the room calling “Boo!” The surprise worked. But that is not all that worked. The Sasser mentality took over. She instinctively swung her small right fist up toward Dad’s six-foot frame and caught him on the nose. After that he always announced his arrival.

One lonely night when Dad was working I was in bed, across from my little brother who was asleep. When you’re five years old strange shapes and shadows can easily infest your bedroom. This particular night, at the end of the room, I began to make out the looks of a man, a scary man. It looked like he was ready to spring out of the corner and get me. As I lay in my loneliness, I began to think of the awful prayer my mother had taught me. In her Bible ignorance it was the only one she knew: “Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.”

“But what if He doesn’t take my soul,” I thought. “Then what?” Terrified, I called out: “Mom, Mom.” At that she pushed aside the curtain and came into the room. The light from the living room revealed the “man” who was going to get me. It was Dad’s hunting coat!

“What is it, Kenny?” she spoke, looking at me from the end of the bed. “Mommy,” I stammered, “Whats going to happen to me when I die?” She sat down beside me and looked at me, rather helplessly as I recall. Then, still looking at me she said, “I don’t know, but you need to go to sleep.” At that she left the room. Little did I know that the question my five-year-old mind conjured up that lonely night would be answered for both of us someday in the future the same year.

While Dad was away fighting the Japanese from Guam, Mother tried bravely to be both parents. As a mother she did great: able to get upset over my many transgressions and those of my brother and sister, and to be tough enough to be Cub Scout Den Mother in my Pack from our home. Mercifully, though, she wasn’t big enough to spank very hard. However, she could talk and, at times, I preferred the action option! As a father, she had to work pretty hard to cope. But, there were times when she was up to the task.

One Saturday afternoon, she stopped by the little “Grand Theatre” to pick up we kids after the picture show. She was double-parked and stepped out of the car momentarily to ask the lady at the window when the show would be out. In the seconds it took her to return to the car a local police officer sprang across the street and reached the car just as she slid back under the wheel. “Im going to give you a ticket for double-parking,” he announced. “No, you’re not,” Mother shot back. After a minute of heated debate, the officer ordered her to drive to the police station. As she put the car in gear the officer stepped up on the running board and held out his hand for oncoming traffic to stop. Mother accepted this as a galling humiliation.

This particular officer Mother knew so well that I could give his name yet today, having heard it from my mother’s lips in a very uncomplimentary manner not a few times. He also grew up in the south end and my mother considered him “a crook.”

As she drove toward fourth street and the police department she arranged her route to place the officer on the curb side of the street opposite the police department. The instant they arrived, she shot out of the car, ran across the street and by the time the portly officer got there she had explained the story. The officer lumbered in after her shouting, “She’s under arrest! Shes under arrest!” After a few moments with each “combatant,” the desk sergeant dismissed the case and the saucy lady made her exit.

Halloween came and all the neighborhood kids in the “West End” pulled tricks on their neighbors. I nagged Mother to “go out “Halloweening.” After chipping away at her resistance to the idea for many days, the night before Halloween came and she relented. That is I could go out while Bill and Ann stayed with Grandma. She would go with me!

To my never-ending surprise, she agreed to pin a car horn with me. We sneaked up on this forty-one Ford at the front of a house three streets over from ours. We quietly pulled open the door. “Yes,” I thought, “a nice big horn ring.” I slipped the stick across the steering wheel as Mother held the door, looking apprehensively at the peoples front window. Flipping the stick under the upper part of the steering wheel, the horn began to blare. We slammed the door and ran for our lives.

That was the good side: we succeeded in pinning somebody’s horn. There was bad news too, though. When we reached home some six or seven minutes later the horn was still sounding the alarm in the distance, albeit, noticeably weaker. We looked at each other and, without saying it, we knew: nobody was home. We ran down the car’s battery!

For two and a half years Mother wrote a letter to my dad every day! Every day! Once in a while Mother must have felt rich enough in the rationed gasoline to take our old 34 Ford downtown and mail the letter to Dad before we “parked on the Square.” We went there to watch what was going on with the other people who had parked to see what was going on.” On those days I was not involved in winning the war. On other evenings, though, as the eldest child, it was my solemn responsibility to fight the Japanese from a bus seat as I made my way back and forth between 51 Bowers Avenue and the post office. Dad’s letter, if not ready for the mailman at either the morning or afternoon mail delivery, would need be taken to the post office. At nine or ten years old, it often crossed my mind that I might be waylaid by some stranger bent on interrupting the war effort as I performed my courier service, it seemed like, nightly! But finally, the war ended and Dad came home safe and sound.

Just a few years later, during the Korean Conflict, I took Dad’s uniforms to the Navy Station at Port Columbus, and was allowed to trade them for smaller sizes that fit me so I could enlist in the Navy Reserve. I was called up to Active Duty in 1954. Finally, stationed at Glenview Naval Air Station, in Glenview, Illinois, I was asked to fight another war. This time I “fought” from a typewriter in Chicago.

While at Glenview, I was confronted by several young sailors, both at my place of duty and in the barracks. These guys knew Christ as their personal Savior. Through my Grandma Sasser’s death I got hold of Billy Graham’s book Peace With God. Before many months had passed, I stepped up to my rack [Navy name for bunk bed], put my head on the cold metal piping and turned my life over to the Lord.

Immediately, I became concerned for my mother. My constant thought: “I’m not going to let my mother go to Hell.” I began bombarding her with letters explaining about Christ in a personal way. We had always gone to church, were faithful members and all the rest but knew nothing about real salvation. Now, I explained to Mother about Christ. I sent her tracts giving the plan of salvation. About three or four months after Grandma Sasser’s death, Mother wrote to me to tell me she had claimed Christ through reading one of the Gospel tracts I had sent home.

Now we could both look back on those days on Buena Vista Street. “Mommy, whats going to happen to me when I die?” God had, in His grace and mercy, given us both the answer. “Since you have claimed, in faith believing, in a conscious act, Christ as your personal Savior from sin, you will spend eternity in Heaven.

Mother and Dad, you will recall, started their married lives with five dollars. By careful, disciplined spending they raised three children who never knew what it was to go without what they needed. To be sure, we were poor. But, somehow, Mother and Dad were able to mask that fact and we were all happy in what others probably regarded as poverty. They took care of my grandmother as we shared her home for many years. Later they bought a farm, then a house in town. Mother outlived Dad by twenty-three years and one month to the day. When God called Mother home, every penny of her care was covered by their savings and a small amount was left for we three children.

I didn’t always appreciate mothers cautious nature. “Youd better think about that for a long time,” she would say when she learned that one of us was about to spend some money or set off on some demanding task. But her Christian generosity was always at our side as adult children who would have a need. Unselfishly, she gave from her savings. She gave with caution. But she gave with love.

If you watched Mother out of the corner of your eye at the meal table, you would see that she always managed to take the smallest piece of meat or dessert. At the restaurant when others of us ordered steaks or other big meals, she would be “too full to eat anything but a hamburger.”

One day during mother’s final years she said to me, “Ken, if I had been a Christian when you kids were growing up, things would have been different.” I knew what she meant. I am sure they would have been different because, the moment she claimed Christ things were different. She began carrying her Bible to church, unheard of in our sadly Bible-deprived church setting. She prayed for Dad and before long he turned his life over to Christ and became a preacher of the Gospel.

Mother did a good job as a pastor’s wife. She kept her negative observations to herself and encouraged folks in the positive ones. In private conversations to one of us she would explain some deep feeling or conviction about something that involved someone else. Then, always, she would remark, “â€,¦ I see things but I dont say anything. I wouldn’t say a word.”

It took my wife quite a while to get used to Mothers “Sasser mentality.” Just after we were married Jane remarked one day, in her presence, “Oh, I have an idea!” Instantly Mother shot back “Frame it!” If she heard a loud sound behind her, as maybe somebody dropping something, shed call out instantly, throwing up her hands in mock surprise: “Dont shoot, Ill marry your whole family.”

Time and age eventually took their toll on my mother. Each of we three children helped take care of Mother in her last years in our homes. Finally her health complications became too much for any of us. She spent the last two years of her life in a care home in Newark. On what turned out to be the last time I saw my mother, I accompanied my sister, Ann, as we wheeled her back to her area after a visit. Mother’s mind was all but gone by this time. Her precious life and personality, only a shell of what she really was. But, as I said goodbye to her to head back to my church in Michigan she turned toward me and, to my amazement, gave me what I can only describe as a million-dollar smile. Just four days later, on September 22, 2003, she left this life with my brother, Bill, at her side and entered the presence of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Mother never really had what a lot of people would call “a life of her own.” My dad’s work companions were household names in our home. She knew every detail of their lives that my dad knew. She knew and discussed their personalities. One day, many years ago it suddenly dawned upon me. Mother never really knew Dad’s work or his buddies and bosses but she lived to know them through Dad. His life was her life. His struggles were her struggles.

One late fall night out on the old farm near St. Lousiville, Mother and Dad were struggling together to get hay into the barn before a rain. Finally, she turned to Dad and in disgust at their bone-jarring work called out, “You know, were stupid. We don’t have any business doing this at our age.” Dad apparently agreed. Not long after, they sold the farm and moved to town. There my mother continued to lay down her life for my dad as he got weaker and weaker with heart failure. The day came when we had to pull away from their home to head back to our parish with Mother standing alone in the doorway. Now, they are both with the Lord.

If Mother were here in church today, she would be sitting quietly with rapt attention to the preacher, regardless of who he was. She would still be cautious. She would still have a quick wit. But there is one question she could help anyone through: “What’s going to happen to me when I die?” I’m sure her swift answer would be: “Well, that depends upon what you do with Gods Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.” I hope you can answer her retort in the affirmative!

Every Sunday morning since Mother and Dad have passed away, I have touched their picture as I am getting ready for church. When I do, I always say the same thing: “I love you, Dad. I love you, Mother, I’ll never forget you!”

Dear ones, lets be mothers and fathers with a faith that can never be gainsaid or forgotten. And just before you walk away to reject my plea, please remember Mothers words: “You’d better think about that a long time!”

Amen

Comments

  1. You have no idea what a treasure this post is to me. I hope you and mom will take the time to write as many things as you can about our family. I am working on a book about the Farm… I hope you will record as many things as you can remember. What year did they buy it, etc. I love you.

  2. Thank you Dad for this wonderful glimpse of Grandma. As Ken says – please write more.

  3. Thank you Dad for all the time you took to do this. I must agree. This is awesome. Please keep writing.
    I read it to Andrea and cried a good bit in the process.

  4. You totally nailed her–head on!!! Especially the Sasser mentality!!! LOL!!! Missing Grandma a lot. Thanks for writing this–it was a bright spot in my night. PS-remember the pursed-lip scowl? The one that would stop you dead in your tracks and make you start apologizing on the spot?!

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  1. […] morning I discovered a post on my Dad’s site about his mother and growing up. It is good writing and a fascinating story. I am working on a book […]

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