(This is an edited version of the life sketch/eulogy I gave at my mom’s memorial service in CA 2 weeks ago today. Anything I could say about mom would be thoroughly inadequate.)
Music & Sports
Mom and her siblings attended Lawncrest Junior Academy (now Redding Adventist Academy). During these years mom began studying piano, starting about age 7. By age 11 she was giving solo piano recitals. She soon began studying the organ and by age 12 became an organist for her church. She played piano for the children’s classes at church, for her school choir, then became the pianist at her church, and, while still only a teenager, was hired as the pianist for 3 other local churches.
My mom and my Aunt Marcia are probably the biggest sports fans in our family and, as avid sports fans, mom and her sisters Marcia and Judy would occasionally travel to San Francisco to attend Giants’ baseball games. Once, in the mid 60s, the 3 sisters went to the home of Giants’ center fielder Willie Mays and pestered him into giving them his autograph. That same day, the girls also saw the Beatles drive by in a limousine, but they didn’t really care. And that makes me kind of sad.
For her 11th and 12th grade school years, mom attended Rio Lindo Academy, a private boarding HS in Healdsburg, CA, where she continued her music lessons and sang with the Lindaires choir. She graduated in the class of ‘68.
College & Family
She then studied at Pacific Union College in Angwin for a year, where she met my dad, Milton Perry. The next year they married and moved to southern CA where mom studied at the Loma Linda School of Nursing. She graduated with her BSN in 1972.
After graduating, they moved for work briefly to the Oakland area, during which time I was born at Mercy Hospital in Redding in 1973, and was delivered by grandpa’s partner, Dr Ben Westphall. I ruined his blue suede shoes.
Our family moved to Berrien Springs, MI where dad worked on his Master’s degree at Andrews University. While there, my brother Jay was born in 1975 and I dropped him on his head.
Moving back to CA, dad pastored first in Stockton, then Cedarville, Yuba City, and Miranda. Some of my earliest memories were from when we lived in Stockton and of mom playing the piano. She was partial to the works of Chopin, Beethoven, and even Scott Joplin. She loved to play and she played well. She was also fantastic on the organ and played regularly for church. Bach organ compositions, in particular, were her favorites. I have very strong memories of when I was 2 or 3, hearing Schubert’s “Trout Quintet” on the record player. Mom always filled the house with music and for that I’m very grateful.
While in the Cedarville/Alturas area, mom was in a terrible car accident that damaged her back and left her bedridden for several months. The injuries would affect her the rest of her life.
Later in Yuba City, my brother Christopher was born just after Christmas in 1980, completing our family.
Pastor’s Wife & Mom
For many years mom was a pastor’s wife, a role which she loved. She was involved with many church activities. She made carrot cakes for church members’ birthdays, visited families, baked for bake sales, worked with ingathering projects, and as always, played the organ and piano for services.
During our time at the Miranda church, mom came up with the idea of recording an album of Jay and Me singing duets to raise money for church investment. It was called “Singing For Jesus”. The recording quality wasn’t great and Jay & I were fairly young (7 & 9), but we’d already been singing together for a while and mom selected 13 great songs, 7 sacred and 6 Christmas, and accompanied us on the piano. It was a fun project and turned out pretty well, considering.
Our whole family enjoyed living in the Redwoods and, even after moving to TX & the Midwest, would return most summers to attend Redwood Campmeeting. Mom developed many lifelong friendships at campmeeting and absolutely enjoyed seeing her friends year after year. She continued involving us in music, making sure we learned to play instruments like the piano, trombone, and French Horn, but the musical emphasis was usually singing. She picked out a strong repertoire of duets that Jay & I could sing and over the years we sang at many churches singing at several campmeetings as well, while she accompanied us on the piano.
During our time living in the Redwoods, mom spent a few summers working as a summer camp nurse at a few camps, including Redwood Creek Camp. She joined The College of the Redwoods Community Choir as a soprano & b4 long Jay & I joined as well. Mom had a beautiful voice and I loved hearing her sing.
In 1984, our family made the big cross country move from CA to Waco, TX where dad pursued his PhD at Baylor University. Mom worked first in a nursing home before she started her long career in psychiatric nursing. She discovered that Waco had a boyschoir and made sure Jay and I were a part of it. After my voice changed, she got Jay involved with child parts in local opera productions. She and dad were quite involved with our education, getting us into extra programs, like Baylor’s University for Young People where we took advanced and enriching summer courses… instead of doing fun childhood things. No, it was fun. Really.
We moved to Jefferson, TX in 1988, at which point mom began psychiatric nursing work across the state line in Shreveport, LA. For the 89-90 school year at Jefferson Academy, she also served as the school’s choir director.
Mom was someone who loved doing crafts. She and my brother Chris would do special projects together, making things like bean bags and pine cone wreaths. On Friday nights Chris & mom cooked dishes and casseroles for meals and upcoming potlucks. They even decorated cakes and cookies.
Sometimes there were signs that mom wanted to have a girl. She taught us to do some sewing and cooking. For Jay & me, there was an especially weird project she somehow tricked us into doing in HS: making mop dolls. From some crazy women’s magazine, she got the idea for crafting these dolls using mops and hot glue guns. Ribbons, bows, and paint were also required in this multi-hour construction project. The excuse was that the dolls were for our dates at the banquet and, of course, girls love dolls and girls love it even more when guys make things for them. And so it came to pass that my brother Jay & I, heterosexual teenage boys, proceeded under mom’s direction, to make handmade mop dolls which apparently the girls did, in fact, like. Of course, Jay & I felt the sting of shame for some time thereafter.
When our family moved from TX to Pittsburg, KS in 1990, mom worked psychiatric nursing jobs in Joplin & Nevada, MO.
About 1993, while Jay & I were already attending Union College in Lincoln, NE, our family moved again to Bellevue, NE about an hour away.
In 1995, mom’s brother Bud passed away. He was only 39 years old.
Back To CA/Grandkids
Mom lived in NE until her divorce in 1999, at which point she moved back out to Northern CA finding psych nurse work in Chico, becoming the psychiatric nursing supervisor for adolescent behavior in Butte County, a job she absolutely loved.
Within a few years of moving to CA, she became a grandmother to 3: Chris’ kids, Blake & Raya, and Jay’s son Nathaniel. She made as many trips as she could each year to the midwest to spend time with them, enjoying them as much as any grandmother, and was thrilled when they came to CA to visit. They did many craft projects together: painting t-shirts, planting seeds, making bird feeders, decorating cupcakes and cookies, and making Christmas, Easter, and Valentine’s decorations.
All told, mom worked in Psychiatric Nursing for 23 years in Texas, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, and California and built strong friendships wherever she went.
When she moved back to CA about 12 years ago, it was a good thing for her. She flourished. She bought a little house in Paradise, found a great job, made lots of new friends and reconnected with many of her old friends. She really loved her friends. She was a very sociable person and reveled in the time they spent together.
In the late summer of 2007, she was diagnosed with stage 4 Colo-Rectal cancer. She underwent surgery to remove the primary cancer location & followed up with chemotherapy & radiation to treat her other cancer spots. For a time, it seemed she was cancer-free, but it returned and so did the treatments.
About 2 years ago, when it was certain mom was near the end of her life, mom moved to MN to live with my brother Jay & his family who took great care of her as her condition worsened. One downside to her moving was that she was so far away from all of her friends, and her parents, sisters, and nephews. But it was wonderful that she could stay with Jay, Kendra, and Nathaniel & was close enough that Chris & his family & I could visit more frequently.
My mom was probably my favorite person in the world. She was a wonderful mom and a very caring person. She was funny and charming, affectionate and loving. Mom had a great capacity for love. She made friends easily and had a way of reading people and understanding them that was rare. Like my brother Jay says “She never met a stranger.”
Her greatest loves were her family, her friends, and music. I’ll miss her sweet smile. I’ll miss her fussing over me. I was lucky and blessed to have her as my mom and I’ll miss her terribly. There will never be anyone like her. I look forward to the day when we’re all reunited again in Heaven. What a day of rejoicing that will be.
Here is a memorial slideshow/video my brother Jay put together featuring recordings of my mom playing the piano.