Friday, May 05, 2023

Memories of My Mother-in-Law (published 5-5-2023; article #409)


The article of Saturday, 4/29/2023, mentioned the forthcoming “two very serious articles on family and heritage.” This is the first article.

Yes, by the way, I know that yesterday was “may the fourth be with you” day. I've also made the lame Star Wars jokes. On May the fourth, 2016, I came home, after 36 days in two hospitals. (My 5/8/2022 article has more details.) As an important “by the way,” I wonder, seriously, how many folks spent extra time in prayer yesterday, on National Day of Prayer.

I only published three articles in 2008. Life, such as it was, fifteen years ago, preempted and relegated my writings to the background.

In June of 2008, family vacationed near Grandfather Mountain State Park, in North Carolina. The above photograph is one of thirty-seven that I'd taken, during that get away. Pictured above are Paw Gordon (my father-in-law), Maw Gordon (my mother-in-law), Mrs. Appalachian Irishman, her two sisters, and our niece. All seven of us stayed in one cabin. I'd taken the above photograph, on our final vacation day.

We enjoyed good family time. The swinging bridge, at Grandfather Mountain, was enjoyable. My wife and I hiked Grandfather Mountain. My wife, her youngest sister, our niece, and I drove the approximate two-hours, one way, to Chimney Rock, for an enjoyable hike. The weather was sunny and mild on every day of our family vacation.

Searching my website finds several articles that mention my mother-in-law. No one article is dedicated to her. This article corrects that oversight.

Phyllis Ann House Gordon (4/10/1941 - 4/30/2017)

Maw Gordon, as I called her affectionately, is Phyllis Ann House Gordon. Her 76 years on this earth remain a blessing to countless individuals.

I met the future Mrs. Appalachian Irishman and her family, in the summer of 1984. Maw Gordon and I took a liking to each other immediately. (Of course, my other future in-laws and I did as well.) Maw Gordon didn't need much time to figure out my sense of humor! I'll share a few memories of my mother-in-law.


After I'd asked and obtained Paw Gordon's permission, the future Mrs. Appalachian Irishman said “yes,” when I dropped to one knee and proposed. We were at the old Amis Mill dam, near Rogersville, Tennessee. That was in late April, 1985. My mother-in-law's father (Hugh Lee House, 6/14/1916 - 4/6/1985) had passed recently. Maw Gordon cried, once she knew that I'd proposed to her oldest daughter. As I understand, Maw cried in sorrow and joy – sorrow in that her father had just passed and joy in that her oldest daughter was engaged.

When the future Mrs. Appalachian Irishman and I were married, before the ceremony, Maw caught me out of the corner of her eye. My future wife was in a nearby room, getting gussied up. Maw thought that I was too close to that closed door, where her eldest daughter was! She gave me a stern look and said, “Don't come any closer. Belinda's in their getting ready!” I assured Maw that I hadn't planned to go into that room, and I backed away, very quickly!

Maw Gordon and I, along with other family, enjoyed talking about our memories of Hawkins County. She shared many a story of her life, back in her younger days. Stories often involved Burum Road, Guntown, Bear Hollow (or Holler), ebbing and flowing springs (or ebb 'n flowin' sprangs), the old school house near the springs, and such locations.

Maw developed a curvature of the spine that worsened with age. She was born with a club foot. Those “whatevers” didn't slow her down, until later in life. I recall how Maw walked -- maybe a mile or less, one way, up and down side roads -- to work at a nursing home, when my in-laws lived in Etowah, Tennessee.

Maw Gordon insisted on certain traditions. For example, her three daughters and I -- even though we were adults, with some age on us -- got Christmas stockings, with our names on them, each year. The stockings contain fruit, nuts, candy, and such. Every Christmas, I'd complain that I was way too old for a Christmas stocking! Maw just laughed. Hog jowl and black-eyed peas were essential on New Year's Day.

Well, Maw, that was your northeast Tennessee Appalachian raisin'. Your daughters keep the tradition alive. I got another Christmas stocking last December. Yes, Maw, I heard you laughing!

Maw Gordon never met a stranger. She was a talker. She was also a doer and a helper. She never said, to someone in need, “Call me if you need anything.” Nope. Maw just figured out the need and showed up to help. The doing and helping were usually done through her family, when Maw got to where she couldn't get around as well. Family was glad to help Maw help others. That's a lesson for folks, who say half-heartedly, “Call if you need anything.” Don't just say. Do!

My in-laws had moved from Etowah to east Knox County, before Mrs. Appalachian Irishman and I returned from Russia (on 9/30/1999). We were and still are living in Knox County also. Maw was glad to have us close, instead of half a world away.

I remember a day, back in the early 2000's, when I took Maw, in my ol' 1995 Nissan pickup, to a routine medical appointment. (The location was the same that I'd visited on 1/27/2023, for my upcoming “roto-rooter.” See my 2/15/2023 article, for that “fun.”) After her appointment, Maw wanted to go to a garden center, to buy a big tree, to plant in their yard. That tree, in a big bucket, barely fit in the truck bed! Paw Gordon and I planted that tree. The tree is still standing, and it has grown quite a bit. Maw Gordon planted many spiritual trees that are still growing. She was a good wife to Paw, a wonderful mother to three girls, Nana to her granddaughter, and my mother-in-law. Maw was sister, aunt, cousin, sister in Christ, friend, and neighbor to many folks.

I'll close this segment on a funny story. My wife and I moved into our newly-constructed house, on 6/6/2003. We still have the few cedar trees, in the back yard, that came with the land. We did not want to plant trees -- anywhere! For years, Maw kept “suggesting” that we plant a few trees in the yard. She had exact types of trees and yard locations in mind. I kept replying that we didn't want to plant trees. During one particular visit, Maw “suggested” the tree plantings again. (Note: family often “jumped” when Maw “suggested” something that she wanted to see done.) I looked Maw squarely in the eyes and, with a slight grin, said, “No. We will not and never will plant any trees on our property.” Maw figured out that I was adamant enough! Maw knew that we could both be stubborn! I out stubborned Maw, finally!

Passing on Home

Maw's stubborn determination kept her going, when others, of weaker disposition, would have given up. In time, her curvature of the spine required a back brace, which she wore only when she had to. Eventually, Maw had to use a wheelchair, as in the above photograph. Mrs. Appalachian Irishman bathed her mother once a week. That expression of love to her mother continued several years.

On 3/29/2016, I almost died, as the 8/26/2016 article mentions. Back then, I wondered and asked God why didn't I just die. (The early recovery was like various degrees of torture.) A year, a month, and one day later, however, I realized why I didn't die.

On 4/30/2017 (397 days after 3/29/2016), Maw could walk or run just like she always could. She could stand upright. Her club foot became a normal foot. She had no recurring congestion. If fact, Maw was completely well, finally, after having endured decades of physical suffering, with great strength and determination.

On that Sunday, 4/30/2017, about 1:15 AM, Maw went Home to be with the Lord. Last Sunday, 4/30/2023, marked the sixth year of Maw's everlasting joy and comfort. (Of course, everlasting life doesn't have the passing of time, as temporal life here does.) Last Sunday, family gathered at the Gordon home. We talked. We laughed. We celebrated the birthday of my youngest sister-in-law, who'd attained age <deleted somehow my that sister-in-law>, on the 24th. We remembered Maw, who was present in spirit.


The kind, caring, and godly spirit of my mother-in-law, Phyllis Ann House Gordon (4/10/1941 – 4/30/2017), continues in her three daughters, her granddaughter, many family and friends, and me. She was and is a fine Christian, saved everlastingly by God's amazing grace. The Son, who shined through her life, is reflected and continues to shine in many.

Maw demonstrated her faith in action, by her many acts of kindness and caring. Maw planted many godly trees that are still standing and growing.

Dear Lord, thank you for blessing me with such a fine mother-in-law. I couldn't have had a better one. This, my written prayer, is in Christ's name. Amen.

Wait! What did I just hear?

Okay, Maw, I heard you! I may plant a tree, for your birthday, next year.

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