December 6, 1985
We buried my mother, Leona Frances Shively Snider, last week in Oklahoma City. Her grave is on a wind-swept hill near the chapel in Resurrection Cemetery, beside my dad, her husband of more than 50 years, Daniel William Snider.
He was buried there in 1968. He died at 88, she at 96.
Their children were there, and a lot of their grandchildren, and even a couple of their great-grandchildren. They all came, from coast to coast, to say goodbye.
The priest who said the funeral mass is the chaplain at St. Anne’s, where my mother lived her last 13 years. He said she showed great courage, faith and patience in the last few months of her life.
I disagreed. Courage and faith, yes, patience, no. She was impatient with death. She prayed she could die and join my dad. I have the feeling that at least three times a day she looked God squarely in the proverbial eye and said, “what are you waiting for?”
Anybody who knew her believes she now is where she wants to be. If she is not in heaven, there is something wrong up there.
If she is not there, then their computer must be out. The pearly gates must be jammed. The guy who keeps the records has to be on vacation. But don’t worry. She is there. If she is not, there is absolutely no hope for the rest of us.
My mother was religious. When my two brothers and I were growing up, it never was too cold or too wet, and nobody ever was too tired, to go to the 7 a.m. Mass. Later Masses were for laggards and backsliders. The Sniders went to early Mass.
If you lived in her house, religion was part of your life, and you never had a chance to forget it. But she was a lot more than just religious. For one thing, she was tough. She was raised on prairie farms. She knew what life was like in dugouts and sod huts. Her mother died when she was very young, and she virtually raised her two younger sisters.
She taught school when she was still a teenager. She told us stories about big farm boys, older than she was, trying to defy her. They didn’t get far.
She raised her own family in places like Oakwood, Oklahoma, where I was born in Doc Gossum’s kitchen and Veteran, Wyoming where the five of us lived for a time in a one-room house.
It was there that she killed a rattlesnake we found in the barn. It was there she started teaching me to read and write. And it was there she discovered a tumor and went back to Oklahoma for a mastectomy.
In all this time the only thing I ever heard her complain about was that there was no church, and no church school.
Finally, we all moved to Oklahoma and things were better. My dad had the drugstore. There was a church and school just five miles away. The house we bought for $2,000 is still there. My mother prayed a lot about that because, she said, she didn’t know how we’d ever pay for it.
My mother was strict. Around her, you minded your tongue and your manners. You did your chores. We didn’t have sisters, so my brothers and I helped clean the house. We made good grades in school or else.
But, on the long trip home from the funeral, the thing I remembered most was her sense of humor. She like to laugh, and she loved practical jokes.
When my older brother brought young Marjorie home to meet her, my mother got out pictures of all his old girlfriends and place them all over the living room. He did a quiet burn while she smiled away. It was all right. Marjorie married him.
She’s famous for her one-liners from the Bible and elsewhere. We’d make a dumb mistake and she’d say, “Experience is a dear school, but a fool will learn in no other.”
She’d tell us everyone eventually gets what he deserves, and add, “The mills of the gods grind slowly, but they grind exceedingly fine.”
If you told an off-color story, she’d wither you with a look and say, “Tell me what a man laughs at, and I’ll tell you what he is.”
And her favorite: “What does it profit a man if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his soul?”
In the middle of her funeral mass, her granddaughter Amy headed toward the bathroom with her new baby and flipped the wrong switch. Suddenly the little chapel was flooded with taped organ music. A man quickly turned it off. Amy blushed and everybody smiled.
My mother would have loved it.