20 years later and I’ll never stop missing my mama

Published 12:29 pm Wednesday, December 6, 2023

It’s early January in 2004.

I’m working the gate shack at a lumberyard on Highway 49 in Hattiesburg.

A semi that runs a regional delivery route stops at my spot on the fence line.

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He’s in here a couple times a week and drives fast, unloads fast, and leaves fast.

The driver brings his truck to a complete stop and rolls down his window. He’s a middle-aged Black man named Shawn.

“Hey, big boy,” he calls. “Are you the one that recently lost your mama?”

Yes sir, back on December 6.

“I want to tell you something, my mama passed away a few years ago, and I am a grown man, and I still cry about it all the time. I’m telling you that I got kids and a wife and if I go sit beside my mama’s grave, I’ll cry like a baby. Don’t you ever be ashamed to get it out.”

My throat was dry and knotted and I had eyes filled to the brim. I’d been fighting back tears every moment of the last month.

I was barely 22 years old as I clenched my jaw and nodded.

Shawn, wherever you are, I want you to know that I’ve never once felt bad for crying during the last 20 years.

They say the deeper the love, the deeper the loss and I believe that with my whole heart.

The last 20 years without Debbie Furr on this earth have equally sped by like a rocket bound for orbit and crawled past like the slow ticking of a clock.

She was born Deborah Kate Garvin in Laurel, Mississippi and grew up down the street from R.H. Watkins High School. Her parents were Ernest and Edna, and her sister and brother are Lynne and Steve.

Her daddy was her hero. A deacon in the church for 50 years, he worked for Masonite and had gone back to Southern Miss on the G.I. Bill.

While training to go overseas to North Africa and Italy, he met a girl named Edna McLaughlin who lived on a local dairy in Fort Myers, Florida. They married after three years of letters and overseas correspondence during World War II.

He was a Master Seargeant with the 15th Air Force ground crew on a B-24 Liberator bomber. He’d been on the ground during Operation Tidal Wave, one of the costliest bombing missions of the war for the Allies.

She grew up and went to school and church with an array of cousins. At Mama’s visitation service, cousin after cousin came up and told how she was their favorite. The same for her nieces and nephews.

Her mother Edna was a great example to her in how to handle people as they both worked as registered nurses. Neither ever suffered fools and Mama couldn’t stand a doctor that talked down to nurses.

She was especially adept at being a psych nurse. She was physical and strong and not afraid of anything. It was on the psych floor of St. Dominic’s where she met my father. When telling of their first meeting, she loved to hold out a beat or two before explaining that no, Bobby Furr was not one of her patients when they first met.

She was as natural a mother as any woman to wear the title and she was a mama to many, many more people than just my two siblings and me. If she loved you like one of her own, she’s still in your heart today.

There was a little fire that burned within her, a desire to do good for others.

It drew people to her like a magnet. I love it when her friends still stop me today, telling stories about something they saw her do for another person years ago, a memory of her that hasn’t faded.

It might be a cake she baked or a word of encouragement she gave or an overdue bill she paid with no one knowing.

Five minutes after she got done hugging you, you could still feel the way she’d squeezed you with love.

She wasn’t perfect though, but her faults were even lovable. She could get mad, but never stayed mad for long.

God, how she could gossip, though.

Her ear stayed glued to a cordless phone as she kept up with the chatter around Brookhaven.

It was just part of who she was, she had to know stuff, even the latest gossip.

She was a voracious reader, known to leave Martha’s Paperback Exchange with a brown bag full of romance novels and to be back for more within the week.

She wore so many hats as a wife and business partner for my Daddy’s logging operation. She had a head full of account numbers and a routine that included a Friday rendezvous with my Daddy and his crew at the jobsite for weekly payroll.

I know I have failed constantly in trying to use words to convey to my own children just how awesome she was. I’m eternally thankful that my wife Angela got to know and love her before Mama left us.

Mama had a close, personal relationship with her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. She worshipped with uplifted voice and beautiful prayers and sometimes the Holy Spirit would have her waiving a red handkerchief in praise.

For years she wrote down the sermons of Bendon Ginn at Easthaven like she was archiving every word in her various notebooks. The margins of her personal Bible teemed with notes and marks and observations.

In the grand scheme of the Bible, how much time does God spend explaining to us what heaven will be like?

Not enough for many of us, for sure.

I know that she’s been worshiping her Savior for these last twenty years, and I bet it hasn’t felt like five minutes have passed.

I used to strongly believe that she did not know nor care about what’s been going on back here on Earth, but I’ve softened in that opinion over the last two decades.

I can live with her knowing about my mistakes and my failures if that means that she knows how much she’s been missed.

Recently, I was talking about that aspect of Heaven with a friend. He was adamant that our loved ones there can’t know what’s going on, because Earth is filled with sorrow and suffering, and Heaven is a place of perfection.

I didn’t argue with him, but listened to what he had to say and acknowledged that he might be right.

I’ll choose to hope that when she did enter her eternal reward, she brought her lasagna recipe, which was as close to perfect as one could get on earth.

And then again, gluttony is a sin, so maybe they made her leave it at the pearly gates.

As a high schooler, I was going through the breakfast line at Brookhaven Academy one morning during break. I looked to the kitchen and there was Debbie, with plastic gloves on, laying noodles out in a huge pan.

She’d come to drop something off, saw the ladies were making lasagna for lunch and rolled up her sleeves to show them how it could be done just a little better with her help.

Don’t eat too much right now, I told my friends, lunch is going to be awesome.

If you’ve recently lost a parent or a loved one, you’re probably feeling a sharp pain in your heart right now.

Just know that the ache does fade over time, little by little, the ache fades.

I imagine intake in Heaven is probably an affair that involves some rules and maybe an orientation period.

When I can, I plan to find her there in Eternity.

And Lord, if you do make us our most perfect, then please give me an early 90s version of Debbie Furr.

That’s when all three of her kids were at home, under her roof every night, fed at her bountiful table for every meal. She was full of vigor and movement and love for her family and so many others.

She was at the height of her motherhood, the gifted type that could make all three of her kids think that each one was her favorite. Chris was the oldest, the one that made her swell with pride in his sound decision making. Katie was her only girl, her closest female cohort, and a mirror of her in so many ways.

And I was the baby. The spoiled baby.

I hope I find her there as she sits now in my minds eye, waiting with her strong arms for my next hug.

“I missed you Mama, every day I missed you.”

Maybe her reply will be something like, I know – I missed you too, buddy.…and I got a pan of lasagna just for you.

Cliff Furr is the sports editor at The Daily Leader. He can be reached via email at sports@dailyleader.com