The Queen has left the throne, Long Live the Queen

Column by Jim Bishop
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A ceramic pitcher with a Stangl design, sketched by my brother, J. Eric Bishop, appeared on the cover of the memorial service program above the Scripture verse, “Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her” (Prov. 31:29).

The image and words befit the late Ann Dayton Bishop, 88, whose life we gathered to commemorate. All five of her children have Stangl dinnerware in their homes. Anna and I have used Stangl plates, side dishes and coffee cups nearly every day over our 43 years of marriage.

The funeral service was held the evening of Dec. 22 at the Blooming Glen (Pa.) Mennonite Church where Mom attended as long as she was physically able. The front of the sanctuary was bedecked with colorful poinsettias, and it seemed appropriate, so close to Christmas, to sing “Silent Night” and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” capably led by brother Mike Bishop, along with “Shall We Gather at the River” and “There is a Balm in Gilead” and other of Mom’s favorite hymns.

We expected for some time that Mom would slip from this world to the next, and I kept my emotions in check pretty well – even when we four brothers sang “Twilight is Stealing” from the Harmonia Sacra – but I broke down on the selection that ended the service, “All Night, All Night, the Angels are Watching on Me.” I visualized Mom singing that to us kids at bedtime many years ago like it was yesterday.

Mom would have approved of it all; I felt her presence in this service of remembrance and celebration even though we committed her to the earth earlier that day, buried next to her beloved husband, J. Vernon Bishop.

She left this world quietly, peacefully in the early hours of Sunday morning, Dec. 20, at Rockhill Mennonite Community where she had resided the past 10 years. Before that, she lived 57 years in Doylestown, Pa., moving there in 1942 from her home in Mineral County, W.Va., after her marriage.

Mom Bishop was an amazing woman. She had style, class, a sparkling personality and remained strikingly attractive right to the end. Her upbeat outlook on life was reflected in her favorite Scripture verse, “This is the day which the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24).

Mom never worked full time outside the home. In fact, she worked overtime on her primary calling of being the best household executive she could be. She possessed the best domestic qualities of Donna Stone (Donna Reed Show), Harriet Nelson (Ozzie and Harriet) Jane Wyatt (Father Knows Best) and June Cleaver (Leave It to Beaver) rolled into one.

She majored in home economics growing up, the oldest of nine children of Robert P. and Rhoda Dayton of Fairview Valley, Mineral County, W.Va. She came to Harrisonburg in 1937 as a boarding student at Eastern Mennonite School, stayed out a year to care for her younger siblings, then returned to graduate in 1939.

Mom did have some part-time jobs over the years, including helping Dad with custodial duties at the Doylestown Mennonite Church when our family lived next door for 10 years. She was a volunteer many years at the Doylestown Hospital, taught Sunday school and summer Bible school, helped Dad with the Torchbearers youth activities (similar to Boys Scouts) and promoted the program across the Franconia Mennonite Conference. She and Dad directed boys’ camps several times at Laurelville Mennonite Church Center, Mt. Pleasant, Pa.

Mom’s meals were a culinary event to be anticipated and savored, especially her Sunday dinners of roast beef, mashed potatoes and gravy or Dutch fried potatoes and creamed peas. Not only was her cooking something to die for, but the presentation was a significant aspect of the experience. Few main dishes were complete without sprigs of parsley, a dash of paprika or other condiments.

Even if the meal was as simple as hot dogs or sandwiches, one of her flower arrangements usually graced the table. The house was filled with thriving green foliage; summertime found brilliant boxes of geraniums and petunias anchoring every window sill.

We were expected to come promptly to the table, fully dressed, no caps, no radio or TV on in the background, and couldn’t leave the table – taking the dirty dishes with us to the kitchen – until everyone was finished. No one really was that anxious to leave, because conversation was always animated, compelling and usually loud.

Often, Mom would sit there taking it all in, then raise her hand and say, “May I speak?” We’d stop yelling long enough to say, “Forty-five seconds, Mom, and you’ve already used 10 of them.”

Much business was transacted, decisions made, many arguments started and settled around the family table. It was a rare Sunday that we didn’t have company or I invited a friend home for dinner. Frequent out-of-town relatives and other guests were recipients of Mom’s gracious hospitality.

Mom and Dad worked as a team in child-rearing. We five kids were on a long leash, but we knew our limits, even though I continued to use a ploy that sometimes worked, and sometimes didn’t. When I wanted to do something that I knew both Mom and Dad wouldn’t approve of, I’d approach Dad first with my plaintive “reasonable” request, and when he said “No,” I’d go plead my case to Mom, who seldom fired back an immediate “No.” Then, I’d wait awhile, go back and resubmit my petition. Occasionally she’d talk Dad into giving me the green light. But when this happened, I sometimes found myself later wishing I’d not have pursued my quest.

I slowly realized that Dad and Mom did know best, and I came to appreciate their experience and wise counsel, vowing to replicate the best of their parenting skills in the unlikelihood that I’d one day be a parent with (gulp!) teenage offspring.

A barrage of email notes and sympathy cards overshadowed Christmas cards and letters in our mailbox in the wake of Mom’s homegoing. Jean Litten’s handwritten note said it most poignantly: “Your mother will celebrate Christmas with your dad and the angels.”

A message from my backyard neighbor, Harold Huber, included this telling acknowledgment:

“I know from my experience that when that last parent goes, it is difficult, partly because one now knows that he is an orphan in this world,” Harold said. “But your parents prepared you to face even this, and your God is right there, holding you up and wrapping the divine arms around you. In addition, you have Anna, your entire family, and hundreds of persons who know and love you, sympathizing and praying for you. Yet, I know it is painful.”

It is indeed painful, and some of that ache never goes away. I feel a keen sense of loss nearly 11 years after Dad Bishop left us, in February 1998 at age 76. Mom gave us 12 more years, most of that quality time that she spent in giving of herself to others near and far who knew and loved her.

The recognition hasn’t escaped me that 2009 opened with the death in early January of Anna’s mom, Edna Mast, 96, and closed with Mom’s earthly departure in late December, like bookends encasing the year. Is there some special significance in this? I’m not sure, other than to remind us of the fragility of life, of the need to savor every moment and to give both verbal and literal bouquets to our loved ones and others while they are alive.

Mom may never have achieved greatness in the eyes of the world, but she was the greatest to her family and to numerous others whose lives she touched. She loved her Lord, and she embodied a life of sacrificial service, symbolized by that Stangl pitcher that poured out her spirit of love, joy, contentment and amazing grace.


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