Monday we celebrated the life of my mother, Helen Newhouse. My friend Josh Hayden shared a beautiful message that truly honored my mother. My brother Eric and Aunt Sharon shared wonderful memories. Below is what I said about Mom. You can read her obituary and watch a video of the service here:
Most of us are introduced to music by our parents. Once we move past lullabies and childrens’ songs, we learn the music our parents listen to. Our kids learned to appreciate Bruce Springsteen and Johnny Cash. They have each developed their own preferences over the years, but they also still listen to my music sometimes.
Some of my early memories are of listening to Mom’s music in the 70s--which was mostly classic country and folk. One of my favorites was John Denver. He sang of sunshine and mountains and adventure and love.
One of his early hits was “Back Home Again.” If I could sing, I’d sing it for you, but I can’t, so I’ll just read the lyrics from the last verse and chorus:
It's the sweetest thing I know of, just spending time with you
It's the little things that make a house a home
Like a fire softly burning and supper on the stove
It’s the light in your eyes that makes me warm
Hey, it's good to be back home again
Sometimes this old farm feels like a long lost friend
Yes, 'n, hey it's good to be back home again
Home. Home is more than a house. It’s love; safety, comfort. It’s history. It’s people. It’s family. Home is home not because of where it is, but who is there.
I was born in Nashville, and while I don’t remember living there, that’s where my roots are. That’s where Mom lived during her teenage years. That’s where my grandmother and great-grandmother and Aunt Sharon lived. It’s where we vacationed over the years. So even though I’m not often there these days, I’ve always had a sense of home when I’m there.
We moved to Virginia when I was a baby, and that’s always been my true home.
I’ve moved around several times over the years, all over the country; but Virginia, specifically Dale City, has always been home.
We moved into our home here in 1973. I’ve left and returned and left again several times over the last 40 years. But no matter where I was, or how long I was gone, that house has always been home. Because that’s where Mom was.
Whatever happened in my life, when I succeeded or failed, when I was alone or scared or lost… I could always go home, and Mom was always there.
I have a great family. I have faithful friends, I have wise mentors. But my mother was my hero. From the very beginning she fought for me, and for the rest of her life she was my teacher, supporter and advisor--every step of the way.
Mom was a single mother. She was 19, dating a man, and when she told him she was pregnant, he surprised her and told her he was engaged to someone else. He wanted her to have an abortion but she refused.
Mom was alone, and this was the South in the 60’s. Her mother and step-father were not supportive. So Mom moved into a home for single pregnant women, and under pressure, decided to give me up for adoption.
When I was born, Mom couldn’t do it. She had already signed papers to give me up, and battled for a week to reverse the agreement. But she did it. She got me back, and cared for me for the rest of her life.
Mom lived with a friend for a while, then when I was six months old we moved from Nashville to Alexandria, Virginia, and lived with her brother, Larry, and his wife Judy.
A few months later she met my father, Howard. Mom married him,
and he adopted me.
Mom didn’t have the easiest childhood, and she did all she could to make life better for my brother and me.
She was my den leader when I was in Cub Scouts. She was the team mother for my little league baseball team. She and Dad took us on vacations to Nashville, Atlanta and Virginia Beach.
When I was 15, Mom and Dad split, and she was a single mother again. She went back to work full-time to provide for us.
Mom went to work for the 7-11 corporation as an entry level secretary. Over the years she worked her way up to Office Manager.
She earned respect and responsibility. Years after retiring, people she worked with still reached out to her.
When my parents split I had a lot of hurt and anger, but Mom was always there for me. She encouraged me when I did well; she was patient and forgiving when I screwed up.
When I joined the Army after high school, Mom wrote to me almost every day when I was in basic training.
As I moved around the country, I never stayed gone too long--always making regular visits home, to Mom.
Whether I was in Texas, or Washington state, Mom and Jerry came to visit often, and brought us home to visit them.
Mom was a great mother. But she may have been an even better grandmother. She loved her grandchildren. When our boys were pre-school age Jamie went back to work. Mom drove down from Woodbridge to Stafford several days a week to take care of Brady and Cash.
She loved her grandchildren and great-grandchildren--calling them, sending gifts, visiting wherever they were, and taking them on trips.
Some of my favorite memories over the last 20 years were spending time at Mom and Jerry’s second home, their camper in Front Royal.
We had wonderful times camping and eating and swimming and tubing on the Shenandoah River.
Mom loved it when their trips to Washington allowed her and Jerry to watch the boys play baseball. They would come to practice, sometimes the only spectators, to watch the boys play.
She loved playing games and watching baseball and basketball on TV. And she loved cooking her family’s favorite foods--chicken-n-dumplings, deviled eggs, chocolate pie, banana pudding, peach cobbler. I loved those foods, because they always took me back home.
Mom loved her whole family, but Sharon and Larry--her relationships with you were special--that’s why we always took trips to Nashville, Atlanta and Sanibel. For Mom, being in those places with you, that was home.
Mom loved her family, her friends, her dogs. But most of all, she loved Jerry.
Mom and Jerry were there for each other for almost 40 years. They talked and laughed and traveled. They camped. They watched the Nationals and Redskins, Kentucky and West VA basketball, NASCAR races, and Gunsmoke.
They spoiled their grandchildren together.
And they did what we all hope we do for the people we love--they brought out the best in each other.
Jerry—Mom saw how special you are, and she helped you and others see how special you are. You took good care of each other.
The last couple years have been a challenge as we walked through Mom’s illness together. But Mom was a warrior, never giving up, continuing to focus on the people around her rather than herself, and making the most of every day.
And as much as I hurt and miss Mom, I’m grateful that my family and I got to come home a lot this past year, spending time with Mom and Jerry, playing games, looking at pictures, telling stories, reliving memories.
And even though I miss her terribly, I find hope, in the belief that Mom is in a new home, a better home; and that one day we will be reunited there with her, in our new home. Because wherever Mom is, for me, that will always be home.