When I was a nine-year-old Kansas girl in 1935, our city’s health officer placed a sign in the window of our red-brick house-SCARLET FEVER. It warned those approaching not to enter. All the joyful music in our happy household stopped.
My seven-year-old sister, Mary Ann, contracted the illness after exposure to a sick child in the neighborhood. Needless to say, this diagnosis brought fear to our home. Mother cared for our sister night and day. Then, the unthinkable happened. She, too, was stricken! A scarlet rash covered her body, and her temperature soared. As she struggled with this often-fatal sickness, happy children’s songs froze on our lips.
Our father, a welder in a refinery, hired nurses to work around the clock, and a housekeeper to care for us. Friends brought food to the door, but they never stayed more than a few moments. Only our father and the nurses could enter or exit. We were an island of sickness and sorrow.
There were no sulfa drugs or medicines in those days to fight infections. Mother’s fever rose higher and higher until it reached 108 degrees, and she became blind.
Shortly before her death, mother asked her nurse, “Where is that beautiful music coming from?”
Daddy snuggled my two sisters and me around him in his large, overstuffed chair. “Your mother is going to heaven,” he said, as his voice broke with emotion.
Before she died, Daddy allowed us to enter her bedroom. “I love you, Mother,” I said. I could tell she recognized my voice.
Leaving her room, I curled into a fetal position on the divan, retreating undisturbed into my own silent world. My grief was too much to bear, because I couldn’t hear the heavenly music which comforted by mother.
The day of her funeral was set apart like no other in my experience. Because she died of a contagious disease, only a graveside service could be held. Dorothy, my older sister, and I had to stay in the car so people couldn’t touch us as they walked by to offer their condolences. Mary Ann remained at home.
While Mary Ann was recovering, I helped entertain her. We had a metal tray and some small marbles which fit into a groove around the edge. After putting several of them in the groove, we tipped it so the marbles would race around the outside rim. There was an art to tipping it only so high so they wouldn’t roll off. We both became experts at this improvised game.
When Mary Ann was well, we all tried to pick up the pieces of our lives and go on, but Mother’s absence made it terribly difficult. Every day, when Father came home from work, we drove to the cemetery north of town. We took fresh flowers from our garden, and often cut the grass around the small marble tombstone which said MOTHER. Even near her grave, I couldn’t hear the music she loved. How we sorrowed for her.
A cemetery has a social atmosphere which only those who grieve experience. We met others who had lost loved ones, and we shared our losses with each other. It helped our grief as the days came and went.
Dorothy’s handicap made her unable to help care for a household, although she was fifteen. Because of this, Daddy hired a live-in housekeeper. He converted a long porch on the back of our house to another bedroom, and hired a cook, housekeeper, and sitter all rolled into one–for the handsome sum of three dollars a week.
During the course of three years, we had thirty-some women care for us. We would no more get acquainted with one than she would quit, or dad would fire her. One woman lasted two days. On her second day on the job, she spanked little Mary Ann for not coming in the house when she called. When Daddy came home and saw tears in his darling’s eyes, he immediately asked the housekeeper to pack her things. He took her home pronto, and we girls thought, Good riddance!
Another woman brought some little “friends” with her when she moved into our house– scabies! We all caught them within days. Bathing and a foul-smelling ointment prescribed by our doctor took care of the problem. After we rid our house of her “friends,” she stayed for several years. In her sixties, she loved to smoke, but Daddy let her only do it in the bathroom. She was in there a lot!
The years dragged by until I became a teenager, and I attended a Baptist church with my best friend. I discovered a wonderful group of friendly people who loved and cared for my sisters and me. Before long, we girls went every Sunday, but Daddy only came with us on special occasions like Easter or Christmas. However, the church people reached out to us, and because of that, I would eventually learn why mother heard such beautiful music on her deathbed.
One young woman in the church considered herself a matchmaker. It wasn’t too long before a red-haired young man, Harold, and I became her project. We were both shy, so she proceeded to help us become acquainted by insisting I sit next to him on the way home from a church get-together at the park.
It worked. We were married before he served in the Army Air Force on Guam during WWII. When Harold came home after three long years, we started a new life together. He had a number of jobs: a farm hand, aircraft work, and finally a great job with the refinery where my father worked. Life seemed good, and we welcomed the first of our four children of two boys and two girls.
The church where we’d met and married was a vital part of our everyday lives. One day, Harold bounded in the door after work announcing, “Honey, Guess what. The Lord is calling me to preach!”
I thought, No way!
That role for either of us was out of the question for me. Yet, he seemed so happy and thrilled with the prospect of preaching the rest of his life. Although I was a member of the church, I did not hear the “song” he sang. Although I had been baptized by immersion, completely submerged, nothing had been washed away from the inside out.
“Harold, you mean to leave a good job? Move to who knows where?”
My lack of enthusiasm caused agony for my husband. One day, he went into a pasture, sat down and poured out his heart to the Lord, “I feel called to preach, Lord, but I don’t know how it can happen. Lila is not in agreement with me, and school seems out of the question.”
Soon, he felt the Lord’s hand on his shoulder with these words, “It’s going to be okay.”
I found excuses for not going to church with Harold. Finally, a series of events brought me to the point where I could risk everything to follow my husband’s calling. First, the Lord grabbed my attention through a radio program while Harold was at church one evening.
Next, near our town was a rural schoolhouse where our church started a Sunday school for those in the area. Before long, Harold was preaching there. Still, I struggled to hear the beautiful music he heard.
One week, a guest preacher came to speak at our rural church. He knew the Bible from Genesis to Revelation and quoted many parts of it by heart.
One Scripture touched my soul, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6 KJV). That verse led to a sleepless night. I tossed and turned, in great turmoil-caught in a terrible battle-as Satan pulled me to continue to go astray, but the Lord pulled harder and won my heart.
I finally said, “Yes Jesus, direct my life as Lord and Savior.”
The eternal music came into my life and peace enveloped me. I understood why my mother heard the angels sing on her deathbed. I shared in Harold’s calling to the ministry.
He graduated from Oklahoma Baptist University, utilizing the GI Bill, and we spent thirty-five years serving the Lord together, in harmony.
Now, at eighty years of age, that question-“Where is that beautiful music coming from?”-may be addressed before long to those who stand around my deathbed. I pray my children will be comforted as they realize I have joined my mother and family, and we will be there waiting for them, where the saints and angels sing glorious words of praise to Almighty God for all eternity.
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This story is written by my mother, Lila Lee Morgan. She died November, 2015, three years after my father. She wrote this article for the book, His Forever: Stories of Real People finding Jesus. It wasn’t published because they needed men’s stories at the time. However, my father’s and my son Kurt’s stories are published in this compilation book.