After the farm

Final part of Marji Smock Stewart’s Finding the Rivers.

The years on the farm (1960-1969), the academic years (1968-1982), seven years in Henderson (1985-1992, then ten years moving from place to place. They meld together before me today, in 2002. These were forty-two years of good times, hard work, heartbreak and joys.

Elizabeth and Monroe Smock 1971In 1971 when my parents celebrated their 50th anniversary, they lived in Florida. Their sixteen years there were really the second golden years for them. But my sister Betty was terminally ill with cancer. I had a few days leave from the University of Kentucky. Throughout Betty’s illness, my chairman had been generous with short leave breaks for me.

Loss

So, in Florida for the 50th anniversary dinner at home, Betty directed me to buy a prime rib roast and all the proper trimmings betty-smock-ca-1940and told me exactly how to cook it to perfection. This I did with the help of her young children. We had a lovely meal and toasted Monroe and Elizabeth Smock on December 1, 1971. It was sad for all of us but we tried to make it a happy occasion. I flew back to Lexington the next day. Two weeks later, I received the call that Betty was gone. That was a traumatic time for my parents, for all of us.

Nearly nine years later, my Daddy died suddenly May 18, 1980 leaving Mother feeling lost after 59 years of marriage. Mother chose “Precious Memories” to be played at his service. I chose “Jesus, Savior, pilot me.” There were a few old river pilots at the funeral, and many teary eyes.

Daddy wasn’t an outwardly religious man but, as my daddy, he taught me more about the love of a heavenly father than I could ever have learned in church. Mother adjusted but never ceased missing him. I too was devastated but thought I had to keep a stuff upper lip to help her and to continue to function myself. I regret now that I didn’t just spent time holding her hand and reminiscing instead of constantly trying to take care of business. I realize now that what she really needed was just me and her link with Monroe, not so much my projects and caregiving efforts!

Leaving Kentucky

Bill and Marji Stewart Henderson KY 1988 photo R AngerI took early retirement at the end of 1982 as Dean of the College of Home Economics at the University of Kentucky. Bill and I drove out West searching for an ideal place to relocate.

But we couldn’t leave my mother alone in Kentucky and we couldn’t ask her to go with us, away from her memories. So we stayed in Kentucky. In 1985 we built a duplex in Henderson to take her close to her roots, the rivers and those remaining family members she loved.

Mother died in 1991. Bill and I then spent ten years moving here and yon. Fun times such as rafting down the Colorado River, exploring archeological sites in Utah, Israel and Jordan, rock hounding and trout fishing in Utah, feasting our eyes on natural wonders such as the Grand Canyon. Visits from nephews, nieces, and our son and grandsons.

bill-marji-river-1992-photo-j-stewartWe kept looking for our Shangri-La to settle in. Finally, in the spring of 2002, we realized there is no perfect place. Bill wrote his thoughts out late one night the previous December:

Midnight Meditations

When shadows fall and trees whisper “day is ending,”
My thought are ever wending – home.
When crickets call and birds hurry to their bowers,
Dew slips in, and kisses all the flowers.

When the hills conceal the setting sun,
Stars begin their peeping, one by one.
Night covers all; and though fortune may forsake me,
Sweet dreams will ever take me – home.

Back to Kentucky

I knew then he was longing to be home. In Kentucky. June 17, 1992 we had left Henderson KY for Utah. June 17, 2002 we arrived back from Texas to make our home in Kentucky again. Ten years to the day and almost to the hour. In between, all over the west and even in Ontario for a few wonderful years.

Now we’ve come full circle. We’ve grown old and somehow the spark is missing that ignited our early adventures and restlessness. But we have peace.

Bill Stewart with pup 1988 photo M StewartLastly, I wish to make a tribute to Bill. I am grateful to God for that first meeting in July 1944 when I looked out the second story window of the business college on Frederica Street in Owensboro KY. Bill stood there, in khaki uniform with silver wings pinned over his heart, and looked up and smiled.

It hasn’t always been a smooth life and we have disagreed about many things. But we always agreed on the important things and we worked through our problems. We had good role models and trust that we too will pass that 59 year mark together enjoyed by both our Stewart and Smock parents.

Strength

Proverbs 31:10 always intimidated me because it was translated as “Who can find a virtuous woman…?” I knew I could never be virtuous or worthy. But in learning Hebrew I realized that the word is not virtuous or worthy, but strong. Strong as in army. In fact, it is the same Hebrew word as “army”.

This thrills me because I can be strong. Strength isn’t simply a physical trait; it is elusive, a choice one makes. Strength is in my marjorie-smock-stewartgenes. My Daddy was very strong. Betty was strong and Mother too was strong. Bill and my son both are strong. I bless God for all of them.

Marji Stewart was probably the strongest woman I’ve ever met. Virtuous and elegant too. Bill died in 2005 in Owensboro KY. They had celebrated their 59th wedding anniversary the previous November. Marji returned to Ontario to live near us. She died there in 2009.