Mother and Son—A Journey unto the End
R. Dan Merrell, Jr.
February 2, 1960
Let the record state that…
On this day in a small town in America, the beloved marmot designated “Punxsutawney Phil” made his way from his comfy den to the frozen solid front porch of his underground home, stuck his furry head out into the bleak midwinter and quickly turned tail back down the tunnel. No shadow. More cold. (Groundhog Day.)
On this day all around the world, Catholics around the world celebrated Candlemas, commemorating the presentation of Jesus Christ at the Temple in Jerusalem.
On this day in the America, millions of TV dinners were shoveled into gurgling gullets while families watched Gunsmoke, Andy Griffith, Candid Camera, Perry Mason or My Three Sons in their den.
On this day, I was just one of 293,818 bundles of joy dropped from the Heavenly Father to mother earth. Two hundred and four of these little bundles of joy were born at exactly the same minute I was. But according to records, I was the only one of them born at 10:43 a.m. at the Anderson Infirmary in Meridian, Mississippi, Dr. Dan R. Thornton presiding.
I was the firstborn son of Rondal Dan and Betty Jo Merrell, from Tulsa, Oklahoma. They were your average WASPs (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants) who had waited a little later in life to have kids. Mom was 32. Dad was 31. They had been married for 12 years prior to my joining their family. Pop was a Southern Baptist preacher and Mom was his faithful companion, working dutifully alongside him wherever he pastored.
My parents named me Rondal Dan Merrell, Jr. My dad told me I was born with a thick head of raven black hair and was surprisingly beautiful. “You looked just like me, son,” he would say, “…spitting image.” Dad always bragged that Dr. Thornton allowed him to deliver the slap of life. “I’m the one who woke you up to this world, boy,” he would remind me, quite proud. Then he’d break into a robust version of Jim Reeves’ song “Welcome to My World.” Pop was always quoting somebody or singing favorite songs. He loved country and western music best and knew gospel hymns by heart. Thinking about him singing to me, well, it chokes me up a bit. I miss those golden tenor tones of his.
As for my mother—dear, sweet Betty Jo Caughron (her maiden name)—she was the first to hold me, calm me down, and welcome me proper into this wonderfully cruel world. I imagine she was warm. And she smelled good. And I recognized her voice. And somehow, in some miraculous way, her tender touch felt like home. Even though home had been inside her just minutes before, home outside her was going to be OK, as long as Momma was there to hold me—to whisper in my tiny ears, to kiss my scrunched-up face and hug my six-pound, twelve-ounce body. And she did all that and more, never letting go of this often-wayward kid for the next 58 years.
Nobody remembers anything about their years as a baby. But thanks to Mom’s The Story of Our Baby book, I can revisit those days anytime I want!
I know the names of everyone who attended baby showers and every single thing (from blankets to booties) those people gave us at those showers. I said my first words (“da-da,” then “ma-ma”) six and a half months into my life and took my first step half a year later. This book chronicles everything from when I began holding my own bottle to when I lost my first tooth. Right after the listing of my early playmates and favorite toys (books at 1 year, record player at 2 years, golf clubs at 3 years), there is a little poem titled “Little Son” by Corrine Clark. It’s a bit sappy but it is in MY DAD’S HANDWRITING!! How awesome is that!
I don’t know how you feel about your parents, your childhood and life in general. But I’d like to trumpet that God super blessed me with a great momma who loved me with all her heart to the very end. Her love and loyalty and bravery and defiance of the worst Alzheimer’s could dish out continues to inspire me every minute of my life.
My dad and I had a rocky relationship most of our lives, until we were both forced to care for Mom. And that’s when this curly-haired, dimple-faced kid fell in love with his dad. Both are gone to heaven now, hanging with the angels. I talk to them all the time, just in case they might be listening.
When my dad and brother passed away, I was the primary caregiver for my mom. And so, as God and life would have it, I ended up doing all the things for Momma late in her life that she did for me early in mine. I fed her, dressed her, slept by her side on the floor every night, and even waved goodbye as she took her last breath in my arms. I took care of her every day for two and a half years. And it was, and always will be, the greatest job I’ve ever had.
So, let the record state…that my momma started me off well, and that I showed up to help her finish well. The Bible says that if you train up a child right, that kid won’t abandon that training when they’re older. I may have screwed up in spades all my life, but I was there for her at the end when she needed me to take care of her.
I didn’t write everything down in these last years, but maybe that’s what I’m doing now.
So, if you’re a parent, go ahead and keep a record! Make sure those memories are awesome for your babies! If you’re a kid, step up when it’s your turn to take care of your folks.
And remember, remember, remember all they did for you in your earliest days. And it won’t be hard—it will be a privilege!
February 2, 2020
The day was quiet. No pomp or parties, just lunch with family. And laughter and tears. Alone, I reflected on my life and pondered.
At sixty years of age, would my mother be proud of me? Is God?
I find it interesting that Momma kept no record of my wrongs, my blunders or shortcomings. Now, that is love! And that is exactly what every believer in Jesus Christ can look forward to.
“He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:12 NLT).
So, let the record state…that my “born again” book will only focus on the good I did for Christ in this life. Like Mom’s The Story of Our Baby, God’s record of my brief time on this earth will be lovingly transcribed, intricately detailed, and forever focused on what made Him proud. Here’s hoping it’s a long and satisfying read. I’m working hard to make it so.