July 31, 2009
A Blessed and Special Love
In memory of Emma Lee Mashburn
This is being published on July 31, the day that would have been the 77th birthday of a very special woman, Emma Lee Mashburn, who died May 15, 2009. The death certificate listed the cause of death as “aspiration pneumonia,” but what was not listed was that she had given so much of herself, had spent so much of her strength for others, and had fought so many battles to stay alive that her merciful Creator said it was time for her to rest and be with Him.
A wise and dear friend who knew this extraordinary woman was reminded of the Noble and Wise Woman of whom the writer of Proverbs 31 wrote: “She extends her hand to the poor, yes, she reaches out her hand to the needy.” From this, and suggestions that I write a tribute to her, came the decision to write of the compassionate heart and beautiful spirit that illuminated the lives of so many, and of the lovely and gentle woman, Emma Lee Mashburn, my beloved wife for 61 years and 54 days when she departed this life.
It won’t be easy for me to write about her; it will bring both joy and some relief to the bottomless grief I feel. I have no idea how this will turn out, or where it will go, or what might get said. I’ve never before written about the life and death of someone so dear to me, who was so much of me, or who was pretty much my life and purpose in life.
This account of a blessed and special love is, of course, about my darling wife Emma Lee (“Lee”) Mashburn, who, at 24 minutes past midnight, May 15, 2009 departed her worn-out earthly tent to be at home with the Lord she loved and trusted so completely.
The love that bound us so tightly together was so deep, so strong, so ever young, so special that now I often wonder if it’s possible to live without it, and without her. She was so much of my being, and reason for living, that when she was torn from my life, the hurt and the void seemed as huge as the world.
There’s a love that’s special and that gets written about in songs, stories, and autobiographies. There, words seem to do the job. But how does one write of a love so special, so great in its intensity, and so all encompassing that it became the lives of two young people who were 14 and 16, respectively, when they met, and who were separated by death more than 62 years later?
That love did get written about in a song, her song, “Lee of My Life,” and in numerous poems. In those, it’s easy enough to talk of love. But this precious woman took up so much space in my life that it’s not easy to talk or write of a love that became more fiercely intense, richer and stronger over nearly two-thirds of a century.
Our language, as rich as it is, does not contain words or word combinations that adequately describe the love that developed between the teenage girl I fell in love with right after I turned 16. That teenager, Emma Lee Loveall, was about halfway between her fourteenth and fifteenth birthdays, and she was so strikingly beautiful even as a young teenager that I wonder why she ever paid any attention to me. I fell madly in love with her, and she for reasons the Lord only knows, fell in love with me.
I can’t account for all the chemistry and “magic” that attended our growing closer each time we were together. I can’t, even now, explain that magical April evening in 1947, nearly a year before we married, when we stood under a fog-shrouded elm vowing our love for each other.
The soft, swirling fog took on a magical glow from a nearby streetlight, and together they gave an otherworldly, angelic quality to the teenage girl with the beautiful face framed by lush brown hair, and with arguably the loveliest blue eyes our Creator ever gave a woman. There, oblivious to any world beyond their own misty halo, the enchantingly beautiful teenage girl and the bashful boy just two years off the farm made a “contract” to be together for “75 years.”
Why 75 years? We never could recall how we got to that number, but it seemed that a big number was more definite, more binding, than an indefinite “forever.” And we were promising ourselves to each other to an age that seemed so old that we both felt there was little chance we would reach it, since she would then be almost 90 and I would be 91. Anyway, we could make it up on our own after that.
Almost a year later, when she was 15 plus almost seven months, and he was 17 and four months, on March 22, 1948, the breathtakingly pretty girl became the bride of the boy who sometimes found it hard to breathe just looking at her. I was the lucky boy so much in love with her, and who stayed in love with her, with a that love simply grew deeper, more intense, and more special as the years went by.
It’s that blessed and special love that moves me to set myself the task of writing about the extraordinary woman the girl became, about her heart, her compassion, and the kind of statement her life made between the parentheses of birth and death.
The blessed and special love we shared grew for more than sixty-two years, and it survived and flourished in the more than six decades we were married. It was, by any measure, a storybook marriage. Now, even I, after all those years of loving, and being loved and nurtured by this lovely woman, cannot adequately recount how she grew old with me, while becoming lovelier and gentler by the year.
Nor could any writer do justice to the countless times she reached out her hands to the needy. Or how this mother of five fine children, and this wife who loved so intensely, and who so steadfastly supported her husband and family, still found the energy and capacity to love and care for so many in so many places, many of them far away. And how her precious, loving heart lost its battle against aspiration pneumonia in an Oklahoma City hospital.
Any accounts of her accomplishments would be incomplete sketches, for most of her deeds went unrecorded on earth, for that’s the way she wanted it, and many remain unknown even to her family.
During her final months her slowly developing dementia became progressively worse. During that time she never complained of having been afflicted with such a horrible disease, although on a few occasions she did shed tears at not being able to remember certain things.
It’s impossible to describe the heartbreak of those last several months, when the energetic, resourceful woman became more forgetful, then physically less vigorous from reduced appetite, and no doubt diminished muscle strength and coordination. It hurt especially to remember her from earlier years when we were a young couple struggling to get by, and she was a willing life mate who worked as a telephone operator and sales clerk, and later in the founding of our family-owned oil company.
In those early years, she was young, vibrant, full of life. Then, after almost five years of marriage with no children, she became a mother for the first time when she gave birth to our first daughter, Debra. At approximately two-year intervals, four other children were born: Teresa, Donnie (Donald II), Cheryl and John.
She was a “natural” mother, and seemed to blossom and grow in that role. So much so that when she had opportunity, she seemed to naturally assume a sort of surrogate mother role for other children, especially if they appeared in need of affection or food or clothing. She had such a keen discerning eye for need that she could tell, or quickly find out, what the greatest needs were, whether she was in a remote Masai or Samburu village in Africa, a barrio in South America, or her own community.
Her generous and loving heart was led by those perfect blue eyes to children who were not getting enough to eat, needed to be clothed, or who were afflicted in some way. Her eyes were just as keen on noting women who lacked the necessities to take care of their children, whether that meant a lack of food or medicine in a family, or the lack of things like clothing, or a corn mill to grind the grain of a village.
This extraordinary woman, who became “My Lee” of song and poems, was drawn to need as naturally as the face of a flower seeks the sun. And women and children seemed to soak up her affection and compassion as parched earth soaks up rain. And when the needy were children, especially underprivileged, afflicted children in oppressed or impoverished areas; this caring woman simply became a compassionate volunteer mother to all who needed her.
She did not speak of or make a show of compassion so much as she became compassion. She never was aware that she was doing anything special, which made her works, and her, all the more special.
As the blessed husband of the most compassionate, most loving and gentlest woman I’ve ever known, I have formed some ideas of what makes for a good marriage. Marriage counselors and advice columnists can write of marriage in a way that makes it seem pretty complicated. But my beautiful, blue-eyed sweetheart of a wife, with her gentleness, love and patience led me to come up with the following key to a happy marriage.
Key to a Good and Happy Marriage: Having someone special to love, fiercely, intensely, and often; someone to share dreams, goals, and secrets with; and someone to forgive and to be forgiven by.
My Lee was that special Someone, in all ways, for me. The love we shared was so special that it really can’t be fully described. But someone, as best they can, should remember Lee, and write of the blessed and special and lasting love that had such a storybook beginning.
Someone should tell about the woman whose many acts of compassion for others in need made her “Aunt Lee” to many children who were not her kin.
And tell of the kind and generous woman who to countless children and mothers in Africa and other places, was simply: “The American woman with the blue eyes.”
Someone should tell how this very special woman traveled all seven continents with her husband, as a loving partner in hard work, hardship, meetings with business and government figures in foreign countries, and traveling and lugging photography and other equipment over deserts, mountains, through remote villages, and along the back streets and main streets of big cities.
Someone should tell about this loving mother who raised five children of her own, and who passed on to them the values, teachings, and training that helped them become useful citizens of excellent character and ability.
Someone should remember this discerning and gifted woman and how she readily shared her God-given gifts with those in need of comfort and encouragement.
Someone should try to tell of the remarkably pretty girl that grew into a strikingly beautiful woman of great compassion and gentleness, and of a wife who loved so intensely and completely that she inspired songs, poems, and spoken tributes that produced some applause and not a few tears.
Someone should try to write a loving tribute to a special woman, who shared a blessed and special love with her husband of 61-plus years, and with her children and grandchildren all their lives, until a loving and merciful God called her home.
Someone should write of this beautiful, blue-eyed gift from God, which I came to see as His special gift to me, as recorded in her song: “My Lee, the lee of my life.”
Someone should write of Emma Lee Mashburn, an inspiring Christian woman who put her love and caring into shoe leather as her Lord the Perfect Servant taught us to do.
And someone should write of this loving and compassionate wife, mom and grandmother, and noble and wise woman of kindness who made extraordinary love and compassion appear as ordinary for her.
Someone just did, or tried to, and it seems so inadequate; for the only complete record of her countless acts of love and mercy to others is recorded in heaven.