In Memory of Freddie Sue Nance Adelson
Some of my favorite stories from my mother’s life were the stories that she shared with me as her life came to an end.
These stories were the memories of a woman who had lived close to 100 years and knew the world in ways few alive today can.
She spoke of riding a horse to school during the times when her family had no car. These school days stories included her confession that she ran the horse home as fast as he could go and that her grandfather would be upset because the horse was needed in the fields and if he was too tired he could do the work set before him.
There was the story of her grandfather making a fishing pole from a stick, teaching her how to bait the hook with worms so she go fishing in a pond located on the farm. She would fish for hours but never caught a fish, eventually learning that the pond had no fish and the entire endeavor was her grandfather’s way to teach her patience.
I heard about her pet goat named Billy, her waving to train conductors as the trains raced down the tracks, and how she got in trouble several times as she and her friend plugged multiple watermelons in the garden, looking for the sweetest possible treat. “Tootie” her grandfather said, “What do you like for breakfast”, “Why, I like pancakes Grandfather”, “Well, I like watermelon, and if you and your friend plug all the watermelon in the field what am I going to have for breakfast”.
Mother loved her grandparents deeply.
Sue, my mother, had traveled much of the world, but at the end of her life it was the experiences with her family and the memories of her childhood that were closest to her heart.
Throughout my life I heard stories from her singing career but in the last few weeks of her life I learned details that I had never heard before. As she revealed these new details and told more stories about her life on the road, I could sense an uncertainty as to the chosen trajectory of her life, and I wondered if she was confident that she had made the right choice for family over fame, but whenever the though crossed my mind, almost without fail, she would mention her deep love for her children and grandchildren and I could tell that she knew without them, her life would have been an impoverished version of what she had chosen. I could tell she was satisfied in her choosing family life.
It is tempting for me to speak at length about her singing career as it was truly a unique and somewhat glamorous feature to her life. The training, the touring, the fans, along with her loss of control over her own life and the lack of any free will as a young exploited artist. But the key element of this time in her life is really found in her choice to marry and create a family, a choice that extinguished any possibility of her signing professionally in the future as shortly after having children she was in a car accident with injuries that required surgery on her throat cutting her vocal cords.
In a way, this tragedy might have been a blessing as any thought she may have had of running away to sing again would be nothing but a fantasy as that talent had been taken by a surgeon’s knife. A blessing does not always feel like a blessing.
Early in her life, Sue chose family over fame, for better or worse and there was no going back. Few are ever faced with such a choice, and many of the few that are given such a choice, quickly choose the fame.
For much of her adult life, mother had no contact with her family in Texas. I do not know how much of this was intentional but, at least by the time I came along (I am the youngest of five) she claimed that she had no living family except for a half-sister that she did not know well.
Her mother’s family, the Nances, had a dairy farm, her father’s family, the Turmans were dirt farmers, and they were neighbors. Mother’s mother, Ethel Agusta, was not quite 16 at the time of her birth, her father, Parksie Oral was 19. With such young parents, mother was raised with a great deal of help from her grandparents and her aunts and uncles.
Two of her uncles were, well, criminals, but during the depression times were hard and ways to make money in rural Texas were scarce. Their bounty went to the family. Regardless of their chosen vocations, she loved her many aunts and uncles and when she spoke of them I could tell she missed them a great deal.
Once mother married and had children, she was faced with the challenges all mothers face. Each child was very different from the other and she was tested as she sought to meet the needs of five children that were all vastly unique, but still yet, still had the same basic need for love and attention. After her third child, she found herself, for a short while, to be a single mother in the 50s. She met my father, married, and began again. Her love for and her friendship with my father lasted throughout her life, regardless of their marital status.
As she grew up and as her life changed, she went from Texas, to Arizona, to Colorado, to Michigan, eventually settling here in Central Florida in 1965 where she spent the rest of her life.
As time passed and the world changed, our family changed as well. My mother divorced for the second time in 1972 and never remarried. I, 9 years old and my brother, James 13 were the last two children at home.
James matured young, which had its challenges. Within a year or so, James left home never to return. The 5-bedroom home were 7 once lived was now eerily quiet with the two of us roaming from room to room. Mother and I were forced to learn how to live the new less chaotic, more demanding, and vastly lonelier lives that was now ours.
Our relationship changed dramatically as we both were forced to grow up quickly and face many of life’s harsh realities that hitherto were at arm’s length. Sue now had to learn how to life in new ways, she had to learn how to support herself and I as the primary provider and she had to learn how do so quickly.
Moving from a large house in Maitland to an apartment in Winter Park was a dramatic change for her, but she met the challenge with great fortitude and grace.
Once free to golf, volunteer as a Pink Lady at the Winter Park Hospital, help out at the Orlando Chamber of Commerce, or just shop with few financial restraints or concerns, mother was now part of the new and increasing female workforce of the early 70s. She went to work at an insurance agency and got involved with the League of Women Voters, the American Businesswomen’s Association and she learn how to clip coupons.
Mother rarely found time to herself but when she did, she enjoyed going wherever there was a piano and dancing.
She was the quintessential woman of her time, as the major events of each decade often and directly impacted her life personally.
When my brother was diagnosed with HIV in the early 80s she found herself lost and alone in her struggle to understand. She needed to know how to go on with her life and how she could be supportive to her son in his illness. She looked, but there were no support groups for mothers of children with HIV but knowing her own needs and understanding she must not be alone, she successfully started her own support group. She sought community, and finding none, she created one.
Later, when James died of AIDS related illnesses in 2003, the loss of her son was something she never really got over, but she did all a mother could possibly do to continue to live well while honoring her son’s memory. She again became part of a support group and did what she needed to do to face a mother’s worst nightmare. She found hope and support in community.
As her children married and had children, mother found new joy in life through her grandchildren. She loved being a grandparent and great grandparent and these children became the core driving force of relationship and love in her life.
As she began to face the challenges offered as she aged, she faced these challenges with great dignity, selfcare and determination. In 2004 she had a knee replaced and because of improper medical care she ended up with a burst colon and a colostomy. She was lucky to be alive but there was a huge cost to her dignity and pride in her living. Faced with another tremendous challenge, Sue did what she had always done in her time of need, she sought community. She joined an ostomy support group, found help and then helped others. Miraculously, Sue was fortunate to have the colostomy reversed years later.
Now with more time on her hands Sue turned her thoughts towards her mortality and God. Her childhood experiences of God were mostly from tent revivals which scared her with their talk of hell and damnation. She found a loving and became a regular attendee of Saint Richard’s Church. Again, Sue in a time of need, sought out community.
Since her death I have been pondering her life, wondering what lessons she, as a woman had to offer me. Of course, there are the lessons of mother to son, but what of person to person, friend to friend, as we were tremendously close friends.
Of all the possible lessons her life shows, I think there are a few that speak the most to my heart. The first is that of all life has to offer, it is family that means the most in the end.
Sue’s last memories were some of her first. Simple memories of simple times with a family she loved, uncomplicated by judgment ego. Family matters most. She also taught that family can be created. In her most confusing, desperate and challenging times Sue sought or created community. When her family could not provide what she needed she sought out or created a family of choice that could. She showed me that people matter most and to not put worldly pursuits and desires above any relationship in my life. She taught me to diligently live the often-overlooked commandments to make no graven images and to not covet.
Secondly, she taught me words and deeds have a life of their own. What we say and do matters eternally not so much for the actions themselves, but what the actions create us into being.
One of my favorite excerpts from the ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts is the story of the Hall of Truth. After death the soul would be met by the god Anubis who with lead it to the Hall of Truth and the 42 judges. Once in the Hall of truth, the soul would stand before Osiris and Thoth in front of golden scales. There the soul would make their confessions, but ultimately it was the weight of the soul’s heart that mattered. The heart would be placed on the golden scale, with a feather (the white feather of truth), on the opposing side. If the heart of the soul was lighter than the feather and the 42 judges agreed, the person could pass on toward the bliss found in the Field of Reeds.
This lesson mother me was about forgiveness. To unburden my hearts, to lighten my heart by forgiving others and myself and to do the things that lighten, not weight down, my heart and the hearts of others.
Lastly, a bit more subtle but extremely important lesson she taught me in the end was for me to be who I am, to seek to always - in every circumstance be as much of my authentic self as I can be. At the end of her life, mother was no longer grasping for the things that life offered. She was free of worldly wants, selfish ego, vanity, and desires, she, Freddie Sue was fully present, free to be her more pure and uncomplicated self. Being with her, with her true self, was a privilege, joy and uncomplicated pleasure.
Frankly, I have never experienced such deep grief as I have this past week, and I am sure my grief is not over, and really may never be. But I know I am not alone in this experience. Each person, should they be blessed to live long enough, will experience the loss of their mother – the living, breathing, vessel, the one person in our lives from which we all came – the physical icon of our spiritual Mother in Heaven.
Even in sorrow we are blessed and better people for having known Sue, her life had many lessons and the experience of who she is enriched all our lives. I hope she knows these things, and I hope that each of you are willing and able to take a moment and reflect on what she and her life has offered to you.
Thank you, Toodie, Freddie Sue, Sue, Mother, Fred. I love you.
May we all be united again one day in the Field of Reeds.