Thursday, December 17, 2015
Remembering My Mom
My mom came into a new life of faith as the result of the prayers of two neighbors, Ida Gallaghan and Jane Nash. They knew she was having trouble quitting smoking, and they prayed for her to have the strength to quit. God answered their prayers, and it drew her in.
Now, my mom was raised staunchly Catholic. She attended Ursaline Academy in St. Louis, and St. Louis University, where she was a frequent attender at Daily Mass at the College Church. She took her Bachelors Degree in Science, and became a physical therapist.
My dad also attended Saint Louis University, graduating from the Law School there.
They met, fell tempestuously in love, and, although not permitted to do so by the Catholic Church, they married. A WWII vet, my dad returned to active duty for the Korean Conflict, leaving my mom behind (then pregnant).
When my dad came home, he came home to my mom and their first set of twins, Paul Henderson and Patricia Miljanich. My dad worked for a period of time as an adjuster for State Farm Insurance in New Mexico, where my siblings, Dave Henderson, Joe Henderson, and the second set of twins, Mary Henderson and Tom Henderson, and I were born. My dad then worked as an Assistant City Attorney for the City of Albuquerque. In the late 1950s, around the time I came along, the USMC started its own Judge Advocate General Corps, and he returned to full time active duty status, until he retired in 1978.
Growing up, we had another sister, Mary McKevitt. It wasn't until I was 10 or 11 that I realized she was our cousin, not the oldest of us kids. My folks raised Mary Pat as part of the family due to unfortunate circumstances in her home. That opening of our family and home to others was a hallmark of the kindness and hospitality my mom embodied.
My parents raised us in Albuquerque, then at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, then back in Albuquerque, then in the Falls Church, Virginia, area, and the last of us (me) turned 18 while we were living at Camp Lejeune, NC.
My mom loved God. She spent hours each morning in prayer and reading God's Word. If you were known to one of the Henderson kids, she likely prayed for you. If you were friends of the Henderson family, you undoubtedly had the blessing of her hospitality too. She always told me, "You just add more water to the soup." And she did.
Life wasn't all roses.
Apparently suffering from PTSD after Korea, my dad didn't come straight home when he returned from deployment. She worried about that privately, but never said anything about it to us, until she told me the story three years ago. He slept all day and wouldn't find a job. In a fit of desperation, she went out and had too much to drink!
Apparently that reaction on her part scared him into action.
There were rough financial roads. We were a big family on a tight budget. When we were stationed at Cherry Point, base housing allotments would not have sufficed, and they bumped my dad up to housing above his grade as an officer. We met and became friends with the family of Helena Bernier and her husband, Dick Bernier, who were also catholics, and with the Martin family there. Between the various families, a group of boys went to a cave near the housing area and smoked, allowing my brother Tom to join in, and then regretting the decision when he turned green and vomited. He was carried home by a Marine.
My mom practiced her physical therapy in several iterations.
I remember as a young tot going to the Cerebral Palsy School in Albuquerque where she worked. I was there with her on the day President Kennedy was killed. She also worked for the National Orthopedic and Rehabilitation Hospital that was located in Clarendon, off I395 in metro DC. One of the board members, Ted Mack of Ted Mack's Amateur Houractually brought his horse into the x-ray department there because he thought it had a broken leg. She also worked with the Onslow County Health Department when my dad was stationed at Camp Lejeune and after he retired.
When the twins, Paul and Pat, were going to take First Communion, the priest and my parents had a meeting to discuss their status in the church. Because my dad had not had his first marriage annulled, they were told they could not receive communion if they continued to live together as husband and wife. They were offered something truly obscene called the Pauline privilege, in which they lived together as a brother and a sister.
The rigors of that arrangement undoubtedly added strain to the tough life that all military families experience, and that large families experience too. I used to think that I was the youngest child because, when they finally got it right, they stopped trying. As it turns out, and as with many other things in life, I was wrong.
I can only write from my own perspective so pardon that.
My earliest memory of my mom was an occasion when I was still in my crib. So I couldn't have been older the 10 or 11. I remember climbing out of the crib, and toddling down the hall to find my mom sitting with a group of lady friends, having tea. I think that might have been a young officers' wives meeting at Cherry Point, but I'm not sure.
My mom taught me how to cook. If you've eaten a meal at our table, then some aspect of that goes back to the training she gave me. I remember, with particular fondness, late nights before Thanksgiving and Christmas, in my teen years, helping get the turkey ready for overnight roasting. She showed me how to stuff and truss the bird. (I learned to the flip the bird all on my own though.)
She also passed down to me the recipe for a Henderson family favorite. In the New Hope Church Cookbook, I offered the recipe as Etouffe du Frummage, but growing up we always just called it "cheese stuff," a wondrous melange of cream cheese, blue cheese, french dressing, and worcestershire sauce, used as a dip with vegetables.
When we were still in Virginia, I think I was 12 or 13, and Tom 13 or 14, she bought us a gel printing set. I don't even know if you can find them any more. It was a box the size and shape of a high quality writing paper container. You could type or write or draw on a carbon sheet, lay that master on the gel, and then reproduce copies of what was on the carbon onto blank white paper. That was my first experience blogging.
She also worked us a good bit.
We had chores -- something that never hurt anyone. As we entered our teen years, she got us to volunteer working with what used to be called "retarded" youth. Her own experience working with handicapped children, as a physical therapist, was, I'm sure, influential in leading her to do that with us. To this day, I love and appreciate that she did that, particularly when I consider how lightly some consider devastating notions like aborting a child because it has Down's Syndrome or some other "defect."
My mom and dad did work hard for us to be in Catholic schools. She also often expressed a sort of betrayal that she felt from Catholic schooling we received, because she found much of what was taught inconsistent with Church doctrine. Later, when she learned about one of her son's being taken advantage of by the parish priest, her sense of betrayal was deepened.
Aboard Camp Lejeune, she encouraged our formation of a prayer group that met in our home, at MOQ 2218, every Friday night for several years. We met the Alberts there, including Kathy Cardwell, Donna Albert Royal, Carolline Albert, Kristy Albert. We also met Horace Avila there, and Kimberly Chandler Marshburn, and Gerald Wayne, and Dennis Helmer. There are too many other folks -- teens and young Marines -- who gathered and worshiped with us there to be able to name them all.
When our dad retired from the Marines, he found that practicing law was not much to his liking. So he found a teaching job with the Justice Cabinet of the Commonwealth of Kentucky. The program provided basic police training to Kentucky police. My dad taught constitutional law of arrest, criminal law, and criminal procedure.
Of course, that meant that they would relocate. My mom stayed behind till their house sold. The last time I lived at home with my mom was back then, and when the house sold, we packed up their belongings and I drove them to Kentucky.
My mom and dad remained very much part of our lives, even with me out of the nest.
After Terri and I married, and relocated to St. Louis for law school, we saw them pretty frequently, on weekends and holidays. My mom and dad actually were the first ones to point out my future employer in my first legal position, Thomas Patrick Monaghan Law Office. His exploits, representing some young abortion businesses bombers, had been written up in a Catholic journal, which my mom sent to me.
After law school, we lived with my folks for about two months, while I studied for the bar, and while we prepared to go to work for Free Speech Advocates, in a little hole in the wall hamlet in Central Kentucky. If they hadn't helped with rehabbing a gosh awful 12x70 trailer on the Monaghan's property, we would never have gotten started in the 25 years of pro-life, pro-religious liberties, constitutional law practice that took me from Free Speech Advocates to Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism to the American Center for Law and Justice..
My mom was a big cheerleader for the work we did, and she and my dad loved Terri Lawson Henderson as well as in-laws ever did.
Life has changed a lot over the years.
Folks who seemed to be dear friends abandoned me in the darkest season of my life. Neither my wife nor my mom did so. I know that these circumstances in which we were living challenged her, but my mom was aware of her own nature, and never spoke a word of condemnation to me.
In the last couple years, as I began trying to produce more consistent writing on my blog, my mom became a serious cheering section, constantly encouraging me to write, and we spent lots of time on the phone reading my posts and discussing their meaning. I will treasure those times for the rest of my life.
I'm sure there are more things I could write, we are talking about a young woman of 90 being remembered by an old man of 57 that had known her all his life.
It is enough, for now, to say, that in every significant respect, she loved me to the best of her ability, taught me many lessons well, most importantly, the lesson of looking to the Lord as author and finisher of our salvation.
While I miss her terribly, I can say, as she would, in faith, that she is now rejoicing, with her husband, our dad, her son, Tom, our brother, and her granddaughter, Meriam, our niece, all in God's gracious and glorious presence.
Love you Mother!