Edward Southerland: Always there
By Edward Southerland
May 15, 2017
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Her presence was so dependably constant. She was always there.

My brothers and I would come home from football or baseball or some other after school activity about five. We would bang through the back door, walk through the kitchen, plop down on the sofa or the floor in the den, and turn on the television to Slam Bang Theater. We would watch the antics of host Icky Twerp and his gorilla assistants, Ajax and Delphinium, as they introduced the Three Stooges’ shorts. After my father came home, sometime around six, we would find our places around the table in the kitchen and have supper. It was always there.

So were the towels on the towel rack, the clean socks in the dresser drawer and the shirts and jeans in the closet. It was not something you particularly thought about; it just was, as dependable as the turning of the earth.

My mother’s presence was with us always, in the mornings when we awoke, at the breakfast table, during the day, at school, when we got home from school. No matter where we were or what we were doing, there was someone waiting at home to comfort and care, congratulate and console.

We did not think about it. It was a given. It was always there. Her presence was an undercurrent in our lives, touching things we never saw and rarely thought of. However understated, we felt her presence; we knew there was a safe harbor in our house at the end of the block. We knew there was someone at the other end of the telephone. We knew there was someone to answer when we shouted, “What’s for supper?” She was always there.

Engrossed in growing up, we rarely asked the questions for which now, we will never have the answers. What was it like when you were a girl? What did you do when you were in school?

There were old pictures—a smiling girl of nine or ten with a Dutch boy haircut holding a little dog, a fifteen-year old standing at the end of the line with other members of the Leonard High School Pep Squad, circa 1935. We know she played basketball and took piano lessons, but lacking her mother’s musical talent or her brother’s musical ear, she gave it up.

She went to college for a year in Denton, but then came back to Leonard and worked in the bank. Why didn’t she continue in school? Her parents were not rich, but they were relatively well off, so money would not seem a reason.

She met future husband at his cousin’s drug store in Leonard. He had finished law school, but had broken his hand in a car door and was waiting for it to heal so he could take the Texas Bar examination. That was five years before they got married. What happened in between?

She was a war bride, married in a long white gown to a young man who took off his black tuxedo and put a uniform back on after the ceremony. He was on a three-day pass, and almost missed the wedding.

This twenty-two-year-old girl from Leonard, Texas was swept off to Washington and New York where her new husband was in the counter-intelligence service guarding the super secrets of the Manhattan Project. What was it like to be a part of that great adventure?

He was the storyteller. He told of his nightly trips through the city’s nightclubs to watch, listen, and see if people were talking about things they ought not to be talking about. She wanted to go along on one of these excursions, so she did, but an exotic drink with an umbrella proved a little more than she was ready for, and they cut short that evening’s surveillance. She stayed at home after that.

There is another picture, this time of a pretty young woman in a plaid shirt and slacks, her hair piled on top of her head in the fashion of 1945. She is standing in front of small wooden frame house in the Oak Ridge, Tennessee holding a baby for the camera. The house is still there.

When the war ended, she lived with her parents and baby in Leonard while her husband went back to the practice of law and tried to find a place for them to live in Tulsa. Two years later with twin baby boys added to the family, she came back home to Texas.

What was it like, with three young, rambunctious boys? She raised her children, took care of her husband, fried chicken and chicken fried steak, made fluffy light biscuits, and old family recipe chocolate pies by the thousands. She made costumes for school plays, listened to countless recitations of schoolboy poems and went to endless PTA meetings. And for a lady who had played a little basketball and tennis, saw more football games than Tom Landry, sometimes five a week.

Christmas belonged to her. Every room in the house would be bright with holiday decorations and the big tree in the living room would be lighted and tinseled to perfection. All the things her children wanted and many things they didn’t even know they wanted would be found under the tree on Christmas morning.

With her children off to college, she begin to prepare for all the things she would enjoy with her husband, when after twenty years they would essentially be two again. She wanted to travel and see and do the things she had postponed for more important things. It was not to be. On the verge of an expanded life, so well earned, she was gone. But in a larger sense, she is with us always.

Mary Jean LaRoe Southerland (1920-1967)