A note from Emily: In place of my usual post this week, I share with you the family reflections I offered at my Grandmother Mary’s funeral yesterday. Mary died peacefully at the ripe age of 97 and a half this week, and her service was filled with the love she shared so freely with so many. It was a joy to be her granddaughter, particularly as my calling here to First Baptist put me far closer to her. She watched our worship faithfully each week, and asked me regularly about you. May all our lives be as full as hers! Thank you for your prayers and love; you, First Baptist, truly are gift upon gift!
If you ever walked through the back door of 1034 Landsdowne Road, a classic 1950s split-level home on a modest side street in Charlotte, you very nearly ran into the kitchen table. It wasn’t anything spectacular — a knotty pine with a chunky base and laminate top, sometimes covered in a lacy white tablecloth, other times with a fresh bouquet of flowers in the middle. In every way possible, it was central, that table, the heart of the family in the heart of the home. And that’s where Mary Shannon lived out the best sacred ordinary moments of her life.
She’d sit right beside David when he came in from school each day and plopped down by a stack of books to do his homework. She’d quiz Jane on her Bible verse memorization, labor with her to complete her steps for the church program called Girls in Action, and wondered with Jane about her middle school love interests. When aunts and uncles and cousins from Monroe and Durham and Burlington would come to visit, there they’d all tell the familiar stories again and again. And after their kids grew and left the house, on the rare occasion that Bruce would sit still long enough, those two would enjoy a meal together — she impossibly calm and kind, he rustling quickly through the business section to the stock numbers in the daily paper or fussing with her hair.
My family spent the lion’s share of our time during visits to Granddaddy Bruce and Grandmother Mary’s house around the kitchen table, more time there than anywhere else in the house, even when my dad would not-so-subtly suggest we move down to more comfortable seating in the den. There, she’d serve Andrew and me steaming bowls of Bruce’s vegetable soup perfected during his years as a cook in the Army, or a plate of Mueller’s elbows macaroni with a thick curl of butter on top, or scrambled eggs and toast — unfussy but just right, or a Nutty Buddy bar that we’d peel apart layer by layer to savor every last bite. After spending hours of our summer vacation days at their neighborhood pool, where Mary seemed to genuinely enjoy playing with us in the pool until we tried to splash her and get her hair wet (she didn’t mess around with her hair!), we’d all dry off, go home, and spend the evening perfecting our card skills through hours of Rummy and Go Fish and Manipulation. At the table, Bruce would check his blood pressure several times a day, and anyone else’s for that matter. Mary would tell us about the antics in the infant room of the preschool where she worked until the age of 86, or share with a twinkle in her eye about her latest physical (“The doctor said I was the healthiest __ year-old he’d ever seen!”) I’d write my college admissions essays at that table, and later there tell Mary about a holy nudge I was feeling to go to seminary. At the table was where anyone could, in Mary’s words, ‘solve all the world’s problems.’
Around that table was where David would first broach the idea of moving Bruce and Mary to Winston-Salem, where they could be closer, where Bruce could drive into work at Winston Tower for a few days a week without navigating I-85 traffic, where Mary could find a Bridge club and a supportive Sunday school Class at College Park. So on that hot morning in August 2007 when they moved in to their house on Country Club Road, that table was one of the first pieces to find its place, just inside the back door where it should be.
Bruce and Mary found their place here in Winston-Salem, because they had already found their place there. They’d soon begin a weekly rhythm of welcoming “the runners” for Saturday breakfast around the table — David, Piper, and Scott, sometimes Ann or Gaither. They’d cut coupons there, and read the circulars to determine who had the best cereal prices this week — Harris Teeter or Walgreens. They’d enjoy the flowers just outside the kitchen windows, read their Sunday school lessons, and wonder about the neighbors.
The house on Country Club was bigger than their split-level on Landsdowne Road, and after Bruce died in 2011, emptier. But perhaps because she knew that life around the table was where she was most grounded, Mary Shannon — resilient and strong — carried on. David and Piper would bring over Piper’s always-delicious dinners to share. From even the earliest days of Whit’s life and as Warner joined the family too, Mary and Leigh and the boys would walk several miles around the neighborhood several times a week, and plop down to enjoy a post-walk bottle of water at the table. Kimi and Mary would laugh together about the time they ‘partied the night away’ with a neighbor one weekend when David and Piper were out of town. Lee Ann would bring over her work, and join Mary at the table to complete it. One great-grandbaby after another would bang the table while bouncing gladly in Mary’s lap.
If she wasn’t standing by the living room fire blazing year-round, even in the dog days of summer; if she wasn’t watching basketball in her chair into the wee hours of the night; if she wasn’t learning to drive her new car with Josh, or hearing about the latest news from the track with Craig… you could be sure to find Mary at that table, before her an occasional cheeseburger and milkshake, a perpetual warmed-over cup of decaf coffee that she had worked on all day, a Guideposts devotional guide, a long golf game on the little TV nearby.
Mary’s health began to decline after her fall nearly two years ago, and the table where she spent her time shifted from her own to her families’. She’d still sit at hers each day when Ginger would make and share lunch with her, but each night, Mary would join David and Piper at their kitchen table for dinner and catching up from the day. She’d go to David and Jane’s house in Georgia for a week at a time, spending the morning hours at their table drinking coffee, talking with mom about her church and dad about life and death, wondering aloud with them if she’d make it to 100. She’d come over to my house for dinner every now and again, asking about First Baptist and delighting in Liam, Annabelle, and Silas — their screams and squeals, costumes and charm.
If I didn’t know better, I’d say that Mary oriented her life around the table because Jesus did too. For around tables with Jesus, barriers fell, vulnerabilities emerged, relationships blossomed, scripture was opened, bellies and souls were filled, and the bread of life was broken, given, and shared — equally and indiscriminately — to all of God’s beloved children.
I can just see it now, can’t you? Mary and Bruce, together at the table with Jesus. They have traded their earthly coupons and newspapers for an eternal feast filled with all the very best nourishment one might imagine… at the table so central to the heart of our Lord, she very nearly bumped into it stepping across the threshold of heaven.
Together in the work of Love,