My mother, Lois McKnight, passed away Sunday just before noon (August 2) a few months shy of 92 years old. She survived my father, Alex McKnight, by more than a year. They were married almost seventy years, and she was more than ready to be with dad again. About 2.5 years ago she had a nasty break in her lower back. She survived but she suffered a lot. She doted lovingly on my father as his infection drained life from him, and she was herself mostly painless until the last few weeks when she was diagnosed with lung cancer. (Don’t bother thinking she must have smoked because she was a scrupulous Baptist through and through.)
She was constantly given attention by Beth, my younger sister, and daily talked with my older sister, Alexa. Some of her grandchildren saw her in the last day and two were with her as she passed into eternity.
We are blessed because we saw her at the end. Her home didn’t permit during the Covid Days anyone to come into the home but about three weeks ago they decided she could have one outside-the-facility family visit per week, and we scheduled for a Saturday. It was hot and mom said she couldn’t come outside if it was too hot, but it seemed to cool off a bit so we drove two hours to Freeport. When we got there we learned that she had explained that we would be driving a long way, that it was hot and it was rainy, that it would be OK if we came inside thehome, so the kind lady set up an area for us to have an inside visit. Kris and I both thought, “That’s my mom.” She made it happen.
Speaking of which, my father was never much for the computer world or the internet. In fact, Kris and my mom communicated daily news from the families for years. So my mom, ever adaptable, figured computers out and learned who knew what and called them and got them to help her when a computer issue arrived. Including calling Laura’s husband Mark. We all got her a Portal (an iPad like device) and she learned how to “video call” us – never mind some were at 2:30am or 4:30am – and talk. If she got bored she just start tapping on names so she could have a conversation. She called at least once a week to see if we had any up to date news about the start of the baseball season. (Family secret: she was a Cardinal fan but, because Lukas played in the Cubs organization, she cheered for the Cubs. Not sure if she did when they played the Cards.) If there was a game on, she was in the room – watching and knitting or sewing or something. She’s the original multi tasker.
When I think of my mother the first word that comes to mind is music. She grew up singing in her Southern Baptist church outside St. Louis, she learned the piano and went to college a few years to study music. Those are her reports, but I remember from my earliest years my mother teaching vocal lessons and, not as often, piano. She was in a choir always. She loved the choir and lived for that Sunday morning arrangement – and did she get pumped up for cantatas. (I did not receive the music gene.) She eventually became the Choir Director at First Baptist in Freeport IL for years and years. When they moved over to the Evangelical Free Church in Freeport, she eventually became the Choir Director there, too. She often sang solos in our churches. I remember her shuffling music into folders in the basement at the church, directing the choir, and moving her hands and feet and head to any music she was listening to. Perhaps a highlight of her life was creating Christmas Tree choir specials. She was never afraid to ask for help so she found someone to build nothing less than a big contraption that would hold the whole choir at different levels. You think she got home exhausted after one of those big performances? Forget it. She would entertain dozens of folks in her home afterward and was full of energy until the last dish was put away.
Image: Personal photo
At one point my mom created the J.O.Y. (Just Old Youth) Singers, a choir of 70 and 80 yr olds plus, and they traveled around singing in churches. Why not?!
She loved her grandchildren and I will never forget the day she saw a picture of Lukas walking on a path holding hands with Aksel and Finley and she just cried looking at it. Every time she called or whenever we called her she wanted to know about Lukas and Annika and Laura and Mark, and yes also Aksel and Finley. Whenever she visited Laura she would always tell Laura what a wonderful cook and hostess she was! One of my parents’ highlights was going to Laura and Mark’s wedding in Hawaii. Laura remembers my mom taking her shopping once in Atlanta when Laura was young and my mom telling her she could have whatever she wanted!
She was always praying for my speaking engagements and Kris would print them off for her so she could keep up. When we went to Turkey or Israel she was convinced the terrorists would nab us. When I told her Istanbul was safer than Chicago it relieved her not one bit. She would call as soon as we got home from the trip – at times we answered the call in the taxi on the way home from the airport. She also always asked about what I was writing. This is my favorite: she asked about my writing and I told her I was writing about “Mary” and she said, “Why? She’s so Catholic.” Verbatim folks. (Did I mention she was Baptist?)
Something else comes to mind with my mother: generous hospitality. We went to church Sunday AM for SS class, Sunday services (we were the last to leave), and Sunday evening and very often after the Sunday evening service we entertained people in our home – or someone invited us over. At a moment’s notice my mother would create pies and cakes and crock pots of simmering, savory somethings, and cheese and shrimp and sandwiches … it seemed to me that our refrigerator had multiple depths as she was always able to pull out something else.
Two stories: my mom and dad loved Apple Butter and they rented a huge copper kettle, my father built a fire under it, and we started stirring the big soup of apples, cinnamon and sugar (and who knows what else). In the days before tacos at restaurants my mother learned how to make her own – the tastiest taco shells in history – and would invite folks over for a feast of tacos. The more the merrier for my mom.
My mother was a traditional Christian woman who operated within kind patriarchal structures but, as Kris said to me just recently, “She was a feminist of sorts.” My mom would surely say she was submissive according to script but, folks, I’m not gonna lie: she made things happen that she wanted things to happen. She waited on my dad but she was anything but traditional when it came to ambition and can-do. She always found jobs, she had more energy than two males under whom she worked, and she often worked her way up in whatever she did. She was ambitious and industrious and creative and believed where there was a will there was a way. She had all the will one needed. Had she been born a generation later she’d have been a corporate leader.
Because of my mother’s involvement in churches, which became more enjoyable this year because she could watch the services on her Portal, she had an abundance of friends who created a steady stream of visitors in her recent home.
She will be missed by more than she will ever know.
Like my father she wanted her body donated to science.