Marjorie O’Neill Carter was born on March 21, 1926 in Stokes County, N.C. to the late Vera Berry Carter and Bill Carter, Sr., better known to us as Monk and Tom. She was born in a small red house, a company house of the Pine Hall Brickyard where Tom worked as a foreman. Her brother, Bill, Jr. was born there two years later. Tom lost his job due to the Great Depression and moved the family to Reidsville to work at the American Tobacco Company. Mama attended 1st – 8th grades at Wentworth School and graduated from Reidsville High School in 1944. She attended King’s Business College in Greensboro for one year and then went to work in the payroll department at Fieldcrest Mills.
She met the love of her life, Ben Rush, Jr. during her childhood years. When Ben first saw her, he told someone, “That’s the girl I am going to marry.” While he was serving in the Navy during World War II, he sent an engagement ring home to his parents and they gave the ring to Marjorie. When he returned home, they married in October 1946. They waited seven years to have children. Ben Rush, III was born in 1953 and when he was two, they moved to Rock Hill, S.C. as our father got a job with Celanese and Mama went to work at M. Lowenstein making the sum of $58 a week. Making that kind of money, perhaps they decided they could afford another child and I came along in 1957.
Our life together on Beverly Drive was filled with good neighbors and friends, where adults gathered in the evenings after dinner to talk as children rode their bikes, played ball or hopscotch on the sidewalk. Our best memories are centered on a river cabin where we spent many weekend retreats with the McKenna family and Willard’s family. We were often joined by other family members and friends, creating memories for a lifetime. Our time there found us fishing, boating, swimming, water-skiing, playing cards and eating good food. It was at that river cabin where Mama, Ben and I spent our last day with our father and her husband, Ben Rush, Jr. On the evening of September 14, 1969, he died of a massive heart attack in our home. Mama recently described his death to me as “the shock of her life.” She was a widow at the age of 43. When I then asked her to describe my father, she said, “He was salt of the earth and he was the love of my life.”
Six months after our father’s death, we moved back to Reidsville as Mama needed the support of her parents. I once questioned the wisdom of that decision and how uprooted I felt in leaving all that was familiar to me and to Ben in Rock Hill. Mama told me that she thought it was the right decision and that she did the best she could. And sometimes, doing the best that we can is enough.
Mama went on to marry two other men, Juke Tilley and Frank Lane. We have often joked about how long her name became due to being married three times and how in the world would we ever get Marjorie O’Neill Carter Rush Tilley Lane on a tombstone when she died.
My mother experienced many seasons of grief and sorrow in her life. She cared for both of her parents as their health declined. She buried them, along with three husbands, and a grand-child. My mother has known the grief that comes when the doctor says, “you have cancer.” After the first diagnosis in 2001, she persevered through surgery to remove a kidney, then breast cancer surgery, eight rounds of chemo and six weeks of daily radiation. She became a survivor. Most recently, she heard the words “you have lung cancer and it has spread to the bones.” There would be no treatment or cure this time. But my mother faced the journey through cancer courageously. She dealt with more grief and sorrow in her long life than anyone should ever have to, but she persevered and taught us many lessons along the way.
One recent day as my mother and I talked about her recent diagnosis she said, “I have no regrets in my life. I hold no malice towards anyone. I looked after my parents the best I could. I raised two good children. And all is right with me and my Lord.” My mother found her way to hope, healing and peace despite the devastating news that this cancer would lead to her death. She also found her way to recognizing the need to give forgiveness where necessary and to receive the forgiveness that was offered to her by others.
I also asked my mother what had been her greatest joy in life. She smiled and said, “My first love, Ben Rush, my children and my grand-children. I can only hope that the time we spent with her and our good memories of her will be our joy in the days to come without her presence here with us and that we will continue to make her proud by the way we live our lives.
One thing I will remember most about my mother is her honesty. Sometimes she could be brutally honest and if you had thin skin, you could easily get your feelings hurt. She said what she thought about your hair (how long or short it was, what color it was). She would let you know if the clothes you were wearing were suitable or appropriate for the occasion. I thought about wearing pants to this funeral service, but I heard the voice of Marge in my head that said, “You should not wear pants to a funeral. You should wear a dress or a skirt.” And so today, I put on a skirt in honor of my mother.
We will think of Marge in her Alfred Dunner outfits, her Miss Elaine nightgowns and robes and I will never again smell the scent of Estee Lauder perfume without thinking of my mother. Mama was also a lover of all things chocolate, especially in the form of a milkshake from Char-Grill. Her drink of choice was a Coca-Cola, but it had to be in a small bottle or a small can, which she referred to as “three burps worth.”
Mama was the crossword puzzle queen. In days past she worked the daily crossword puzzle in the paper and worked her way through countless puzzle books.
Mama had a wonderful sense of humor. During a time in the hospital for a lung biopsy, the nurse taking her health history asked, “Do you drink any alcohol?” Mama replied, “No, but if you have some, I’ll drink it right now.” On the evening of September 13, Ben, Carole and I were with Mama at Mayview because she was having a difficult time. She looked at us, perhaps wondering why the three of us were all there at the same time. She finally asked, “Am I supposed to be dying?”
I pray that the good memories we all hold of Marge will be our comfort and joy as we remember her as mother, grandma, sister, mother-in-law, aunt, cousin or friend. I also am thankful that Mama is at peace now, no longer in pain, and no longer confused. She is no longer weary or exhausted. Cancer did not have the last word or the victory. Cancer is not sovereign. The good news for us today is that God is sovereign. Because of her faith, her strength has been renewed and she has been made whole and she is at rest.
As we gather here today with grieving hearts, there is a word of hope for us as well. Let us not forget the story of God’s attentiveness to our pain and grief. Let us not forget the dependability of God and the love God has for us. Those who remember this will receive new strength, power and life. As we wait and trust in the God who loves us, may we find the ability to meet the challenges we will face in this life and run and not grow weary, even as our hearts grieve.
I hope we can find comfort in knowing that Mama has experienced the ultimate healing in death, is pain-free and at rest. I cling fast to the words of Romans 8:37-39: “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
I hope we find comfort in believing that Mama has been reunited in heaven with Monk and Tom, with the love of her life Ben Rush, and that she was met by a snaggle-toothed seven year old Bethany who greeted her with, “I love you Grandma, a bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck.” Perhaps they may even be enjoying a magic carpet ride, “soaring, tumbling, free-wheeling in an endless diamond sky” in the beautiful, whole new world of heaven.