Yesterday was January 15th. On that date, in 1944, my mother was born in Pennsylvania. In 1967, she married my Dad and became Jeanne Stocks. I was born five years later, the third of four boys. My Mom would have been 70 years old yesterday. God had other plans though, and my mother died on September 8, 1978 at the young age of 34 less than six months after my younger brother was born and two weeks after I turned six years old. I know now that she had been sick for several months leading up to her death, but at the time that never registered in my young mind.
It was, as far as I knew at the time, just like any other regular Friday. I woke up and rode the bus to my first grade class at Bass Hoover Elementary School in Stephens City, Virginia. That afternoon, I rode the bus home totally unaware of how my life was about to be forever altered. When my older brothers and I arrived home, the door was locked. That was unusual, but at six it seemed more like an adventure than a problem. We walked across the street of our quiet little neighborhood to the Miller’s house. They were an older couple who treated us like grandkids. Mr. Miller was a volunteer fireman with a model train set in his basement. He was one of my favorite people. I fondly recall all the hours I spent at the Miller’s house.
When we explained the situation, the Miller’s called my Dad at work to let him know what was going on. Years later I would find out that he knew exactly what he was going to find when he got home. My mother had relayed a story to him years earlier about someone in her family who had passed away when she was younger (it may have been her mother, but I do not recall), and she (and her sisters I believe) found the body when they got home. She had told my Dad that she had always wished that they would have, at least, locked the door so the kids couldn’t get in and find the body. When he heard from the neighbors that the door was locked, combined with knowledge of all the health issues from the preceding months, he knew what he would find when he came home. He asked that the neighbors keep us at their house for a while. As a husband myself now, and father to four kids, I can only imagine what he must have been going through.
The Miller’s were wonderful hosts, but the time seemed to drag on and on for me. It’s scary as a kid not knowing what is going on. After what seemed like an eternity, my father came and collected us and took us back over to the house. I vividly remember walking into the master bedroom and sitting on the edge of the bed with my father and my brothers. Even at six years old, the air felt very heavy. My father, no doubt reeling from the day’s events himself, calmly explained to us that our Mom was gone in the best words he could find to use. He asked if any of us had any questions. I remember asking something, but I couldn’t tell you to this day what it was.