My mother taught me to say please and thank you. She was all about pleasing and its byproduct, pleasure. Mary loved fun and a party. And she spoke simply and directly, so I’m not going to use any big words to praise her, for the simple chords will resonate.
First, a deep thank-you to her community at St. Mark’s-in-the-Valley Episcopal Church in Los Olivos, and especially to Father Stacy for arriving on the scene when my brothers and I were bereft, gathered around her bed like little lost lambs. He came in and started singing “Come Fly with Me” to Mary, which made us all laugh and brightened the whole room.
St. Mark’s is very special to our family. When Mary and John retired to Alisal Ranch in 1979, St. Mark’s had just been built. Mary was part of the altar guild for a number of years and needlepointed the communion pad with the little horse on it, on which I still love to kneel today. Mary’s John was buried here in the pretty little graveyard in March 1999, and three months later, my John and I were married here. Now Mary’s physical remains will join her John’s. Throughout this journey, Father Stacy has shepherded us.
Mary was the first person to give me an appreciation for the past and how it illuminates the present. She loved to talk about her childhood and family; tell stories about growing up in Webster Groves, Missouri; summers spent in a rustic cabin on a teeny island in the middle of Lake Vermilion, Minnesota; her mother’s hair; her father’s clocks; and always, always singing. I found a 1935 composition she wrote describing her early childhood, which said, “All my life I have loved to sing. I am always happiest while singing. What I liked most was when it was raining to go out on our front porch and swing in the swing, and sing. The harder it would rain, the harder I would swing and the louder I would sing. I still feel a desire to do that same thing.” And Mary sang right up until the end, even in her deathbed. She may have forgotten everything else, but she never forgot the lyrics.
I will always remember her tender touch and how she took care of me in every way as a young girl. She was my confidante to my every day. So many firsts with Mary: first trip to a bookstore, giving me the love of books and reading; first ride on a bicycle, with her running alongside, keeping me balanced and then that magic moment of her letting go, freeing me to go on very long trail rides by myself; first trip to an art museum, giving me my love of art.
Even after I was a grown woman, Mary was always there for me. Like a prodigal daughter, I moved back home twice to Santa Barbara and her open arms, and once she even found a cottage for me when I was returning from a bad-choice move to Atlanta. From 1980 to 2005, if we weren’t seeing each other, we talked on the phone at least once a day. One day, I went out to the grocery store and came home with a puppy. I called my mother to tell her, and she just laughed, she was so tickled. The next day she drove to Santa Barbara from Solvang, wearing her golf cap, and we had a picnic with the puppy.
In case you can’t tell, Mary was my best friend-true-blue devoted-even when I was lost and struggling, and even when I didn’t reciprocate her love demonstratively. When I married the right guy, my soul mate, John Iwerks, in 1999, my mother wrote a simple card: “We gave John you, and you gave us John. Nothing could be more perfect.” She loved my John, and in the past eight years, the three of us had hundreds of fun dinners and outings.
In 2002, Mary moved to Heritage House Assisted Living Community in Goleta, a truly wonderful place. Although she loved the people there, she never saw herself as old and would always ask if she could come live with me. A couple years ago, she started telling everyone a big man was building a little house for her “way up in the sky.” I think she was right about that, and it’s comforting to know that now she’s all moved in.
After she suffered what we believe was a stroke and moved to the hospital, I was so privileged to be by her side while she shared pieces of her life. She talked and gestured, saying she was putting things here and putting things there, and I do believe she was sorting out her life. At one point, she came out of a sleep and said in the sweetest voice, “Chrissy, Chrissy, can I come and live with you for a little while?” I said, “Yes, Mommy, yes,” for I knew then that I wanted her to live in me always.
In her last days, after she’d been brought back to Heritage House, I had a religious experience. Sitting near her, I grew weak and began to take deep breaths involuntarily. I could feel God’s presence and I could feel part of Mary’s spirit come into my body. This was real. I told my brothers I was forever changed, forever grateful, and I knew at last Mary was coming to live with me.
Mary gave us kids a great parting gift-the tenderest and most intimate of bonding between my brothers and me in our shared love and adoration of our mother during her final days. Those were miracle moments we will always remember.
One of Mary’s greatest attributes was that she always showed up. She never let anybody down, least of all her husband. From scouts and ballet to Steve’s track meets and Jim’s football games, from horse shows for Caroline and me to basketball for Melissa, she was always enthusiastic. It was always fun.
When Dad died, there began the subtle role reversal of the mother becoming the child. Many times, Mary said, “Now I’m the baby, and you’re the mommy!” It was such a privilege. Truly. Finally I could give back to her just a little bit. The gift was circular, coming around to us both in the linear strand of time.
I want to thank my mother for what has been perhaps her greatest gift of all, and that is her supportiveness of my profession as an artist. She saw that I loved to draw as a kid, and when, at 15, I said I wanted to paint, she took me down that very day to an art supply store in Woodland Hills and bought me oils and brushes and canvases. She even joined me in some art classes just so we could be together. She always made me feel that I had done something wonderful, and I know she applied that same ingredient liberally to all she met, from grocery clerks to old chums. That was her recipe for love and friendship. She was always so appreciative and grateful. Everything was precious to her.
I am thrilled Mary is with her John in Heaven. She’s probably going around to everyone new with her cute look, saying “Hi, I’m Mary Chapman!” Though the physical loss of my best friend has left a deep chasm, I am soothed by her tender touch, which I shall feel forever, as I hear her voice saying, “You call me, or I’ll call you.”