Monday, February 25, 2013

Mary K. Laughbaum: friend and mentor

While everyone else is watching the Oscars and J is watching the Lion King--go figure, I am wanting to remember a woman who was my 'fairy godmother' all my childhood.  Today was the memorial for Mary Katherine Laughbaum.  She was my mother's best friend from 1949 until Mom died in 2009.  They were the kind of friends that they never went a week without seeing each other.  They both lived into their late 90's.  They had 60 years of friendship.

But with their friendship came a friendship with someone outside of my family whose life was different than mine.  Mary K. and her husband Mac came to Fort Worth the same year that we arrived.  They had a son that was the same age as my brother and were the "new guys" on the football squad as juniors in high school.  My brother came  home and suggested that my mom call on Mary K.  because Mary K. could not hear.  Mom was lonely too.  We were 'Yankees,' people from the North and it was not cool in those years.

Mary K. and Mac had two children: Ronnie and Susan.  Ronnie was Bob's age and Susan was just a little older than I.  But she had been born with Cerebral Palsy and  severe retardation.  And just as we came to town they had had to institutionalize Susan because Mary K. could not care for her.  It was a heartbreak for her and at a certain level I became a bit of a substitute.  She would take me to plays and cultural events so that I could know art and theater. I think I went to an art museum the first time with her.  I had to dress up and wear gloves and we went to luncheon there.  And as I became more involved with music, she came to my recitals and band concerts even though she was deaf.

Because she had lost her hearing as a young adult with Meniere's Disease, she knew how to speak and she learned to read lips.  I learned early how to be very clear in the way I pronounced words so she could understand me.  I learned how to be patient with her--something that young children generally don't learn until later.  She would share with me what it meant to not be able to hear and it started a regard for those who are alternatively challenged early in my life.  I learned because SHE taught me.  She wanted to know my world and she wanted to know me.

She was one of the most patient people I have ever known other than J.  She was kind in a way that is not especially known anymore.  She took care of the nursery at her church during the sermon time and then took home the printed sermons.  Much later, when I was in seminary she would send me those sermons.  She was a Disciple of Christ and went to the congregation on the TCU campus.  So those sermons were some of the best of that tradition.

I am so thankful for Mary K.  But I am especially fond of her because she was such a good friend of Mom.  As Mom began to lose her sight, their friendship became even more poignant.  I often would laugh as they would poke fun at each other.  It reminded me of a comedy routine.  But they understood the loss each was experiencing and not letting the other give into the pain.  Their friendship continued long after their mobility.  They were at the same retirement center.  It wasn't as if they were inseparable, it was just that they had that contact with their lives before they moved to the retirement home.  It brought some stability into their lives and until Mom developed too much dementia that robbed her of her speech, they would spend a bit of time each day to just talk.

Her presence in my life made a difference for me growing up.  She taught me of things that I could never have gotten anywhere else.  Her last years were painfully wracked with arthritis.  But her mind and wisdom were still there.  I will miss her but I know that Mom and she are sitting and talking about some book they have read or someplace they have visited.

Rest in peace, Mary K.  And rise in glory.  

1 comment:

Mary Beth said...

Oh, Lauren...what a gift she was in your life. Thank you for sharing this.