Frances Lee Willis Anglesey: Life Sketch
Thursday, June 16, 2016
I’m Alisa Anglesey, the oldest daughter of Ben and Fran Anglesey. On behalf of our family, Thank You for coming today. No one ever really needs to attend a funeral for the one who has passed on. They’re alright. And I imagine in Mom’s case, they’re probably still swapping stories at her Welcome Home party… going on Day 3, now.
But for those of us left behind: Somewhere through the haze of pain and grief, these barely perceptible pin-pricks of light making their way mysteriously through that fog: These genuine expressions of love and support—however small—help us see just a bit into the coming weeks and months ahead; and to know that life will go on as it must.
So, thank you: Those who are here; and especially those who have traveled great distances—at great personal sacrifice—to be here. We love you and are grateful for you.
How is it possible to sum up a life of 86 years in just a few minutes? Not just any life; my mother’s life. We always kidded her about being a foreign undercover spy and living a double life, since she would come up with things from her past—out of the blue—that we had never heard about. “President George Albert Smith looked purdy in his white suit.” Wait, you knew President George Albert Smith? Oh yeah, I forgot. It was that time you were a spy for the Soviet Union… etc. I think no one can know all the things she knew. She was absolutely overflowing with hidden treasures.
Having volunteered for this task a few weeks ago, I thought I’d have plenty of time to sort the vast array of experiences with my mother into something comprehensible. This was a magnificent failure on my part.
How do you sort the threads of every curtain in your home? Like the partially opaque white sheers she loved so much?
Or how do you deconstruct the ingredients that go into a family meal; prepared sometimes in haste, or sometimes with simplicity; or sometimes with a mountain of work and time that’s so hard to come by… but always—ALWAYS—with more love than you can measure with any cup or bowl… or ocean.
How do you recall the minutes of every day?
The “Good Morning, Sweetheart’s”
The “Have a good day, I love you’s,”
The “How was your day’s,”
And the “Good night, Sweetheart. Do you know how much I love you’s,”
—with everything else in between?
How can it be done?
It can’t, really. So there’s an obituary in your program. Read it. The poem on the back of the insert, “Forgive Me When I Whine,” is Mom’s favorite poem. How do I know? She told me so. About a month ago—when the Alzheimer’s was in full swing where she couldn’t even recall our names anymore—she and I were in the library room looking through some photos. The subject of poetry came up and she said, “Do you know my favorite poem in the whole world?”
“No, Mom. What is it?”
She then quoted, verbatim, this poem, “Forgive Me When I Whine,” getting all teary-eyed and choked up as she went. It’s one of those rare moments, like a gem plucked from the deep, I won’t soon forget.
Mom loved beautiful things. Poetry, art, music, literature, theatre,… sometimes film—if it was “a purdy show” and not “the greatest mess, Young’erns.”
Some of her favorite vocal artists include Mandi Patinkin, Rod Stewart, The Three Tenors, and anything by The Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
Some of her favorite films are mostly vintage: “It Happened One Night,” “Magnificent Obsession,” “Mr. Lucky,” “Waterloo Bridge,” “An Affair to Remember,” “Gone with the Wind,” and a more recent favorite, “Return to Me.”
She loved to use Modge-Podge, and to beautify our home with pretty pictures; not necessarily expensive, but beautiful. She had a flair for making inexpensive things look classy.
She had the most beautiful handwriting, and even took a calligraphy class with Carol Ann! Dad would always have Mom address all the Christmas cards with her beautiful hand-writing. All my mission letters (which arrived like clockwork every week) were hand-written by her—every one of them perfectly legible.
And, I should mention here, there never was a word Mom couldn’t spell.
Being from Harkers Island, she had a litany of expressions that were uniquely hers from her time on the Island:
- “Well I’ll swauney!” —To express frustration.
- “Youngerns,…” —Often used as a preamble to another thought, or simply as a stand-alone exclamation.
- “Arsh potatoes” — Those potatoes from Ireland.
- “Pin v. Pen” —They always sounded exactly the same.
- “The Little Red Hen” —When we didn’t do our chores, “The Little Red Hen” would do them.
- N’ary a Christmas passed that after all the presents had been opened, she’d say with a little tear in her eye, “God Bless Santa Claus.”
- “My words fly up but my thoughts stay below. Words without thoughts ne’er to heaven go.” – King Claudius in Hamlet.
From the Meyers-Briggs Personality-Test, Mom is a definitive ESFJ, “The Provider” or “The Hostess: How Things Should Be.” (Think, Martha Stewart and Barbara Walters).
“ESFJs may often be found playing host or hostess. They tend to take on the role of organizer without hesitation, and want to be sure that everyone is taken care of…”
It’s a well know fact that the Girls’ Chorus’ dresses all had hems that were so even they formed a straight line, even though each girl stood at differing heights. That’s because Frances was there to make sure that happened. We have a saying in our family: “to Francesize.” To Francesize something is to make sure that it’s cleaned, trimmed, balanced, pressed, or otherwise prepared to perfection.
“Wherever they go, Providers take up the role of social contributor, happily giving their time and energy to make sure that the needs of others are met, that traditions are supported and developed, and that social functions are a success… They are punctual, neat, responsible, and highly productive, with a great concern for others.”
No one came or went from our house without a hug… and often some food.
There’s no telling how many cakes Mom baked in her lifetime; how many brownies, peanut-butter fudge, coconut bonbons, cinnamon rolls,… AND THEY WERE NEVER FOR US.
One time, Mom had baked a pineapple upside-down cake. Upon removing it from the oven, she accidentally dropped it on the floor, breaking it to pieces. Mary Alison looked on sheepishly and asked, “So now… you can’t give that away, right?” Mom confirmed in utter dismay that the cake was ruined. Mary Alison knelt down by the pieces on the floor, lifted her eyes, and said, “Thank you, Lord!”
Compassionate Service was her life’s calling. Mom spent hours upon hours at the kitchen table making phone calls to organize dinners for new mothers in the ward, or for someone who had just gone through surgery, or someone who needed it for any reason. And if she couldn’t find someone to fill a slot, SHE filled it. There was no such thing as failure.
To my knowledge, there was never a calling she turned down, nor an assignment she did not fulfill. She always carried her scriptures and Relief Society manual to Church; and she used them. She served often in the Relief Society as a counselor, teacher, coordinator, you name it… she probably did it. And she loved Primary. I know she served as a counselor, a teacher, and a Primary Chorister a few times. I remember the picture boards she made to help the children learn a new song.
[And we’ll be hearing her favorite Primary Song in just a minute from Ben & Skye Cummins singing, “Where Love Is.”]
Mom could be fierce when she was in the role of “Mama Bear.” You know the saying, “Never mess with Mama Bear. You will lose.”
She had the terrifying “Frances glare.” The Meryl-Streep-in-the-Devil-Wears-Prada withering laser eyes that could steal your soul, chew you up, and spit you out again if she deigned that you should live.
When I was old enough to walk—not well, but enough to get into trouble—Mom was travelling with Mary Alison in a stroller and my toddler-self at the bustling Atlanta Airport. Somehow, I had gotten on the “wrong” side of security and the TSA agent (or whatever they were called in those days) wouldn’t let Mom through to retrieve me. That Security Guard learned first-hand that day never to mess with “Mama Bear,” especially when her name is Frances Anglesey.
One day when I was feeling low, I trash-talked about myself to Mom; saying how ugly I felt, and “what a looser,” etc. “Now you stop that,” she retorted! “That’s MY daughter you’re talking about. Nobody talks about my daughter that way!”
A couple of boys from our Kaysville neighborhood knocked down a birds’ nest in front of our home. Who knows what little boys think when they do such things? When Mom saw what they had done, she marched outside and gave them a solid scolding, making them promise never to “kill the little birds” again! One of the boys really took it to heart. He wrote a heartfelt apology and appeared truly bereft. I think that kid never passed our house again w/o peeing his pants a little.
And she had the kind of fierceness that said, “If someone is in need, you can always do SOMETHING: Take them a cake, write them a card, make a visit,…” and she always did.
Mom did not drive. You think that was a problem? Not hardly. She got herself and her small brood around just fine. Somehow we always ended up where we needed to be, on time, and ready to do whatever it was. Sometimes she worked as a day-sitter out of her own home to help supplement Dad’s income. Whoever she cared for, she loved them like her own: Sharpie (with the eye-watering smelly diapers), Andy, Sarah, Eric, Abby, Ashley, Karlie were her main charges over the years.
The great thing about Mom not driving is that, she was always home (when she wasn’t visiting someone, delivering a cake, or something.) I knew that when I walked in from school every day she would be there, ready to ask me about my day. There is no price for such a gift as that. And I’m grateful for a father who worked so very diligently so we could have that gift.
I believe that my sisters and I all realize that we have a couple of very special parents. They are truly, madly, deeply “in love” with each other. Dad has hardly left Mom’s side in the last ten years, since her Alzheimer’s set in. He has dedicated every day and night to her, caring for her needs, and being her rock.
After receiving her patriarchal blessing when Mom was about 20, the patriarch spoke with her about his impressions. He told her not to worry about getting married: That it would be “a while,” but the right one would eventually come along.
Her sisters told us how Mom took no notice of the advances of a fair variety of men who sought a date with the illusive and beautiful Frances Willis. She paid them no mind. Aunt Phil said, “Your mother wanted to marry Joseph Smith; and there wasn’t anybody like Joseph Smith!”
Until one day a call came from an Elder she had known in the mission field. Aunt Carol said, “Youngerns, we’d never seen Frances so excited about a man!”
Ben lived in Spokane, Washington and Frances lived in Salt Lake City at the time. Every three-day weekend he would drive the 1,442 mile round-trip journey to “court” her, as they called it. After two years of this, they married in the Salt Lake Temple in 1966 when Frances was nearly 37 years old.
Their love only grew stronger through the years. Mom recently confessed, “At night, I’ll reach over to touch him and the tears’ll come to my eyes. I can’t stand it, I love him so.”
She also loved her Heavenly Father. I’ve never doubted it and I realize that much of my faith is born of the legacy members of the Church have on Harkers Island. (I believe Joel may speak a bit about this.) Her devotion to “being God’s hands,” acting in the Service of God throughout her life is the stuff of legends. I have always hoped to be even half of the living saint my mother was.
Mom suffered a lot of pain in this life. Having her gall bladder removed was the beginning of several operations: 5 kidney surgeries; 2 open-heart surgeries (8 bi-passes in all); esophageal dilation; osteoporosis; and Alzheimer’s. As always, she approached every new obstacle as just another part of life.
Did you know that, as painful as it became to move, she knelt by her beside every night to pray—every night—until she was physically incapable of doing so.
I’ve heard that many people, as they make their way through the dark forest of Alzheimer’s Disease, become grumpy and downright unpleasant to be around. Although Mom was in constant pain and an increasingly confused state, she has remained (overall) loving and kind. As I’ve lent my arm to support her while she walked through the house or to help her dress, she often leaned on my arm or looked me in the eye and said, “Thank you. I don’t know what I would do without you girls.” And then she’d get a little teary-eyed and say, “Do you know how much I love you?”
Countless times. Over and over again. She expressed her thanks and love to all of us. What a gracious lady! A true class act. The astute King Solomon would have called her, “A virtuous woman” (Proverbs 31:10).
The poem on the back of your program was composed by Henry Van Dyke. To close, I’d like to share another poem of his, “A Prayer for My Mother’s Birthday.”
A Prayer for My Mother
Lord Jesus, Thou hast known
A mother’s love and tender care:
And Thou wilt hear, while for my own
Mother most dear I make this prayer.
Protect her life, I pray,
Who gave the gift of life to me;
And may she know, from day to day,
The deepening glow of Life that comes from Thee.
As once upon her breast
Fearless and well content I lay,
So let her heart, on Thee at rest,
Feel fears depart and troubles fade away.
Her every wish fulfill;
And even if Thou must refuse
In anything, let Thy wise will
A comfort bring such as kind mothers use.
Ah, hold her by the hand,
As once her hand held mine;
And though she may not understand
Life’s winding way, lead her in peace divine.
I cannot pay my debt
For all the love that she has given;
But Thou, love’s Lord, wilt not forget
Her due reward — bless her in earth and heaven.
Henry Van Dyke, November 11, 1852 – April 10, 1933