Thursday, January 12, 2012

Happy Birthday, Litter Lee


In loving memory of Mary Lynn Stricklin Horton
January 12, 1937-December 2, 1990

She was the same kind of different as me.

My half-sister, Mary Lynn, was my oldest sibling. Her mom died from complications of measles/pneumonia when Mary was about four, and her brother was two.

Before too long, my dad and mom were married, my mom a new bride with an instant family.

My parents lives, like those of everyone we knew, consisted of growing cotton, corn, chickens,  and children.

Their world was very small, immobile, static for generations.

An aunt and uncle had moved to Michigan searching for a better life and had seemingly found it. When the aunt became pregnant, Mary traveled there to help her during the pregnancy. Mary saw how big the world was. She returned home when she was no longer needed, but she was never again content living on the farm.

There was not a lot of opportunity for social interaction with anyone who was not a relative. People visiting from outside the area always seemed different and exciting. When Mary was sixteen, a neighboring family had visitors from far away Arizona. The visitors had a son, just the right age, and when they returned to Arizona a few days later, Mary went with them as a new bride.

Any marriage based not on love but as a ticket out of town doesn't have much chance for survival. Mary was soon home again. My parents were angry when she eloped, and the anger lingered after Mary came home in defeat. She was soon looking for a way out, a new beginning.

We had relatives in northern Indiana, part of the post-World War II migration from the agrarian south to the industrial north. Mary, older than her years, went there looking for work. I was very young at the time and was thrilled when she wrote home and said she had found a job as a waitress. In my frame of reference, any job that didn't consist of dirt and heat and aching backs was definitely glamorous and highly desirable.

One year, while she was working in the north at Christmas time, we received a huge box in the mail from Mary with presents for everyone. Mine was a black wallet, and inside, she had placed a one dollar bill, and it was all mine! I can't think any other gift I have received in my life that was as exciting as that one.

Mary spent her life searching. She moved from job to job, from husbands and lovers, never staying anywhere for long, never finding her peace.


I had a child when I was a child of nineteen. Mary, alone again, came to stay with Hub and me, helping, teaching me to cook and take care of the house. She never had children of her own and sort of adopted our first born son as her grandchild. He would follow her every step. He loved her immensely, and would even eat onions if she did. When he started to talk, he couldn't quite manage her name, calling her "Aunt Litter Lee".

She became more settled after that, and soon found her soul mate, the first real love of her life.

Soon after they married, she found her greatest love, finally opening her heart's door as Jesus stood there knocking, patiently waiting for this special child. Her restless spirit was replaced with a gentleness that is rarely seen.

Mary was happy and content for a little while, but unfortunately, her struggle wasn't over.

It all came so fast; the phone call, tears, a lump in her breast, a willingness to fight. The surgery, the chemicals, the waning of a strong body. The enemy consumed the bones, took the energy, but not the spirit.

On a cold December day, first born son, barely a man, so young to learn hard lessons, stood and eulogized his beloved Aunt Litter Lee. She was 53 years old when the battle ended. There is no way to measure the impact of her brief time on this earth.

The Word lets us glimpse into heaven, the perfect place, where we will never hear words like cancer. I think when its my time to cross the Jordan into the promised land,  Mary will be there, in front of the others waiting to welcome me. We'll hug and giggle, and I'll tell her how hard it was with her gone, and we'll make up the lost time.

We always had a joint birthday celebration; hers is today and mine is tomorrow. I have already had more birthdays than she did, but I never forget hers, these twenty-one years that we have lived in different places. Happy Birthday, Sweet Sista!

For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters; and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes. Revelation 7:17