Today, Chico’s stores and resale shops across the country are draped in black, mourning the loss of their best and most loyal customer. The rest of us are here to celebrate the life of Barbara Morlock.
Many people have made the mistake of taking my mother for an uptight Boston matron. Aside from the accent, nothing could be farther from the truth.
Oh, the trappings were there. From her training at Kathleen Dell Secretarial School, Mom learned the importance of a well-turned-out appearance. Dresses were tailored. Shoes matched handbag, handbag matched wallet, and wallet matched belt. Even her blue jeans, which she didn’t start wearing until well into her forties, were dry cleaned and always showed a sharply pressed crease.
It was formidable armor. If you were lucky, as many of those of us here today were, then you got to see the charming, complex, fiercely loyal, generous and loving heart beneath.
You might also get to see her go to a Halloween party dressed as the Maidenform woman, or see her teach a group of giggling teenage girls to do the twist by employing a dish towel and a good deal of hip action. If you were – ahem – lucky enough to get in the car with her behind the wheel, you’d be treated to a hair-raising experience of driving slow in the fast lane, highly inventive use of invective and frequent employment of the single digit salute. If you happened to play golf or bridge or Scrabble with her, you quickly found she was a lousy loser and an even worse winner.
Born in Belmont, Massachusetts, Mom grew up with a talented, demanding and sharp-tongued mother and an incorrigible scamp of a father. Both were stamped firmly on her character.
From her mother, Mom learned how to stretch a dollar until it squeaked in protest, exquisite taste in dress and decorating style on a budget, and how to run a household like a drill sergeant. She did not, however, learn her cooking skills from Nana, who didn’t have the patience to share her kitchen with anyone. That came later.
From my grandfather, Mom learned many pithy sayings, most of which are politically incorrect and/or not repeatable in church, and that sometimes you just need to cut loose and have fun.
She met my father, who had been two years ahead of her at Belmont High School, when he was home on leave from the Army Air Corps. He had previously dated her younger sister Edith (who obviously didn’t share my mother’s good taste and common sense), and was a great favorite of my grandmother’s. It was a love match from the start, and they exchanged letter after humor-filled letter while he was in the service.
When Dad got out of the service, he proposed to Mom, and, even though he had no full time job and was attending Northeastern University through the GI Bill, Mom accepted.
They made a deal that Mom would help support Dad while he was in University, and that she would become a housewife and mother as soon as he graduated and got a full-time job. It was, I think, one of the happiest times of their lives. Daddy worked part time as a short order cook and studied hard, and Mom worked in a wool broker’s office as a secretary. Mom bought herself a Betty Crocker cookbook and experimented on my father nightly with ever increasing success. They had a tiny little apartment that was a place of pride, and a big old beater of a car that wouldn’t start unless you got it rolling downhill first. Dad pushed and Mom drove. That would be the pattern of their many years together.
Daddy’s work as a chemical engineer took them from Boston to Cleveland to Chicago. For someone born and bred in New England, and New Englanders are notoriously resistant to change, Mom pulled up roots and set down new ones again with remarkable resilience. At the center of each new move was locating a church home and new friends. Always friends.
When Dad moved from his job as Director of Research at U.S. Steel’s lab in Cleveland to a consulting position at Commercial Testing & Engineering, a sea change in our home life occurred. At U.S. Steel, Dad had been home for dinner every night. At CT&E, he frequently traveled five days a week, and Mom became captain of the home ship.
Five day a week she was a single mother, and on weekends a devoted wife. They taught us at an early age that it was just as important for Mom and Dad to take their own vacations every once in a while as it was to go on family vacations. Life together wasn’t always perfect, and yes, they sometimes fought.
It couldn’t have been easy for Mom to be stuck at home with three small and demanding children, and sometimes Dad was too tired to hear about home woes. Mom’s method of getting his attention was to write him a letter setting out her arguments, placing it on his pillow and then taking herself out to the movies, usually with an emphatic slam of the front door. She told me years down the road that she and Daddy never discussed those letters, but his behavior always changed to show that he’d paid attention. After he died, she found every single one of those letters tucked in the back of his armoire.
Married almost 40 years to the man she’s always called the love of her life, she taught us that marriage isn’t always perfect, but if you value it, you work at it.
While she wasn’t a huggy, kissy mother, she was an involved mother – room mother, den mother, picture lady, she also helped start up and run our elementary school’s library. She was cheerleader for choir concerts, band concerts and school theatrical productions. Her extraordinary organization skills were utilized as a wedding coordinator for her children – five times over. She was a shoulder to cry on when we hurt and was a Paladin when she felt we’d been wronged. She was a Samurai with a wooden spoon when we misbehaved. Drill sergeant. Ace nurse. The ballast that held the family boat not only afloat, but sailing steadily through life’s rough waters.
My mother was a person of great personal faith, which she demonstrated through action all her life. She never preached; she just did.
At church, Mom was a tireless worker behind the scenes. She taught Sunday school and vacation bible school. She supported bake sales and plant sales and any type of fundraisers. At every church we attended, she found and joined a ladies’ Circle – and was usually selected to lead devotions. She became a Sacristan, preparing endless bits of bread and tiny plastic cups full of Welch’s purple grape juice for communion at more than one church. She and Daddy were generous donors – their gifts to the various churches they attended included hand bells, computer systems and a baby grand piano.
Mom and Dad also quietly provided financial assistance to family and friends in need. I have a number of cousins who can thank both my parents for tuition assistance for their college educations, something Mom continued long after Daddy’s death.
In the greater community, Mom was also an active worker. Ironically, when I was in high school, she volunteered to drive cancer patients for treatment. She put in many, many hours with the Weed Ladies here in Naperville, and she and Dad were strong supporters of the Naperville Heritage Society. Never one to be afraid to get her hands dirty, she and Dad also donated their time and talents to a local homeless shelter.
Mom was invited to join and became an active member of the newly formed Chaplaincy committee at Edwards Hospital in Naperville, helping to train and gain accreditation for the program. It was a service of which she was extremely proud. Additionally, she and other women from her church took over organizing and running the clothing center at the Salvation Army center in Chicago, and did so for many years. Directly as a result of her work, many needy families received clean new clothing and new hope.
Another source of great satisfaction for Mom was joining PEO, which supports higher education for women by providing college scholarships. (And it was a great source of disappointment for her that neither my sister nor I would agree to attend Cottey College, PEO’s greatest philanthropic effort.) She served many positions in PEO, most frequently as chaplain. Though Daddy frequently teased her that her white PEO ceremonial robes were truthfully KKK robes, he understood and supported the fulfillment she got from her PEO sisterhood.
My family home has, thanks to Mom, always been a place filled with friends. Far from her early Betty Crocker bumblings, Mom became an outstanding cook and hostess. In fact, rather than entertaining business clients and colleagues in restaurants, Daddy much preferred to entertain at home. He’d outline elaborate menus and Mom would produce bountiful spreads of fabulous food. When we moved to Naperville, they joined a gourmet group, and Mom’s skills increased anew. If you’ve ever had a place at her table, you’ll agree that Mom was a culinary genius and made being a hostess look effortless.
New Year’s Eve usually found our house filled with neighbors and friends, groaning boards of food and a bar full of generous cocktails. Keith, Heidi and I would sit at the top of the stairs and listen to the happy hum of congenial conversations and occasional raucous laughter. The nights almost always concluded with friend Marcia Cortese banging out “Onward Christian Soldiers” in march time on the upright piano in the living room, with all the guests singing lustily out of tune, Mom’s voice the loudest and most off-key of all.
New Year’s morning would find all the revelers back in our kitchen in pajamas, robes and slippers scarfing up the leftovers from the night before and slurping mimosas and Bloody Marys, rehashing the fun of the night before and extending the party until well past noon.
Not only was the house filled with Mom and Dad’s friends, it was filled with their children’s friends, as well. Mom provided a listening board and source of good advice to many, and always kept their confidences. She provided homemade goodies and homespun wisdom in equal measure. It is a source of pride to my brother, sister and me that our home was the desirable place for friends to congregate and our mom was the cool mom every kid in the neighborhood admired and trusted.
Mom and Dad provided a safe to land when we needed it. At one time or another, Keith, Heidi and I, and later Keith’s son Chris, moved home to regain our feet, financially and emotionally. She’d fill us up with good food and loads of encouragement, then she’d give us a gentle shove out the door when she felt we were ready to test our wings again. We all tested her patience, but never her faith in us. We might stumble, but she was always there with a steady hand to help us up again.
When Daddy retired, Mom made it know that she’d gotten along very well over the years with her own friends and interests, and that Daddy had better make a few friends and get a few interests of his own. Unbeknownst to Dad, she marshaled one of his friends into getting Dad into Kiwanis and out of her hair on a regular basis. It was, I think, the making of their wonderful, though too short, retirement years together.
In Florida, Mom and Dad indulged their shared passion of golf, and joined the Palm Aire Country Club, where they made many new friends. Again, they found a new church where both were active, and more new friends.
It could have been a crushing blow for Mom when Dad was diagnosed with leukemia, but Mom shouldered the burden and stood by Daddy as his rock. She never wavered in her love and devotion to him, and their generosity to others came back a hundred-fold in the support they received from family, friends and church.
After his death, she plunged right back into life, socializing, doing good works and taking care of others. She took joy where she could find it.
She also pursued the love of travel and friendships she’d developed from the business trips Dad had taken her on over the years. She overcame her fear of sailing and became an inveterate cruise enthusiast. Over the years, Mom traveled across the country, through Europe, Mexico and the Caribbean, making friends easily everywhere she went.
Then cancer came a-calling upon our family again, and it was a scary, scary time. After it was discovered that her lung cancer was inoperable, Mom said she didn’t want any more treatment. Doctors said she had six months to a year at most to live. When she recovered from the surgery here in Illinois, she went back down to Florida and, remarkably, found an oncologist who talked her into chemo and radiation therapy. Our scrappy mom was once again in full fighting fettle, and beat cancer she did for over five years.
These years brought not only more travel, but two more grandchildren, Charlie and Joeé, who brought Mom much joy. It also brought the surprising and much welcomed addition of my own daughter to the family fold. In recent months, Christopher presented Mom with her first great grandchild, Arianna. Nothing made Mom happier than being surrounded by family.
And surrounded by family she was, when cancer made its final call. These past few months have not been easy, but not one of her children would take a moment of it back. As she slipped in and out of reality, you’d occasionally still see flashes of her great spirit.
As she and I were chatting one day recently, she asked me what I thought would happen after she died. I said, “I don’t know, Mom. What do you think will happen?”
She said, “I don’t know, but I hope I get to meet my Lord. It’s my dearest wish.”
I said, “I think you’ve got that one pretty well sewn up, and I think you’ll find a lot of people you miss waiting for you there.”
Cancer is a terrible disease, and, while you hope for the best, sometimes you know that best that you want is simply not possible. I recently read a passage in Debbie Macomber’s book, Someday Soon, that touched a deep chord:
“With faith the size of an avocado pit, I expected God to heal Michael. He did, of course, but not in the way I anticipated. Michael’s free of illness now. It took me a long time to understand that.”I found great comfort in that sentiment, and I do believe that Mom is now healed, whole and with her Lord and Savior… and with all the other good souls, including my father, who have gone before her.
Finally, if you knew my mother, you knew of her deep and abiding love of music of all kinds. In another of our recent chats, I asked Mom what her favorite song was, and I think it’s appropriate to say farewell to her with some of its words. The song is a tune from the 1930’s called “Auf Wiedersehen, My Dear”:
I know my heart won’t beat again
Until the day we meet again.
Sweetheart, goodbye, auf wiedersehen.
Auf wiedersehen, my dear.