Mama liked the roses… It’s a sappy song, but my Mama liked Elvis too! She passed 10 years ago and today is her 91st birthday. When I woke up this morning, thinking of her, I thought about the many things she taught me, and the funniest thought popped into my head. Elvis!
I’m a fan. Not fanatical, but I saw Elvis three times in Las Vegas and once at the Long Beach arena. A co-worker went to Nashville for a business trip and brought me leaves from Graceland! I treasured them forever! Till they crumbled and turned to dust. This year, my best friend gave me an Elvis memorabilia figurine for Christmas, and my kids still surprise me with Elvis treasures. Okay, so maybe a tiny bit fanatical. But Mama introduced me to Elvis.
In the early 60s, we ate breakfast at a little yellow Formica table in a narrow kitchen in El Monte. My legs used to stick to the yellow vinyl chairs. The table sat next to a big black stove where Mama fried mochi (Japanese rice cakes), and using chopsticks, she’d plop them onto our plates. I can’t remember where the radio was, but there must have been one in the kitchen because I recall one morning that a song that I paid no attention to was on the radio. Mama looked at me with a sly smile and said, “That’s Elvis.” I was only 5, but she told me what she knew about him. I blame her for turning me on to Celebrity crushes!
I remember watching the black and white movie “Love Me Tender” with Mama, and I was hooked. Thinking back, I’m surprised she like that movie. Mama was not naturally emotional or affectionate. In fact, she said that it was our firstborn son David that taught her how to hug. From infancy, they nicknamed him “Clinger” at church. A whole new world of hugs and kisses opened for Mama. I think much of her reservation was her heritage and culture. But as I’m researching and studying World War II in Okinawa, deemed the bloodiest battle in the Pacific, I can see how the horrific things she experienced as a teenager shaped her outlook on life.
The last Elvis concert I attended was at the long beach arena. Elvis wasn’t well then and died a few years later. I feel foolish about admitting this, but I cried when I got the news. In fact, I can still remember every detail about that day. It was rainy, cold, and gray. Not your typical California day. A friend called me from Las Vegas. She wasn’t an Elvis fan but just felt sad. She said I was the only one who would understand. It wasn’t anything deep. Another confession, I’m not very deep. But it was the end of memories, I guess. The depth came thirty years later when Mama passed. Our family waited as she lingered for a week in a coma in ICU at Hoag Hospital, and the day she died was rainy, cold, and gray. More than lost memories. Much more.
Several years after Elvis died, and long before Mama passed, my life changed forever. I had new faith in Christ, and I took Mama to an arena. Not Long Beach, but Anaheim Stadium (I wrote about it in another FB post, “Mama and Billy Graham”). It was there, at a Crusade, that her life changed, forever. Mama rededicated her life to Christ. Our relationship also changed that day, and our love for Jesus and His Word replaced any lingering connection we had with Elvis! I’d like to say that I introduced Mama to Jesus, but I didn’t. Missionaries in Okinawa did that long before I came along. My heroes.
Mama’s faith spurred my son to become a missionary to Japan, and another son followed. He was just four years old when my mother registered for her first church retreat. Our family drove her there and attended as well. A pastor’s message motivated my mother to return to Okinawa and give the gospel to her mother, father, and brother. That’s a whole other stirring story, but it planted the desire in my son’s heart to become a missionary to Japan, and both sons and their families are with the same organization, JEMS, that hosted that retreat! My heart swells.
Today, as I think of Mama and am reminded of Elvis’s song, “Mama Liked the Roses, I also think of my mother and her roses. I wrote of them recently in my novelette “Essential Ingredients.” Like the song says, ‘she decorated the house with them. I can still smell the sweet perfume, and I wished we would have entered them at the Orange County Fair. Her blooms were bigger than any I have ever seen. The bushes were forty years old when she passed, and Mama was like her roses. Often, thorny on the outside, but rich with the seed of Jesus, she permeated my life with the sweet aroma of faithful prayers and the hope of heaven when she bloomed. In her latter days, Mama was suffering significant back pain but said to me. “I’m not afraid to die. I know where I’m going.” I did not know that God would take her home three days later.
I miss you, Mama. I miss your reassuring prayers for our kids. I miss hearing you pray in Japanese when we do our family prayer circles, and I miss our bible talks. I miss lots of other things too, and I miss your roses. I don’t miss Elvis that much, but I am saddened that we lose the ones we love here on earth as life goes on. But like Mama said, I know where I’m going, and the hope of eternal bliss serving our King in heaven is a joy I wait for. That and seeing you again. I love you, Mama.