As Mary Goes ‘Round

By Jennifer Lynn Cary

I heard it again at one of those mixers. You know the kind. The speaker gives you so many minutes to find someone you don’t already know, exchange names, basic information, and then share something that most people don’t know about you. My partner and I covered the list quickly and were trading pleasantries when a voice over my shoulder said, “I have twelve children, twenty-eight grandchildren and five great-grandchildren…and I’ve never been pregnant!”

I smiled and whispered to my partner, “That’s my mom!”

Life wasn’t always so smooth between us. We’ve gone through some pretty rough times, but I am grateful that rough times now means we are praying together toward the same end.

My mom, Mary, came into my life forty-three years ago when I was a motherless fourteen-year-old, and she was a hardworking single parent. She wasn’t “Mom,” or even “Mary” then, but “Mrs. A.,” my little brother’s speech therapist. She and her first husband, unable to conceive, had adopted a baby boy. However, a few years after, the marriage fell apart, and Mary soon found herself back at college, determined to get a degree that would help her support her son. Gaining an MA Degree with a concentration in Speech Correction, she accepted a small-town job in a neighboring state.

On the other side of that town, my own mother had realized my baby brother would need speech therapy to get him ready for kindergarten the following year. But before she could get all the particulars in place, her cancer returned, and she passed away. The principal at our school later contacted my dad to finalize the plans, thus introducing Mary to a woebegone father and his four-year old imp with a thick speech impediment, curly-curly hair and twinkling eyes behind coke-bottle glasses. She broke her own cardinal rule on the spot: Never give therapy in the client’s home.

My dad, however, wanted to make sure things looked as above reproach as they really were. He was never at home when it was time for speech lessons, but left my grandmother in charge of greeting the teacher and seeing she received her payment.

So, it took me by surprise about six months later to find out my father and the speech teacher were dating! Another six months passed, and we became a blended family. (By the way, that matchmaking principal played the piano at the wedding.)

Now families with teen-agers bring a whole set of challenges worthy of a canonization hearing. Add to the mix that this is a stepfamily with four kids, three of which are teens, and you are just beginning to get the picture. For added color, have them move across the country to Arizona. In the middle of the summer. And, oh yeah, the father turns out to have developed early-onset Alzheimer’s disease in his mid-forties. And did I mention that of the three teens: one gets pregnant while in college, one moves in with her boyfriend, and one quits high school and runs away? Life around our house was never boring. I think it was then that I first heard Mom say, “I keep thinking I should write a book about my life since it is so much like a soap opera. I’ve decided if I ever do, I’ll call it ‘As Mary Goes ‘Round.’” But instead of writing, she just continued to gather more material, all the while holding our family together.

Two weeks before my wedding, my father succumbed to the damages of Alzheimer’s. Mom had taken care of him at home for as long as she could. I was amazed at her fortitude as he was not the meekest of patients. And then, once in the nursing home, she continued to be there with him daily to make sure he was well cared for and loved. She was there with him, holding his hand, as he drew his last breath. And, yet amazingly, she was there with me, helping to put my wedding together in the midst of her own grief. I was beginning to realize the depth of her love for me (and mine for her as well). As if that wasn’t enough, though, she also lost her own father to colon cancer two months later. Yet she faced every difficulty with amazing grace.

Then, with only my youngest brother at home and no longer needing to care for my dad, life became lonely. So, without telling any of us first, Mom put an ad in a singles paper. She told me a lot of prayer for wisdom and guidance went into it. From among those who answered, she found herself a winner. Norman’s general bio might have put a few off before they got to know him. He was a self-employed divorcee with eight children. But Mom saw something in him that was extra special. They married in 1983. Since then, my siblings and I have also seen what is so special about our Norman. And, though his eight children still have their own mother here, they have developed a friendly relationship with Mom – and she considers them hers as well.

A few years ago, Mom and Norman both retired, and he built her a beautiful house up in the mountains outside of Phoenix. That finally should have meant a quiet existence for them, but no. They are still as active and busy as ever. At Norman’s seventieth birthday party, I overheard her say again, “One of these days I need to write my book, the one I’ll call ‘As Mary Goes ‘Round.’ I mean, how many women do you know that have twelve children, twenty-eight grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren and have never been pregnant?”

I know the answer to that – one. And I’m proud to call her Mom.

About this writer

  • Jennifer Lynn Cary Jennifer Lynn Cary has written for various anthologies including The One Year Life Verse Devotional and Christmas Miracles. She and her husband still live in Phoenix and are now grandparents.

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