Things My Mother Taught Me: Through the homes we lived in.

Ethel Gregg, my mom, passed away January 29, 2020. At an beautiful, memorial held on Saturday, February 1st, I shared this memory of the homes she had lived and what mom had taught me…

In the old Chicago 3rd floor walk-up:

  • Strangers were welcome…even the homeless guy from Skid Row who drank my dad’s shaving lotion

In the lower level  of my grandparents’ apartment building:

  • All those feet and legs walking past our windows on the sidewalks outside had bodies attached to them;
  • Stay in our own yard;
  • I had a grandmother, a grandfather, and an aunt with a funny little bird;

In the basement of the old condemned church, where our windows were thick glass blocks:

  • “Home” is where we live together and get a new baby sister;
  • Church is what we live below, where Daddy and Mama work;
  • Missionaries were people who gave the church peoples’ old stuff to peoplefar, far away;

In Appleton, Wisconsin:

  • There were bedroom windows that we could actually see through to the outside;
  • Sometimes basement walls of houses cave in, and we have to move;
  • Sometimes, to save money for the church, we have to move to kind of yucky places, where our mom did not like to have to shovel cat poop out of the closets first. But she could make it nice anyway.
  • Whatever house we lived in, it was our family that made it home.
  • She taught me that I could ask Jesus to come into my own heart, and that He would…forever.
  • Music was a very important part of who my mother was, and she always brought it to whatever church we were in, always at the piano or organ or leading choirs;

In Manitowoc, Wisconsin:

  • It was very special to believe in Jesus, and that being baptized in a tank of water in the church showed that I believed;and that it shouldn’t matter that my sister 2 years younger than me could do it at the same time even though I’d had to wait until I was 10.
  • Not much else….just lots of snow and Lake Michigan went on forever;

In Oregon, Illinois:

  • Sometimes a pastor could work for other places besides in a church, like building a youth camp out in the woods;
  • Whether it’s a crummy old house with blue ‘SHUDDERS’ in a small town, or a simple A-frame house in the woods, it can be “home” for our family;
  • Singing with my sister, with Mom at the piano, was something that churches liked, and that we should do that for Jesus, because He gave us our voices for singing to Him;
  • She taught me that I should try not to throw up in church even though I was very very nervous to sing in front of people;

In Menasha, Wisconsin:  (she taught me that)

  • Even when it is just an old church building with no people there at all, we could still have music and preaching, and people would come;
  • We could take care of children for working mothers, and that could pay for the church and our family;
  • She taught me that she could work hard to grow a Day Care that could provide for our family, and help lots of children and mothers to learn more about Jesus;
  • She loved books, and with her daddy’s help, started a Christian Book Store so that other people could find books to help them in faith and life;
  • She helped our dad establish the first Christian Radio station, because the Good News of Jesus needed to go beyond the walls of church buildings;She did whatever she could, using her bookkeeping and secretarial skills to support all of these endeavors;
  • She taught by example that salaries and pay were not any motivation to use whatever skills she had to serve God;
  • Our home was always open to others…to visit or to stay.A widow with three little boys, missionaries and guest speakers passing through, troubled young people, friends and strangers….Mom never complained or made anyone feel unwelcome.
  • She taught by example that marriage is forever.
  • The stranger is welcome;
  • Every person matters;
  • God is always always always PRESENT.

 In her final years, near two daughters, Mom lived in a Senior Community Center (ARC).  Surrounded by her favorite things, whittled down to a comfortable living suite, she showed us what thriving looked like.  She quietly went through her days demonstrating and teaching us all so much:

  • How to “welcome the stranger”….women coming to live in the ARC alone,many widows.  She took them under-wing, incuded them in meal times, and many activities planned for the people living there.
  • Mom became very social…..interacting with anyone she met, nurses, housekeepers, and her ARC neighborhood.She demonstrated caring for her neighbors…and making them feel like family.
  • She filled her days with puzzling, reading with a book club, making funny hats and decorations to celebrate holidays and the Kentucky Derby …complete with big floppy hats decorated to the hilt.Mom taught us that it’s never too late to become “the life of the party.”
  • She played Penny BIngo….and always returned to her room with a little coin purse stuffed to the hilt with pennies. Quietly, hesitantly, she would whisper “Bingo” consistently, filling her little coin purse with her winnings…partly embarassed for “gambling”, but mostly her eyes said, “Party on!”
  • She played her piano for sing-alongs which filled the space…whether holiday songs or the old favorite hymns.She no longer read the music….it all came from her heart.
  • She taught all of us, especially in her ARC home, that everyone had value, was worthy of friendship and love.She rarely ever complained, and frugally moved through her days with grace, kindness, and generosity of loving care.
  • Mom slipped into the Arms of Jesus as gently and quietly as she had followed and lived for Him her whole life.Almost a century.  With a silent, simple breath she went into His Arms.  No struggle.  NO fear.  Perfect Peace.
  • News of Mom’s transfer to Heaven brought many, many tears.Spontaneously, a sweet memorial grew outside her door…notes of love, silk flowers, and paper flowers from the Kentucky Derby hats…from residents and staff alike.

Her death brought to a close her years of teaching by her life example.  But the lessons she wordlessly taught have found places in countless hearts, minds and lives.  As she celebrates now in the Home she lived for on this earth, we know that we will see her again.

She taught us that with absolute certainty.

4 Replies to “Things My Mother Taught Me: Through the homes we lived in.”

  1. Janet,
    This is absolutely beautiful! You shared a amazing tribute to your mom and the legacy she left. I could visualize so much of what you wrote about her. She was a true reflection of Jesus and his grace, mercy and love and she taught you well because you live that out beautifully! Keeping you and your family in my thoughts and prayers. You are loved!


  2. What a beautiful tribute and legacy!! Wherever she was; she made it home!! When you were in her presence, you knew you were loved!! Her heart was One Big Welcome!! She was FULL of fun and laughter!! And … a little Mischief!! Always a glint in her eye!! She touched many lives deeply!! Mine was one of them! I am so heartbroken for your loss; and yet so happy for her that she is HOME!! I’m so sorry I was unable to share in her Memorial! God comfort and love your hearts!!


    1. Hi Mary, Would you believe that I only discovered the “comment” section for the blog tonight….and that I could reply. Thank you for your sweet words. We are SO grateful that Mom didn’t have to go through the covid stuff. It would have been terrible for her…and us….to be quarantined all of this time. Thank you for your kind words.


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